The Top 10 Trail Running Races in South Africa

Explore the best trail running races in South Africa, where breathtaking landscapes, rugged terrains, and exhilarating challenges await passionate runners. Whether you're a seasoned trail runner or a newcomer seeking an adrenaline-fueled adventure, these top ten trail running competitions promise to push your limits, showcase the country's natural wonders, and leave you with an unforgettable experience. The following races are not listed in a particular order. 

1. The Otter Trail Run 

Where: Storms River/ Natures Valley, WC

When: October

Distance (per day): 4km| 42km|

Elevation (per day): TBC | +-2600m

This race is a two-day event that takes you through the scenic views of the Otter Trail. The route runs in the opposite direction each year. The Otter Edition starts in Storms River and finishes in Natures Valley, and the Retto Edition runs from Natures Valley to Storms River. There are two races following the same route - the Challenge (with an 11hr cut off) and the Race (with a 9hr cut off).

Whilst day one is just a 4km prologue, day two will take you through indigenous forests, across rugged Indian Ocean coastlines, over eleven steep climbs that will force even the strongest of runners to walk, and through four river crossings (which includes a swim across the Bloukrans River!). The spectacular views are what make this tough trail worth a spot on the bucket list for any avid runner. Book far in advance though as tickets sell out fast.

Website: Otter Trail Run

If you'd prefer to take it at a slower pace, check out our Otter Trail Hiking Kit List

2. AfricanX Trail Run

Where: Houw Hoek Hotel, Bot River, Overberg, WC

When: March

Distance (per day): 24km| 32km| 18km

Elevation (per day): 700m | 1100m | 700m

The AfricanX Trailrun is a three-day stage trail run that’s all about teamwork! Teams of two (male/ female/ mixed) explore some of the most magnificent trails the Houw Hoek Valley has to offer. Choose your partner wisely as you’ll have to rely on each other’s experience and expertise to complete each stage together. Each stage’s different route offers something new and exciting to tackle together - expect jeep and single tracks, as well as some bundu bashing (you’ll want to wear tights to protect your legs!).

The Festival Village located on the grounds of Houw Hoek Hotel has a great vibe - with games, food, drinks, live music, and even a pool party. Be sure to keep a cap and hydration bottle with you as it can get hot that time of year! 

Website: African X Trail Run

3. Dryland Tankwa Trail

Where: Kaleo Guest Farm, Ceres, WC

When: April

Distance (per day): 5km | 24km | 21km

Elevation (per day): 85m | 325m | 340m

Discover the heart of the Tankwa, as you run through the scenic views of rocky outcrops, fresh fruit plantations and the serenity of the Koue-Bokkeveld as a backdrop. This three-day multi-stage race starts with a day one fun run at night to get you warmed up, and then two days of gorgeous trails through the Karoo. The trail varies from jeep track to narrow flowing single track, over a dam wall and across stone formations that are thousands of years old. The vibe between the races is loads of fun, with great food and a live concert.

Website: Tankwa Trail

4. Dryland Traverse Adventure Trail Run

Where: De Hoek Mountain Resort, Oudsthoorn, WC

When: November

Distances (per day): 9.5km | 25.7km | 25km| 10km

Elevation (per day): 250m | 1140m | 820m | 350m

From the dark damp fissures of the world-renowned Cango Caves to the snow-packed peaks of the mighty UNESCO Swartberg mountain range, the Dryland Traverse is a race like no other. The four-day stage race showcases the classic trails of the Great and Klein Karoo. You’ll find yourself on single as well as jeep tracks with some steep climbs and technical descents. Day 3 will also take you on a never before run purpose-built track along the Grobbelaars River, going past stunning agricultural landscapes as well as historical Cape Dutch homesteads. Go for the striking landscapes, and stay for the gees in the evenings - it’s a lot of fun. 

Website: Dryland Traverse Adventure Trail Run

5. Skyrunning Series

Where: Robertson| Cape Town| Genadenal | Franschoek, WC

When:  August - September

Distances (per race): 22km | 25km | 26km | 26km

Elevation (per race): 1850m | 1450m | 1550m | 1850m

Do you have an affinity for mountain goating? The Sky Running Series is an ALL NEW event launching in 2023 with a series of four races climbing up some of SA’s most beautiful peaks. 

Based on European Alpine-style running, the premise of skyrunning is simple - run up to and over the highest peak in sight. The Skyrunning Series starts in Robertson with the Langeberg, then Cape Town’s Table Mountain, the Genadendal, and finally Franschhoek’s Mont Rochelle. You’ll definitely need your trekking poles for this one. 

Whilst it may be cheating to list four races as one here, the series measures the top 3 races of each runner to decide the series winner. For the very competitive, you can also try for King or Queen of the Mountain - the first to ascend to each peak. Despite the short distances, expect some tough climbs. 

NB Ultratrail’s special Mt Rochelle edition has been absorbed into this series.

Website: Skyrunning Series SA

6. Kaelo Oxpecker Trail Run

Where: Emseni Camp, R600, Winterton, KZN

When: May

Distance (per day): 21km | 16km

Elevation (per day): 1300m | 1250m 

Situated in the beautiful Drakensberg, the two-day Oxpecker trail running event is a vibe you don’t want to miss. The two-day route will take you through the mountains and bushveld views, along the banks of the Tugela River, to the base of Spioenkop Mountain, over the Twin Peaks, and through agricultural fields - all on well-worn single tracks. You’ll spot livestock, antelope and possibly even giraffes, pass through maze fields, and run alongside gorgeous aloes and acacias. 

