Hiking Lions Head: A South Africa Highlight

Lauren hiking Lions Head

Cape Town is one of my favourite cities in the world. 

I can’t get enough of it.

In part, this is due to the many spectacular hikes you can tackle from the city’s outskirts. Yes, Cape Town has been blessed with an abundance of climbable mountains and I always attempt to scale as many as possible when I’m in town.

Today, I want to talk about hiking Lion’s Head, because no matter how many Cape Town hikes I tackle, I just can’t find one that’s better than this. I’m not alone either: this is one of Cape Town’s most popular mountains for walkers. It’s one of the easiest routes to trek and is a two-hour round trip for most people.

If you’re going to be spending time in Cape Town, I highly recommend adding Lion’s Head to your hiking to-do list. Here’s what to expect when you do it. 

From the top of Lions Head

We took an Uber from our hotel on Buitenkant Street to the start of the trail, then began to walk.

The five kilometre hike climbs 500 metres as it encircles Lion’s Head, which means that half of the walk is in the scorching Cape Town heat and the other half will be shaded. In beginning, at least, the path was wide, smooth, and flat.

And from the moment we started walking, the views were spectacular.

Lions Head panorama

Fun fact about me: I’m surprisingly awkward when it comes to ladders.

I don’t know how to climb them.

I mean, I can climb them. But I also spend the entirety of that time convinced I’m going to slip through the gaps and fall. It may have something to do with my lifelong lack of coordination, but also, I just never feel secure on them!

It was to my great dismay, then, when after thirty minutes of easy walking, I found myself face-to-face with a ladder.

This was not what I’d expected.

“It’s okay, you go on,” I said to every single person who was behind me, while I stood to one side and prayed for the crowds to subside.

When they did, I ascended those rungs like a grandma who was seriously faint hearted.

And it’s at this point that I’ll tell you that this ladder was no more than two metres high.

Cape Town from above

With the toughest challenge I’ve faced this year now overcome, I felt as though I could tackle anything.

Clambering over uneven rocks? Not a problem.

Marching alongside a sheer drop with no handrails to hold onto? Easy peasy.

Pulling myself up over boulders that were larger than my legspan? I could do it with my eyes closed.

Taking the fork in the road that pointed to the difficult route? The one that involved using chains to climb up the vertical face of the rock, kind of like a reverse abseil?

Yeah, no thanks.

‘Cause, you know, people actually die falling off Lion’s Head.

So yes, at some point, the trail comes to a fork and you have the option of going with the easy walk or the hard walk. If you’re an experienced hiker and have experience using chains and ropes, you’ll tackle the hard route with few difficulties. It shouldn’t be anything that you haven’t come up against before. But if you’ve yet to use chains to climb up a mountain, I would suggest leaving that particular experience for another time.

And yes, hikers have died on Lion’s Head before. Not many, but there’s still a couple every year.

We took the easy way up, which felt like anything but, and I ended up panting in disbelief as I repeatedly asked my travel partner if he was sure this was supposed to be the easy way.

The final five minutes was the toughest part of the climb, with all its uneven rocks and slippery sand, both of which had me stumbling all over the mountain until we made it to the top.

The top of Lions Head

And then we were there.

And the views of Cape Town were breathtaking.

I took a seat on a nearby rock, ate a banana, and gawped at the small animals that were running around me.

Hyrax on Lions Head, in Cape Town

My new favourite animal is the hyrax.

I assumed it was some kind of giant rodent, but when I set about researching what it was, I learned it was most closely related to elephants and manatees. How strange is that?

View of Table Mountain from Lions Head

I’ve climbed Table Mountain before and to my surprise, I actually preferred the view from Lion’s Head.

After all, you can’t see Table Mountain while you’re on top of it.

View from Lions Head

And it definitely wasn’t difficult to get some kickass photos, either.

Lauren at Lions Head, Cape Town

Thanks to my previous hiking experiences, I knew the coming down was likely to be harder than the ascent, and in this case I was correct.

It turns out that climbing up rocks that were half of the size of me is far easier than attempting to step off them without twisting an ankle. Especially when there’s a layer of dust everywhere that makes everything super-slippery.

And then, being me, I may have taken a wrong turn — on to the hard route! — and suddenly found myself gripping on to a chain as I attempted to descend without throwing myself off the mountain.

