The Essential “Must do” hike in Cape Town: Lion’s Head

hiking up Lion's head

Maybe you don’t have the time or the energy for a hike up Table Mountain. But even if you do, you don’t want to skip this hike.

I saved Lion’s Head for our last day in Africa. The reason being that I wanted to finish off with a memory that would stay in my head when I got on the plane later that day.

There are a few reasons I say this is an essential hike. The first is that you have views in all directions: the city bowl, the Twelve Apostles, the ocean, as well as towards Table Mountain. I think it is the complete package as far as views go in Cape Town. Secondly: It is a relatively easy hike (provided you go the right way which I’ll describe below). Third: You can do it all in about 2 hours. On this day I started off around 5:30 am (to see the sunrise) and I was finished by 7:30. Fourth: you don’t need a guide. You can take a taxi or Uber to the Lion’s Head parking lot and the trail is right there. Easy.

Lion's head details

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The trail going up Lion’s head is a screwtop: you’ll be circling the mountain getting to the top. This means you’re getting views in all directions. At a certain point the dirt path gives way to rocks and you have to step up, sometimes even use your hands to climb. Nothing hard though. This is rated an A+ hike (if taking the easy way) which means it is a very easy hike technically.

Below: sunrise over Camps Bay.

Camps bay views from lions head trail.

Below: Of course, even an ‘easy’ hike in Cape Town means that you’ll pass a ledge like this. That’s why they’ve put a chain for you.

chains on Lion's head trail, cape town

 

Then you get to this spot. I actually missed the sign and went up using the rungs and chains. It’s not too hard but it got the adrenaline pumping – most people I know wouldn’t want to go up this way. Instead continue to the left and take the ‘recommended’ route, it will only add about 5 minutes to your hike.

hard way vs easy way up Lion's head

 

The two routes join for the last climb up what I can only describe as a backbone leading to the head. It is steep and might be a bit of a challenge if you have vertigo…but physically the climb is not demanding.

Below: Up the “backbone”. Not as hard as it looks, the path is nicely laid out among the rocks.

backbone up Lion's head

 

Then you get to the top. Even at 6:30 in the morning there were a lot of people.

Lion's head, cape town

views of camps bay from Lion's head, cape town

yoga girl on Lion's head, cape town

views from Lion's head, cape town

views of cape town from Lion's head

views of sea point from Lion's head, cape town

post on Lion's head, cape town

views of table mountain from Lion's head

 

Below: views coming back down (I took the easy, “recommended” route coming down)

taking the easy trail down Lion's head, cape town

the easy trail, Lion's head, cape town

 

Below: After about 10 minutes of walking comes the juncture (where you’ll spot the people going up with chains and rungs). The rest of the way down is very easy and the views beautiful.

views of trail, Lion's head, cape town

clouds over table mountain, seen from Lion's head, cape town

camps bay views, cape town, south africa

silver trees and Table mountain views, cape town

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Below: Back at the Lion’s Head parking lot. From here I called Uber and got back home in the city within 10 minutes. Total time up and down on the Lion’s Head hike: 2 hours, including about 25 minutes up top.

views of table mountain from Lion's head parking lot

 

A wonderful hike that is in my opinion a highlight of a visit to Cape Town.

 

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Comments

  1. Looks like incredible views! Another item for the bucket list!
    Gaz recently posted…Witnessing Revolution In CubaMy Profile

  2. What a romantic.

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Glad I’m not the only one – even at 5:30 am there were a lot of people doing that hike.
      I know not everyone is into hiking. But if I lived in Cape Town I’d be doing a couple of hikes a week, it’s peaceful and a great way of getting exercise.

  3. Beautiful photos of those views. I don’t think I could make it up via the chains. It might be easy route or none for me! 😀

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      It’s easy, just mental. The path itself is good, just have to keep the eyes in front of you and where there’s a drop like that use the chain as a handrail 🙂

  4. Amazing views and photos! I can see why you saved this hike for last. I would love to do this hike. For some odd reason though I get vertigo from time to time. I can do some climbs and hikes and then for some reason at other times I freak out a little. Perhaps because I am getting older. Ha ha! But I would love the opportunity to try this hike someday and see if I can make it to the top without freaking out. Great pic of the lady on the ledge. I’m a little jealous of her muscles. Time to hit the gym again for me! 🙂
    Elizabeth Hampton recently posted…Touring Death Valley and the Valley of the Moon in the AtacamaMy Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      The girl in the hot yoga shorts? (and the not so attractive sweatmarks?) She’s standing on this one rock that kind of sticks out, sheer drops on all sides. I couldn’t go, I could barely look when others did!

  5. Dee (Dee's Butterfly Garden) says:

    LOVE the photos!!! The views are stunning! I would do this hike, it reminds me of Devil’s Head Lake in Wisconsin. We climbed the up rocks until we reached the top. I was much younger then, but I think I would be ok doing this hike now. I loved every post from this beautiful country!

