Last Updated on: 20th November 2023, 01:48 pm
The legendary Otter Trail is a multiday hike along the spectacular unspoiled coastline between Storms River Mouth and Nature’s Valley in the Eastern Cape, South Africa.
The trail is 45 km in distance over five days and four nights.
Booking the Otter Trail
The Otter Trail is so popular, that you need to book a year in advance. Booking dates open according to the following schedule:
Otherwise, you can check for cancellations:
or book through third parties.
The Otter Trail river crossings and low tide
The Otter Trail involves crossing three large rivers, so one of the major factors impacting your hike will be the low tide timings.
Before booking your hike, Google “tide tables Storms River” and try and book dates with favourable low tide timings. The site: https://www.kwathabeng.co.za/tides/ provides tide tables well into the future.
Please note that not all low tides are equal. Even under normal circumstances, low tide heights in the area can vary by 0.7 m (0.9 m – 0.2 m).
Also, the crossings will be impacted by the amount of water in the rivers and weather conditions. The point is, even though you cross at low tide, your experience may be very different from that of other hiking groups.
Otter Trail Check-in
You need to report to the Storms River Reception building in the Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park.
Remember to bring your medical certificate – as per the SANParks reservation letter: “Participants who fail to present completed medical questionnaires, will not be granted access to the Otter Trail.”
Otter Trail Briefing
At the briefing, we were handed a pamphlet with the old map below on the back. The waterpoints are indicated on the map and in addition we were told that we should not drink water from the Kleinbos, Elandsbos and Lottering rivers.
We were also told that it would be best to purify the water. We did not however have any purification tablets or mechanisms with us. We only drank water from the streams / rivers approved by SANParks and from the taps at the camps and suffered no negative consequences.
The water in the streams and rivers is a clear but tea-coloured from the “tannins found in certain plants and soils”. 
We were told to use the escape routes if needed and were provided with emergency contact details.
High resolution version:
This representation is however difficult to read as the map (upper part) and the elevation profile are not aligned: Ngubu Hut is shown at 3.6 km, Scott Hut at 10.3 km, etc.
Where does the Otter Trail start?
The Otter Trail starts from outside the Otter Room which is near the Storms River Reception building in the Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park. There is a parking area there for Otter Trail hikers.
We parked our car at the De Vasselot Rest Camp (the endpoint of the hike) and hired a shuttle to take us to Storms River. There are several shuttle / transfer services available in the area.
Our Otter Trail Conditions
- We hiked mid-October and had perfect hiking weather: maximum daytime temperatures in the high teens and low 20s, little wind and no rain
- High water levels in the rivers and streams because of the high rainfall in the preceding weeks and days
- No shortage of drinking water
- Many muddy, slippery sections
- We were three groups: 2 + 3 + 6 = 11 people in total.
Our tracking device and app got confused re the absolute elevation levels. To read the daily elevation profiles below correctly, please interpret the elevation scale to have the lowest points close to sea-level i.e., 0 m. Also, a reminder that the hike takes place from right to left (east to west) on the maps, but the elevation profiles are read from left to right.
Day 1: Otter House to Ngubu Huts
Official Distance: 4.8 km
Official Time Estimate: 2 hours
Our Day 1 measurements:
Distance: 4.4 km
Cumulative elevation gain: 156 m
Moving time: 2:07
Elapsed time: 3:13
Day 1 is short and therefore allows you to start after lunch if that suits your travel plans. The path descends through indigenous coastal forest until it reaches the shore.
Further along, there is a large cave, but we did not explore. The Jerling River Waterfall is at the +- 2.9 km mark and day hikers are not allowed past this point.
The waterfall pool is a good place for a break and a swim on a hot day.
A tail-slapping whale was our first of several whale sightings over the five days.
Ngubu Huts are situated in and at the edge of the forest just above the shore.
Day 2: Ngubu to Scott Huts
Official Distance: 7.9 km
Official Time Estimate: 4 hours
Distance: 8.9 km (inaccuracy introduced because of gps signal being blocked by cliffs)
Cumulative elevation gain: 592 m
Moving time: 3:55
Elapsed time: 7:12
Our Day 2 low tide time: 09:44
Day 2 has no rock clambering but has several ascents and descents, mainly in forest.
At +- 1.9 km there is a short detour to Skilderkrans with great views. You can go to the top of the rock.
We were surprised by the trickiness of the Kleinbos crossing as this small river was flowing strongly and what we assumed was the standard crossing point, looked problematic. My husband spent quite some time finding a more suitable route across. We had to scramble over rocks on the bank to get a little further downstream and then back over rocks on the other bank. The water was not deep (shin and calf deep) but was flowing fast; one wrong step and you and your backpack would land in the water.
Contrary to what I expected, Kleinbos is impacted by the sea; one of the groups had to hastily move their belongings as water suddenly moved upstream. On a good day, the pools allow for an enjoyable swim.
At about the 6 km mark, there is a steep path that leads down to the beautiful beach at Bloubaai (preceded by a boulder-strewn area). Our profile graph does not reflect this descent and return but it does account for some of the elapsed time for this day. One of the groups that went down encountered non-hikers on the beach.
You continue to ascend to the highest point of the hike where there is a viewing platform.
Scott Huts are located at the Geelhoutbos River mouth.
Day 3: Scott to Oakhurst Huts
Official Distance: 7.7 km
Official Time Estimate: 4 hours
Distance: 8.1 km
Cumulative elevation gain: 472 m
Moving time: 3:20
Elapsed time: 5:12
Our Day 3 low tide time: 10:11
You start the day by rock-hopping across the Geelhoutbos River.
