Take a dip on the wild side with these refreshing, natural rivers and lakes within a two-hour drive of Cape Town.

Is there anything quite as invigorating, awakening, stimulating, and refreshing as swimming in a lake, river, or dam, surrounded by the Cape’s majestic scenery? Short of receiving a snowball in the face, I dare say not! There’s an atavistic thrill to swimming in a natural body of water rather than a bleached, almost blindingly blue pool; a sort of return to the roots that is most satisfying. With summer in full swing and daytime temperatures frequently soaring into the thirties, you can satiate the need to cool off at these 10 awesome spots for outdoor dipping.

Silvermine Reservoir

The Silvermine Reservoir lies within the Table Mountain National Park and offers a vast, tea-coloured dam for your swimming pleasure surrounded by gorgeous sandstone bouldered and fynbos carpeted slopes. There are also hiking trails, picturesque picnic spots, and a wooden boardwalk around the periphery of the dam for ease of pram and wheelchair access. Please note that there are no lifeguards on duty so keep a firm eye on all children and don’t swim alone. Pets are welcome but you will require a Level 1 My Activity Permit, which you can get from the Tokai Plantation Office (021 712 7471).

Where: Table Mountain National Park (via M3), between Hout Bay and Noordhoek
Opening Times: Monday to Sunday, 8am – 5pm (May to August); Monday to Sunday, 7am – 6pm (September to April)
Cost: (Rates valid until 31 October 2020) R32 for SA citizens and residents with ID; R16 for SA children, 2 – 11 years; R64 for SADC nationals with valid passport; R32 for SADC children with valid passport; R128 for international visitors; R64 for international children
Contact: 021 712 0527, tablem@sanparks.org

Silvermine Reservoir
Silvermine Reservoir | Image: Flowcomm on Flickr

Klein River, Stanford

The tranquil Klein River winds its way through the Akkedisberg Pass, providing life-giving water to the lush, rolling hills of Stanford before emptying out into the ocean at Hermanus Lagoon. The river can be conveniently accessed from the bottom of King Street, where there are also ample shaded lawns for lazing in the sun and enjoying picnics. If you want to work up a bit of a sweat before your dip, go for a walk along the Stanford Wandelpad (walking trail), which runs parallel to the Klein River. Pets are welcome!

Where: King Street, Stanford (via N2 and R43)
Opening Times: 24/7
Cost: Free for swimming
Contact: 028 3410 340, ask@stanfordinfo.co.za

Klein River, Stanford
Klein River, Stanford | Image: claudia987 on Flickr

Crystal Pools Waterfall, Gordon’s Bay

Crystal Pools and the hike leading up to its waterfall is a legendary excursion amongst hiking enthusiasts in the Cape. The trail, which you must walk in order to reach the pools, isn’t overly challenging and leads to a series of beautiful, crystalline rock pools embraced by thick mountainous vegetation. A hike all the way to the top and back is a half-day commitment so make sure you take plenty of water and food. Also important to note is there are baboons in the area and they are particularly cheeky if they smell food so be exceedinly careful. You do not want to get into a fight with an alpha male baboon over a sandwich.

Bookings for Crystal Pools must be done via email at least three to five working days before your visit (a maximum of 50 people per day is allowed). No dogs allowed.

Where: Steenbras Nature Reserve (via N2 and R44), Gordon’s Bay
Opening Times: Office is open 7:30am to 2:30pm; trails are open from 6:30am to 7pm (times may vary slightly with sunrise and sunset)
Cost: R75 per person (until 30 June 2020)
Contact: 021 444 6927, steenbras.naturereserve@capetown.gov.za | Save the emergency number 021 957 4725 to your phone before embarking on the hike

Crystal Pools, Gordons Bay
Crystal Pools, Gordons Bay | Image: Julian Knutzen on Flickr

Groot Winterhoek Wilderness Area, Porterville

About an hour’s drive to the north of the city, you’ll come across a humble conservation area that more than compensates for its small size by its outstanding natural beauty and historic significance. Here, amongst the otherworldly rock formations, rugged landscapes, and colourful fynbos, you’ll discover rock paintings by the area’s indigenous peoples: the San and Khoi. There are also clear water rock pools to swim in, making it a popular destination for hikers and bikers who fancy a refreshing, wilderness dip. Please note that as a CapeNature reserve, pets are not permitted.

