The Best Dams + Rivers for Swimming near Cape Town

The Best Dams + Rivers for Swimming near Cape Town

When Cape Town heats up, it’s time to cool down in one of these freshwater pools.

Cape Town is dotted with a refreshing array of amazing dams, lakes and rivers where you can enjoy scenic swims 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.

Silvermine Reservoir

Dams Rivers Silvermine
@guy_mcdonald

Where Between Tokai and Noordhoek
Distance from CT 50 minutes
The large, glistening reservoir is open to everybody, including your pooches (on the south side only), 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

  • Dog walkers require a My Activity permit (R360, valid for 12 months) from Table Mountain National Park’s Tokai office (weekdays only).
  • No braais are allowed during summer due to the risk of wildfires.

Opening times October – March, 7am – 7pm
April – September, 8am – 6pm
Cost Conservation fee: R40 (adult); R20 (child)
SADC nationals with passport: R80 (adult); R40 (child)
International visitors: R160 (adult); R80 (child)
Contact 021 780 9002 (gate)
TMNP Tokai office: 021 712 7471, tablem@sanparks.org
Where to find it Silvermine Nature Reserve, Gate 1, Ou Kaapse Weg (M3), between Tokai/Steenberg and Noordhoek

Krom River

Dams Rivers Krom River

Where Worcester/Paarl
Distance from CT About 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 fairly easy 7km Krom River Trail leads through riverine forest and past deep, translucent rockpools. The ultimate destination is not one but two waterfalls – both with fabulous plunge pools clear enough to snorkel in. The water’s ice-cold, but that will probably be a relief after the hike. If you want maximum sunshine at the pools, make an early start in the morning.
Please note

  • There is a 10-metre climb up a chain ladder between the waterfalls. It can be slippery.
  • Permits can be purchased at Du Kloof Lodge (just after the tunnel on your left) or from CapeNature. Only 24 are issued per day to prevent overcrowding.

Dog-friendly? Pets are not allowed in CapeNature reserves.
Opening times Daily, 8am – 6pm
Cost R50 (adult); R30 (child)
Contact 021 871 1535 (reserve office)
CapeNature: 087 087 8250, reservation.alert@capenature.co.za
Where to find it Du Toitskloof (parking area first road to the left after the Worcester exit of the Huguenot Tunnel), via N1 from Paarl

Maalgat

Dams Rivers Maalgat

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 will not be issued to day visitors during school holidays and long weekends. You will need to be camping overnight.

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 R85 (adults); R55 (children)
Contact 027 482 2825 / 044 004 0060, sanddrif@cederbergwine.com
Where to find it Sanddrif Private Holiday Resort, Clanwilliam, via N7

Bainskloof

Dams Rivers Bainskloof

Where Worcester
Distance from CT 2 hours
A number of rivers meander through the magnificent Bainskloof (part of the Limietberg Nature Reserve), offering tempting waterside hikes. The 8km Rockhopper Trail, as its name suggests, makes its way along the boulder-strewn Witte River past several swimming spots. The 8km Bobbejaans River Trail leads past mountain pools to a waterfall. The Happy Valley Trail, despite being the longest at 9km, is the easiest, and heads to the fabulous Junction Pools (where two rivers meet).
Good to know Tweede Tol is a campsite on the 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

  • Hiking is limited to 24 people per day, and booking is essential.
  • Numbers are also limited at Tweede Tol (120 per day), so get there early.

Dog-friendly? Pets are not allowed in CapeNature reserves.
Opening times 8am – 4pm (reserve office hours)
Tweede Tol: 8am – 6pm
Cost Hiking permit: R50 (adults); R30 (children)
Tweede Tol: R50 (adult); R30 (child)
Contact 021 871 1535 (reserve office); 087 087 4145 (Tweede Tol)
CapeNature: 087 087 8250, reservation.alert@capenature.co.za
Where to find it Various trailheads on Bainskloof Pass (R301), via R43 from Worcester

Groot Winterhoek Wilderness Area

Dams Rivers Groot Winterhoek Wilderness
Bianca Ryseck

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

  • Booking and permits are required (a maximum of 12 people per trail).
  • Be properly prepared for hiking, with water, food, sunblock, maps and warm clothing (just in case).
  • There is no cellphone reception in the reserve.

Dog-friendly? Pets are not allowed in CapeNature reserves.
Opening times Daily, 7.30am – 6pm (last entry 2pm)
Cost R80 (adult); R50 (child)
Contact 087 087 4047 (reserve office)
CapeNature: 087 087 8250, reservation.alert@capenature.co.za
Where to find it Groot Winterhoek Wilderness Area, via N1, R44, R365 and Dasklip Pass/Cardouw turn-off

Beaverlac

Dams Rivers Beaverlac Waterfalls

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. 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 an overnight stay in the campsite or one of the cabins.
  • There is no cellphone reception or wi-fi at Beaverlac.

