With stunning panoramic views all the way up–not to mention some insane vertical–tackling the challenging Lion’s Head hike is one of the top things to do in Cape Town, South Africa.
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The peak’s unique slope is an icon of the city, rising up between Table Mountain and Signal Hill to help shape the spectacular skyline. Capetonians particularly love to hike Lions Head at sunrise, to watch the world below slowly start to wake up as it’s bathed in a golden glow.
At 669 metres above sea level, the 2.1 kilometre pathway to the summit is tough terrain that will make you work for every step, while rewarding the effort with dreamy views of the entire city, the dramatic Atlantic Ocean coastline and Table Bay.
From safety tips to what to expect on the trail, here’s everything you need to know before hiking Lion’s Head.
The Lions Head walk
While there are a couple of different access points, the main hiking trail starts along Signal Hill road in Table Mountain National Park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
While there’s no entrance fee, parking is at a premium so it’s usually easier to take a cheap Uber ride to the trailhead which is marked by a food truck selling snacks and drinks.
The out-and-back trail is like a spiral up the hillside, and takes about 90 minutes to three hours to complete depending on fitness level and which route is chosen. While it starts out as a somewhat gentle slope from the parking lot, it doesn’t take long to hit a steeper incline which is also where the great views start.
Lion’s Head and neighbouring Signal Hill are prime paragliding sites, and there’s an impressively steep launch site just off the trail where daredevils run straight off the hillside before taking flight.
Continuing up to the summit, the dazzling white sand beaches of Camp’s Bay and Clifton come into view as well as Table Mountain. While the pathway is arduous, it’s well carved-out with solid, flat rocks.
About 15 minutes from the top, a sign directs climbers to the choice of going left to take the easier way up, or hanging a right for the more difficult but quicker route.
A series of ladders, chains and staples await to assist hikers up the sheer rock faces, and the path becomes extremely narrow with steep drop-offs which can be quite nerve-wracking.
The exhilarating and adventurous ascent pays off at the summit, where there are 360-degree panoramas of the entire city, including as far out as Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years.
There are also some ‘Instagram-famous’ perches on rocky outcrops, but keep in mind these spots can be extremely dangerous especially when it’s windy so it’s best to stay closer to the flat part of the summit and enjoy the views from there.
Safety along the Lions Head trail
The first question most people ask about the Lions Head hiking trail is, “is it safe to do alone?”
While muggings do occur, the greater concern is the hazards of the actual trail–specifically the steep drop-offs and cliff sides. Helicopter rescues are a regular occurrence, and it’s easy to slip if you’re not paying attention, especially on a windy day near the summit.
There can be snakes so be sure to watch your hand placement, and intense heat during sunny summer days means having sunscreen, a hat and lots of water on hand is critical.
Those tackling the Lion’s Head hike at sunrise or during the full moon should be extra cautious and bring a headlamp. No matter when you climb, let someone know where you’re going and when to expect you back.
Climbing in a pair or group is ideal, and if safety is still a concern then time the hike for a busier time of day like mid-afternoon when there are lots of other people on the trail.
Guided tours of the Cape Town Lions Head hike
For those who’d prefer some expert instruction to help reach the Lions Head lookout, there are plenty of local guides offering sunrise and sunset tours up the mountain as well as private hikes. Some of the top rated tours are:
Some unique ways to see the summit of Lions Head with minimal effort is to paraglide from it, or take a helicopter ride over.
No matter which way you head up, the view from the top of Lion’s Head is an unforgettable, must-do adventure in Cape Town.
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