With its scorching summer heat and parched desert plains, Namibia is not a country for timid hikers. It’s no surprise that most travelers prefer to explore this southern African country from the comfort of an air-conditioned vehicle. But you’re going to miss it if you don’t lace up your boots and get out into the wild.

These are visceral landscapes, and exploring Namibia’s hiking trails will open your senses to a whole new realm of discovery. Savor the crunch of gravel underfoot, hear the bark of a kudu in the thickets, and feel the warm desert winds caressing your cheeks. It’s an experience.

From trails around dolomite outcrops to desert dune trails, Namibia is full of beautiful hiking trails to explore. Are you worried about the heat? Do not be. Plan your visit for the mild winter months or wake up early to walk in the cool before the sun comes up. Pack a hat and plenty of water, and hit these best hiking trails in Namibia.

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Pausing at the end of a day hike in Fish River Canyon to watch the sunset © fbxx / Getty Images

Fish River Canyon

Best hike for multi-day adventures

85 km (52 ​​miles) one way, 5 days, difficult

When it comes to the upper tier of multi-day treks in Southern Africa, the Fish River Canyon is whispered to. It’s hard. It’s long. It’s remote. And it’s a must for any hiker with a taste for adventure.

From the Hobas viewpoint to the /Ai-/Ais hot springs and spa, the trail follows the belly of the second largest canyon in the world (after the Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon in Tibet or the Grand Canyon in the UK, depending on who you are talking to). A trail in the desert may seem a bit monotonous, but the Fish River Canyon offers a wonderful variety of scenery, from quiet pools for cooling off to sandy beaches perfect for camping.

Shortcuts on saddles and koppies (small peaks) show another side of the landscape, and the hue of the sunset over the rocky cliffs is not something soon forgotten. You’ll also find wildlife along the way, from the hardy kudu to the bark of spiteful baboons.

Most hikers complete the trail in five days, but you can complete it faster or slower if you prefer. However, this trail requires complete self-sufficiency, so you will need to carry enough food, fuel, and shelter for as long as you plan to hike. Luckily, the Hot Springs/Ai-/Ais endpoint offers the welcome reward of a cold beer and a soak in the hot mineral springs.

Due to extreme conditions, the trail is only open during the winter months. It is best to start walking in the cool of the early morning. A good map is essential as it is surprisingly easy to get lost in the canyon. The maps produced by Slingsby Maps are excellent.

Young woman climbing in a canyon above a natural pool, Olive Trail, Namibia
The Olive Trail offers great desert adventures © Nadine Klose / Shutterstock

Olive Trail

Best hike for adventurers with a head for heights

10 km (6.2 miles) round trip, 3 to 4 hours, moderate to difficult

Many travelers pass the Naukluft Mountains quickly en route to or from the Sossusvlei dunes, but these rugged dolomite ridges offer an enigmatic beauty that is worth slowing down.

Even in winter, it won’t take long to get sweaty hiking here, with the Olive Trail climbing steeply to a high plateau. Luckily, your hard work is soon rewarded with gorgeous desert views. Keep an eye out for kudus, klipspringers and Hartmann’s zebras on the loose.

Continuing, you’ll drop into a spectacular canyon, where boulder jumping requires keen eyes and strong ankles. Next comes the high point (or heartbreaking moment) of the trail – a rock scramble around a plunge pool where chains set into the cliffs help hikers traverse the steep rock face. It’s not for the faint-hearted, and there are no alternate routes except to turn around and get back on your way.

If you release the chains, the walk becomes easier, eventually leading to a gravel track that brings you back to the starting point. It’s an adventurous taste of Namibia, but you’ll need a good dizziness and at least two liters of drinking water per person to tackle the road.

The Olive Trail begins and ends at Namibia Wildlife Resorts Naukluft Campsite on the eastern flanks of the mountain range. Here you will find shaded campsites and modern chalets if you want to linger before or after the hike.

A tracker leads the way along a mountain track in Etendeka, Namibia
Local guides share their knowledge of the Etendeka concession © James Strachan / Getty Images

Etendeka Walking Trail

Best hike to see desert wildlife

25-35 km (15-21 miles) round trip, 3-4 days, moderate

Damaraland’s rugged landscapes come alive in the company of local naturalist guides who lead trekkers on two- and three-night walks through the Etendeka Concession. These night hikes are run in partnership between the Etendeka Lodge Company and the local Etendeka Community Trust, providing an authentic experience of this less visited corner of Namibia.

The trail winds through the Etendeka Private Concession, traversing a remarkable landscape of flat-topped mountains and basalt lava flows. This rugged terrain is home to an array of hardy antelope species; if you’re lucky, you may encounter desert-adapted rhinos and elephants.

Each day ends at a rustic but cozy campsite on a secluded hillside, where hikers sleep on raised platforms under the stars and enjoy homemade meals around the campfire. A good level of fitness is required, but the porters will carry your luggage, so you only need to pack a backpack with water and lunch.

Hikers approach the Waterberg Plateau, Namibia
The Waterberg plateau offers great hikes for families © Fotografie-Kuhlmann / Shutterstock

Waterberg Plateau Park

Best hike for families and bird watching

2 to 10 km (1 to 6 miles) round trip, 30 minutes to 4 hours, easy to moderate

The rock massif of the Waterberg Plateau – “mountain of water” in Afrikaans – rises from the landscape of northern Namibia, a dollop of 200 million year old sandstone surrounded by lush forests and savannah. Over 200 species of birds have been recorded here, and these cliffs are home to the only colony of endangered Cape Vultures in Namibia.

This spectacular landscape is easily explored on a range of well-marked hiking trails departing from the government-run Waterberg Resort and the privately owned Waterberg Plateau Lodge. The longer trails are approximately 9.5 km (6 miles), while the shorter routes allow you to explore the base of the plateau – a great activity for active families.

Family climbing Big Daddy in Sossusvlei, Namibia
Mighty Big Daddy is the tallest sand dune in Sossusvlei © BlueOrange Studio / Shutterstock

Big Daddy Dunes Walk

Best hike for dune views and steel calf construction

5 km (3 miles) round trip, 1-2 hours, moderate

The sand dune landscapes of Sossusvlei and Deadvlei are a must on any Namibia itinerary, but only the truly adventurous climb the affectionately nicknamed ‘Big Daddy’ sand dune. And that’s a shame, because aside from the bragging rights of tackling Sossusvlei’s tallest sand dune, the climb to the top rewards walkers with spectacular views of the Namib Desert.

Finding your way is easy – just follow the ridge from the main car park at the entrance to Deadvlei. Coming back down is even more fun, as you launch yourself up the steep dune face to reach Deadvlei about 300m (984ft) below.

Before you brag too much around the braai (barbecue), be aware that Big Daddy may be the tallest dune in Sossusvlei, but it is not the tallest dune in Namibia. That honor belongs to Dune 7, east of Walvis Bay, which rises to 383m (1,257ft).

National Botanical Garden of Namibia

Best hike to stretch your legs in town

2 km (1.2 miles) round trip, 1 hour, easy

Windhoek doesn’t have many hiking trails, but if you find yourself with a few hours to spare, the National Botanical Garden of Namibia is well worth a stroll. Don’t expect manicured lawns and lush flower beds; instead, this 29-acre reserve celebrates Namibia’s arid landscapes and desert-adapted flora.

You can explore self-guided trails with helpful information panels along the way. It’s open Monday through Friday (and the second Saturday of every month) and admission is free.