Standing tall at 669 meters above sea level, showcasing a beautiful panoramic view of the Mother City, Atlantic Ocean, Table Mountain and beyond, Lion’s Head has established itself as one of the most popular Cape Town hiking trails for both hiking first-timers and avid hikers from around the world. As Lion’s Head forms part of the renowned Table Mountain National Park, it boasts a rich biodiversity and diverse fauna and flora display. Making it the ultimate nature lover’s paradise. Besides being one of the most sought-after hiking trails in the Mother City, Lion’s Head forms a vital part of Cape Town’s topography – Standing loud and proud amongst Table Mountain and Signal Hill.
Beyond it’s top mountain-range and hiking status, Lion’s Head has claimed the crown as one of the best sunrise and sunset spots in Cape Town. With so much to offer, it’s no surprise that the roaring Lion of the Cape Town skyline is regarded as one of the Mother City’s top attractions.
To ensure you’re fully prepared to conquer Lion’s Head, here is everything you need to know about hiking Lion’s Head as well as some top tips, need-to-know information, and hidden gems you’ll discover along the way.
Lion’s Head fact: Lion’s Head got its name from the Dutch in the 17th century, they called it Leeuwen Kop (Lion’s Head). Signal Hill used to be called Leeuwen Staart (Lion’s Tail) – the two together reminded the first Dutch settlers of a crouching lion.
HIKING LION’S HEAD
- Starting point: The Lion’s Head hiking trail starts at the car park on Signal Hill Road. Follow the trail which circles around the mountain to get to the top.
- End point: The end point of the hike is the Lion’s Head Summit. Once you reach the summit, make your way down the same way until you reach the initial starting point.
- Total elevation: 669 meters (2,195 feet)
The Lion’s Head hiking trail is really easy to spot. All you need to do is look across the parking lot on Signal Hill road for a wide, red gravel trail. The route is clearly marked, making for a great hiking experience as you won’t easily get lost along the way.
An interesting fact that most people don’t know, especially if it’s your first-time hiking Lion’s Head, is that there are actually two routes that lead to the summit – The left route, also known as the spiral route, and the right route, which is the steeper, more challenging route.
Left Route: The easier, safer spiral route
Let’s start off with the left route, also known as the spiral route. This route is considered the safest and easiest way to reach the Lion’s Head summit. The trail going up Lion’s Head is referred to as a screwtop/spiral, which essentially means that you will be circling the mountain in order to get to the top. Not only does it make for an easier hike, but it provides you with incredible panoramic views all the way throughout. Lion’s Head isn’t known as one of the most beautiful hiking trails in Cape Town for nothing.
If you choose to take the gentler spiral route on the left, you will follow a roundabout footpath that will lead you to the summit, avoiding all the challenging climbs, steep ascents and descents as well as the chains and ladders altogether. The Lion’s Head spiral trail is the recommended route for first-time hikers, anyone that’s afraid of heights or has a below average level of fitness, as well as families with young kids and/or dogs.
Right Route: The more challenging route
The route to the right is perfect for avid hikers, thrill seekers and adventurous souls looking to experience an exhilarating hike up Lion’s Head. This route is far more challenging than the spiral route and is not recommended for the faint-hearted or those afraid of heights. As it’s a faster, steeper, and more challenging hike to the top, you will need to conquer a variety of steps and make use of chains and ladders to reach the summit. You will also need to negotiate with a few sheer rock faces, which is bound to get all the thrill seekers excited! Once you reach the summit, you will have the opportunity to roam free at your own leisurely pace, take it all in, enjoy the fruits of your labour and admire the spectacular view – it is truly sensational!
