An adventure you can’t miss when visiting Cape Town is the Lion’s Head sunset hike. You can even make this a sunrise or full-moon experience! Hiking is a popular past time in Cape Town – blessed with both the Table Mountain and Lion’s Head, Capetonians are tremendously lucky to have a natural gym in their backyard. Having hiked Table Mountain and did a stint up Wally’s Cave on Lion’s Head (which is now unfortunately closed due to high risk of falling rocks and erosion), I wanted to actually spend time hiking Lion’s Head properly, and did just so on my most recent trip to South Africa.
Lion’s Head is considered the less demanding hike, usually taking anywhere from 45-60 minutes to get to the top – as there is no lift or possibility of a motorized device helping you go up or come down the way Table Mountain does, it is highly recommended that you’re well-rested, bring sufficient water/snacks, wear the appropriate gears and sufficiently active to undertake the hike. I am a moderately active individual (office job, gym 3-4x a week) and found this hike moderately challenging.
Be sure to follow SANParks rules and safety tips (i.e. always ensure someone knows of your hiking plans, return time etc, and where possible, go with a guide) to make the most of your experience. The last thing you want to do is get mugged (it’s been known to happen) or injured.
Sunrise, sunset or full-moon hike – you’ve got a lot of choices to pick from when it comes to hiking this remarkable natural formation. A number of tour companies and operators (including Airbnb Experiences) offer guided hikes which I recommend given my lack of knowledge of the trails and paths. The peak sits at ~669m above sea level and its trail to the top is a steep 5.5km trail.
Any day is a good day to go and on my most recent, I was blessed with incredible weather (as you can see in the images below) and slow and steady is safer than trying to rush your way. There’s so much to see and the views of City Bowl and Table Mountain are spectacular – you’ll definitely find yourself stopping a bit ohh-and-ahhing your way through the hike.
The Lion’s Head loop is a fantastic 5.26km trail that circles the base of Lion’s Head if you don’t wish to ascend to the top of the mountain. Lots of dogs and runners can be found on this trail and while I didn’t do the loop myself, it can be less intimidating than ascending to the top.
I opted to go with a guided hike via Airbnb Experiences which was a $49 excursion; you can find cheaper ones with other tour guides or even skip the guides and go with locals who know the way for a much more memorable experience. I joined a group of 2 Aussies, 2 Americans, a French-woman and myself. Even though the trail is well-marked, I’m just not willing to risk and ruin my 2-week South Africa adventure going without a guide/group.
The group was split into two (3-4 people per guide) and the tour provided us with additional water (I brought 2 litres and it wasn’t enough), “sundowner” (wine to enjoy during sundown), fresh fruits/snacks and headlamps which was very important for the way down.
I had regular running shoes on during the hike and really regretted it – I bought a pair of hiking shoes to bring for my next hiking adventures because the hike can be pretty tough on the ankles. The first part of the hike goes over relatively flat and wide surface. There’s some scrambling with chains and ladders that have been installed and as you get closer to the “head” the path becomes a bit gnarly with barely enough space for 1 person to pass through.
The final bit of the hike as you climb as you go up to the peak, past the flat area where hikers usually sit for a bit to enjoy some sundowner and watch the sunset, is plainly terrifying. Not only is it a full-on upward climb where you have to have a good grip on the surface you’re climbing on, but the whipping winds and traffic jam make it a heart-stopping experience. I went up the final climb and felt I had to come down as quickly as I can because it was that nerve-wrecking!
I can understand why hiking Lion’s Head is such a popular past-time – the views are much more impressive given you get the full Table Mountain and Signal Hill experience from this vantage view. We enjoyed a bit of red wine and dried fruits as we watched the sunset over the entire city. The orange, pink and purple glow illuminating the city and its surrounding was a spectacular view worth the hike.
As many will say, going up is the easy part, coming down is the harder part of the journey. Given how quickly it got dark, the headlamp was absolutely necessary. We also got to see the view of the entire city lit up at night which was another incredible way to experience Cape Town.
Where to Stay in Cape Town
Budget // Cape Town
A centrally-located boutique hostel with bunk bed to single-bed options near Greenmarket SquareBook Here
Budget // Cape Town
Another popular hostel located in Green Point with their in-house adventure tours/trips a short distance from V&A WaterfrontBook Here
Budget // Cape Town
Located on the vibrant Kloof Street, with the Table Mountain in your backyard and its own bar and bunk/twin/double bed options
Comfort // Cape Town
Spacious, stylish and modern with a panoramic view of the Table Mountain, this is comfortable hotel for the familyBook Here
Luxury // Cape Town
For an ultra-luxurious stay, consider this island resort-inspired hotel which features its own infinity pool and is walking distance from main tourist sitesBook Here
Luxury // Camps Bay
The ocean-front hotel based in Camps Bay offers stunning views of the Twelve Apostles and its very own rock pools. There is free transfers to V&A Waterfront
Visiting Cape Town without going up either Table Mountain or Lion’s Head is like trying to cook pasta without the salt. For a relaxing experience, book a spot on the Table Mountain lift – tickets sell out quickly and because the lift is only operation when the weather is cooperative, it’s worth trying to book it in the earlier part of your trip. If you are up for a bit of an adventure that is a less-demanding experience, Lion’s Head is a great place to start! For experienced hikers and adventurers, give the 3-4 hour Table Mountain hike a try!
Now it’s over to you! Have you visited South Africa or Cape Town? Would you hike Lion’s Head on your next visit?
Where to Next?
- Kruger National Park is the premiere spot for safari in South Africa and here’s how you can do an African safari on a budget!
- If you’re looking to explore all of South Africa, consider taking the BazBus – a hop-on-hop-off cross country bus!
- Here’s how much it costs to go to South Africa as a solo traveller
- Consider taking rideshare like Uber/Bolt to get around
- Make time to in surf in Muizenberg; here are spots closer to Cape Town
- Don’t forget to plan a day for hiking Table Mountain and Lion’s Head!