There are three dates for the same race, making it easier to fit into your year’s schedule. The race village itself features craft stalls, talks, a bar and more. The vibe is very laid back, and many people walk the trail route. The event also raises money to conserve and care for the Oxpecker populations in the area - so it’s all fun for a cause. 

Website: The Oxpecker Trail Run

7. RMB Ultra Trail CT

Where: Cape Town, WC

When: November

Distance: multiple (23km, 35km, 55km, 100km, 166km)

Elevation: multiple (1144m, 1954m, 2706m, 4972m, 7516m)

RMB Ultra-trail Cape Town has grown to become a major international race with a week-long festival where the local community welcomes runners from across the globe to Cape Town. There are five races ranging in length and difficulty: 23km, 35km, 55km, 100km and 166km (100 miles). The trail takes runners all around the peninsula of Cape Town, ending with breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean, Table Mountain, and Lion's Head. Note that the races have slightly different start and end locations in Gardens. 

Webiste: Ultra Trail CPT

8. Ultra Trail Drakensberg

Where: Drakensberg, KZN

When: April

Distances: multiple (21km, 32km, 62km, 100km, 166km)

Elevation: multiple (990m, 1200m, 2400m, 4158m, 5,638m)

UltraTrail Drakensberg is a trail-running festival that takes place in spring each year within the Southern area of the internationally renowned Maloti Drakensberg World Heritage Site, traversing large swathes of its wilderness. There are multiple races on offer including a 100 miler and 100km for the pros, as well as the well-known 62km 5-day Giant’s Cup and a 32km Sundowner Run  - all against the backdrop of the majestic Drakensberg mountains.  If it seems intimidating, the 21km Rockjumper Run is the perfect entry-level opportunity to be part of the UTD festival with a trail that touches on a number of the iconic sections of the longer events. 

Website: Ultra Trail Drakensberg

9. MUT by UTMB

Where: George, WC

When: May 

Distances: multiple (10km, 20km, 50km, 100Km, 165km)

Elevation: multiple (TBC, 910m, 2258m, 3052m, 4855m, 7685m) 

The Mountain Ultra Trail (MUT) by UTMB is a trail-running festival that takes place in George. With beautiful garden route views, the race spans the Outeniqua Mountains with multiple scenic climbs, lush indigenous forests, and rich fynbos-lined trails. The climbs may be tough but they are so worth it - you’ll find breathtaking views of the arid Karoo to the North, and the Indian Ocean to the South at the high points. 

The MUT features multiple races of different distances and challenge ratings, from beginners to pros. For the bravest and fittest, there is the MUT 100 miler race with a 48hr cut-off time! The event forms part of the UTMB world series - with people travelling from all around the world to compete.

If you want to race alongside some of South Africa and the world’s top trail runners, this is one you should mark on your calendar!

Website: MUT by UTMB

10. SANLAM Cape Town Trail Marathon

Where: Cape Town, WC

When: October

Distances: multiple (22km, 46km)

Elevation: multiple (830m, 2200m)

Experience the gorgeous views of Table Mountain National Park, running through the rarest floral kingdom on the planet. The route is designed by Ryan Sandes, who is one of South Africa’s most accomplished ultra-trail runners and has a remarkable track record both in South Africa and internationally, having won an ultra race on every continent. The trail runs between Kirstenbosch and Green Point, traversing above the city through the flora, fauna and sweeping vistas of the Table Mountain National Park and the Atlantic Ocean. Whether you’re a Cape Town local, or just visiting, it’s a wonderful way to experience this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Website: Cape Town Trail Marathon

11. Bonus Race: Bat Run

Where: Cape Town, WC

When: TBC

Distance: 30km

Elevation: 2250m

Bat Run is a trail run with a twist! Can you summit all three of Cape Town’s iconic peaks in one night?  Taking place on a summer night around the full moon, this run is all about the fun of it. The goal is to summit Table Mountain, Devils Peak and Lions Head in one night - in the dark, with just a head torch to guide you. Obviously, lots and lots of climbing is to be expected - with a mix of hiking trails, paved roads and jeep tracks making up the route.

This race is relatively small with a cap of 127 runners, so be sure to book early for this one. 

Website: Batrun

12. Bonus Race: Clarens Cosmos Challenge

Where: Clarens, Free State

When: March

Distance (per day): multiple (16km or 28km) | 18km

Elevation (per day): multiple (610m or 1180m) | 1205m

Not all the best races take place around South Africa’s coast. Through wide mountain paths and richly green valleys, the Cosmos Run takes you through the blooming cosmos flowers in Clarens. This two-day event offers a long and short route so beginners can still give this a try without being too intimidated. Don’t take it too easy though, there are some challenging climbs, and the terrain for day 2 is quite technical. Along the gravel paths and jeep tracks, you’ll see lots of blossoming cosmos flowers, as well as panoramic mountain views of Lesotho and perhaps even some game if you’re lucky. 

Website:Clarens Cosmos Challenge


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