Blyde River Canyon

Key information: Blyde River Canyon

  • The largest green canyon in the world: extraordinary views, fascinating animal life and vegetation.
  • A good selection of thrilling walks.

Walkopedia rating

(Top 100)
  • Walkopedia rating89
  • Beauty32
  • Natural interest18
  • Human interest5
  • Charisma34
  • Negative points0
  • Total rating89

Vital Statistics

  • Length: Variable
  • Maximum Altitude: 1,944m
  • Level of Difficulty: Variable
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WALK SUMMARY

Meandering through 26km of Mpumalanga province, the Blyde River Canyon (of Motlaste River as it is now called) is the third-largest canyon worldwide after the Grand Canyon in Arizona and Fish River in Namibia. Those two are, however, very dry, so Blyde, with its exuberantly lush vegetation all year round, claims the title for the largest green canyon.

Carving through the red sandstone of the broken northern end of the Drakensberg Escarpment at average depths of around 750m, the canyon and nature reserve supports a rich ecosystem for river otters, crocodiles, taita falcon and hippos as well as countless other species. It is home to all five of South Africa’s primates. The ecoreigon is classed as montane grassland and is one of few left on the planet; the flora is even more rich than the fauna, with more than a thousand plant species in the 29,000 hectare reserve, including many unique to the area.

With the highest precipitous cliffs of any canyon, it’s no surprise that there is a lot of geological interest around Blyde. Many formations line the giant valley: God’s Window is the best-known and most visited; the Three Rondavels, Bourke’s Luck Potholes and Pinnacle Rock are all worth a visit if time allows. There are also a number of impressive waterfalls and caves throughout the reserve that a few hikes pass by but which could also be destinations in their own right.

Walking around Blyde River Canyon

The Loerie Trail, 10.2km – around 3 hours:

This circuit starts from Castle Rock Caravan park, just outside Sabie near Graskop.  The first section leads downhill along the road to Bridal Veil Falls. From there, you climb steeply through indigenous forest, passing a few more falls, most notably Glynis Falls. Even in rainy season, the trail is easy to follow and will eventually bring you to the forest road providing spectacular views of Sabie. Continue following the well-marked trail downhill through plantations of pine until you come back to the forest road and the start. You will need a trail permit for this route which can be purchased at Big Sky fishing shop in Sabie.

Leopard, Guinea Fowl and Tufa Trails, 7.5km – 3 hours:

A combination of marked trails starting from the Forever Resort makes for an interesting and mildly strenuous half day with thick forest, huge views, formations and even swiming holes to enjoy. A fee at the resort allows access to the trails and one should start by heading from there, up the stairs and a paved road to a glorious lookout with impressive views of the canyon. From here, the descent along the Leopard Trail begins, marked in yellow along the path. After roughly 2km, you will link up with the Guinea Fowl Trail (blue markings) and descend further to the Kadishi River. Head up the river, crossing several times until you reach Kadishi Tufa Falls (one of 36 in Africa, rich in calcium that causes mud to harden into beautiful forms). From the falls, follow the Tufa Trail back up to the starting point.

Blyde River Canyon Hiking Trail, 30km – 2.5 days

Traversing half of the nature reserve as well as some private land, this trail covers open grassland and lowland, upland areas as well as following the river as it cuts through the landscape. Although the route tends to follow contours, the terrain is mountainous and steep at times, so a reasonable level of fitness is required.

The route is marked by yellow footprints painted onto rocks, and starts at Paradise Camp just north of Graskop. The route takes you through montane grassland, past weathered quartzite rocks, into the little Watervalspruit valley and ultimately onto the Watervalspruit Hut, which is approximately 3 km from Paradise Camp.

Day two is a 13.5km walk through a landscape of strange rocks and lichens into the Treur river valley. Through indigenous forest and ravines, along the appropriately named Clearstream and its two 100ft waterfalls, you will eventually come to Clearstream Hut, your home for the night.

The final day continues along the Treur, out of the nature reserve. It doesn’t rejoin the reserve until right before Bourke’s Luck Potholes at the confluence of the two rivers, Treur and Blyde, the start of the Canyon. The rivers’ swirling eddies have created potholes in the sandstone. A mighty end to a mighty walk.

The cost of the trail includes the huts, equipped with bedding, barbecue sites and firewood. For booking, one must contact the Mpumalanga Parks Authority.

Check whether there is public transport to take you back to Paradise Camp; it is recommended that cars be left at the Potholes before taking a bus.  

Other good shorter walks include:

The short walk out to the marvelous Three Rondavels Viewpoint, with huge views straight down the canyon

The Bourkes Luck Potholes (1.1km loop)

The 2km+ Rainforest Trail loop which takes in the stellar God’s window viewpoint.

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PRACTICAL INFORMATION

We have a lot of helpful practical information and tips about this walk, covering everything from the best books and maps, to timing and weather, geting there, possible problems, whether you need a guide and where to find them, and useful websites. This section is only open to members.

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Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk.

Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.

Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.

Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk.

Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.

OTHER ACCOUNTS
share your experiences

Add your experiences, suggestions and photos. We would be delighted to receive your writing and ideas (which will be attributed appropriately where published).

Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.

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