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Yes, you’d be fine Dee! And since you like gardens – did you notice the Silver Trees? Lots of them on the lower slopes of Lion’s Head.
      South Africa is maybe the most beautiful place we’ve been, I especially loved my time there.

  6. Wow! We didn’t know that Cape Town has so many incredible hikes! This one really does look like the one to do (if you can only do one hike in Cape Town). We like that it’s rated easy, but that there’s still a little adrenalin rush (like those narrow ledges you show!). What views too!
    Sand In My Suitcase recently posted…The amazing temples of Bagan – a photo safariMy Profile

  7. Where are you going now?

  8. Wow, that ledge with the chains looks so scary! I’m just amazed by that incredible view!
    Valerie Price recently posted…Why Travel?My Profile

  9. Just say NO!.. Just say No!!! :-). I find it insane that people actually enjoy climbing..for FUN!!! Haha! Glad you enjoyed it though :-)!
    Kemkem recently posted…Hindu Festival in New Delhi, IndiaMy Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Oh god 🙁 Yeah, I have to explain that to Spanky all the time. I’m the opposite, can’t figure out why people wouldn’t want to go for a hike and enjoy nature like this.

  10. I like a good hike, but highly unlikely I could be convinced to get out of bed at 5:30 a.m. to scale a mountain, regardless of the how beautiful the sunrise is because in my book, the sunsets are equally beautiful. 🙂 A great way to say good-bye though.
    Patti recently posted…The Road South: Charleston ~My Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Cape Town is the one place I didn’t have a hard time getting up early. Actually sunrise was at 5:30 Am…I was usually out of bed an hour earlier.

  11. When you are travelling 5am to 9pm is the best time to do things. 5am to 8am you escape the heat and the crowds. You might have a few drinks once a week and stay up until midnight but most of the time its better to make use of the mornings unless its a very cold region.

  12. i think i got vertigo just looking at your pictures! Reminded me a little of Sirigiya in Sri Lanka!
    Andrew recently posted…First Taste – Bangkok, ThailandMy Profile

  13. Such gorgeous photos and wonderful views! However, it looks pretty close to the edge in places!
    Constance – Foreign Sanctuary recently posted…Lanterns at Matzu Temple [天后宮] in Lukang [鹿港], Taiwan [台灣] [A Photo Essay With Video]My Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      I got used to that in South Africa – even the easiest hike seemed to be along ledges looking straight down into the abyss.

  14. So incredibly beautiful! Those views.
    Wooclip recently posted…Martian (2015)My Profile

  15. I also climbed the Lion’s Head – I liked it even more that the Table Mountain! The views were spectacular – simply amazing! My favorite viewpoint of Cape Town as well as the Cliffton and Camps Bay. I’m back from South Africa now – it’s an amazing destination, so many unique places and things. I also went to Lesotho – it was so pure, beautiful and unspoiled. Absolutely amazing! Whenever you’re in South Africa, do see Lesotho also 🙂

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Hi Tom! So happy you enjoyed it. I think it is my favorite country. Thanks for the tip – we’re hoping to come back next year, this time staying in the northern part of the country and exploring Mpumalanga, Kwazulu-Natal, as well as Mozambique and Zambia. And maybe Lesotho.
      Frank (bbqboy) recently posted…Lady, can you please shut the F*ck up?My Profile

      • The nature in South Africa is absolutely amazing – you have the mountains, the sea, the coast, safaris, shark diving, penguin beach, bungee jumping etc. Cape Town is also absolutely beautiful! The only thing I was concerned about was safety… if you stay in a tourist zones you’re fine, but if you go out of there, it’s pretty dodgy… I stayed in the very city center in Cape Town and I couldn’t go out of the B&B after 6:30 pm… It’s not what I’m used to as I love to roam around after dark and check restaurants, nice places etc… Johannesburg was even worse. Otherwise South Africa was one of the most amazing and adventurous places I’ve traveled too! Cape Town reminded me of the Mediterranean Balkans/Crimea a lot. Mozambique, Zambia, Botswana and Namibia are also great. And if you think of seeing Lesotho – do! It’s so clean and pure with all the African villages, high mountains, friendly people and it’s completely off the beaten path, so no crowds! 🙂

        • Frank (bbqboy) says:

          Exactly about the safety. We were also very careful after dark and would stay in our residential neighborhood outside the center. The only place we ever felt a little ‘iffy’ was downtown Cape Town. If we did go out we’d make sure to either take UBER or the taxi home.
          I think we’re very similar Tom in how we feel about places which is why I really connect with your blog. I absolutely loved South Africa, the only area that has impressed me as much over the last year was Croatia and Montenegro, again because of the geography.
          I look forward to reading about your trip and how you travelled around.

  16. Hello Frank
    As I’m not very comfortable with modern technology (I’m not sure how the Uber application actually works and Idon’thave Internet on my old-fashioned cellphone), could you perchance give me some hints as waht may be the most practical ways to visit such CT highlights as Company Gardens (I gather it’s downtown, so can be reached via Myciti buses?), Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, Bo Kaap neighborhood? thanks a lot.

