The Best Dams + Rivers for Swimming near Cape Town

The Best Dams + Rivers for Swimming near Cape Town Bianca Ryseck

When Cape Town heats up, these alfresco pools – away from the crowds – are the perfect way to cool down.

Cape Town is dotted with a refreshing array of amazing dams, lakes and rivers where you can enjoy scenic and exhilarating dips – sans the sand and the crowds. And considering the high temperatures in summer, there’s hardly a better way to beat the heat than plunging into a crystal-clear rock pool (made all the more rewarding if you have to hike to reach it). These are our favourite wild swims in nature.

We might have left out one of your favourites, such as Newlands Reservoir, for safety reasons. But let us know of other cool pools in the comments below.

Important note Although the Cape is rich in natural beauty, you are urged to take precautions when exploring secluded or wilderness areas, as crime and accidents do happen. If you are unsure, contact the parks or places to ensure conditions are suitable before visiting. Always go in a group, not alone. There are also adventure-tour companies that offer organised trips to some of the above-mentioned spots. Also, be aware of the weather – while you may set off on a sunny day for a hike and a swim, the weather can change quickly in the Cape!

Silvermine Reservoir

Silvermine: Best Dams and Rivers in Cape Town

Where Between Hout Bay and Noordhoek
Distance from CT 50 minutes
The large, glistening reservoir is open to everybody, including your pooches, but there are no lifeguards on duty so swimming is at your own risk. The water is a little warmer than the ocean, and it’s a favourite with open-water swimmers for training. There’s a 1km boardwalk trail around the dam (wheelchair and pram friendly) and picture-perfect picnic spots dotted amid the trees and fynbos.
Please note
• As this is part of Table Mountain National Park, dog walkers require a My Activity permit (R320, valid for 12 months). Contact Tokai Plantation Office at 021 712 7471 (weekdays).
• For emergencies in the park, call 086 110 6417
Opening times Daily, 7am – 5pm
Cost Conservation fee R36 (adults); R18 (children)
R72 (SADC nationals with passport); R36 (SADC children)
R144 (international visitors); R72 (international children)
Good to know SANParks’ My Green Card (R175) entitles SA residents to 12 free entries into the pay points of the Table Mountain National Park within a one-year period. This includes Cape Point, Boulders, Oudekraal, Silvermine, and the braai/picnic areas at Tokai, Newlands and Perdekloof.
Contact 021 712 0527, tablem@sanparks.org (Table Mountain National Park)
Where to find it Gate 1, Ou Kaapse Weg (M3)

Krom River

Krom Trail: Best Dams and Rivers in Cape Town
@mountainfreespirit

Where Worcester/Paarl
Distance from CT Around 1 hour
Limietberg Nature Reserve is tucked away in the Du Toitskloof Mountains of the Winelands, offering fynbos-covered slopes and dramatic kloofs. Here, the 7km Krom River Trail leads you through riverine forest, past waterfalls and deep, translucent rock pools that are clear enough to snorkel in. The water is ice-cold, but that will probably come as a relief on the hike. ​​
Dog-friendly? Pets are not allowed in CapeNature reserves.
Opening times Daily 8am – 6pm
Cost R50 (adults); R30 (children)
Please note
Permits can be purchased at Du Kloof Lodge (just after the tunnel on your left) or from the CapeNature booking office. Only 24 permits are issued per day to prevent overcrowding, so plan ahead.
• You’ll need to bring some cash, as using the Huguenot tunnel requires a toll (R42.50).
Contact 021 871 1535 (reserve office); permits 087 087 8250, reservation.alert@capenature.co.za
Where to find it Du Toitskloof (parking to the left after the Worcester exit of the Huguenot Tunnel), Limietberg Nature Reserve (via N1)

