If you are looking for free 360 degree views of Cape Town, then look no further than the Lion’s Head hike. The best part about this hike is that not only do you get to see some epic mountain and ocean views but it’s also completely free! The Lion’s Head hike may not be for everyone so keep reading to find out if this hike is for you! This post is a complete guide to the Lion’s Head hike, including when to go, what to expect and what to pack.
Why is it Called Lion’s Head?
So you need a bit of imagination on this one! According to locals, the mountain looks like the head of a lion and the adjoining Signal Hill is the body of the lion. I saw it sometimes and didn’t at other times! Either way it is a very distinct mountain.
What Can You See on the Hike?
The best part about the Lion’s Head hike is that you don’t have to go all the way to the top to start seeing great views. In general you can see the city of Cape Town, Table Mountain, The Twelve Apostles, Robben Island, Signal Hill, Sea Point, Camps’ Bay and the Clifton Beaches (essentially all of Cape Town!) from Lion’s Head.
In addition to these landscape scenes, you will also see amazing flora like the protea flower and fauna along the way!
Best Time to Go
The Lion’s Head hike is a year round activity. You can also do the hike from sunrise to sunset. The trail doesn’t close but these are your best times for safety reasons. The best time to go here really is in reference to the time of day.
Sunrise and sunset are popular times to go.
Sunset is the most popular time to hike Lion’s Head. You will see the sun setting over the Atlantic Ocean. It’s probably a little safer than sunrise as you will climb the difficult part when there is light and can come back the less difficult way on the way down. Since this is the most popular time, keep ample time to get to the top in time for sunset.
If you hike for sunrise, you will do the difficult bit (there are alternatives! see below!) in the dark. The sun rises over the city of Cape Town and this is the view that you will be seeing.
The Lion’s Head hike is also popular during full moon. I personally don’t see the point here as you can see the full moon from anywhere but if that’s your thing….go for it!
Can you Hike Lion’s Head During the Day?
Yes! But there are no guided tours during the day, unless you hire a private guide. If you are going during the day, go with a crowd or at least another person. If you have to go alone, weekends are a bit better than week days as there will be more people (which is good from a safety perspective!). Note in the summer months, you will be fully exposed to the sun so bring more water. A complete packing list can be found at the end of this post!
Is the Lion’s Head Hike Difficult?
This is probably a question on everyone’s mind but unfortunately also the hardest to answer. “Difficult” is such a relative word as it all depends on your ability, fitness and past experiences. From a rating perspective, it is rated “moderate to difficult”. If I were to compare this to another “moderate to difficult” hike like the Mirador las Torres hike I did in Patagonia a few months ago, I would say this was so much more easier than that hike. Yes, Lion’s Head is more technical as it has chains, ladders and staples and you actually have to climb the rock (more on this below), but it was so much shorter than the Torres hike, so for me personally, it was a lot easier!
If you are afraid of heights, skip the ladders and chains altogether, however the other route is not that much better depending on how much you hate heights.
Two Routes to Hiking Lion’s Head Summit
Staples AND/OR the “Recommended Route”
Take the gravel road to your left from the trail head. The hike starts easy and it’s a gradual climb. You will come to a point where the trail will split. Here, you have the option of either climbing the mountain using ladders, chains and staples or taking a longer route that goes over some big rocks (still a climb but no staples or chains!). This is called the “recommended route”. You can go up using the staples and come down using the recommended route over the rocks. I recommend this as climbing the staples down is a little harder than climbing it up!
The circular Route
This route also starts at the trail head. Take the small footpath going in a counterclockwise direction towards Signal Hill. At some point you meet the previous route and here you can decide if you want to get to the top using staples and chains or the recommended route. If you don’t want to do either, just turn back or continue towards the gravel path. This make a circular route around the mountain.
How Long Does it Take?
This depends on what route you will take. The staples route is around 5.3 km round trip. It took us about 2.5 hours include a rest at the top for coffee and donuts and of course pictures. If you are going for sunset or sunrise, check the times as it changes almost daily. Keep ample time for human traffic on the trail if you are going on a clear day, especially in the summer. The chains and staples can cause bottlenecks.
