Trail blazing

Photo of trees and trails at Northern Farm
Northern Farm, Johannesburg

I’m addicted to endorphins. I get my kicks from running, especially if it involves navigating a trail or conquering a hill.

Johannesburg has a great selection of urban and out-of-town trails. Trail running is incredibly accessible. It’s doesn’t require expensive gear. You will need shorts, a shirt, socks, shoes, water, food, your mobile phone and a running partner.

It’s not a good idea to run any of these trails alone as if you sprain an ankle on top of a hill, you will appreciate the help and sympathy from your running partner.

This post lists my favourite trails, but I know there are a plenty more I still need to run. Please leave your suggestions in the comments section of this post.

The Braamfontein Spruit: The Braamfontein Spruit trail winds its way from Emmarentia Dam Park for over 30 kilometres following the river that cuts through suburbs such as Parkhurst, Craighall, Riverclub, Bryanston and Rivonia. The route has been cleaned up over the past forty years, but I wouldn’t run this trail alone.  You will share the single track with mountain bikers, walkers, horse riders and people living on the spruit. It’s an underrated green belt and largely unexplored by the average Jo’burger, even though it cuts under and over popular roads.

Delta Park: If you run down (northerly direction) the Braamfontein Spruit from Emmarentia Dam, you will come across Delta Park. It was hard to believe this beautiful green space was once a sewage plant. Today it’s thirteen hectares of fun for bird lovers, dogs, kids, walkers, bikers and horse riders.  It’s also the home of a Park Run, held every Saturday morning from the old sewage works art deco building. It’s great fun. There is no charge for this five kilometer time trial. Register here.

Northern Farm Nature Reserve: Northern Farm is one of Johannesburg’s best kept secrets. It’s about a thirty minute drive from Delta Park and Emmarentia Dam. This government-run farm straddles the N14 highway, Jukskei River and Diepsloot township.  In the future, the township may swallow the pristine 2500 hectares of grasslands and woodlands.  I hope the municipality has the foresight to protect this special area as there is plenty to explore while you connect with nature. The routes are mostly jeep track, with some single track. You will be competing with many mountain bikers and a few birders. In fact, Northern Farm has some of the best bird viewing in the Johannesburg region. There’s also a chance to get your feet wet while crossing two dam walls. I wouldn’t recommend running at Northern Farm alone. The authorities have improved security for visitors, but I’ve heard stories of mountain bikers losing their bikes to criminals who jump the fence. I’ve been visiting for years and I’ve never had a problem. You can purchase a season ticket or single-entry at the gate.

The Hennops River Krokodilberg Trail: I’ve enjoyed two races on this trail starting from the banks of the Hennops River and following a steep route up a mountain and back over the river across a suspension bridge. It’s a wonderful trail of around 12 kilometres. The views are great and you will come across hikers on this popular route.  It’s about a 40 kilometre drive from Johannesburg, heading towards Hartbeespoort on the R511.

B’Sorah Farm: B’Sorah is on the Hartbeeshoek Road near Hartbeespoort Dam. The trails opened to the public in late-2012. The focus for this trail is mountain biking, but I spent the weekend here and loved exploring the trails on foot. You will come across nyala, waterbuck, impala and blesbok, as well as warthogs and baboons. If you are planning a night run, be careful of nocturnal species such as brown hyena and jackal. They will probably be more scared of you. B’Sorah is an hour’s drive from Johannesburg, but it feels like a million miles away. I suggest staying the night in one of their four luxury tents. There is a nominal entrance fee for day trippers. The farm is a fun and relaxing break from the city.

Segwati Game Ranch: Segwati is stituated across the road from B’Sorah Farm. It’s a wonderful trail, with spectacular views from the top of the hill of the surrounding area, including Hartbeespoort Dam. There is a nominal fee to use this trail.

Magaliesberg Trails on the Skeerpoort River: These popular trails are situated just over an hour from Johannesburg by car. The trail begins at Van Gaalen Cheese Farm in Skeerpoort on the Maglies Meander route. Mountain bikers rule the trail, but you will also come across horse riders, hikers and the occasional trail runner.  The riverside section of the trail is beautiful and peaceful. You can also enjoy the trail from horseback by visiting Holly Brooke Farm a few kilometres from Van Gaalen.

Groenkloef Nature Reserve: Paul Kruger proclaimed this valley in Tshwane, a few kilometres from the centre of Pretoria, as a game sanctuary way back in 1895. According to what I’ve read, it was the first game sanctuary on the African continent. I’ve been visiting this reserve for many years and always love exploring its jeep track. It has some single track. You will come across impala, kudu, blue wildebeest, ostrich, giraffe, red hartebeest or sable antelope. It’s easy to access from Johannesburg. Take the N1 and N14 North towards Pretoria. Look out for the Eeufees Road turnoff and follow the signs to your right to Fountains Valley Resort. The entrance to Groenkloef Nature Reserve is less than a kilometre from Fountains Valley’s main entrance. There is a small entrance fee..

Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve: This is the only trail I’ve listed to the east of Johannesburg. I’m sure there are plenty more in the eastern and southern region of Johannesburg that I still need to discover, but this post only includes trails I’ve personally experienced and enjoyed. The Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve is about an hour from Johannesburg on the N3 highway near Heildelberg. It takes its name from the sugarbush, a prevalent plant in the area.  There is plenty of big game and over 200 indigenous bird species. You will share the trails with hikers, bikers  and birders.  Take plenty of water, a camera and a map provided at the entrance to the reserve.

Trail running is for everyone. If you haven’t considered it yet, be sure to add it to your activities in-and-around Johannesburg. You will feel alive!Segwati

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8 thoughts on “Trail blazing

      1. Yes indeed, it is a great spot to bike and run. It was a long time ago I last biked there. Will put it on my trail running list. Thanks for putting it back on my memory map!

  1. Hi Marcus, I’m not from Joburg but am looking for 2 trail running routes of 30km with between 1200 and 1500m climbing. Any suggestions or maps to share?

    1. Hi Misty. I don’t have maps to share, but you can’t go wrong with Van Gaalen’s trails. The climb is awesome and the views are wonderful. Click here for more. If you are looking for a spot closer to Johannesburg, I have climbed (you will need to do three circuits of 10kms) at Fountains Nature Reserve in Pretoria. The entrance fee is worth it and you get to run with giraffe and wildebeest.

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