Closest Town: Clarens
Grading: Intermediate | Duration: Around 2-3 hours in the saddle
Location (Area/Province): Central Free State and Free State
Configuration: A there-and-back ride with two loop options into the park.
Start Point: In Clarens or at the park entrance
Access: Regular park entry fees apply to riders.
Beware of: Very cold in winter, with sudden mists rolling in across the mountains. Wild animals roam freely in the park so be vigilant
Facilities: Full range of amenities at Golden Gate and in Clarens
Cell Reception: Yes
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Golden Gate Highlands National Park and the surrounding Maluti Mountains offer a selection of riding options, although the roads inside the South African section of the park are all (rather sadly) tarmac. However, Bokpoort-Bergwoning- and other farms in the area offer dirt riding along gravel roads, 4×4 routes and game or cattle tracks.
On your bike
This is one of those trails that I really debated before including it here, as it is not ‘proper’ mountain biking. However, the flip side of it is that, when I get up to Golden Gate, I always end up pedalling the park rather than driving it in a vehicle. There are some good hill climbs along the relatively remote park roads, too, so you decide for yourself.
Get into tarmac cruise mode from Clarens, cranking along the R712 towards the Golden Gate Highlands National Park entrance (13.4km), and then turn right onto the Blesbok Loop after just on 2km. This 7km one-way loop climbs steeply into eland country, boasting panoramic views and an inexhaustible supply of fresh air.
A skittish switchback downhill will zoom you back onto the R712, where you hit a sharp left almost immediately onto the extended Oribi Loop. Explore this bonus 4.2km circuit for a highlands crank amid zebra, wildebeest, mountain reedbuck and chacma baboon, to name but a few of the species. A speedy 22.5km cruise back into Clarens makes for a total riding distance just shy of 50km.
Beyond the perimeter of the actual Golden Gate Highlands National Park, the rough and ready gravel roads of the erstwhile QwaQwa tribal homeland buck and slide along gnarly valleys and craggy horizons. There is a lot of potential riding here, but note that in some cases, access and/or permits need to be arranged beforehand with private landowners or the parks authorities. Generally, people up here in the Eastern Free State are so friendly and down-to-earth that this process will be relatively painless.
Rated by : Jacques Marais
Off the bike
Route Information: Golden Gate National Park
Telephone: +27(0)58 255 0075 or +27 (0)58 255 1000
GPS: 28°30.12′ South / 28°36.33′ East