Fish River Canyon
Key information: Fish River Canyon
- Hike along the bottom of the world's second largest canyon, a vast, dramatic complex of brightly coloured cliffs, towers and spires.
- This is extreme country - searingly hot and bone dry - and true wilderness, although you will see a surprising variety of animals and plants eking out a living in the unforgiving landscape.
- This is a tough walk, which you must take seriously, but very rewarding.
- Walkopedia rating87
- Natural interest18
- Human interest1
- Negative points0
- Total rating87
- Length: 86km/5 days
- Level of Difficulty: Difficult
In what is claimed to be the world's second largest canyon - up to 550m deep, 27 km wide and over 100 km long, it is you against a tough world. There is no way out until 86km have been completed (apart from an optional "escape route" on the second day). This is true wilderness. There are no trails, no phone signal, no signposts until near the end of the trek, and your only supply of water is from the river. Expect some wading. Combining demanding walking with the intense heat, this walk is challenging at the least. However, some 3,000 people undertake it each year.
The canyon was formed over millions of years by the Fish River carving down into a fault in the high Namibian plateau. This is harsh, dry, but dramatic and beautiful scenery. Along the way, you will probably see a range of wildlife, from klipspringers and baboons, to rock kestrels and geckos.
The trail is usually walked from Hobas (a well known viewpoint) to Ai-Ais. The 500m descent down a cliff into the canyon is difficult (some say the hardest part of the walk), with some chained sections. At the bottom is a good campsite, so many start in the late afternoon.
The next few days are then spent clambering over boulders, clambering up and down hills, and trying to discover shortcuts. To Palm Springs is 1-2 days, and a relentless, tough clamber over large boulders for much of the first day. From Palm Springs to Ai-Ais, some 5 hours after the Causeway, takes 3 days or so. The canyon is wider and the going (relatively) easier, although involving sand trudging in places.
When you finally reach the end of the trek, apart from the deep sense of satisfaction awaiting you, the sulphurous Ais-Ais springs are also there to sooth aching muscles.
Other accounts: share your experiences
Your comments on this walk, your experiences and suggestions, and your photos are very welcome. Where appropriate, you will be credited for your contribution.
See also expedition planning, including our universal expedition checklist.
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Books and Maps
Books on this walk
Find the books and maps listed above, and many more:
Canyons and Gorges of Africa – Books Llc.
Touring Map Namibia – John Hall.
Fish River Canyon: Namibia – Rand McNally (Adventure Maps).
Stanfords: www.stanfords.co.uk. An excellent (and user-friendly) online specialist source of worldwide maps (it is also good for guidebooks).
Best times to walk/weather
Best times to walk
Winter (mid April to mid September) is the only time when entry is allowed. May to August is the best time.
Hot in the day, but cold nights.
Permits are needed to do this walk and are issued on a limited basis (and require a doctor’s certificate of fitness), so book early. Minimum group size is 3. [Permits can be obtained from Namibia Wildlife Resorts in situ; enquire at http://www.nwr.com.na. Expedition organisers should arrange permits.
See Walk Summary above.
Possible problems, health, other warnings
·Heat and strong sun. Carry enough water and protect yourself.
·Heights: dangerous in places; take care. Not for those who have difficulties with heights.
·Dangerous animals of all shapes and sizes, including snakes and scorpions; stinging/biting insects and plants. Take all appropriate precautions.
·This is remote country: you will have to carry all your food and other supplies and help will be hard to get if things go wrong.
·Health risks: this is a relatively undeveloped country, and you will not get prompt medical help of a standard available elsewhere if you become ill. Come prepared, including getting all appropriate inoculations/medications.
See also the websites in our useful links page for more detailed, and up-to-date, information.
Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and problems can arise on any walk. Many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks and possible problems. This website cannot, does not purport to, identify all actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to a walk or a country. 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.
Make sure you have appropriate insurance.
Guided or independent?
You can do this walk independently, but this is for the very experienced only and you will need to be self-sufficient.
The great majority form or join organized/supported expeditions. Organisers can also arrange for permits to be obtained. Expedition organizers include:
- Explore! - www.explore.co.uk - reputable and experienced organizers sometimes to the canyon as part ofas part of a broader itinerary.
- Exodus – www.exodus.co.uk
- Namibia Wildlife Resorts - www.nwr.com.na
Cañon Lodge near the start.
The guidebooks have a selection of possible accommodation outside the Canyon.
Camping is the only option inside.
Other information and tips
It gets dark early, so plan your days accordingly. Start early.
Useful websites and information
There are many websites with relevant information. Here are some that we think are useful or have been recommended to us.
• For fantastic pics, maps and thoughts, go to the excellent www.footprint.co.za/fish
• www.wikipedia.org – a reasonable starting place.
• Try www.flickr.com for pictures of this walk.
Other things to do in the area
The Al-Ais hot spas at the end of the canyon.
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.
Responsible travel matters, a lot. How you travel will make a real difference - for better or worse. PLEASE consider this when making plans. Read more