Crystal Pools Waterfall

Crystal Pools Waterfall: Best Dams and Rivers in Cape Town
Around About Cars

Where Gordon’s Bay
Distance from CT 1.5 to 2 hours
A 2km hiking trail through a gorge in the Steenbras Nature Reserve culminates in a wonderful waterfall, with a series of icy-cold rock pools along the way where you can cool down during your walk, making it well worth the slog. It’s doable for anyone who is reasonably fit, and a challenge for those who are not. The half-day hike takes you through rocky but generally flat terrain, with no shade. It is quite a trek, so make sure you have plenty of snacks, water and energy to get there – and be aware that there are baboons in the area, so keep your food well stashed. A maximum of 50 people per day are allowed, so try to book as early as possible.
Please note
• There is no entry after 2pm, so come early.
• Booking must be done via email, at least three working days before your visit: steenbras.naturereserve@capetown.gov.za. Alternatively, buy passes on Quicket.co.za or at the Pitstop Grille Shack (on the R44 just before the parking area for the Crystal Pools).
Dog-friendly? No
Opening times Reserve office: Monday – Friday, 9am – 2pm
Cost R75 per person
Contact 021 444 6927, 021 957 4725 (emergency number)
Where to find it Steenbras Nature Reserve, via N2 and R44

Groot Winterhoek Wilderness Area

Groot Winterhoek Wilderness

Where Porterville
Distance from CT 1.5 to 2 hours
This hikers’ paradise is a rugged, unspoilt landscape of interesting rock formations, exquisite fynbos – the disas are in bloom in summer – and ancient rock art. There are plenty of places for a refreshing dip in the clear pools of the Kliphuis River. Protea Pool and Disa Pool are short, easier walks from the parking area; De Hel (pictured), one of the largest natural pools in the Cape, is on the much longer De Tronk trail and harder to access via a very steep path.
Please note
• There is an entrance fee and booking and permits are required.
• Be properly prepared for hiking, with water, food, sunblock, maps and warm clothing (just in case).
Dog-friendly? Pets are not allowed in CapeNature reserves.
Opening times Office: Monday – Friday, 7.30am – 4pm, Saturday until 2pm, Sunday until 12pm
Cost R70 (adults), R40 (children)
Contact 087 087 4047 (reserve office), 087 087 8250, reservation.alert@capenature.co.za (permits)
Where to find it Groot Winterhoek Wilderness Area, via N1, R44, R365 and Dasklip Pass/Cardouw turn-off

Witte and Wolwekloof River

Witte River Best Dams and Rivers in Cape Town

Where Worcester
Distance from CT 2 hours
Tweede Tol is a campsite on the beautiful Bainskloof Pass, super popular for its instant access to swimming holes in the boulder-strewn Witte River. Bring a picnic or braai stuff to make a day of it (firewood is sold at the gate). To access the nearby Wolwekloof River’s swimming spots, you’ll need to stay overnight.
Please note
• Numbers are limited so get there early.
• Bainskloof Pass is currently inaccessible from the Wellington side due to roadworks, and the Rockhopper Trail along the Witte River is closed until June 2022.
Dog-friendly? Pets are not allowed in CapeNature reserves.
Opening times 8am – 4pm (reserve office hours)
Cost R50 (adult day pass), R30 (children day pass)
R40 (adult overnight), R20 (children overnight), excludes cost of camping
Contact 021 8711 535 / 087 087 4145 (reserve office)
087 087 8250, reservation.alert@capenature.co.za (for permits)
Where to find it Tweede Tol on Bainskloof Pass (R301), via R43 from Worcester (N1)

