The most heavily used path on Table Mountain is the one up Platteklip Gorge, the deep nick in the flat top of Table Mountain that is visible from downtown Cape Town.
The path, which starts about a kilometre and a half beyond the Lower Cable Station on Tafelberg Road, is so popular that it’s nicknamed Adderley Street (after the main street in Cape Town city centre) by the locals. It’s incredibly steep and direct and there is no shade other than in the narrow section at the top, so don’t underestimate it. However, the route is easy to follow and thus provides a good, safe ascent or descent, particularly in bad weather. Take water and be prepared for some knee jarring on the descent. The route is about two and a half kilometres long and will take about 90 minutes one way (probably a bit quicker if you’re coming down!)
The Skeleton Gorge path, which starts in the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, is steep but shady, well-marked and of only moderate difficulty. There are several ladders over some very steep sections, which can become slippery when wet. This was the favourite ascent of Field Marshall Smuts, a keen mountain walker, so the final trail on this route is known as the Smuts Track. The route is approximately four kilometres long and will take about two hours one-way.
There’s no shade on the popular Kasteelspoort trail, but it affords incredible views. To get there, park at the top of Theresa Avenue on the Rontree Estate in Camps Bay, then follow the concrete jeep track up until it divides. The start is not well marked but is fairly obvious: stay on the main track, which goes right, and continue up for about 100 metres until you can see a green signpost on the contour path above you. Leave the jeep track at this point and take the narrow path directly up the mountain to the signpost – you will see the cairn marking the way just after a big rock on the left. The signpost directs you over the contour path and up – a distance of three kilometres, about 90 minutes to the top of the trail.
Note that the Skeleton Gorge and Kasteelspoort trails go to the top of the lower, southern plateau of Table Mountain, often called the “back table”. It will take another 60 to 90 minutes from the top of these trails to get across to the upper cable car station on the ‘front table’.