Lion’s Head is one of the most popular hikes in Cape Town for tourists and locals alike. From the top of Lion’s Head, you can enjoy stunning 360-degree views of Cape Town, the Twelve Apostles, Table Mountain, Signal Hill, Robben Island, as well as the beaches of Clifton and Camps Bay. The hike itself is not too difficult if you have a reasonable level of fitness, and you will be rewarded with panoramic views during the entire hike.
Hiking Lion’s Head clearly is a must-do when visiting Cape Town, South Africa. Want to know more about the Lion’s Head hike? Read on to find out everything you need to know!
Make sure to also read my posts The Best Things To Do In Cape Town.
The Lion’s Head Hike
Lion’s Head, alongside the neighboring mountain (Signal Hill), got its name from its unique appearance. In the 17th century, Dutch settlers named the mountain Leeuwen Kop (Lion’s Head) because the shape of the mountain reminded them of a crouching lion, while Signal Hill was named Leeuwen Stert (Lion’s Tail).
Today, Lion’s Head is an iconic part of Cape Town’s skyline. Due to its elevated location (669 meters, or 2,195 feet), you can enjoy spectacular views of the city bowl and the surroundings from the top of the mountain.
The hike is suitable for all different skill levels and it is a very budget friendly thing to do, since there is no entrance fee. The hiking trail is basically like a spiral, meaning you circle around the mountain until you reach the top. The whole hiking route is well-marked, so you don’t have to worry about getting lost.
What To Expect When Hiking Lion’s Head, Cape Town
The hike starts with a steep red gravel trail. As you hike up the mountain, you will have fantastic views of the city, Table Mountain, the Twelve Apostles, Signal Hill, and the beaches of Camps Bay and Clifton. You will also find a few benches along the trail to enjoy the view and get some rest. The hike continues with some stairs and gets more and more rocky towards the top.
Before reaching the summit, you will see a sign that lets you choose between two different routes to the top: the “Recommended Route” (go left) and the “Chains/Staples Route” (go right).
The recommended route is an easier roundabout route to the top, which takes a bit longer but does not involve climbing chains and ladders. It’s the best option for beginner hikers or for people who are afraid of heights, whereas the chains route is the perfect route for adventure seekers, as you will scramble up a series of metal ladders, footsteps, and chains.
Being an adventure lover myself, I took the chains route and absolutely loved it! Just be aware, that you will need both hands for climbing up the chains route. So, make sure to safely store all of your belongings (like your smartphone or your camera) in your backpack.
The views along the trail
The hike itself is all about the views – right from the start and all the way up to the top, the trail boasts incredible views. So, the trail itself is already worth being part of everyone’s Cape Town itinerary. But if you think the views during the hike are mind-blowing, wait until you reach the top! It’s undoubtedly one of the best viewpoints in Cape Town, next to Table Mountain.
You will be rewarded with breathtaking 360-degree views of Cape Town and its surroundings. I recommend staying at the top for a while to soak in the unparalleled views and take lots of photos. You can easily spend an hour at the top without getting tired of the scenic panorama.
In addition to the view, the unique flora and fauna make this hike special. Lion’s Head is part of the Table Mountain National Park and home to many indigenous plants and small animals. On the top of Lion’s Head, you will probably spot some lizards and wild dassies (rock hyrax), which are little furry animals that are not camera-shy.
How to get to the beginning of the Lion’s Head trail
The Lion’s Head hiking trail starts directly at the Lion’s Head parking lot which can easily be reached by car from the city center. Just drive in the direction of Table Mountain on Kloof Nek Road and take the Lion’s Head/Signal Hill turnoff (Signal Hill Road). Parking is free but the parking lot can get very busy, especially at peak times (during the day and at the weekends).
If you don’t have a (rental) car, an alternative option is to take an Uber from the city center to Lion’s Head, which is pretty cheap in South Africa and you don’t have to worry about parking or the safety of your car.
Alternatively, you could take the MyCiTi bus to the nearest stop (Kloof Nek) and walk to the beginning of the Lion’s Head trail (around 600 meters) from there.
In case you decide to hike Lion’s Head with a guided tour, some tours also include transportation to Lion’s Head from your accommodation in the city.
You can book your Lion’s Head hike with transportation on GetYourGuide here.
Overall walking distance
The trail has a length of approximately 5.5 km (3.4 miles) both ways, with an ascent/descent of around 390 meters (1,280 feet). It may be a relatively short hike but due to the ever-changing magnificent views as well as the changing terrain throughout the hike (gravel road, rocky section, ladders, steps, and chains), it is an adventurous experience.
Overall walking time when hiking Lion’s Head
The overall walking time depends on many different factors such as your level of fitness, how many stops you make (for taking photos and/or resting), how busy it is (there are a few bottlenecks during the trail), and how long you spend at the summit of Lion’s Head.
In general, it takes between 90 minutes and 3 hours to hike Lion’s Head up and down.
I have hiked Lion’s Head twice and it took me around 90 minutes to reach the top when hiking Lion’s Head for the first time (with many photo stops and a few resting stops). In comparison, it took me only 90 minutes for the entire hike (roundtrip) when I hiked it for the second time.
As already mentioned, the standard hiking route offers two different options to reach the top of Lion’s Head. Just before reaching the summit, there is a split that lets you choose between the easy recommended spiral route and the adventurous chains route.
