There are many walking trails around Cape Town and one of my favourites was hiking Lions Head.
Known as the mother city, Cape Town is the legislative capital of South Africa. It is one of the most historically significant cities in South Africa, as it was here that the first European colonists set foot in the country – birthing its slave trade industry.
Nelson Mandela, who is probably the most famous political prisoner of all time, was detained here on Robben Island in Table Bay.
Now, Cape Town stands as a beacon to assemble different cultures from around the world. Travellers like myself come from far and wide to experience the breathtaking views by completing such hikes as Table Mountain or Lions Head, the irresistible cuisine and look on in awe at the increíble art of the city – from the Afro-chic decor of its restaurants and hotspots to the Muizenberg beach huts.
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Hiking Lions Head – Cape Town
One of the most popular outdoor activities to be completed while visiting Cape Town is hiking. There are a couple of amazing options found within walking or taxi distance of the city centre of Cape Town and both give incredible views of the surrounding area.
No matter if you choose to hike Table Mountain, trek Lions Head or possibly both the result and hard work will be rewarded with 360-degree views of the Cape Town and the surrounding ocean landscape. Today I wanted to focus my attention on how to climb Lions Head and share some tips for making the trip easier for you to compete.
What is the Lions Head hike?
Like the king of beasts watching over its pride, the Lion’s Head stands 669 meters above sea level, looking over Cape Town and its surrounding Ocean. What makes it extremely popular with hikers, is that its peak offers outstanding views of Table Bay, the Atlantic Ocean and even the Indian Ocean in the far distance.
The mountain is situated between Table Mountain and Signal Hill. It will take approximately 90 minutes to reach the top of the 5.5km trail if taken at a moderate pace. As you get closer to the top, you are given the choice of the “recommended route”, and the “chains” route, which is advised to be taken at your own risk.
The “chains” route offers remarkable views and an adrenaline-pumping experience, as you hold tight to the chains along the mountain face. Though it is more difficult, it only adds an extra 5 minutes or so onto your hiking time. The two routes merge back together near the peak so choose which option is best for you.
At the final part of the hike, you will need to climb and scramble up the steep rocky formation, if you want to reach the very top. The height will allow you to avoid any mist obstructing the stunning views below – especially when climbing on a clear day.
Popular things to do in Cape Town
Why you should add the climb to your travel itinerary
The best way to see a place is from the sky -which The Lion’s Head hike offers. The sight of the mother city – Cape Town – is unparalleled, as your view is unobstructed and covers the entirety of it. The views here are slightly better in my personal opinion than the ones found on top of Table Mountain.
It is an ideal location to add to the itinerary, as it does not demand too much time out of your day. At a moderate pace, it is a 3 hours round trip but on average can be completed in 2. Of course, I suggest making the most of the walk by spending at least half-hour at the top and admiring the views. The start of the hike is extremely easy to access from the city and even has its own parking lot, perfect if you have hired a car to see other Cape Town attractions.
The Lion’s Head hike is rated as A+, which means it’s not the most demanding climb, especially if you choose to do the “recommended route.” Once you climb to the top and take in the breathtaking solitude of the Lion’s Head, any effort it took to get up there, will be more than worth it.
Where does Lions Head hike start?
Getting to the start of the trail is relatively easy as previously mentioned. In a car, head toward the bottom of Table Mountain where the cable car runs and take the turn-off for Lion’s Head. There are signs that clearly direct you to the car park and you shouldn’t have much trouble locating it. Alternatively, if you use google maps and search “Lion’s Head”, it will lead you straight to the beginning of the hike.
If you don’t have access to a hire car then there are plenty of other options for you to use. Using the app to find Uber drivers around Cape Town is common and with plenty of drivers available so you won’t have to wait long to be picked up. It should cost around $5 USD for a 15-minute journey, so if you are already in the city, it isn’t overly expensive to arrive.
There is also a bus you can use with a MyCity bus card, which will get you there in 15 minutes from the city centre, just make sure you stop at the “Kloof Nek” bus stop.
There is only one place to start hiking Lions Head from, as the different difficulty options I mentioned above will split off once on the trail. This makes it easy and you won’t have to worry about starting at the wrong location.
Below is a map of exactly where to start the Lions Head hike from.
What else is there to do at Lions Head?
If you are the type of person who likes to avoid the conventional, you can paraglide off the mountain instead. This will give you vastly different views, which can be captured by a selfy stick on the way down. There are several paragliding services in Cape Town with 5-star ratings on Tripadvisor for you to choose from.
Hikes are taken to the next level when you watch the sunrise from the peak. In the summer months, I would recommend you leave out at first light, as the sun usually rises between 5 and 5:30 am. In the winter it is a little later, rising between 6:00 and 6:30.
Small group hikes with breakfast are available all year round.
As the sun sinks below the surface of the ocean, the skies above the Lion’s Head become a hued merging of colours. If you begin the hike at around 5 pm, you should get to the top at the perfect time. As you descend, you will see the moon and stars rise over the city.
If you don’t have the confidence to walk down alone once the sun has disappeared book a trip with a sunset hiking group tour of Lions Head.