Where: Groot Winterhoek Wilderness Area (via R44, R365 and Dasklip/Cardouw turn-off), Porterville
Opening Times: Monday to Friday, 7:30am to 4pm (office hours)
Cost: R50 for adults; R30 for children
Contact: 022 931 2860 / 022 931 2315 (reserve office); 087 087 8250, reservation.alert@capenature.co.za (permits)

Groot Winterhoek Wilderness Area, Porterville
Groot Winterhoek Wilderness Area, Porterville | Image: Cape Nature

Jonkershoek Nature Reserve, Stellenbosch

Located in the Cape Winelands near the historic town of Stellenbosch and on the fynbos-carpeted slopes of the dramatic Jonkershoek Mountains, sprawls the pristine Jonkershoek Nature Reserve, which encompasses the smaller Assegaaibosch Nature Reserve. Here there are two particularly popular hiking trails to explore, both of which offer stunning views of the winelands and its patchwork quilt of farms and vineyards, and clear river water for swimming. Bring along a picnic basket: the riverbanks are a picturesque setting for a picnic (although alcohol is not permitted in the picnic area, and only 80 people are allowed in at a time). Please note that as a CapeNature reserve, pets are not permitted.

Where: Jonkershoek Nature Reserve, Jonkershoek Road (via N1), Stellenbosch
Opening Times: Monday to Sunday, 7:30am to 4pm
Cost: R50 for adults; R30 for children
Contact: 087 087 4118 (reserve office); 087 087 8250, reservation.alert@capenature.co.za (permits)

Jonkershoek Nature Reserve
Jonkershoek Nature Reserve | Image: Franz de Villiers on Flickr

Krom River Trail, Du Toitskloof

On the other side of the Huguenot Tunnel (bring cash to pay the toll), you’ll discover the Limietberg Nature Reserve’s spectacular array of hiking trails, amongst which the Krom River Trail stands out like a crown jewel. Crystal clear rock pools and waterfalls dot the trail so be prepared to take an icy, refreshing dip! To access the Krom River Trail, you’ll have to purchase a permit, which are available from Du Kloof Trout Farm or from the CapeNature booking office. Only 24 permits are issued per day to prevent overcrowding, so get there early! Please also note that as a CapeNature reserve, pets are not permitted.

Where: Du Toitskloof (after the Worcester exit of the Huguenot Tunnel), Limietberg Nature Reserve (via N1)
Opening Times: Monday to Sunday, 8am to 6pm
Cost: R50 for adults; R30 for children
Contact: 021 871 1535 / 087 087 4145 (reserve office); 087 087 8250, reservation.alert@capenature.co.za (permits)

Krom River Trail
Krom River Trail | Image: dmncmiller on Flickr

Palmiet River, Near Kleinmond

The Palmiet River is located an approximate hour and 45 minutes’ drive from Cape Town, the waters of which are siphoned off to feed the rather famous apple orchards of Grabouw. Right before the town of Kleinmond, you can access the Palmiet River via the Kogelberg Nature Reserve (on the Palmiet River Trail). Here, hikers are treated to gorgeous vistas, exciting trails, and, of course, a refreshing dip in nature! Please note that as a CapeNature reserve, pets are not permitted.

Where: Kogelberg Nature Reserve, via N2 to Kleinmond or via Gordon’s Bay and Clarens Drive
Opening Times: Monday to Sunday, 7:30am to 4pm (gate closes at 7pm)
Cost: R50 for adults; R30 for children
Contact: 087 288 0499 (reserve office); 087 087 8250, reservation.alert@capenature.co.za (for permits)

Palmiet River
Palmiet River | Image: Delyth Angharad on Flickr

The Berg River, Franschhoek

Does Franschhoek even need an introduction? Internationally recognised as one of the Cape’s, country’s, continent’s, and world’s most devastatingly beautiful wine and food destinations, Franschhoek makes for an unforgettable outing on any day of the week. So how about complementing your wine tasting with a brisk dip or even a canoe in a mountain river at the Berg River Resort, a clean, family-friendly venue? There are also swimming pools with a splash pool and waterslide for youngsters (they use their own water source to keep both open, even during summer). For affordable overnight stays, you can look into the Berg River Resort’s chalets and caravan and tent site. Unfortunately, pets aren’t permitted.