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Hi Lionel.
      The Company Gardens and Bo Kaap neighborhood are right downtown and an easy walk. Cape Town’s downtown is mostly quite compact and I would say that the walk from Bo Kaap to the Company Gardens are 10 min, 15 at most. But you can also hop a taxi almost anywhere so no problem.
      I REALLY, REALLY recommend taking the Hop on/Hop Off in Cape Town. They’ve done quite an excellent job with it in CT and its a good way to see EVERYTHING. Unlike European cities the bus really a good way to explore the city as outside the center things kind of stretch out…Also make sure to take their wine route and get out at Groot Constantia for lunch and wine tasting. Very nice. The bus also goes to Kirstenbosch, Camps Bay (it actually does the whole coastline but in my opinion Camps bay the highlight), and Table Mountain. Depending on the amount of time you are there, sometimes the bus is better to just do a first tour to see everything – if I remember right there are 4 lines and you have 48 hours to do them so you might not want to use it as transport to Table Mountain or Kirstenbosch where you’ll spend several hours at least. If you have a bit of time, do the various lines over the 48 hours, then come back by taxi (or uber) and explore them in depth. The one exception is maybe Groot Constantia which is a little further…you can still take the taxi there (as we did on one occasion) but maybe a good idea to stop there for lunch on the 2nd day of your bus tour.

      We never actually used the Myciti buses, we found Uber so cheap and convenient that it was easier than going to a bus stop and waiting around for a bus. I’m not tech savvy either by the way and I first used UBER in SA because it’s what locals seem to use…got the hang of it fast though but as you say, you need a smartphone.

      Make sure also to see the Cape Peninsula. I’ve got a post on it here which also includes Kirstenbosch and Groot Constantia. I’ve got a link on that post if you need a guide (Steve Martin)

      Don’t hesitate to ask if you have any other questions.
      Frank (bbqboy) recently posted…Driving Spectacular Mt. Biokovo, CroatiaMy Profile

      • thanks, Frank, well, I would like to know if it can be dicey to wait at a bus stop at certain hours (we are no longer in our prime youth), I ask this because I had my rucksack stolen at a bus stop in SJ, Costa-Rica.

        • Frank (bbqboy) says:

          We made it a point not to hang around downtown in the evening. It just felt dodgy. But I think you’re fine during the day. That’s Cape Town, I don’t know about Johannesburg. I would recommend taking taxis in the evening.
          Frank (bbqboy) recently posted…Driving Spectacular Mt. Biokovo, CroatiaMy Profile

  17. South Africa is a beautiful country, I think they have their own language called africaans, but majority speaks english as well. africaans is in fact something similar to dutch I think.. There are many things going on about the high crime rate there, but I guess small villages are safer? Nice place, wished could visit.

  18. These photos looks amazing ! The place had to be really worth to see 🙂 Wish you a lot of great travels

  19. Hi Frank…

    Ah the good old days – I used to run up Lions Head or TM (Table Mountain) twice a week during the summer evenings and we either did rock climbing on the TM ledges or climbed the Granite on Lions Head. The views were stupendous as the sun sets on the ocean – often retreated off the mountain in the dark running down India Venster path (TM)….great days, great days!

    Not kidding but some of the finest hiking and rock climbing in the world in South Africa. This is why I remained a member of the Mountain Club of South Africa for future access reasons etc. Other great places are the Boland/ Hottentots Holland Mountains…..the long mountain range one can see from the top of TM on the other side of False Bay. Used to do lots of climbing hiking up in Du Toits, Hex River Mountains, Montagu and Cedarbergs.

    I could go on and on depressing myself deeply at how great South Africa is….its bloody tragic they cannot sort the economics and politics of that country out. With the correct attitude SA could become the Switzerland of Africa and then absolutely NO WAY would I consider living anywhere else on the planet. As I stated in your Brazil comments section – Brazil is nice but doesn’t compare in my opinion.

    I vowed to take my wife (Brazilian) to Cape Town – I am sure should will fall in love with the place. Cape Town is an outdoor paradise – I used to work down near the harbour and after work would decide if it was rock climbing on the ledges, wind surfing or canoeing at Big Bay or down the Waterfront for a drink with my mates.

    If you go back to SA and want to do more hiking in wilderness areas let me know and I will put in contact with all the right people.

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      I agree with you – best hiking anywhere in the world. Just fantastic geography. I envy you all those hikes.
      I lived in Zambia a few years as a kid. Last year’s trip to SA was my first time back in Africa in 20 years and my first time in South Africa. I loved it, best travel experience I’ve had: nicest people, best geography, great food/wine – best overall value for money in my opinion.
      Thanks for your generous offer Colin. I want to go back and see the Drakensberg and Blyde River Canyon among other places. And Lesotho. I think Africa is one of the few places where travelling still an adventure. I’d love to see more of it. When the time comes I’ll be sure to write you for some tips.
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  20. I didn’t know that Cape Town has such amazing places for hiking! Excellent post!
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