Lion's Head
Credit: Helen Cathcart / Getty Images

Lion's Head

Conquering cloud-cloaked Table Mountain is a must for visitors to Cape Town, but more serious hikers take on the less famous but more formidable Lion's Head. The peak, which towers over the colorful Bo-Kaap neighborhood, offers walkers a choice: a meandering hairpin trek that steadily grinds up the mountain or a sheer rock-face climb recently embedded with iron-step rungs and chains. The trek is lovely, but we recommend the ladder.

After setting off from the rump of Signal Hill, hikers make their way up the southwestern the face of Lion's Head. The views, even lower on the hill, are immense. Paragliders leap from the Twelve Apostles mountain range and surfers pepper Camp's Bay. As the path narrows to a one-berth track, hikers yield to the crowd of dog walkers and Cape Town CrossFit enthusiasts who won't be attempting to scramble up the rock wall.

After surmounting the rough-hewn stairwell, hikers clamber over the final bevel of boulders below the peak. Novice hikers should watch their footing: Drops off the mountain can be severe, and the puff adders basking on the rocks are not to be trifled with. At 2,195 feet, the Lion's Head summit offers unrivaled panoramas. To the east, Table Mountain is an imposing sentry looming over the toy-size downtown. To the north, Robben Island sits apart from a coastline fading toward Namibia.

The most important part of the hike is delaying the return trip to take in one of Africa's great sunset views. Bring some food – and something for the snakes.

More information: Before heading to Lion's Head, check out Wind Guru, a detailed local-weather website to help you plan outdoor activities in Cape Town. For an extra challenge, keep tabs on Cape Town's full-moon hikes on Lion's Head, which draw a steady march of tourists. Better still, ditch the masses and trek the night before or after the lunar phase.