Maalgat

Maalgat: Best Dams and Rivers in Cape Town

Where Cederberg
Distance from CT 3.5 hours
The Cederberg is a land like few others – with vast, silent landscapes and rock formations that look like the remains of an ancient civilisation. Among the many natural wonders to be found here is Maalgat (aka “Hippo Pool”), a natural swimming pool that is large and deep (don’t try to touch the bottom, you won’t reach it!), with natural rock platforms from which you can leap into the cool water. It can be accessed via a 30-minute hike downstream from Sanddrif camping site.
Please note
Permits must be obtained from Sanddrif reception office during office hours, or they can be arranged by telephone.
• Permits for Maalgat will not be issued to day visitors during school holidays and long weekends.
Dog-friendly? Pets are not allowed in CapeNature reserves.
Opening times Office hours: Monday – Friday, 8am –  6pm; Saturday, 8am –  5pm; Sunday & public holidays, 9am – 6pm
Cost R40 (adults), R25 (children)
Contact 027 482 2825 / 044 004 0060, sanddrif@cederbergwine.com
Where to find it Sanddrif Private Holiday Resort, Clanwilliam, via N7

Beaverlac

Beaverlac: Best Dams

Where Porterville
Distance from CT 2.5 to 3 hours
This lush campsite in the Groot Winterhoek Mountains is famous for its crystalline rock pools and waterfalls, fed by two rivers. When you’re not enjoying a refreshing dip, you can explore the various hiking trails and caves, some of which are decorated with rock art dating back thousands of years.
Please note
• Beaverlac no longer allows day visitors. You will have to book a spot at the campsite or one of the cabins (online, and pay cash at the gate).
• There is no cellphone reception or wi-fi at Beaverlac.
Dog-friendly? Dogs are allowed in the campsite, but not in the rock pools where people are swimming. No dogs on heat.
Opening times Monday – Thursday and Sunday, 8am – 4:30pm; Friday until 9pm; Saturday until 5pm.
Cost R30 (cars); R75 (adults camping per night); R45 (children camping per night); toddlers free; R50 (per dog per night); R200 – R400 (cabins per night, depending on size)
Contact 022 931 2945
Where to find it Beaverlac Campsite, Porterville, via N7

22 Waterfalls

The Best Dams and Rivers Near Cape Town: 22 Waterfalls
@berneboyd

Where Porterville
Distance from CT 2 hours
Hidden on a private farm and nature reserve at the foot of the Olifantsrivier Mountains is a hiking trail that leads up through a forested ravine alongside a stream. All along this path are waterfalls of various sizes and heights – once you get about halfway, the pools get deeper and better for swimming in. The waterfalls are spring-fed all year round, so do not require rain (although they are even more spectacular after it has rained). The hiking trail, which is marked with yellow stripes, is an adventure, with wooden ladder-bridges and lots of scrambling up boulders and through trees, so it requires a certain level of fitness and balance. But the reward of standing under a gushing waterfall or three, or six, is worth it.
Please note
• A maximum of 20 day visitors/hikers are allowed on weekends only, and they must be pre-booked.
• If you want to ensure access to the waterfalls, or want to visit during the week, you will need to stay over in the campsite or chalets.
Dog-friendly? Pets are not allowed.
Opening times 8am – 5pm (office hours)
Cost R50 per person
Overnight rates R350 (camping per night  1 – 4 people); R900 – R1 600 (chalets per night, depending on number of people)
Contact 022 125 0583, bookings@22watervalle.co.za
Where to find it Waterval Private Nature Reserve, off the R44, Porterville

Breede River

Breede River: Best Dams and Rivers in Cape Town

Where Swellendam
Distance from CT 3 to 3.5 hours
The Breede River flows east from the Ceres mountains down to the Indian Ocean, watering the famous Winelands of the Breede River Valley along the way. The Bontebok National Park, nestled in the Langeberg near the historic town of Swellendam, provides the easiest access to the river. Head to Die Stroom: it’s a great spot for a picnic or braai on the grassy, shady banks and safe swimming in the calm waters (and canoeing or even fishing if you have a permit).
Please note
• Bring your own food and refreshments – there is no shop or restaurant – and your own braai grid.
• The park’s rest camp, Lang Elsie’s Kraal, is next to the river too, offering chalets and campsites and its own swimming spot. Chalets from R1 500, campsites from R250.
Dog-friendly? No
Opening times Daily, 7am – 7pm
Cost Conservation fee: R50 (adults); R25 (children)
R75 (SADC nationals with valid passport); R37 (SADC children)
R150 (international visitors); R75 (international children)
Contact 028 514 2735, bontebok@sanparks.org
Where to find it Bontebok National Park near Swellendam, via N1 and R60

