Cape Town has about as beautiful a setting as any city in the world, blessedly interspersed with both windswept mountain and rugged coastal scenery. It may not be as stunning architecturally but there is a nice enough mix of old colonial buildings thrown into the otherwise somewhat uninspired modernity. It doesn’t matter. You won’t be able to take your eyes off of Table Mountain but you better if you’re driving, the roads are forced to hug the winding coastline and you’ll need all your senses to keep from plunging into the aquamarine waters below. Not really but that’s kind of how it feels.
gorgeous setting of Cape Town
For the avid hiker, Cape Town offers lots of trails not only in the area around town but also right in town itself. Within and hour in any direction, you can hike in the Cape of Good Hope, West Coast National Park or Franschoek. The real surprise, though, is what you can do without leaving the city limits. Everyone knows about Table Mountain but equally enthralling is Lion’s Head and lesser known Devil’s Peak.
coastal scenery and the Twelve Apostles in Cape Town
The Lion’s Head is best done late in the afternoon. It’s a local custom to go up for sunset but that involves walking down in the dark and some of the trail is a bit of a scramble. It’s not a long trail and you can be on top in an hour if in reasonable shape and you take the steeper of two split routes. That one does in involve using some hand-holds and ladders but is good fun. It’s safe but if you have a problem with heights, it might be better to take the slightly longer foot route. The real reason to do the hike in the late afternoon is you get great light on Table Mountain. Lion’s Head offers a 360 panorama with coastal scenery in two directions and the sun setting in the ocean on one side but for me, looking back at Table Mountain aglow in the setting sun was the highlight. Even if you start your descent when the sun is just starting to go down, you’ll get great views of everything on the route down as you circle the mountain. It also gets you off the steepest bit while you can still see where you’re going.
stunning Lion’s Head Trail as the sun goes down
After the hike, you can drive the short distance to Hout Bay, enjoying the stunning scenery along the way, where Urban Brewing is located. They have a fine line-up of beers and though they have no food of their own, across the street is local legend, Snoekies Fish & Chips. For dessert, get their Dungeons Stout.
Urban Brewing & Snoekies Fish & Chips
While we would have been happy having just done Lion’s Head, we’re glad we made the effort to do Table Mountain, as well. It’s the hike that most will do if you can only do one and it’s another stunner. For me, when you climb the most iconic mountain, there’s something always missing: that mountain. You can’t see something you’re on and that’s why I’d choose Lion’s Head and if you are going to hike later in the afternoon, it is surely best for photos. All that said, if you do Table Mountain early, you get nice views of Lion’s Head and fair if not quite as good views of the Twelve Apostles. It’s a lot more crowded since many go up with the cable car and that is not an option with Lion’s Head. One advantage of Table Mountain is the top is huge and you can escape most of the crowds by walking away from the cable car area. We were there in spring and the wildflowers were incredible, too.
looking down at Lion’s Head/ocean, view of Devil’s Peak and wildflowers
the great Woodstock Brewery in Cape Town
We didn’t have time to do Devil’s Peak and much like all the hikes in Cape Town, there are periodic muggings on the trail. It sounded like it had more than its share of them due to the trailhead location and it not being as busy. It seems Lion’s Head is the safest due to being short and if done late in the day, it being very busy. Table Mountain also has its fair share of muggings so it’s best to carry a minimum of valuables with you and not resist any attempt. It is suggested to hike in groups of four and certainly to not do it solo. It’s a shame that this kind of mars the experience, especially if you’re a photographer worried about your equipment. All this said, we did both hikes and had absolutely no problems. We did utilize the cable car down to save time, our knees and minimize time on the trail. Hopefully, Cape Town can get this situation under control. The potential of of this area for hiking is incredible and with great craft beer awaiting you after you’ve done your hike, it’s a beer hiking mecca.
Table Mountain Cable car and scenes from the Lion’s Head trail at sunset