- Insider tip: If you’re looking to add a bit more adventure to your hike, we definitely recommend you stop at one of Lion’s Head’s favourite hidden gems, Watchman’s Cave. Located just above Lion’s Head’s busy main route, a quaint little cave awaits. It is the perfect spot to sit back, relax and watch the sunset. Besides being a beautiful viewing or picnic spot, it makes for stunning pictures of the path winding up Signal Hill towards Lion’s Head. Bring your friends, pack some snacks and trek away. Please note Watchman’s Cave is not to be confused with Wally’s Cave, which is closed to the public as a result of damage to the path.
HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE?
- Average time to the summit: Between 1 – 3 hours
- Average distance: The total length of the trail is 5,5 km (3,4 miles) both ways
A hike up Lion’s Head can take anywhere between 1 – 3 hours depending on your level of fitness, which route you choose as well as how many water breaks and moments of appreciation you take to admire the amazing view.
As Lion’s Head is one of the most popular hiking trails in Cape Town, it’s known to attract quite the crowd. With runners, scenic strollers and hiking enthusiasts from all corners of the globe looking to experience Cape Town’s very own lion first-hand. It can thus get pretty crowded at times, especially during Cape Town’s peak summer season. Although the trail will be filled with tons of first-time and experienced hikers as well as avid adventurers looking to tick a Lion’s Head hike off their bucket-list, don’t be surprised if you see a few runners speed past you in record time on their daily Lion’s Head run. Just keep doing your thing, march on, soak it all in and enjoy every single second of the experience.
HOW DIFFICULT IS IT TO HIKE?
- Difficulty level: Easy – moderate
Lion’s Head is one of Cape Town’s shorter and easier hiking trails as it provides hikers with a less steep gradient to tackle compared to other trails. Making it possible for absolutely anyone to join in on the Lion’s Head hiking fun and games!
Families with children as well as highly inexperienced hikers with less than optimal fitness levels should stick to the spiral route (the route to the left). You should allow for three hours or more, especially if you want to take it easy and admire all the beautiful scenery and views along the way. Put some extra time aside to roam around once you reach the summit and enjoy the spectacular view before you make your way down.
On the other hand, super fit trailers, experienced hikers and avid thrill seekers will conquer the 5,5km Lion’s Head trail both ways in 60 – 90 minutes if they choose to take the more challenging route to the right.
Just because Lion’s Head is considered one of Cape Town’s easier hiking trails, doesn’t mean it should be underestimated. There is still a fair bit of mountain to climb as well as a few tough edges to manoeuvre around. You will also encounter a number of very steep passages towards the top of the mountain that are harder to navigate. As you get closer to the summit it gets rockier and steeper, this is a climb of almost 670 metres after all. However, don’t let the difficulty deter you, the view from the top far surpasses the strain of the hike.
All-in-all it promises to be a truly exhilarating hiking adventure and a bucket-list worthy experience all at the same time.
BEST TIME TO HIKE
There is no denying that hiking Lion’s Head any time of the day or year will be an incredible experience. Although the top of Lion’s Head will without a doubt provide you with stunning knock-your-socks-off views at any point in time, there are certain times of the day that are pure magic.
Besides being one of the most popular and beautiful hiking trails in Cape Town, the Lion’s Head summit is one of the most magnificent sunrise and sunset spots in the city. So, if you’re an early riser, a sunrise hike up Lion’s Head should definitely be on your bucket-list. Not only will you avoid the intense heat, especially during Cape Town’s summer months (as there is very little shade on the Lion’s Head hiking trail), you will also be able to admire the most sensational sunrise summit view you have ever seen 669 meters above sea level. Sounds pretty spectacular right?
During Cape Town’s peak summer season (November – February) it is advised that you start your Lion’s Head hike at first light as the sun rises between 5:00 and 5:30 am. However, in winter, the sun only makes its appearance anywhere between 6:30am – 8am depending on the month. It’s important to time your sunrise hike up perfectly according to the time of year in order to reap the greatest reward of a spectacular Loin’s Head sunrise view.
