A Guide to Hiking in Waterberg Plateau National Park

Waterberg Plateau National Park is the unsung but absolutely stunning Namibia destination that really should be on more Namibia tour itineraries.

This spectacular place is infinitely beautiful and its rough and rugged terrain is enough to entice hikers of all kinds, from those beginners just breaking in their boots to those experienced juggernauts who leave the rest of us in the dust!

Hiking in Namibia requires a special set of skills (and equipment). Not only do the hot desert conditions make for a very tiring hike if you are not fully prepared, but the landscape itself can be quite a tough challenge.

When taking on the giant-like rocky fortress of the Waterberg Plateau, you will need to make the right preparations and have the right equipment, all to ensure that your hike is not just a success but also a pleasant experience.

Waterberg National Park is just the place to have an adventure and what’s more is that it is home to a stunning array of birds and animals, as well as a fair number of fascinating geological wonders.


Waterberg National Park


A Little Bit About Waterberg Plateau National Park

Waterberg Plateau National Park isn’t just another nature reserve.

It’s a fortress of ancient sandstone mesas that have eroded in such a way that the stones rise up majestically from the flat, green plains below.

Unlike the unforgiving desert landscape that surrounds it, the park boasts a surprising greenness, with plenty of flora and fauna, and terrain of all kinds, making it surprisingly accessible for hikers of all levels.

The park is home to some pretty fascinating rock engravings as well as prints of dinosaurs, and while its history is a big part of the attraction, most who visit here come to the park to look at the wildlife.

Waterberg Plateau National Park was declared a conservation area in the 1970s to protect the landscape and to provide a refuge for rare wildlife like the square-lipped rhino. The park is also home to a thriving leopard population.

You can reach Waterberg with a comfortable drive from either Otjiwarongo or Windhoek, Namibia’s capital.

The Best Time to Visit Waterberg Plateau National Park

The park’s true nature is best seen during the dry season, which stretches from May to October.

This is when Namibia transforms into a wonderland of clear skies, pleasant daytime temperatures, and minimal rainfall.

Not only will you experience comfortable hiking conditions, but the dry season also coincides with peak wildlife viewing opportunities. There is nothing quite like spotting a majestic black rhino or a herd of springbok antelope against the dramatic backdrop of the Waterberg Plateau; it is an experience that will stay with you long after your hike.


Namibia Hiking Boots


Hiking Trails in Waterberg Plateau National Park

Waterberg Plateau caters to hikers of all kinds so you don’t have to worry about being a tremendously fit and experienced hiker before you book such a Namibia tour. Hiking in the Waterberg Plateau National Park includes a variety of options that include both guided hikes and the freedom of going on a planned but self-guided walk.

The park has 9 short hiking trails, which are close to one of the park’s main camps, and can usually be completed within an hour. These walks are ideal for a quick day trip and along the way, you will see stunning views as well as those dinosaur prints and engravings we mentioned earlier.

Then there is the more intense hiking trail, which will take 3 days to complete. All of the longer hikes will always need to be booked well in advance and you will need to pack everything for your few days on the trail, such as a sleeping bag, food and cooking items. Water can sometimes be provided depending on who you book your long hike with.

Hiking with a Guide

For those who want to have a really informative experience, guided Namibia hikes are a fantastic option. Park rangers generally take the lead on these excursions, sharing their knowledge of the park’s geology, flora, and fauna. Here are a couple of the popular guided hikes:

  • The Leopard’s Lair Trail (Moderate, 4-5 hours): This full-day adventure takes you deep into the heart of the plateau, where you will get to enjoy stunning panoramic views and have the chance to spot elusive wildlife like leopards (with a bit of luck!).
  • The Ancient San Bushman Paintings Trail (Easy, 2-3 hours): This engaging hike will introduce you to the park’s rich history. You’ll get to explore hidden caves adorned with ancient San Bushman paintings and enjoy a glimpse into the lives of the area’s earliest inhabitants.

