The difference between hiking Table Mountain and Lion’s Head – 21 February 2019

There’s a lot of online and social media buzz around hiking Lion’s Head, and the information overload can be bewildering if you’re a first-time visitor to Cape Town. You’re thinking of doing a hike in the course of your visit, but can’t decide between hiking Table Mountain or joining the locals for a Lion’s Head sunrise or sunset. Below follow a few tips that will hopefully unclutter the question and help you make the right choice.

First of all, you need to understand that Lion’s Head is a separate peak from Table Mountain, located next to it and about two-thirds its heights. There is no cable car down, so you have to hike down. This highlights the first issue: if you have knee-problems, or bad balance, hiking down will be tough, and you might want to rather hike Table Mountain on a wind-free day, when you can descend via cable car. A lot of people are weaker on the descent, especially when the terrain involves scrambling and exposure to heights (as is the case on Lions Head), so while you might romp up without problem, bear in mind that reaching the summit is only the halfway mark: hiking down could be more challenging.

Let’s talk views. Yes, the views from Lion’s Head are great, even though the peak rises only two-thirds the height of Table Mountain, but so are the views from Table Mountain. It’s hard playing off the different views: different Table Mountain hiking routes offer different views, and the setting is more dramatic, with imposing cliffs often towering overhead, and you usually get to enjoy them without many hikers around you (a detraction for some). The main difference, really, is that Lion’s Head offers a superb angle onto Cape Town’s famous landmark, from the most famous angle (the front, or north) – something you can’t get when hiking Table Mountain. But, Table Mountain hiking routes offer other unique angles onto the “Table” that you can’t get from Lion’s Head. See why it’s tricky trying to discern between the views?

Two other factors will determine your choice between hiking Table Mountain and Lion’s Head. The first, your aversion to crowds. Lion’s Head has become exceptionally popular among locals, who flock up there in their droves, especially for sunrise and sunset, more so on weekends; so if you enjoy peace and quiet in nature, and you don’t like encountering many others on the trail, then best go or Table Mountain, where many routes offer solitude in abundance without the chatter and cackle of laughter of people.

Finally, take a moment to consider how important it is to you to hike Table Mountain. Has it been on your bucket list for months, or maybe even years? Does it carry some sort of significance to you? If not, then that would make you a candidate for Lion’s Head, subject to the aforementioned factors, and then you might want to take the cableway up Table Mountain. Or if you’re a keen hiker, the best scenario would be to hike them both!

I will conclude with a cautionary note. Even though thousands hike Lion’s Head every week it doesn’t mean it’s a straightforward hike. Just like Mt Everest: thousands make the trek to the summit, many fail and quite a few die. Popularity doesn’t take away from the severity. Lion’s Head involves scrambling and narrow ledges, and the compulsory descent make those things trickier. The peak sees its fair share of rescues, so do not take it to be a walk in the park. If unsure, and to optimize the experience, make use of a competent mountain guide.

Whether hiking Table Mountain or Lion’s Head, Cape Town offers much nature to enjoy those looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, and it’s all very accessible.

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