Namibia’s Fish River Canyon Hike

Namibia’s Fish River Canyon Hike

Enjoy spectacular scenery and star-spangled nights

The four to five-day Fish River Canyon hike traverses 85 km of the world’s second largest canyon offering opportunities to test your fitness and your resolve during a trip to Namibia.

Due to the extreme summer temperatures in Namibia, adventurers can only head out on this trail between 1 May and 15 September every year. It is the only way to access the depths of this incredibly scenic place.

If you’re looking for a new challenge to add to your hiking CV, keep reading to find out more.

About the Fish River Canyon

The Fish River Canyon forms part of Namibia’s arid Ais-Ais National Park. It owes its existence to 650 million years of erosive action by the Fish River, Namibia’s longest watercourse.

The Fish River is 650 km long and the canyon encompasses 161 km of its total length. The river rises in the Hardap Mountains and makes its way westward towards the Atlantic Ocean, emptying into the Orange River on the border with South Africa at the end of the canyon.

In places, the canyon is 27 km wide and 550m deep, creating a spectacular showcase of jagged rocks and beautiful towering cliffs. During the hiking season, the Fish River comprises a series of long narrow pools, but it can become a raging torrent during the summer months.

How to Book Your Fish River Canyon Hike

You must have a group of at least three people to book the Fish River Canyon hike and booking is compulsory. Only thirty people may start this hike every day and children under 12 years old may not participate.

You can call the NWR’s Cape Town or Namibia office to book your place and you pay a 10% deposit within 48 hours of booking. You must pay the outstanding balance 30 days before the commencement date of your hike.

When you book your hike NWR will send you a medical clearance certificate. You must get your doctor to fill this in, and present it on arrival, or you won’t be able to participate in the hike.

If you want to spend the night in accommodation nearby before and after your hike, it’s advisable to book this at the same time.

What to Expect Along the Way

The start of the hike is just 10 km from the Hell’s Bend Viewpoint at Hobas Rest Camp in the Ais Ais National Park, about 200 km north of the Noordoewer border control post from South Africa, and 700 km south of Windhoek.

You can leave your car at Ais Ais and take a shuttle to Hobas or leave it at Hobas Rest Camp and book a shuttle from Ais Ais. Both are good options but make sure you book overnight accommodation close to where you leave your car, as you won’t want to drive anywhere after this long, tiring hike.

A Day By Day Account

The hardest part of the Fish River Canyon hike is the steep descent into the canyon at the outset. Although most of the route is along the flat bottom section of the canyon, the trail is littered with rocks and pebbles, with frequent water crossings. So, it’s slow going for the most part.

Once you reach the bottom of the canyon, you simply follow the river, which is about 2 km from the bottom of the descent trail. You can camp on the sandy beach at the river after the descent, or head straight for your first overnight stop.

Day One-  Heading for Palm Sulphur Springs
You’ll walk for about 20 km on the first day and it will take you about 7 hours to cover this distance. You can camp anywhere you want to along the way, there are plenty of lovely sandy spots alongside the river.

If you make it all the way to the springs, you can enjoy ending your day with a relaxing soak in the hot mineral waters.

Day Two –  Three Sisters
You’ll face more challenging terrain on day two, comprising plenty of shifting sand and rocks, but there are plenty of opportunities for a refreshing dip along the way.

Once again, you can choose to camp next to the river and enjoy the magnificent stargazing opportunities from your sandy riverside campsite.

Day Three – Van Trotha’s Grave
There are three significant shortcuts along the way between Three Sisters and the Gravesite. Be sure not to miss them or you’ll end up enduring an exhausting day’s hiking.

The first shortcut follows a route over the mountain, the second has the word shortcut written in large letters on the rocks, and the third one is right after that as you reach the river.

There are a lot of river crossings, rocks, and sand to navigate on day three, even with the shortcuts.

Day Four –   Ais Ais
By the fourth day, you’re almost out of the canyon and the scenery isn’t as dramatic as on the previous days. You’ll walk along a 4×4 trail, clamber over some rocks and sand, and then there’s a nice easy path all the way to Ais-Ais.

It only takes about half a day to get to the end of the trail on the final day, so you’ll have plenty of time to soak up the hot pools and fine fare on offer at this rest camp.

What to Bring Along

Namibia might be a hot country, but the nights on the Fish River Canyon hike can get very cold. Be sure to bring a sleeping bag that’s rated to a minimum of 5°C and warm clothes to sleep in. A sleeping bag liner is also a good option to add some extra warmth, and it’s lightweight.

Shoes can become a big issue over the uneven terrain. Most people find that trail running shoes work best. Hiking boots can become hot and heavy and give you blisters.

You must bring a first aid kit along with plenty of plasters.

Lightweight long pants and long-sleeved shirts are best for walking under the hot sun, and don’t forget to bring a hat and sunglasses. Sunscreen is a must every single day.

Bring a towel for swimming, you’ll find no shortage of opportunities to immerse yourself in hot and cold water.

You don’t need a tent for camping along the trail and it only adds unnecessary weight to your backpack. Besides, you don’t want to miss the chance to sleep under the dazzling display of stars every night.

Small self-inflatable mattresses or rolled-up foam mattresses work well enough.

You can bring hiking poles to help you navigate some of the steeper terrain and the river crossings.

Other essentials include a headlamp or torch, a route map, and a water bottle with a filter or purification pills.

A small portable gas stove is ideal for cooking, and you shouldn’t need more than 500ml of gas for your hike. You aren’t allowed to make a fire in the canyon but don’t forget a lighter to light your stove.

Plastic or bamboo cutlery and crockery work best as they’re lightweight and easy to clean.

Enjoy the Best of Namibia

Hiking the Fish River Trail is only one way to maximize the wonderful attractions of Namibia. Browse our blog to discover more and start planning your next big adventure today.

Please Note: The details shared herein were correct at the time of publishing. However, with time some of this information may change. We recommend confirming information with suppliers prior to making final travel arrangements. If you do happen to find an issue with any information we’ve shared here, please feel free to contact us so that we can make the relevant changes.


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