Rhino Peak

Rhino Peak Trail

Rhino Peak is a mountain in Garden Castle, the southern Drakensberg. The hike up is a great and relatively easy way to reach the top of the escarpment, Lesotho, and fabulous views.

View from the top of Rhino Peak, Drakensberg
View from the top of Rhino Peak

Location

This hike starts from Garden Castle campsite, in the Southern Drakensberg. If you’re not staying here overnight, there is parking for day visitors. It’s about 3½ hours drive from Durban, and 1 hour from Underberg, the last town on the way.

Trail Map of the Rhino Peak Hike

First, sign the mountain register by the reception. Then head to the campsite, and out the far side, towards the mountains.

Tips

  • Make sure to sign the mountain register outside reception before you leave.
  • Make sure to sign it again when you get back!
  • We used the Cicerone hiking guide: Walking in the Drakensberg*, to plan this hike. It also suggests other hikes here, and elsewhere in the Drakensberg.
  • We stayed at Hermit’s Wood campsite. There are only 10 spots here, so booking in advance is necessary for busy periods.
  • There is only a shop selling basics within the park
  • Gate times: 05:00-19:00 Oct-Mar, 06:00-18:00 Apr-Sep
  • A variety of other accommodation is available just outside of the park, and an hour away in Underberg.
  • In summer start hiking early to avoid the common summer afternoon thunderstorms, and in winter start early to use the daylight.
  • Make sure to take warm clothes and a waterproof, weather can change quickly, and the peak is over 3000 m high, so much colder than down below.
  • Read more about our 12-Day Drakensberg Trip, or our Giants Castle Overnight Hike where we came from or Camdeboo National Park where we went next.

Setting off from the campsite

Path up Rhino Peak from the campsite
Path up Rhino Peak sets off from Hermit’s Wood campsite

The trail heads very gently upwards, initially keeping to the left-hand side of the stream. Rhino Peak looms up ahead, soon disappearing behind the nearer cliffs.

The early sun, and Rhino Peak in the distances
The trail, the early sun, and Rhino Peak in the distance

About 4km along this trail, having crossed the river a couple of times, you reach Pillar Cave. There is an option to stay here (see Alternatives below).

Pillar Cave in the morning sun
Pillar Cave in the morning sun

Alternatives Options for hiking Rhino Peak

Pillar Cave, roughly 4 km away from Hermit’s Wood Campsite, would be a wonderful spot to overnight. It’s quite large, cosy and sheltered. The walk to here is mainly flat. Staying here would slightly shorten the Rhino Peak hike. Alternatively, a simpler aim could just be to stay in the cave and return the following morning. This cave must be booked in advance (max 12 people) and is very popular in the summer (Christmas) holidays.

After the cave, you cross the river a few more times before the path steepens. The valley narrows, and you zigzag ever upwards.

Views up the narrow valley by Rhino Peak
Views up the narrow valley
Views down valley on trail to Rhino Peak
And views back down below

This is the main section of the climb and is almost over before you know it. The sun doesn’t reach down into this narrow valley until later in the day, making for a nice climb in the cold.

Rhino Peak on left and person on right with Drakensberg views.
Approaching the top of the valley, Rhino Peak far left
Break from hiking in front of Rhino Peak
Having a break near the top, Rhino Peak top centre.

Once you reach the top, you get to a surprisingly flat plateau. You’re now on the edge of Lesotho, over 3000 m high. It can be chilly up here! It’s only a 2 km fairly flat walk along the top to the peak.

Looking back at the plateau and Lesotho from the top

South Africa Travel Book

While roaming the back roads and national parks in our ‘trusty’ Defender, I wrote a book about our adventures, check it out on Amazon*.

We climbed misty mountains, camped in empty deserts, sunbathed on tropical beaches, and saw wildlife galore under the hot African sky.

The Top of Rhino Peak

There’s one place just by the top where you have to use your hands to get up a small cliff. There is no exposure, and there are good hand and footholds. Then you’ve made it!

The top of Rhino Peak
Almost at the top, with one large step to overcome
Rock step with hiker

The top itself is a mini plateau, with two tall cairns (rhino horns?).

The top of Rhino Peak
The top of Rhino Peak

We had lunch on the top plateau. In the sun it was warm, even though we hiked in June. However, in the shade, it was cold. The views were amazing, stretching far into the distance below, and the other way back towards Lesotho.

Views from Rhino Peak
Views from Rhino Peak

It’s an out-and-back hike, so the way down in the same. Retrace your steps back across the flat plateau, before heading down the narrow valley. The early afternoon sun and clear air were very refreshing.

Flowers of Garden Castle, Drakensberg
Walking through the flowers
Sandstone rocks of Garden Castle, Drakensberg
Looking back up in the gorgeous sun

With only a few hundred metres to go, we saw a very large orangey-red snake. We were scared, but the snake was scareder, and slithered quickly away. We signed back in at the mountain register, before returning to our car, tired but happy.

Rhino Peak Hike Difficulty

The Rhino Peak Hike contains no technical challenges, though it is a fairly strenuous hike. It’s 22 km long with 1385 metres of climb, getting steeper and steeper towards the top of the escarpment. It’s steep, but never too steep. If you start the hike in the morning, the valley you walk in will be shady which helps. At the top there’s a plateau and a gentle climb to reach the top before you head back down the same way. Starting early enough, most people with a reasonable fitness level can complete the Rhino Peak hike.

The peak is 3056 metres high. If you are coming straight from the coast or near sea level, you will probably notice shortness of breath at the top. However, it’s rare for anybody to experience severe altitude sickness at 3000 metres.


Read more about our 12-Day Drakensberg Trip, or our Giants Castle Overnight Hike where we came from or Camdeboo National Park where we went next.

Drakensberg mountains and streams
Almost back at the beginning

2 comments

  1. Hi. Thanks for the awesome post!

    We are planning to climb Rhino Peak in 2 weeks time.

    Would like to know about times. What time did you start? Is it possible to start before 5am when the gates open? And how long did it take you to complete?

    Thanks

  2. Hi,
    I’m glad you liked the post. We took 7 hours, but we do lots of trail running and had been hiking for a week beforehand so were very well trained! We started around 6:30am, as soon as it got light (in May) and returned just before 2pm. We kept the pace up on our hike because we had a long way to drive that afternoon!
    If you camp in Hermit Woods (what we did) you can start anytime since you are already within the gate. The gate might be left open but it might not be. In anycase, you’re not really meant to drive through when it’s dark. You could park your car just outside the gate (by Drakuzzi Pools on google maps) and then it’s an extra 1.3 km walk to the park reception. Here, the mountain register is left outside so you can sign in/out anytime. Personally I’d recommend waiting till 5am to drive in when it’s getting light.
    I hope that helps!

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