Suicide Gorge

Suicide Gorge: Best Dams and Rivers in Cape Town

Where Grabouw
Distance from CT 1.5 hours
Recommended only for hardy and experienced hikers/kloofers, the Suicide Gorge Trail in the Hottentots-Holland Nature Reserve takes you high into the mountains… and then down through the titular, adrenaline-pumping gorge. You’ll be getting wet on this trek so bring the appropriate gear – lightweight hiking shoes, a swimsuit (or a wetsuit is highly recommended), snacks for energy, sunblock and a change of clothes. Much of the 16.2km route involves slip-sliding your way along a natural waterslide, and at certain points you’ll be required to leap off cliffs – some as high as 14 metres – into the pools below.
Good to know The nearby 15km Riviersonderend Trail offers a similar challenge on the same river but with lower drops – the highest being a more manageable seven metres.
Please note
• Suicide Gorge must be tackled with a registered kloofing guide – contact CapeNature, which also issues hiking permits (only 30 per day); there are also adventure tour companies that offer Suicide Gorge trips.
• You need to start this route early, no later than 9am, and be fit and courageous.
• No children under 12 permitted.
• The reserve office is open on weekdays only, but a staff member is on duty every day.
Dog-friendly? Pets are not allowed in CapeNature reserves.
Opening times Daily, 8am – 4pm
Cost R375 per person (for Suicide Gorge and Riviersonderend routes)
Contact 028 841 4301/02 (reserve office), 087 087 8250, reservation.alert@capenature.co.za (permits)
Where to find it Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve, via N2 and R321

Palmiet River (Kleinmond)

Palmiet River: Best Dams and Rivers in Cape Town
CapeNature

Where Near Kleinmond
Distance from CT Around 1 hour 45 minutes
The Palmiet River feeds the apple farms of Elgin-Grabouw before heading to the sea near Kleinmond. Your best point of access is the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve. The easy, flat Palmiet River Trail (good for all ages) ambles for 10km from the parking area along the pristine river, with designated spots for swimming, to an area called The Beach – not the estuary outside Kleinmond, but a clearing of white sand alongside the river, good for a picnic and another dip.
Please note It is recommended that you start the hike no later than 2pm.
Dog-friendly? Pets are not allowed in CapeNature reserves.
Opening times Daily, 7.30am – 4pm (gate closes at 7pm)
Cost R60 (adults), R30 (children)
Contact 087 288 0499 (reserve office), 087 087 8250, reservation.alert@capenature.co.za (for permits)
Where to find it Kogelberg Nature Reserve, via N2 to Kleinmond, then R44, or via Gordons Bay and Clarens Drive.

Palmiet River (Elgin)

The Best Dams and Rivers Near Cape Town: Palmiet River Elgin

Where Elgin
Distance from CT 1 hour
For direct access to a flat and calm section of the Palmiet River, just step off the lawns into the water at Elgin River Lodge. This 100-hectare apple farm has 2.5 kilometres of river frontage, and offers a comfortable day of water-based fun for city slickers – with access to a restaurant, canoes and even a river barge for a sundowner cruise. Perhaps best of all, there’s a foefie-slide into the water. Day visitors are welcome (booking essential), except on Saturdays. It’s so idyllic, you may be tempted to book a log cabin for a couple of days.
Dog-friendly? No
Opening times Sunday – Friday, 10am – 4.30pm
Cost R100 per person (day visitor). Chalets R900 per adult sharing per night; Family Chalet R2300 per night for four people, R250 for extra child
Contact 021 846 8345, info@elginriverlodge.co.za
Where to find it Mofam Farm, Appletiser Road (off Viljoenshoof Road and N2), Elgin