Is it Safe to Go Alone?
I really struggled with this question! I am reasonably fit and relatively adventurous and have done many a hikes including one with ladders and chains. My initial thought was to skip the chains and ladder route and take the longer ,circular route. After some internal debate, mainly about safety as a solo female and hiking in the dark, I decided to join a small group to do the hike.
If you are vertically challenged like I am or bringing children (under 5 feet), you may want to skip the ladders, staples and chains route, unless you go with a guide. At barely 5 feet tall, my ‘wing span’ barely made 1 or 2 staples as these staples were far apart. My guide had to help me on these 1 or 2 staples.
Tips for Hiking Lion’s Head
Check the weather and do it on the clearest day. Unfortunately, it rained during every sunrise and sunset when I was in Cape Town so I had no choice but to do it on a morning with not so great visibility.
Don’t be a afraid or embarrassed to use your hands and butt to climb. Especially going down. I sat on many a rocks and glided my way down as some rocks were too big/tall for my short frame.
Take a picture of the emergency number that is displayed at the start of the trail head.
I really enjoyed the Lion’s Head hike and see why it’s one of the best things you can do in Cape Town. I had initially booked a sunset hike but had to move it to a sunrise because it was going to rain all evenings I was in Cape Town. Since it had been raining for a few days, the entire mountain was one big waterfall and very treacherous! Water was literally cascading from the top and it made climbing the rocks and boulders very dangerous. I was happy I had booked a guided tour for this reason. Another reason I was happy I had booked a tour is because there were not many people on the trail due to the bad weather and I was glad I was not doing it alone. Unfortunately there was cloud cover when we got to the top and we didn’t see Table Mountain or get clear views of the beaches down below. Despite all this, the hike was still so much fun! I really enjoyed the challenge of the climb itself!
How to Get to Lion’s Head
Driving to the Lion’s Head trail head is super easy. There is a parking lot just in front of the start of the trail. The GPS coordinates are -33.9361505782345, 18.395174457670972. If you arrive when it’s dark, you can see the entire city lit up.
This parking lot is not very big. If it’s full, you can park along Signal Hill Road.
Ubering is a popular and safe way to go around Cape Town. Even though I had a rental car, I Ubered at night.
You can take a MyCity buses to get to Lion’s Head. Routes 106 and 107 go to Kloof Nec stop. This stop is it’s at the bottom of Lion’s Head. From here, you will have to walk about 600-700 meters uphill to get to the trail head. Note that this option will not work to get to the trail head for the sunrise hike.
Some guided tours may offer transport. You will have to ask!
Guided Tours of the Lion’s Head Hike
Here are some highly rated guided tours to choose from. I did the first one by Atlantic Outlook and they were great! I was able to switch my hike day and time (from sunset to sunrise) with ease.
Alternatives to the Full Lion’s Head Hike
After reading this guide, if you feel the Lion’s Head hike is not for you, but would still like to see the view, nearby Signal hill is a good alternative. Plus, you can actually drive up to it. Another alternative is to drive to the car park. You will see great views of the city of Cape Town and Table Mountain from there. If you are up for a super short hike instead of the full hike, you can still hike up until the climb starts getting steep.
What to Wear and Pack
- Good sturdy shoes – while you don’t need hiking shoes per se, it helps to climb up and down the rocks, especially if the ground is slippery. I love these hiking boots! I have 3 pairs in different colors and they are sturdy and completely waterproof!
- A small backpack – you need both hands on the staples and chains and need a place to keep your stuff
- Layers if you are doing a sunrise or sunset hike
- Plenty of water
- Snacks for the top
- A head lamp – for sunrise or sunset hikes. Some guided tours provide you with one. Check with the operator
- A cap or hat if you are going during the day
- If you love taking pictures, camera equipment
What Not to Bring
Don’t bring any valuables other than your phone and a small amount of money. Leave things like your passport, jewelry and most of your money, credit cards in your hotel or accommodation.
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