If you’re keen to go on a Lion’s Head mid-day hike, there certainly are a few pros and cons to consider. During Cape Town’s summer months, the heat is definitely one of the top factors to consider – Make sure you wear plenty of sunscreen, a hat and take tons of water along. However, on the flip side, people tend to avoid hiking at mid-day during the peak of summer, this means Lion’s Head will be far less crowded and you may just have the mountain all to yourself. Making for a pretty incredible hiking experience!
During winter, a midday hike can be quite pleasant as the weather is mild and lovely enough for outdoor exploring. Cape Town’s winter season is also it’s peak rainy season, this means the Mother City transforms into a beautiful lush green paradise. All of which you will be able to admire and enjoy on your hike to the top of Lion’s Head. Due to the high levels of rainfall, the trail can get quite slippery, especially at its steeper sections. Its important to be extra cautious when making your way up and down the mountain in these conditions.
There are very few things that are quite as magical as witnessing a Cape Town sunset. Known for her stunning sherbet-coloured sunsets that set the sky alight in a beautiful celebration of colour, the Mother City sure knows how to do a sunset just right. What could be better than witnessing a stunning Lion’s Head summit sunset 669 meters above sea level? Pure sunset bliss! It’s no surprise that enjoying a sunset hike up Lion’s Head has become one of the most sought-after experiences and things to do in Cape Town for locals and travellers alike.
During Cape Town’s summer months, you can start your Lion’s Head sunset hike around 6:30 pm as the sun sets as late as 8 pm. This gives you a good amount of time to reach the summit and soak up all the Lion’s Head sunset magic. In autumn and winter however, the sun sets between 6 – 7 pm. This means you’ll have to start your hike a bit earlier if you’re looking to catch the sunset in time.
Full moon hike
You didn’t expect this one now did you? But the roaring lion of the Mother City skyline certainly has a few surprises up it’s sleeve, with one of the most thrilling being enjoying a full moon hike up Lion’s Head! The Lion’s Head full moon hike has become a very popular night-time activity and bucket-list hiking experience for locals and travellers around the world.
If you catch a glimpse of Lion’s Head on any given evening, you’ll notice a dash of flickering torches on its slopes. When there’s a full moon the torches line the mountainside like a string of fairy lights. It truly is a special sight! There is arguably no better place in Cape Town to watch the light of the full moon reflecting off the ocean water than from the top of Lion’s Head. Diarise these predicted dates to experience a magical Lion’s Head moonlight hike first-hand, trust us, you won’t regret it in the slightest!
Lion’s head predicted full moons in 2020:
- 9 March
- 8 April
- 7 May
- 5 June
- 5 July
- 3 August
- 2 September
- 1 October
- 31 October
- 30 November
- 30 December
GEOLOGY, FAUNA & FLORA & BIO-DIVERSITY
As Lion’s Head forms part of the Table Mountain National Park, it boasts a rich bio-diversity and diverse fauna and flora display. Making it any adventure seeker and nature lover’s dream to explore. When embarking on your Lion’s Head hike, you’ll notice that the lower slopes show examples of Cape granite, while the upper part of the Lion’s Head peak consists of flat-lying Table Mountain sandstone.
Declared by UNESCO as a Word Heritage Site, the Table Mountain National Park encompasses the scenic Peninsula mountain chain that stretches from Signal Hill in the north all the way to the dramatic Cape Point in the south. Recognised globally for its extraordinarily rich and diverse fauna and flora, the Table Mountain National Park is home to the world’s smallest, yet most diverse, floral kingdom, known as the Cape Floristic Region. With the beloved Cape Fynbos, an ancient indigenous vegetation that is endemic to the tip of the African continent, being one of only six floral kingdoms in the world. It is also the only floral kingdom that occurs entirely in one country. As Lion’s Head forms an integral part of the magnificent Table Mountain National Park, you will encounter an incredible display of indigenous Cape fynbos covering the peak of Lion’s Head.