And then, being me, I may have then climbed back up the chain and wandered around in circles in search of the easier route.

Then all I had to worry about was the ladders.

Views of Cape Town

It took us around an hour to hike to the top of Lion’s Head, and the descent came in at 45 minutes.

And when we reached the bottom, I immediately announced that I wasn’t sure how anything else in Cape Town could top that experience.

And so far, it hasn’t. I just love this hike so much!

It was a challenge — it wasn’t the easy walk along a smooth surface I’d been expecting — but the best kind of challenge. One that involved great views, even better company, and then a well-deserved reward at Jerry’s Burger Bar at the end of it.

Lauren at the top of Lions Head

Heading to Cape Town and want to check out Lion’s Head? Here’s what you need to know.

How to Get From the Centre of Cape Town to the Lion’s Head Hike

If you have your own car, it’s easy to find your way to the start of the hike. Head towards Table Mountain, take the turn-off for Lion’s Head — there are signs everywhere — and then follow the signs to the car park. If you search for Lion’s Head in Google Maps, it directs you to the start of the hike, making it exceptionally easy to find your way.

If you don’t have your own transport, Uber is a super-cheap (we paid 90 Rand [5 USD] for the 15-minute drive) and safe way of getting around the city. We took an Uber to the start of the trail and back, and didn’t have to wait more than a few minutes for a ride for either leg of the journey.

When’s the Best Time to Tackle Lion’s Head?

You’re going to want to go early. Especially if you’re in Cape Town during the summer months. We started our hike at 10 a.m. and got hit by the absolute worst of the midday sun, which made the climb more challenging. We should have started at around 8 instead.

Do You Have to Pay to Hike Lion’s Head?

Nope. Not at all. It’s totally free to climb this mountain. No entrance fees, and you won’t have to pay to park your car either. 

Can You Take a Tour Instead?

Actually, you can! And I almost considered doing so. I would love to summit Lion’s Head for either sunrise or sunset, but was a bit concerned about navigating my way there/back in the dark. Even with a headlamp, it did feel like it would be a bit treacherous.

There is actually a tour company that takes you out there for sunset or sunrise. Your guide will provide you with headlamps, give you a ton of information about the wildlife and plants you pass on the mountain, put together a little picnic at the top, and ensure you make it to the top and back, even when it’s dark. This is definitely a great option if you don’t feel too confident in your hiking abilities in limited light.

How Long Does it Take to Hike Lion’s Head?

It took us two hours in total: an hour to reach the top, then 45 minutes to get back down again. 

The walk is likely going to be tougher than you’re expecting. I found it to be challenging but not difficult.

But the guides online saying it’s super easy are, in my opinion, playing it down. There’s quite a bit of climbing over large rocks with uneven surfaces, and the dust on the rocks made it surprisingly slippery. I almost fell over a handful of times on the way down, and definitely lost my balance more times than I can count.

Bring shoes with good grip.

Related Articles on South Africa

🇿🇦 23 Wonderful Things to Do in Cape Town
🏝 8 Reasons Why I Fell in Love With Cape Town

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Cape Town fast became one of my favourite cities in the world, in part of due to the hundreds of spectacular hikes you can do while you're there. Read about my favorite hike in Cape Town and how to plan for a visit when you're traveling in South Africa. It's a must-see!
About the author

Lauren Juliff

Lauren Juliff is a published author and travel expert who founded Never Ending Footsteps in 2011. She has spent over 12 years travelling the world, sharing in-depth advice from more than 100 countries across six continents.

Lauren's travel advice has been featured in publications like the BBC, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and Cosmopolitan, and her work is read by 200,000 readers each month. Her travel memoir can be found in bookstores across the planet.


  1. March 15, 2017

    Omg that looks so amazing!

  2. Rebecca J
    March 15, 2017

    We climbed up to the Old Man of Storr on the Isle of Skye on a clear summers day. The views were AMAZING when we got to the top! Difficult hike though, I found, took just over an hour to get up and was a steep incline all the way :P

    • March 20, 2017

      I just googled it and it looks so amazing! Definitely added it to my list for when I finally make it to Scotland :-)

  3. March 15, 2017

    Absolutely loved this post! Like you I’m co-ordinately challenged but the views are worth a tumble or two right? What beautiful photos you got!