Dog-friendly? Yes, in the campsite, but not in the rock pools where people are swimming.
Opening times Monday – Thursday + Sunday, 8am – 4:30pm
Friday 8am – 9pm; Saturday 8am – 5pm
Contact 022 931 2945
Where to find it Beaverlac Campsite, Porterville, via N7

22 Waterfalls

Dams Rivers 22 Waterfalls

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

  • Booking is required. On weekends, a maximum of 20 day visitors/hikers is permitted.

Dog-friendly? No
Opening times 8am – 5pm (office hours)
Cost R50 per person
Contact 022 125 0583, bookings@22watervalle.co.za
Where to find it Waterval Private Nature Reserve, off the R44, Porterville

Breede River

Dams Rivers Breede River

Where Swellendam
Distance from CT 3 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 beverages – 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 river swimming spot.

Dog-friendly? No
Opening times Daily, 6am – 6pm
Cost Conservation fee: R55 (adult); R27 (child)
SADC nationals with passport: R85 (adult); R42 (child)
International visitors: R169 (adult); R85 (child)
Contact 028 514 2735, bontebok@sanparks.org
Where to find it Production Street, off the N2, Swellendam

Suicide Gorge

Dams Rivers Suicide Gorge

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. 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 (30 per day) or book with an adventure tour company that offers Suicide Gorge trips.
  • You need to start this route early, no later than 9am, and be fit (and courageous).
  • No children under 12 permitted.

Dog-friendly? Pets are not allowed in CapeNature reserves.
Opening times Daily, 7am – 5pm (November – April only)
Cost R420 (for Suicide Gorge and Riviersonderend routes)
Contact 028 841 4301/02 (reserve office)
CapeNature: 087 087 8250, reservation.alert@capenature.co.za
Where to find it Hottentots-Holland Nature Reserve, via N2 and R321

Palmiet River

Dams Rivers Palmiet River

Where Near Kleinmond
Distance from CT 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.
  • You can also explore the river on a tubing adventure with Gravity Adventures.

Dog-friendly? Pets are not allowed in CapeNature reserves.
Opening times Daily, 7.30am – 7pm
Cost R60 (adult); R40 (child)
Contact 087 288 0499 (reserve office)
CapeNature: 087 087 8250, reservation.alert@capenature.co.za
Where to find it Kogelberg Nature Reserve, via N2 to Kleinmond, then the R44

Elgin River Lodge

Dams Rivers Elgin River Lodge

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, canoeing, tubing, waterskiing and even a river barge for a sundowner cruise. Perhaps best of all, there’s a zipline 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 (day visitors)
Where to find it Mofam Farm, Appletiser Road (off Viljoenshoof Road and N2), Elgin

Fernkloof Three Dams

Dams Rivers Fernkloof Three Dams

Where Hermanus
Distance from CT 1.5 hours
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, sunrise to sunset
Cost Free (but consider making a donation at Fernkloof Reserve’s visitors’ centre)
Where to find it First Avenue, off Reservoir Road, Hermanus

Klein River

Dams Rivers Klein River

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

Paradyskloof Waterfall

Dams Rivers Paradyskloof Waterfall

Where Stellenbosch
Distance from CT 45 minutes
If you fancy sitting under a waterfall, letting the water splash over you as you gaze out over a fantastic view of the winelands all the way to False Bay and Table Mountain, this entry-level hike through the pine-scented Eden Forest will reward you. There’s no deep pool for submerged swimming – more like splash pools and the cascade shower – but it will still be fantastic on a hot day. The 5km hike on the slopes of the Helderberg follows the Eerste River and crosses it twice at shallow points; it also leads through fields of fynbos and beautiful proteas.
Please note The waterfall is best after it has rained.
Dog-friendly? Yes, on a leash
Opening times Daily, 7.30am – 8pm
Cost Free
Contact 021 808 8160/8119
Where to find it Eden Forest, Paradyskloof Way, Stellenbosch

Jonkershoek Nature Reserve

Dams Rivers Jonkershoek Nature Reserve
Landlopers

Where Stellenbosch
Distance from CT 1 hour
A 15-minute drive from the centre of town, this lush reserve holds some of the most stunning scenery in the Winelands. It offers four fairly challenging hiking trails, with many rockpools to dip into along the way. The two-hour Tweede Waterval Trail heads (as the packaging suggests) to a waterfall – actually, to two cascades. The invigorating six-hour Swartboskloof Trail ascends to the top of Kurktrekkernek, and then back down past a waterfall, where you can take a refreshing dip.
Please note

  • The Waterval trails must be started before 2pm.
  • You will need a permit to access the hiking trails. Contact CapeNature or acquire them at the reserve office on site.