Besides Lion’s Head’s glorious fauna and flora, this biodiverse natural area supports many species of small animals. The rock hyrax (known as the dassie) is a small furry animal that is frequently spotted on any Lion’s Head hike as well as five amphibian species that live in Table Mountain’s perennial streams. You may even have the opportunity to spot some unique lizards such as the black-girdled lizard if you’re lucky, as well as a few other species, including the Cape skunk and the southern rock agama. You can identify the male agama by its bright blue head during summer’s mating season. Keep your eyes open for these amazing creatures if you happen to be enjoying a Lion’s Head hike during this time of year.
Besides the above mentioned animal species there are snakes, porcupines, water mongoose and small antelopes that roam the slopes of Lion’s Head. However, hikers rarely come across them during their hiking adventures.
PREPARING FOR YOUR HIKE
If you do decide to hike up Lion’s Head, here are a few important tips to keep in mind to ensure you are fully prepared to conquer the Lion’s Head summit.
Include the following in your backpack:
- Sufficient amount of water! Around 1.5 litres per person should be ample. You definitely don’t want to tackle Lion’s Head (or any Cape Town hike for that matter) without enough water, especially during the hot summer months.
- A lightweight, wind and waterproof jacket with a hood, sunglasses, sunscreen and a hat or baseball cap. When going on a hike in Cape Town, it is extremely important to be prepared for anything! Cape Town is widely known for its wild and unpredictable weather patterns after all. This means the weather can change at the flip of a coin and it is not at all uncommon to experience all 4 seasons in one day. Yes, in Cape Town the four season rule definitely doesn’t apply. It’s important that you always take something warm along (even if its unbelievably hot outside) as well as all the essentials to protect you from the scorching Cape Town sun and heat. Just in case the weather suddenly does a 180-degree flip on your way up or down or if you are delayed for some reason.
- Snacks such as bananas or any trail bars, nuts or trail mix to keep your energy levels up.
- Your camera with the battery fully charged – You definitely don’t want to miss out on capturing all the sensational sweeping views and hiking escapades on your Lion’s Head hiking adventure.
- Insect repellent – You never know when that will come in handy!
- Basic first aid kit with plasters, antibacterial spray and antihistamine cream – It’s important to always be prepared, rather than to regret it later.
- Whistle and space blanket in case of a severe injury – You never know what can happen on any hike or adventure you take. Taking the necessary precautionary measures and essential equipment along is therefore important.
- Your cell phone with emergency contact numbers saved.
- Toilet paper and plastic bags for your waste – As Lion’s Head forms part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Table Mountain National Park, it is vital to keep it litter free. Not only for the environment, but for the variety of animal species that call the slopes of Loin’s Head their home.
- Head torch for full moon hikes – This is very important for navigating your way to the summit. You don’t want to be completely reliant on the Mother City moonlight and stars to guide you.
STAYING SAFE WHEN HIKING
Important safety tips when hiking Lion’s Head:
- Always wear the appropriate hiking gear and shoes and be well prepared for your Lion’s Head hiking adventure.
- Please avoid hiking alone. The ideal number of hikers is a group of four.
- It’s a great idea to nominate a leader to guide you and make decisions on behalf of the group as well as to set the appropriate pace of the hike according to the slowest hiker.
- Plan your route accordingly and always stick to the trail. The last thing you want is to get lost and stranded on the mountain.
- Make sure you choose the ideal Lion’s Head hiking route based on your group’s overall fitness and experience level.
- Never split from your chosen hiking group. There is always safety in numbers.
- Always allow for enough time to ascend and descend. Make sure you factor in additional time for water breaks, exploring the summit and taking some time to enjoy and appreciate the experience.
- Take note of signs that warn of danger ahead! And most importantly, DON’T ignore them!
- Be observant and mindful of changes in the weather and turn back if bad weather threatens, rock surfaces become too slippery, conditions become too dangerous to continue or if you’re battling on the chosen route. Don’t just push through for the sake of trying to make it to the top. You never know if and when things can take a turn for the worst.