Day 3 has two significant river crossings: Elandsbos River and Lottering River. You obviously can’t get to both at low tide, so aim to get to the Lottering for low tide as it is the bigger river.
There is reportedly a tidal pool early in the day. We saw possible sites but were walking in mist and against the clock so we did not investigate.
Elandsbos is just before 2.3 km. Once again, my husband scouted a route across. The Elandsbos crossing was easy for me. The water was up to about knee level, and I could see where I was putting my feet (you stand on rocks and sand). On the far bank however, I sank into deep mud and had to extract myself quickly.
I especially enjoyed walking along the plateau sections of Day 3, appreciating the views and flowers.
All three groups had agreed to meet and cross the Lottering River together. We crossed at low tide and the water was up to about thigh level. I found the Lottering crossing fairly difficult as the rocks were slippery. Also, in slightly deeper sections, there were dark pools where it was not easy to see where I was putting my feet. At least two hikers slipped and so some of the stronger hikers assisted others by carrying backpacks across.
It is a short ascent and across and down to the Oakhurst Huts from there.
As we finished so early, we spent a relaxing time enjoying the sunny afternoon.
Day 4: Oakhurst Huts to Andre Huts
Official Distance: 13.8 km
Official Time Estimate: 6 hours
Distance: 14.2 km
Cumulative elevation gain: 712 m
Moving time: 5:31
Elapsed time: 8:46
Our Day 4 low tide time: 10:39
Why I slackpacked on Day 4: The Otter Trail is not officially offered with a slackpacking / porterage option. There are however a few operators who offer this service with the consent of SANParks.
Considering my timings for the previous days, we would have had to set out an hour earlier and therefore walk an hour in the dark to be sure of getting to the Bloukrans crossing (at about the 10 km mark) in time for low tide. I decided that this was an unnecessary inconvenience.
For Day 4, I therefore joined the porterage arrangement of the three other people who were slackpacking the full hike.
On the way to Bloukrans, besides the usual ascents and descents, there are some flat sections and lots of rock clambering. I would imagine that this is difficult to do in the dark.
Again, the groups agreed to meet and cross the river together. This was the only crossing where survival bags were used. You need a cable-tie to close the bag and something to cut it open on the other side. The bag can be floated across, but you must first get to deeper water. One hiker slipped on the boulders approaching the river and his survival bag was punctured. Some hikers carried their bags above their heads which looked rather precarious.
I don’t know if we entered the water at the wrong point, but we had to cross many boulders until we reached sand about a third of the way through the crossing. The waves were small but as they rolled in it was easy to lose your footing and the water was unsettled so you could not see where to take your next step. Once we reached the sand it was much easier. At the deepest point the water reached shoulder height and we had to jump as the little waves rolled in. The first hikers to cross helped those arriving at the gully to avoid the rocks.
We took 5 hours to get to Bloukrans and we were well in time for low tide. From the time we arrived, to the time we had everyone across and had dried off on the other side, 1.5 hours had passed.
After the Bloukrans River crossing, there is still +- 3.5 km of Day 4 remaining.
From the gully you proceed up and along a rock face.
Part of the descent to Andre Huts consists of wooden steps. Andre camp is on the Klip River.
At night the lights of Plettenberg Bay can be seen in the distance.
Day 5: Andre Huts to Nature’s Valley De Vasselot Rest Camp
Official Distance: 10.8 km
Official Time Estimate: 5 hours
Distance: 10.4 km
Cumulative elevation gain: 303 m
Moving time: 3:17
Elapsed time: 4:17
The day starts by crossing the boulder-strewn Klip River mouth area and then immediately up to the plateau.
As on Day 4, there are hillsides covered in protea bushes which must be a magnificent sight when they are all flowering.
The path remains mainly on the plateau with a few minor ups and downs before reaching The Point with its great view over the lovely Nature’s Valley beach.
From there it is a steep descent to the beach. You walk along the beach for a short while but turn into the forest before reaching the Groot River (you do not cross the Groot River mouth). When we were there, we had to ask someone where to head into the forest as there were no signs. Once in the forest you walk mainly along a jeep track, then back along the tar road to De Vasselot Rest Camp. We signed out at the De Vasselot Rest Camp entrance and received our Otter Trail Certificates by email.
Final thoughts and tips for the Otter Trail
Small dishcloth: This is useful for wiping off sand and drying feet after a crossing.
Water shoes: I crossed rivers barefoot. I think it would have been easier in water shoes as I assume they provide more support when standing on uneven stony surfaces. Two of the hikers did incur small cuts on one of the river crossings.
Shoes with good soles for camp: My camp shoes had very thin soles. One of the camps was quite muddy and another was stony. It would have been easier to walk around if I had more substantial camp footwear.
Hiking pole/stick: My pole provided welcome stability when crossing streams and rivers.
Rope: SANParks recommends +- 30 m of nylon rope for the river crossings. My husband carried 20 m of standard ski rope which is light, and it floats. The expectation was that other hikers would also bring rope. We did not use the rope but I have seen photos of hikers using rope even in calm conditions. One of the hikers with us said that if you need rope because of unfavourable conditions, then you should rather use the escape route. This makes a lot of sense to me.
Binoculars: We left our binoculars at home to reduce weight. It would however have been great to have them for whale and dolphin viewing.
Scavengers: A group that was braaiing was visited by genets at two camps and I had to chase away a brazen mongoose.
What I did not enjoy: On Day 3 and Day 4 we were walking against the clock to get to the main river crossings in time for low tide. It would have been much nicer to be able to walk without a deadline and be able to spend more time fully experiencing the surroundings.
Wishing you a fantastic Otter Trail hike!
- SANParks Otter Trail brochure 2023