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Lions Head Hike: Your Guide To Hiking The Best Trail In Cape Town

lion's head hike

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Have you really been to Cape Town if you haven’t hiked to the top of Lion’s Head and looked down at the city from 669 metres above sea level?

This lion-shaped rock and terrific trail form a part of the Table Mountain National Park and is a popular activity among tourists and locals, offering the best panoramic views of Cape Town.

I must admit, even though I consider myself to be quite fit, I found this trail to be pretty challenging.

To avoid having any more tourists embark on this trail in flip-flops, I’ve created this guide so that you know exactly what you’re getting yourself into when adding Lions Head to your Cape Town itinerary.

Details

  • Distance: 5 km (out and back)
  • Duration: 1.5 – 2 hours
  • Elevation gain: 369 m
  • Hiking level: Moderate
  • Terrain: Steep, rocky and gravel road with ladders

Preparing For The Lion’s Head Hike

Lion's Head hiking

This might sound obvious, but take water with you. There aren’t any stores on the trail or nearby. At best, you’ll find two trailers parked in the parking lot selling some overpriced drinks and snacks. I had to buy another bottle of water here when my partner and I ended the trail because I’d drunk all mine once we reached the peak.

A few essentials to take along include:

  • 2 liters of water
  • Good shoes
  • Windbreaker (it can get quite chilly in winter)
  • Sunscreen and a cap
  • A charged phone (for photos and in case of emergencies)
  • Snacks (you can have a little picnic when you get to the summit)
  • A backpack to carry all these goodies

You could also pack a few optional items for Lion’s Head, like:

  • A fitness watch – you’ll definitely meet your daily step goal after this trek,
  • your camera,
  • sunglasses,
  • first-aid kit
  • and power bank.

How To Get There

Getting to Lion’s Head is a piece of cake. From the City Bowl to Camps Bay you have a clear view of this glorious landmark (unless it’s foggy).

If you’re trying to get to the car park of Lion’s Head hike from the city centre, you’ll need to head northwest following the streets out of the city. Luckily, there are a lot of signs to direct you. Look out for the ones saying Signal Hill or Lions Head, Lions Head is adjacent to Signal Hill (another popular sunset spot).

I just put “Lions Head Parking Lot” into my Google Maps and it led me straight there in under 20 minutes.

Best Spot To Park

We got lucky with parking, despite going during peak hours. The main parking lot is right by the start of the trail, but can often be full. If this is the case you have three other options:

  1. You can park on the side of Signal Hill Road; however, if you are a nervous driver or suck at parallel parking, I wouldn’t advise it.
  2. A friend actually told me about a “secret spot” between Signal Hill and Lion’s Head that involves going down a gravel road. This will add an extra 4 km in total to your hike as it’s about 2km away from the start of the trail.
  3. If you’re not keen to add extra distance to your hike, Kloof Nek Parking would be your best bet. It’s only about 700 m from the trailhead and you’re almost guaranteed to find a free spot.

What To Expect

foot of Lion's Head

I love a good hike, but it took me a while before I finally decided to hike Lion’s Head. As much as I love exploring new places, I tend to seek out the roads less travelled in Cape Town before visiting tourist hot spots.

After finally giving in to peer pressure, and being bombarded on social media with thousands of pictures of people posing at the summit with Cape Town as their background, I could no longer put off this adventure. My partner and I set out to see what the fuss was all about one Saturday morning in August.

The view really did live up to the hype, but the hike itself wasn’t what I expected at all! The Lion’s Head trail was much more challenging and tiring, which also made reaching the top such a rewarding moment.

Best Time To Hike

hiking on Lion's Head

I chose to attempt this hike on a foggy Saturday morning. Despite the poor visibility and temperamental weather conditions, the trail was still pretty busy with tourists persisting through fairly strong winds to get the perfect photo. I was impressed with their perseverance to make it to the top of Lion’s head.

The best time to hike really depends on your preferences. Hiking to the summit to witness the sky change from bright orange to subtle pinks as the sun sets is truly magical. However, the queues you might end up enduring to get up the ladders can take some of the magic away and test your patience.

Sunrise is another popular time to tackle the Lion’s Head hike, busy but beautiful. I’m not much of a morning person myself, but I’d say this could be worth getting up early for. Just remember to take a torch with you as it’ll be dark while you hike up!

You’ll want to keep your eye on the weather as well! The trail was wet when I went which made it slippery and a little unpleasant.

People still climb to Lion’s Head all year round, and for safety reasons, going on a weekend or during the holidays when there are a lot of people on the trail isn’t a bad thing. So even though you might not want to go at the busiest time, you also shouldn’t go when you’re the only person on the trail either.