- In an emergency, find a spot that offers some form of shelter from the threatening weather conditions. Never try to continue climbing in heavy mist, fog, heavy rain or potentially dangerous conditions.
- If you get lost, retrace your steps. If you can’t find your original path, move down broad, open slopes.
- Always ensure that someone knows exactly which route you intend on taking and when you expect to return (do not deviate from this plan).
- Avoid flashing cash, jewellery, watches, cameras and devices on your hike.
- In the unfortunate event of a mugging, do not resist attackers. Stay calm and hand over your valuables to avoid a violent altercation.
- Report any criminal incidents to the nearest police station.
- Save emergency numbers on your phone before your hike. The main emergency number is +27 (0)86 110 6417.
- While it’s important to keep all these guidelines and tips in mind, remember to have fun and enjoy the adventure, spectacular scenery, sensational views and hidden gems along the way! Hiking up Lion’s Head is most certainly an exciting tick off your Cape Town bucket-list!
CHECK THE WEATHER FORECAST BEFORE YOU HIKE
- The rain is pelting down – Cape Town gets winter rain. Don’t attempt the Lion’s Head trail in the rain. The route is rocky and becomes slippery when wet.
- The mountain is misty – Mist can hamper visibility and will also make the rocks, chains, steps and ladders slippery.
- The wind is strong – Strong wind can be hazardous when one negotiates a steep trail with rock faces. The summer months from November to February can be extremely windy in Cape Town. Avoid Lion’s Head when the Southeaster is howling.
RESPECT THE MOUNTAIN
- Take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints. A simple rule is to take everything you brought along, back with you.
- Do not pick, break or trample any plants or flowers, or remove seeds, rocks or plants.
- Do not feed, touch or harm any of the animals or birds.
- Wildfires can cause loss of life and property. Fires are not allowed on Lion’s Head or Signal Hill. Do not throw cigarette butts anywhere.
- Fruit peels do not belong on the mountain and can take up to two years to biodegrade. So make sure you take them down with you. This also applies to eggshells, tea bags and all other objects that do not naturally occur in wilderness areas.
- Take a small plastic shopping bag with you. Carry all litter back to place in the big bin at the bottom of the footpath.
DIRECTIONS TO GET TO LION’S HEAD
From the Cape Town CBD, the easiest way to get to Lion’s Head is to drive up Kloof Nek Road towards Table Mountain. At the top of Kloof Nek you’ll see Camp’s Bay ahead, Table Mountain on your left and Signal Hill on your right. Turn right towards Signal Hill and you will be able to see the base of Lion’s Head before you reach it. There is parking available on the side of the road as well as indication of where you can park your car. You’re bound to know exactly where the entrance is just by the sheer number of cars parked along the road. It is one of Cape Town’s most popular hiking trails after all. From there you will be able to access the trail up Lion’s Head.
Cape Town has several modes of public transport that can get you to and from Lion’s Head for an exciting hiking experience.
- Make use of your own car (if you have one) or hire a car and follow the above directions in order to reach Lion’s Head.
- Meter Taxis: There is a variety of meter taxis available for hire across the city centre. You can order one via telephone to pick you up directly from wherever you are, or you can choose to flag one down on the road too. The meter taxis generally charge per kilometre, which can vary from R10 to R20 per kilometre. Here’s a little insider tip – you can negotiate a price with some drivers. It is also a good idea to ask for an estimate before you get in. That way you always know exactly what you’re in for and there are no surprises at the end.
- Uber: Uber is always a reliable, easy and convenient way to get around the city of Cape Town especially if you have the Uber App installed on your phone. It’s no surprise that it has become one of the most popular public transport options for getting around in the Mother City.
- The MyCiti Bus: The MyCiti Bus is a shuttle bus service that is very convenient and reliable for getting to and from various Cape Town landmarks and attractions including Lion’s Head. The Kloof Nek Stop on the 106 and 107 routes stops right at the base of Lion’s Head.