Klein River

Swimming in Klein River
Phil Murray

Where Stanford
Distance from CT 2 hours
The peaceful river passes through the Akkedisberg Mountains and lush meadows of Stanford on its way to the estuary (Hermanus Lagoon), its calm waters beckoning weary travellers to lay down their loads and forget about the world for a while. The bottom of King Street is particularly convenient as an access point due to the nearby shaded lawns that make for an ideal picnic spot. The Stanford Wandelpad (walking trail) meanders along the river – a map is available at the local tourism bureau.
Dog-friendly? Yes
Opening times Always open
Cost Free for swimming
Contact 028 341 0340, ask@stanfordinfo.co.za
Where to find it King Street, Stanford, via N2 and R43

Fernkloof Three Dams

The Best Dams and Rivers Near Cape Town: Fernkloof Three Dams

Where Hermanus
Distance from CT 125km
The Drie Damme Trail is quite a steep climb but a short 2km walk through the Fernkloof Nature Reserve, in the Kleinriver Mountains behind Hermanus. Your reward will be a swim in an icy dam, wonderful coastal views and a dazzling array of fynbos flora. For a bit of variety, you walk along the dam wall and there’s a platform/tower to jump into the water from (great fun for the young at heart). There are footpaths to the two other dams, but most people choose to chill out at the first and biggest dam.
Please note It’s not accessed via the main entrance to Fernkloof but from a parking area and trailhead on First Avenue (look for the gate and sign “Three Dams”).
Dog-friendly? No
Opening times Daily, dawn to dusk
Cost Free (but consider making a donation at Fernkloof Reserve’s visitors centre)
Where to find it First Avenue, off Reservoir Road, Hermanus

The Berg River

Berg River: Best Dams and Rivers in Cape Town
@laracizek

Where Paarl
Distance from CT 50 minutes
The Berg River Resort is a clean, family-friendly venue that’s ideal for swimming and leisurely canoeing in the Winelands. Boats, canoes and tubes can be rented on site. If river-dipping is not your thing, there are two swimming pools at the resort: an Olympic-sized pool and a smaller one that’s shallow enough for toddlers to splash around in, as well as a waterslide.
Dog-friendly? No
Opening times Daily, 8am – 6pm
Cost R100 per person (toddlers free); R100 per car
R120 per person; R120 per car (​​25 December 2021– 3 January 2022)
Contact 021 007 1852, info@bergriverresort.co.za
Where to find it Berg River Resort, Southern Paarl, on R45 via N1

For all the latest happenings in and around Cape Town, subscribe to our weekly newsletter.

Add new comment

Disclaimer:

The Inside Guide has made every effort to ensure that the information in this post was correct at the time of publication. However, we do not assume any liability caused by errors, such as price, cost, time, and location.

Time of publication: 01 December 2021

5 Responses to “The Best Dams + Rivers for Swimming near Cape Town”

  1. Michelle

    Lovely

    Reply
  2. Gillian Davidson

    I agree with Bruce about these walks not being dog friendly. Especially those that allow dogs in the campsite but not to swim in the pools (see Beaverlac above) and also 22 Waterfalls in Porterville, which says no pets allowed but shows a hiker with a dog in the photo submitted. I understand that dogs may need to be on lead so that they don’t chase wildlife, and remain under the owners control, but not to allow dogs at all on all these Cape Nature walks feels decidedly dog unfriendly.

    Reply
  3. Jenni Wardman

    Wonderful to be able to visit these beautiful places in the Western Cape.

    Reply
  4. Bruce Hutchison

    It is very disappointing to note how many of dam & river sites featured do not welcome dogs, even on a leash. Is South Africa truly so dog unfriendly? When compared to the UK South Africa comes across completely anti dogs.

    Reply
    • Tobias

      It is so sad the thing about South African dog walkers is that they do not pick up after their own dogs , whent this morning for a hike to sandy bay there was so much dog shit every where it was disgusting even with dog poo stations every 200 meters…so good for those ” NO DOGS allowed

      Reply