Next to the standard hiking trail, there’s also a circular route that is a bit longer (6 km, 3.7 miles) and allows you to take a different trail up and down (one of them will be the standard route). It also starts at the Lion’s Head parking lot and can be hiked clockwise or counterclockwise.
The circular route can also be done without hiking to the top of Lion’s Head, so this is a great option for all levels of fitness, as well as children and dogs. If you skip hiking to the summit of the mountain, the circular route is only 4 km (2.5 miles).
Hiking Lion’s Head independently
Most people hike Lion’s Head independently. As the trail is easy to reach from the city center and the hiking route is well-marked, the hike can easily be done on your own. However, for safety reasons, it is always best to hike in a group of minimum 2 people. Moreover, it is recommended to only hike during daylight hours when hiking Lion’s Head independently.
Hiking Lion’s Head with a guided tour
If you are a solo traveler or interested in learning more about Lion’s Head during the hike, it is best to join a guided group tour. Also, if you would like to hike Lion’s Head during sunrise, sunset, or full moon, I strongly suggest getting a guide when hiking in the dark.
When looking for a guided tour, I recommend going for a small group tour. Depending on your needs, you can choose between tours including transportation and without transportation.
You can book your Lion’s Head hike here (with transportation), here or here (without transportation) on GetYourGuide.
To book your Lion’s Head hike in Viator, click here.
How to avoid the crowds
If you would like to avoid the crowds, the best time to hike is early in the morning (after sunrise). During that time, the sunrise hikers and sunrise group tours have already left and the average daytime hikers have not yet started their hike. You should also avoid hiking during the weekends or on public holidays if you want to enjoy Lion’s Head with fewer people around.
Is it safe to hike Lion’s Head, Cape Town?
Overall, the Lion’s Head hike is safe, but it is best to take some general precautions. As already mentioned, you should not hike alone or in the dark without a guide. Moreover, like everywhere in South Africa, you should avoid flashing jewelry, cash, or other valuables in public. Please also keep in mind that the hike can be pretty exhausting, so bring enough water with you on the hike. I also recommend wearing proper shoes and sunscreen (even on a cloudy day).
Make sure to also read my post Why Hiking Alone Is Not A Good Idea.
You should also read my post Is Cape Town Safe For Tourists?
Best time of the day and year to hike Lion’s Head
Generally, anytime is a good time to hike Lion’s Head because the views are stunning all day from sunrise to sunset. However, the most popular time of the day to hike Lion’s Head is sunset. It’s a magical experience to watch the sun set into the Atlantic Ocean from the top of the mountain. On the other hand, it is also the most crowded time of the day.
Sunrise is also a good time to hike Lion’s Head as there will be fewer people compared to sunset. The only downside is that you will have to get up very early.
Another popular time (and a Capetonian tradition) is to hike Lion’s Head on full moon. Every full moon, people flock to Lion’s Head to witness the moon rise over Cape Town and enjoy the city lights at night.
No matter what time of the day you hike, always make sure to check the weather forecast before hiking Lion’s Head. It is not recommended to hike during strong winds (it can be very dangerous), rain (the trail gets slippery), or fog (you could get lost). On very hot days, it might also be advisable to avoid hiking midday because of the strong heat and sun.
Looking at the time of year, you can hike Lion’s Head all year round. April – October is low season in South Africa, so there might be fewer people who hike Lion’s Head but the weather is also colder and there are more rainy days.
Essentials for your Lion’s Head hike
To be prepared for your Lion’s Head hike, there are some items that you will want to bring with you.
First of all, you will want a hiking backpack to carry your belongings such as food, drinks and extra items for your day.
You should wear proper walking/hiking shoes for the rocky parts of the trail – I don’t recommend using running shoes for this hike.
You will also need sunscreen (the hike has very little shade), and other sun protection such as a hat and sunglasses.
Carry an extra jacket or sweater: it can get pretty chilly on the top of Lion’s Head and when it’s dark.
Pack a headlamp or torch – this is especially important if you are planning to hike for sunrise, sunset or if you hike in the dark to see the full moon.
Finally, make sure to bring your cell phone (for taking photos/videos, or emergency calls) and a camera: Lion’s Head is all about the views!
Eating and drinking when hiking Lion’s Head
With regards to food and drinks to pack for the hike, when we did the Lion’s Head hike, there was a small food truck at the beginning of the trail where you could buy some coffee, water, and snacks. However, the contract of the food truck ended at the end of October 2021, so there is no guarantee that it is still there.
It is best to bring your own snacks and lots of water with you (a minimum of 1.5 liters). The top of Lion’s Head is the perfect place for a picnic with a view. Please also bring a litter bag and take everything you brought back with you.
The Lion’s Head hike should definitely be part of everyone’s Cape Town itinerary. It is an unforgettable experience with spectacular views and a very fun activity.
Have you hiked Lion’s Head already? How did you like it?
If you are planning a trip to the Cape Town area, these other posts will come in handy:
- The Best Tips For Visiting Cape Town
- A Guide To Hiking Table Mountain
- The Best Day Trips From Cape Town
- Where To Stay In Cape Town
- The Best Airbnbs In Cape Town
- The Best Places To Visit In South Africa
This post was contributed by Simply Madeleine.