    • March 20, 2017

      Thank you! It was definitely worth the trips and stumbles and whimpering as I climbed up the ladders :-)

  4. March 16, 2017

    Lion’s Head is our favorite hike! We got engaged on top. Thanks for sharing this amazing hike with your readers!

    • March 20, 2017

      Ahhhh, that’s amazing! What a beautiful place to get engaged :-)

  5. Nina
    March 16, 2017

    I’m so glad you enjoyed Lion’s Head! I’ve lived in CT my whole life and this hike is one of my favourites. A lot of people also do it as a sunset hike, and then go down in the dark with torches which is fun. :)

    • March 21, 2017

      Tackling those ladders in the dark would have been… traumatising!

  6. Atanas
    March 16, 2017

    I’ve had a similar experience climbing the Rock of Gibraltar. They claimed it should had been easy, but it wasn’t exactly the truth. Midday sun also caught me, but the view from the top was magnificent. Spain from one side, Meditteranean sea from the other and Morocco can also be seen at good weather. No hyrax there, but monkeys were waiting at the top. And these is also easier way to do it – with a cable car, but it costs few bucks, of course. Being Brittish, you should totally do it some day.

    • March 21, 2017

      I would love to go to Gibraltar one day! It sounds like such an interesting place, and given that I’m now in Lisbon for half of the year, it’s an easy trip for me. And yeah, the midday sun is never the best time to hike. Unless it’s cold, I guess :-)

      • Atanas
        March 24, 2017

        Yes, it`s worth a day or two, imo. Behind the view (and monkeys), on the Rock you can find a lot of history – Moorish Castle (which is beautifully illuminated at night), WW II Tunnels, Great Siege Tunnels and the very beautiful St. Michael`s cave (in which concerts and even Miss Gibraltar beauty pageant had been held). There are also a couple of good sandy beaches (not just rocks in Gib), you can go on a Dolphin safari (an opportunity to see dolphins in the sea, but not caged in a zoo or in an amusement park), Glass Blowing exhibition and even the airport is a great attraction itself. I was amazed to see so many interesting things on such a small land. A bit pricey there, tbh, but worth a trip.

        • June 12, 2017

          Thanks so much for the advice!

  7. You’re the second travel blogger I follow who has posted about this hike today! I had no idea Cape Town was so tucked in to the mountain side. It look incredible!

    • March 20, 2017

      Oh, that’s cool! Who was the other one so I can check out their post as well? And yeah, Cape Town is such a spectacular-looking city.

  8. March 16, 2017

    “Sitting Around the World” would’ve been awesome ?

    It’s really awesome you love to hike. I think I would enjoy it, too. I want to take my kids hiking, but we all need to start on really easy trails and nothing too dangerous. They are little!

    It sounds like Lions Head was a fantastic climb. Except for the ladder.

  9. Layla
    March 18, 2017

    Um, just added this to the bucket list!! Looks beautiful!

    • January 2, 2018

      Yay! I hope you manage to cross it off soon, Layla :-)

  10. Jenny
    March 19, 2017

    Lauren, one of the things I love most about your travel blog has been getting to witness your transformation through travel. It’s lovely to see you learn to enjoy hiking and share such a positive post even though you did struggle along the way. I am looking forward to seeing what else comes your way in the future!

    • March 21, 2017

      That’s so kind! Thank you, Jenny :-)

  11. March 20, 2017

    I wanted to do Lions Head last time I was in Cape Town but ended up hiking up Table Mountain – definitely NOT easy but so pretty. I love dassies (what South African’s call the hyrax) – always looks like they are smiling :)

    • March 21, 2017

      Oh man, Table Mountain was the most challenging hike I’ve ever done, haha. I wanted to cry at the end it had been so hard.

  12. March 20, 2017

    We literally just hiked this and I felt the same way! First of all, it was definitely harder than everyone said (or at least the end was). Second of all, I was absolutely terrified of those chains and ladders! But looking back, it was totally fun and I’d love to do it again. Amazing photos! PS – I love your blonde hair :)

    • March 21, 2017

      Thank you so much for the compliment! :-) And I’d totally do the hike again, too. Next time I’m in Cape Town, because there has to be a next time!

  13. Monica
    March 21, 2017

    Like you, I’m not a huge hiking fan, but it would be worth it to experience views like that. I’ve never seen anything like it before.