Venturing Out on Your Own

For experienced hikers wanting a bit more of an independent adventure, Waterberg has a network of well-maintained self-guided trails. Here are a few suggestions to whet your whistle:

  • Dassie, Fountain & Porcupine Trail Loop (Moderate, 5-6 hours): This scenic loop trail combines a range of landscapes, which include lush ravines and rocky outcrops. Keep your eyes peeled for dassies (rock hyraxes) and be sure to refill your water bottle at the aptly named Fountain Trail.
  • Giraffe Crossing Loop (Easy, 1-2 hours): This shorter trail is perfect for families or those wanting a more relaxed hike. As the name suggests, you might even encounter a majestic giraffe gracefully crossing your path while out on the trail.
  • Aloe Circle, Fig Tree Walk, and Mission Way (Easy, 1-2 hours): This laidback hike is around 3.9km, and it will take you towards the plateau. Along the way, you will see all sorts of incredible vistas as well as bird life.


Dassie in Waterberg National Park


What to Expect When Hiking in Waterberg Plateau National Park

The beauty of Waterberg Plateau National Park comes hand-in-hand with a unique terrain that demands respect and preparation.

The park is dominated by dramatic sandstone mesas, their surfaces often uneven and rocky. As you make your way along the trails, be prepared to encounter some tough inclines and descents that can add a challenging yet rewarding element to your hike.

Make the most of the Wild Side

It’s important to remember that Waterberg is a true wilderness experience, in every sense of the word.

Unlike some national parks, you won’t find convenience stores or cafes around every corner. While this remoteness adds to the adventure, it is also a reminder of the importance of coming here prepared.

If your tour doesn’t provide water, you must always make sure that you carry enough with you, as dehydration can become a serious issue in the Namibian climate. You should also pack snacks, sun protection, and a hat, and consider bringing a first-aid kit and a small emergency blanket for added peace of mind.

Know Before You Go

Park regulations always encourage responsible hiking practices.

Guided hikes led by park rangers will give you the most freedom to explore the park’s off-limit areas and hidden gems.

But if you’re set on venturing out on a self-guided hike, you must stick to the designated trails and inform park authorities about your route and planned return time.

Cell service might be limited in the park, so informing park staff ensures help is readily available in case of emergencies.

Desert Hiking Packing Essentials

Conquering Waterberg’s trails requires a strategic backpack filled with those common hiking essentials as well as a few items just for the desert conditions. Here’s what you’ll need to ensure a comfortable and safe hike:

  • A Backpack – Go with a comfortable backpack with enough capacity to carry your supplies for the day. Opt for a well-ventilated design to combat the Namibian heat.
  • Some Sturdy Shoes – Waterberg’s terrain demands reliable footwear. Hiking boots with good ankle support and traction are a must for taking on the rocky paths and inclines.
  • Sun Protection is Non-Negotiable – The Namibian sun is no joke. Pack a high-factor (SPF 50+) sunscreen, a wide-brimmed hat to shield your face and neck, and polarised sunglasses to protect your eyes from the glare. And don’t forget to reapply sunscreen liberally throughout your hike.
  • Clothing for Comfort – When it comes to clothing, breathability and quick-drying fabrics are a must and you should also opt for lightweight, long-sleeved shirts and pants made from materials like nylon or merino wool. These will keep you cool and protected from the sun’s harsh rays. Pack an extra layer for cooler mornings or unexpected weather changes.
  • Navigation – For self-guided hikes, a map and compass (or a GPS device) are essential tools for staying oriented and finding your way back. Familiarise yourself with the park map before setting off, and consider downloading offline maps on your GPS for added security.
  • Safety First – Always inform park authorities about your planned hike, including your route and estimated return time. This ensures help is readily available in case of emergencies. Pack a basic first-aid kit for minor injuries, and consider bringing a small emergency blanket and a whistle for additional peace of mind.
  • Walking Poles – If you are worried about the rough terrains, you can bring along walking or trekking poles. These will give you extra support, and prevent you from slipping.

Hike through sandstone formations, encounter curious wildlife, and enjoy the utter tranquillity of the Namibian bush.