The Otter Trail is a well-known hiking route in South Africa, and makes up part of another long-distance trail called the Garden Route.
This 45 kilometre walk is where you will see the native forest of the Tsitsikamma National Park, views over the Indian Ocean, natural features like waterfalls, pools and caves, and a wealth of wildlife and plants.
This trail is a great starting point for hikers who are new to multi-day hikes, but challenging enough for seasoned hikers.
The Otter Trail is full of natural beauty, and from start to finish you will feel refreshed and in awe of your surroundings.
- Dramatic coastline and spectacular views
- Beaches and clifftop paths
- Waterfalls and caves
- Wildlife and marine life
- Hut facilities
The Otter Trail begins at Storms River Mouth in the Tsitsikamma National Park, and finishes 45 kilometres later at De Vasselot Rest Camp, Nature’s Valley.
Along the way, you will go through areas of outstanding natural forest and coastland, and get close views of wildlife. If you like adventure, there are enough river crossings to satisfy any intrepid explorer.
To walk the Otter Trail, you need to book in advance. This can be done up to a year before you plan to do your hike. If you are hiking solo or with a partner, you may be able to get a cancellation if you are flexible on dates. Information on bookings and cancellations can be found on the South African National Parks website.
You will need to take food supplies with you for the length of this trek. There is running water at the accommodation huts that does not require purification, unless you want to be extra cautious.
The rivers Kleinbos, Elandsbos, Lottering and Bloukrans are not suitable to collect drinking water from, even with purification, as the water is often salty.
However there are lots of other creeks, stream and waterfalls where you can replenish supplies.
The nearest airports to the Tsitsikamma region are international airports at George, 144 kilometres away, and Port Elizabeth, 182 kilometres away, although international flights to George are limited.
Both George and Port Elizabeth airports are well-served by flights from Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban.
The Tsitsikamma National Park is accessible by public transport and most major towns and cities will have coach services to the region.
There is a shuttle service that travels between the trailheads, so if you park a car at one end it is easy to get a lift back once you have completed the hike.
The Otter Trail is 45 kilometres in length and takes 4-5 days on average.
Grade and difficulty of the walk
The Otter trail is graded 3/5.
Although the daily walking distances are not very long, some parts may require some scrambling over rocks, steep climbs and descents, and loose surfaces.
There are a few river crossings where you are likely to get wet! Time your crossings with low tide where possible.
The Bloukrans river crossing is the most challenging, and even at low tide you may struggle with the current.
There is an alternative route if it is too dangerous, such as after heavy rainfall. If you feel there is any risk, use the alternative route.
Any hiker of good fitness will be able to complete the walk.
The trail is clearly marked with yellow otter footprints, so you do not need any navigational skills to find your way.
Having experience of multi-day hiking is beneficial, but not essential to enjoying the trail. The Otter Trail is a good introduction to multi-day hiking, as the daily distances are manageable and the hut shelters mean there is no need to camp.
Permits and fees apply to hike the Otter Trail. You need to sign yourself onto the trail at the beginning at the office at Storms River Mouth, and then sign out at the De Vasselot office at the other end.
This gives park officials an overview of who is on the trail at any time, and is useful in emergencies.
Guided or Self-Guided
Most hikers opt for self-guided walks, as the route is well way-marked and huts are close together.
However, if want to benefit from local knowledge, are concerned about river crossings, you may feel better by walking with a guided group.
The Otter Trail can be walked all year round, but some seasons are better than others.
Most rain falls in August, October, November and April, although there are still plenty of dry days in these months also, so don’t let it put you off!
The warmest time to hike is from December to March, where the average daytime temperature is 25°C, and 16°C at night. The coolest months are from June to September, where temperatures average 19°C during the daytime, and can be as low as 4°C at night.
Whenever you hike the Otter Trail, be ready for a variety of weather. Pack light layers and a waterproof.
A typical itinerary would be:
This is an example of a five day itinerary, but you can skip the first hut to make it a four day itinerary if you prefer.
Storms River Mouth to Ngubu Hut – 4.8 kilometres
Ngubu Hut to Scott Hut – 7.9 kilometres
Scott Hut to Oakhurst Hut – 7.7 kilometres
Oakhurst Hut to Andre Hut – 13.8 kilometres
Andre Hut to Nature’s Valley – 10.8 kilometres
There are four huts along the Otter Trail, located at Ngubu, Scott, Oakhurst and Andre. Each have bunk beds, and basic facilities such as cold running water, cold showers, an outside flush toilet and picnic tables.
There are braai places where you can barbeque food, but you can also bring your own stove for cooking. The huts have stunning views of the ocean.
There are campsites at the beginning and end of the trail, each with good facilities. You can also rent cottages or lodges.
You will find plenty of accommodation option in the nearby seaside town of Plettenburg Bay, or in the city of Port Elizabeth.
Spend some time exploring the Guano Caves and a waterfall on the first day of the hike, on the way to Ngubu Hut.
Take a detour to climb the rocky outcrop of Skilderkrans for a stunning view of the Indian Ocean.
Go snorkelling in the rock pools, or relax on the beaches. For a secluded swim, take a short detour to Blue Bay.
Spot wildlife such as the cape clawless otter, genets, duiker, badgers, monkeys and many species of bird. Marine wildlife includes dolphins and whales.
Go swimming in some of the natural pools upstream in the Kleinbos River.
The sunsets are especially colourful along the Otter Trail. Take lots of photos!
|Skills Required||Hiking, Walking|
|Starts at||Storms River Mouth, Tsitsikamma National Park|
|Finishes at||De Vasselot, Nature’s Valley|
|Length of route||45 Km|
|Average time to complete||4 - 5 Days|
|Possible to complete sub-sections||No|
|Highest point||150 metres|
|Equipment needed||Camping equipment, food supplies, Poles if preferred, Trekking gear, walking boots, Water Supplies|
|Countries visited||South Africa|