The Routes For Lion’s Head

1. Chain Route

Calling this route the “chain” route might make it sound a little more daunting than it actually is. Still, as an ex-adrenalin junky, I found it to be quite thrilling.

It consists of some technical parts; you’ll make your way to the summit of Lion’s Head over rocks while holding onto a chain and climbing up a few ladders.

Unfortunately, there was a large tour group ahead of us and we waited for over 30 minutes before we could make our way up the ladder. It’s safe to say the suspense was killing us watching all these other people shakily climb the ladder one by one. Some even needed words of encouragement halfway which just added to the waiting time.

If you choose to hike Lion’s Head on a busy day, I’d strongly advise you to bring a lot of patience. You’ll need it.

2. Spiral Route

Once you reach the part where the chains and steep ladders are, you’ll see a sign guiding you to the left. Here, you’ll find a far less challenging footpath – a better option if you’re afraid of heights or not in the mood to potentially risk your life on a steep ladder.

I took this route on my way down and even though it’s a bit further, it feels a lot safer and is definitely more suitable for beginner hikers, kids and hikers with dogs.

Note: Yes, your furry friends are welcome on this trail!

Best Guided Tours

As I mentioned earlier, there was a tour group doing the Lion’s Head trail at the same time as us. For foreigners who don’t know the city, it’s worth getting a guide. They can help everyone over the tricky parts too!

Hike Lion’s Head offers a great package that includes pick-up, drop-off, snacks and an excellent guide! Or for a slightly cheaper option, you can book a guide through Viator with similar benefits.

Safety Tips

Lion's Head Hiking Sunset View

There’s safety in numbers, so I’d always recommend going in a group. When we went, even though the weather was pretty terrible that day, there were still loads of other people on the trail.

In regards to the safety of climbing the trail, you need to be careful! There were a few occasions when my foot would slip and I’d slide down the gravel. I can definitely see how you can get injured on some of the steep uphills and rocky terrain.

Some tips to stay safe on the Lion’s Head trail include:

  • Have emergency numbers saved
  • Make sure your phone is charged
  • Avoid hiking in the dark
  • Don’t rush! Take your time to avoid slipping
  • Go with a group of people, especially if you’re doing parts of the Lion’s Head hike in the dark for sunset or sunrise.

My Experience

When I woke up on Saturday, the weather wasn’t looking very promising – it was August after all. My partner and I decided that it was now or never, so we braved the wind and foggy conditions and headed towards Lion’s Head.

The view of Cape Town within the first 20 minutes of the hike already took my breath away, and after that the steep incline did. We took way longer than we thought we would to reach the top as we couldn’t stop taking photos, and it’s a good thing we did because the view didn’t last long.

The weather took a turn for the worse as we made our way to the top. We couldn’t see anything anymore and felt like a Jack and the Beanstalk moment as we climbed into the clouds. The wind also made climbing up the ladder on the chains route more daunting, and we got fairly cold waiting in line for our turn.

I was really impressed with the greenery on the last bit of the route before you get to the top of Lion’s Head. The tall trees looked especially eerie with the fog surrounding them. Even though we didn’t get to see the view of Cape Town, it was still pretty cool standing on the edge without being able to see exactly how high you really are, completely surrounded by thick, grey clouds.

Overall, my first experience hiking Lion’s Head was a good one! I’ll definitely be back to attempt a sunset or maybe even a sunrise hike.

FAQ’s

Can you hike Lion’s Head in Cape Town for free?

Yes! Entry for the Lion’s Head hike is free, making this the perfect activity for anyone in Cape Town on a budget.

Is it safe to hike Lion’s Head in Cape Town?

It’s not safe to hike Lions Head alone. There have been cases of stabbings, muggings and theft on the trail. There is safety in numbers, so it’s best to hike Lion’s Head in a group and during busy times so there are always other people around.

The trail itself can be quite tricky, so take caution while hiking and make sure your phone is charged and you know what numbers to phone in case of an emergency.

How hard is the Lion’s Head Cape Town trail?

The Lion’s Head hike has a moderate difficulty level. Luckily, you can turn around at any point. But, to complete the trail, you need to have a good level of fitness. There are also two route options available, of which the spiral route would be more suitable for new hikers and the chain route for medium-level hikers.

How long is the hike up Lion’s Head Cape Town?

The amount of time it takes to hike up the Lion’s Head depends on how busy the trail is, your level of fitness and the amount of time you spend at the top. On average, the trail takes between 1.5 and 2 hours to complete.


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