Opening times 7am – 6pm
Cost R50 (adult); R30 (child)
Dog-friendly? Pets are not allowed in CapeNature reserves.
Contact 087 087 4118 (reserve office)
CapeNature: 087 087 8250, reservation.alert@capenature.co.za
Location Jonkershoek Road (via N1), Stellenbosch

York Dam at Boschendal

Dams Rivers York Dam

Where Franschhoek
Distance from CT 50 minutes
The mirror-smooth surface of this scenic natural dam is disturbed by splashes and ripples on Friday evenings in summer, when the wine estate hosts a gathering of open-water swimmers. The event is run under the watchful eyes of the 3YO team and anyone is welcome to join them – from beginners to more serious triathletes getting in some training. What could be more invigorating than a late-afternoon splash to end off the week? Lie on your back and watch the colours change on the surrounding mountain slopes and in the sky above.
Please note

  • Meet at Gate 20 (Lanquedoc Gate).
  • After your swim, you can head to the Friday Night Market on the estate for supper.

Dog-friendly? No
Opening times Friday, from 5pm
Cost R100 (R80 if overnight guest)
Contact 073 052 3770, info@3yo.co.uk
Where to find it Boschendal Wine Estate, Helshoogte Road (R310), Pniel, Franschhoek

The Berg River

Dams Rivers Berg River

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; R100 per car
​​25 December 2023– 3 January 2024: R120 per person; R120 per car
Contact 021 007 1852, info@bergriverresort.co.za
Where to find it Berg River Resort, Southern Paarl, on R45 via N1

Matroosberg

Dams Rivers Matroosberg

Where Near Ceres
Distance from CT 2 hours
Matroosberg Private Nature Reserve is famous for snow in winter, but come here in summertime and you can spend a day discovering a series of rock pools and waterfalls on the upper slopes of the mountain. The smooth, flat rocks around the largest pool are perfect for sliding down on your bum into the water, and just as good for sunbathing. It’s a two-hour hike to the Crystal Pools, or with a 4×2 bakkie you can drive to the foot of the mountain and take a 40-minute hike.
Please note

  • If you want to stay over, there are campsites and several cabins. To be closest to the pools, book the off-grid Solitaire mountain cabin.

Dog-friendly? Yes, R30 per dog
Opening times Daily, 8am – 4pm
Cost R90 (adults); R70 (child, under 13 years old)
Contact 023 312 2282, info@matroosberg.com
Where to find it Matroosberg Reserve/Erfdeel Farm, Bo-Swaarmoed Road (off R46), near Ceres

Duiwelsbos Waterfall

Dams Rivers Duiwelsbos Waterfall

Where Swellendam
Distance from CT 2.5 hours
Those wanting an incredible forest-and-waterfall experience will find it at Marloth Nature Reserve. Beneath the soaring Langeberg Mountains, it protects a few pockets of rare old-growth, indigenous forest reminiscent of the Knysna Forests. Within it is a moderate 1.8km hike through cool, shady forest alongside a river (with pools for dipping), which takes you to Duiwelsbos Waterfall and its magical pool. It’s mostly uphill, with the aid of log stairs. To make a day of it, you can combine the Duiwelsbos route with the longer Plaat Loop, which gives you access to additional mountain streams to swim in.
Please note

  • Watch out for baboons, and keep your picnic provisions hidden.
  • You will need to get a permit for hiking – at the entrance gate or from CapeNature.

Dog-friendly? No
Opening times Daily, sunrise to sunset
Cost Permits: R50 (adults); R30 (children)
Contact 087 087 3039/3883 (reserve)
CapeNature: 087 087 8250, reservation.alert@capenature.co.za
Where to find it Marloth Nature Reserve, R60 (off the N2), near Swellendam

Kleinplaas Dam

Dams Rivers Kleinplaas Dam

Where Simon’s Town
Distance from CT 1 hour
The top of Red Hill is a plateau – the perfect location for a large reservoir. A 2km-or-so walk along a relatively flat track from the parking area (past fynbos shrubs filled with colourful blooms at certain times of the year) will bring you to the shores of the dam. The water is easy to access for swimming; it even has patches of glistening white-sand beach, and this combined with the stark rocky landscape makes the setting feel slightly reminiscent of a Greek island. Pack a picnic and a beach umbrella (there is no shade whatsoever).
Please note

  • It can get quite windy up here, so choose a good-weather day.
  • It’s best to visit in groups.

Dog-friendly? Yes
Opening times Daily, sunrise to sunset
Cost Free
Where to find it Red Hill Road, off Main Road (M4), Simon’s Town

Important note Swimming in remote, wilderness areas is at your own risk – don’t go in the water unless you’re a confident swimmer. Take safety precautions, as crime and accidents do happen. Always go in a group, not alone. Contact the parks or places to ensure conditions are suitable before visiting. Always be aware of the weather – while you may set off on a sunny day for a hike and a swim, conditions can change quickly in the Cape! There are also adventure-tour companies that offer guided trips to some of the above-mentioned spots.

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.

Discover all of the Cape’s hidden gems – subscribe to our weekly newsletter.

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: 13 December 2023

Add new comment

One Response to “The Best Dams + Rivers for Swimming near Cape Town”

  1. Yvonne Ruster

    thank you

    Reply