Full moon hike
Fullmoon hikes are extremely popular at the Lion’s Head. You can enjoy the sunset on the way up and then marvel at the glow of the moon over the city. Make sure you pack a torch with you, as the darkness will make the trail treacherous on the way down.
To find out when the next full moon is scheduled in Cape Town or to see if one is likely when you visit, use this website.
All tour options available at Lions Head for you to compare.
Sunrise or sunset hike?
If you start out early enough, you will see the sunrise over the mountain, giving you a fresh and marvellous hike. This is the ideal time for those who do not cope well in the heat. If you start out after 10 am, you can get hit by the scorching midday sun, which will make your journey more difficult.
Another alternative is to plan your hike in the late afternoon so you will arrive in time to watch the sunset and see the first stars appear. It’s a remarkable experience. One thing worth mentioning though is that the wind will become far stronger of an evening. This can make the climb back down much colder as well as slightly increase the difficulty. Prepare for such situations by packing a head light, wind stopper and jacket.
Both options have their advantages and are equally beautiful. As long as you dress correctly and prepare for your hike, it should not affect the experience, or put you in any danger. In fact, I believe choosing one of these options will enhance your hiking experience.
If not confident or travelling with the correct equipment for hiking with poor light conditions but still wish to do a trip during one of these times then a small group tour is the best option.
What to wear and pack for the hike:
It may sound obvious, but wearing good conditioned hiking gear is a must. No matter how easy you think the trail maybe, you can be caught out, especially in the final steep climb to the Head. You will be thankful for the suitable shoes/boots when you feel the slipperiness of the dust-covered rocks.
Packing a hat is a must, as you will be directly in the rays of the sun at some stage of your hike without shade. The midday heat can make the hike very uncomfortable very fast, but hold on to your hat, as the wind at the peak can be pretty powerful.
Get hiking gear advice from my outdoor travel shop.
As mentioned in the last point, the sun can creep up on you very quickly, especially if you began your hike around 9 or 10 am. Ensure that any exposed skin is covered in sunblock to prevent severe sunburn or sunstroke, which let’s face it, can ruin a trip!
Grab a tube of quality sun block protection.
Pack plenty of water on your hike. Sometimes we can get caught out with dehydration, which is far harder to deal with after it has happened. I would suggest taking around one and a half litres at least.
You may think the 2 hour round trip is short and that you will not need to eat, but it pays to take something that will give you extra energy in case you need it. I wouldn’t advise taking anything that will lie heavy in your stomach like junk food or carbs, as that can lead to an uncomfortable hike, as well as drain your energy as you digest it.
Another top suggestion is to gather a few supplies and stop for a picnic somewhere along the walk. Either a morning breakfast or sunset dinner are great options. Take advantage of the amazing views of Cape Town.
Another factor that makes the Lion’s Head hike appealing is that the trail itself is clean and free of litter. This is down to the national park rangers ensuring no rubbish is left on the ground. On the most part, hikers of the mountain share this respect for nature and make sure they do not leave anything behind. Packing an environmentally friendly rubbish bag is a great idea and an easy way to keep your litter in one place.
Make sure your camera is charged and ready to capture your adventure. There is nothing worse than setting out and realising your battery is in the red. Either a GoPro or mobile phone are also handy items to capture your trip.
Grab some camera advice before heading to Africa
Other hikes near Cape Town
Cape Town is blessed with an abundance of climbable mountains around it. This makes it an ideal location for hiking enthusiasts who want to get multiple climbs done, without having to travel far and wide to get to them. In my future posts, I will be going into more detail about these hikes, as well as sharing my experiences. To name a few, here is a list of other trails around Cape Town:
A harder hike, that provides a direct route to the Table Mountain summit.
The Pipe Track – Soaked in local history, it was initially built to service a pipeline to supply Cape Town with water in the 19th century.
The highest point on the Table Mountain.
Tygerberg Nature Reserve – Nestled among the hills of the suburbs, it is rich with a diversity of birds and plants.
Devil’s Peak – Stretching from the bay to the foot of the mountain, the peak offers a mind-blowing panoramic view.
When visiting Cape Town, Lion’s Head should be the first hike you complete, as its difficulty introduces you to the terrain. As the trail spirals around the mountain, you will get a different view of the city every time you look out from the mountain. It is truly an experience like no other.
Important to note:
Though a stunning location, locals and tourists should be aware that crimes and accidents can happen. I would advise you to write down these contacts before setting out and follow this safety advice for visiting Cape Town.
For emergencies on the mountain, you can call – 086 110 6417 , 0861 106 417 or 021 480 7700
If you need to report any crimes, you can call 021 467 8078. Alternatively, you can go to the nearest police station in Cape Town.
To use a free safety tracking service, search @safetymountain. This is an app that works with WhatsApp, that notifies local trackers and stores your contact details. You can provide hourly updates and notify trackers when you are safely off the Lion’s Head.
Some interesting activities in the Cape Town city centre are:
Or, if you are fond of day trips and would like to hear some advice about what to invest your time in around and just outside of Cape Town, you can also find some first-hand experiences in my blogpost “Day trips from Cape Town”.
Here are some day trips from Cape Town you shouldn’t miss:
Cape Town Blogs of Interest:
Other posts that might interest you:
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