Where: Berg River Resort, R45 (via N1), Franschhoek
Opening Times: Monday to Sunday, 8am to 5pm
Cost: R100 – R120 for day visitors, depending on season; free for kids under 3; R100 – R120 per vehicle, depending on season
Contact: 021 001 8805, info@bergriverresort.co.za

Berg River Resort, Franschhoek
Berg River Resort, Franschhoek

Witte and Wolwekloof River, Worcester

A two-hour drive outside of Cape Town, near the dramatically beautiful Bainskloof Pass, you’ll find the Tweede Tol campsite, which is popular because it provides convenient access to swimming spots and hiking trails in the resplendent and lush Limietberg Nature Reserve. If you come for the day, you can swim and splash about in the Witte River but overnight stays – which are most certainly worth it – enable you exclusive access to the Wolwekloof River swimming holes, which are so picturesque and pretty, they’d make an idea spot for permanent resettlement in the event of an apocalypse. As a CapeNature reserve, pets are not permitted (although in an apocalypse I’m sure this rule wouldn’t be enforced).

Where: Tweede Tol campsite, Limietberg Nature Reserve (via N1)
Opening Times: 8am to 4pm (reserve office hours)
Cost: R50 for adults; R30 for children | for overnight stays, excluding the cost of camping accommodation: R40 for adults; R20 for children
Contact: 021 8711 535 / 087 087 4145 (reserve office); 087 087 8250, reservation.alert@capenature.co.za (for permits)

Wolwekloof River
Wolwekloof River | Image: dmncmiller on Flickr

Brandvlei and Quaggaskloof, Worcester

Ah, Brandvlei and Quaggaskloof, twin dams separated by a wall (although you can’t tell when the water levels are high enough); sibling havens for water lovers of every description. If swimming and lounging about on the banks of the dam are too pedestrian for you, you can take the boat out, hop on a yacht, go water-skiing (Quaggaskloof), and fish for bass. Access to the dams is granted via the Worcester Yacht Club or QuaggasKloof Waterski Club (details below) and both have campsites for lengthy weekend and holiday stays. Please note that pets aren’t permitted at Brandvlei or for QWC day visitors. Also, it’s a good idea to check out the weather forecast beforehand: high winds can make watersports dangerous and ideal weather conditions can leave the dams crowded.

QuaggasKloof Waterski Club: R43, Worcester
Worcester Yacht Club: Portion 10, Farm Bokke Kraal 378, Brandvlei Dam, Worcester

Opening Times:
QuaggasKloof Waterski Club: Monday to Sunday, 7am to 6.30pm (day visitors must leave by 7pm)
Worcester Yacht Club: Monday to Sunday, 8am to 5pm (day visitors)
Cost: QuaggasKloof Waterski Club: R100 for adults; free for kids under 18 years; R100 vehicle fee; R100 boat fee; R275 jet ski fee; R15 fisherman fee; R100 fisherman with vehicle; R80 fisherman with QWC (QuaggasKloof Waterski Club affiliation)
Worcester Yacht Club: R120 – R130 for day visitors, includes one site per six people; R75 per additional vehicle, mid-season from 13 January 2020; R150 per additional vehicle, high-season; R30 fisherman fee.

Contact: QuaggasKloof Waterski Club: 023 340 4163, bookings@qwc.co.za; 073 842 8183/ 074 123 2331 (emergency numbers)
Worcester Yacht Club: 023 343 2877, bookings@wyc.co.za

Worcester Yacht Club
Image: Worcester Yacht Club on Facebook

A few precautions…

Remote, secluded areas throughout the Cape can, unfortunately, be targeted by criminals so while the following locations are protected and have been deemed safe, it’s always a smart idea to be vigilant, leave valuables at home, and take pepper spray with you. Also ensure that you pack sufficient water and food, wear suitable walking shoes and sun protection, and take a fully charged cell phone with you so that you have a means of communication should an accident occur. You may also want to save the emergency numbers of the parks/reserves you go into so that you can reach help quickly should you need it.