    • June 12, 2017

      Totally worth the climb up to see those views, Monica! One of the few good aspects of hiking, ha!

  14. Manny
    March 21, 2017

    I’m going to South Africa next month and this has now shot right to the top of my list. I love that it seems so accessible but still offers good views of the city.

    • March 21, 2017

      That’s exactly what I loved about it! Getting to start half-way up the mountain definitely made it so much easier :-)

  15. March 21, 2017

    Amazing pictures from a breathtaking place, Lauren! I am so jealous!

  16. Casey
    March 22, 2017

    Wow, what a beautiful place!!! Were you able to get close to the animals on the top?

    • March 30, 2017

      You could get within a couple of metres of them. They definitely weren’t shy, but they weren’t super tame either.

  17. Alli
    March 29, 2017

    Damn, this post has me suddenly looking up the cost of flights to Cape Town! I had no idea it was so beautiful.

    • March 30, 2017

      Seriously beautiful! One of my favourite cities in the world now :-)

  18. TravelToBlank
    April 5, 2017

    What an amazing view! We always try to explore each city by foot and normally find the coolest spots while walking between each well known landmark. There is no better way to truly experience someplace than by foot.

    • June 12, 2017

      And it’s always good to get up high as possible to get the best view of your surroundings!

  19. Monika
    April 5, 2017

    I’m heading to Cape Town next month and I can’t wait to do this hike while I’m there! Thanks for the info!

    • May 6, 2017

      Yay! I hope you love it as much as I did :-)

  20. April 19, 2017

    I’ve just come back from Cape Town and I ended my trip with a sunset trip up Lion’s Head. I too took the long way round to avoid the chain ladder! We also stopped at that bit as it took longer than anticipated and we didn’t want to miss the sun go down.

    If you do it at sundown (with sundowners, of course!) then make sure you have a light for the descent. We left with enough light to make it back to sandy footpath ok, by which point smartphone torches were fine, but you definitely need both hands earlier on so a head torch may be a good shout.

    Also, beware the nutters who run up and down!,

    • June 12, 2017

      Thanks so much for the advice, Katelyn!

  21. Shannon
    April 28, 2017

    Can’t wait to hike this myself one day. South Africa has been on my bucket list for years and I hope that I will finally go there next year.

    • April 29, 2017

      I hope so too! And I hope that, like me, you find that it exceeds your expectations.

  22. Georgie
    May 2, 2017

    I’ve never posted on your blog before (despite being a regular reader) but felt compelled to write on this story as it particularly resonated with me. I spent a month in South Africa for work in 2014 and loved it! The work component was so rewarding and the final two weeks was spent enjoying active adventures including the hike up Lion’s Head, hike up Table Mountain and abseil down, kloofing (think jumping of 15m cliffs into water!), zip-lining and other adrenaline inducing activities! I drew the line at bungy jumping!

    I look forward to reading about your adventures in 2017. You have an incredible year planned! Hopefully one day you will tackle the Camino de Santiago.

    • June 10, 2017

      Thanks so much for commenting, Georgie! :-) South Africa is amazing, isn’t it? And there’s so, so much to do there!

      If I love my mini-walk this year, I could see me walking the Camino at some point in the future!

  23. Ava
    June 1, 2017

    Beautiful photos. Did you see anyone taking children on the hike with them? I’ll be in Cape Town next week and I’m wondering how child friendly the hike is.

    • June 9, 2017

      Yes! I did. Depending on their age, I think it’ll be fine. Most of the kids I saw were 8-12 years old ish.

  24. Stewart
    June 2, 2017

    Thank you for the fantastic write up of my local hike! Definitely worth doing a walk up there for sunset too. Fabulous views and not scary on the descent if you don’t stay up there for too long!

    • June 3, 2017

      That’s good to hear! I’d probably give it a shot on my next visit or head back to Signal Hill for another picnic :-)

  25. Josh Nathan
    February 8, 2018

    Thanks – can’t wait to do the hike with my family in December.

    Is there a time of day when the sun shines on Table Mountain for the best photos? If we go early as you said is that OK?

    Josh / California / USA

    • February 25, 2018

      Yep, aim for early. The sun sets behind Table Mountain, so the earlier the better.

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