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Hiking the Elephant Trail to Kinabatangan Caves in Sukau

Hiking the Elephant Trail to Kinabatangan Caves in Sukau

Olly Gaspar

By Olly Gaspar, full-time traveler for 6 years. I visit every place I write about & share real tips, photos, & advice from my trips.

When exploring the jungles around Sukau, I discovered an epic cave on the elephant trail near the village!

If you’re planning your Kinabatangan River trip or looking for the Sukau Caves, then I bet that you’re already thinking about the Gomantong Caves. However, did you know that there is another epic Kinabatangan Caves system right near the river village of Sukau?

Located walking distance from the popular Kinabatangan River cruise village of Sukau, the cave trail leads through dense rainforest along a path carved out by elephants. This means as I found out, that you have to be particularly careful to avoid any territorial wildlife that calls the Sukau jungle home.

Limetsone cave near sukau kinabatangan

Key Points

The trail is carved by local Pygmy elephants and marked by red and pink ribbons. It leads through the jungle and the cave features two main caverns with bats.

  • Location: Sukau village, Kinabatangan River, Sabah, Malaysia
  • Hike Distance & Duration: 8 km return, 2-3 hours
  • Trail Difficulty: Easy, but can be wet and swampy
  • Trailhead Location: End of the road in Sukau, heading downstream into Tomanggong Limestone Area
  • Most people visit Sukau to experience the amazing wildlife river cruises. Just remember there are no ATMS or supermarkets here, so you need to prepare before you arrive.
Kinabatangan river drone

How to Find the Sukau Caves

Of course, you can organize a driver or guide from Sukau to go to Gomantong Caves. Unfortunately, I didn't have a day to spare. So instead, I set out to explore the elephant trail leading to the Sukau Caves, as directed by my lodge owner.

You'll find the start of the trail at the very end of the road in Sukau, heading downstream. The area's official name is Tomanggong Limestone Area, and you'll find the start of the trail pinned under that name on Google Maps.

The best advice is just to follow the road downstream all the way past the lodges and small restaurants.

Once you reach a house that looks like it's the end of the road, just walk under the small makeshift bridge. Then, continue through the patch of palms and eventually cross a wooden plank leading into the jungle.

Tomanggong limestone area hiking sukau

My Experience on the Elephant Trail Hike From Sukau

As I mentioned previously, the trail has been carved out by local Pygmy elephants who roam the jungle area near the Kinabatangan Caves and river. As a result, the trail winds around and cuts back on itself several times, forcing you to cross deep sections of mud.

Overall, the trail is fairly flat, and you'll find small red and pink ribbons tied onto the trees that lead the way to the Sukau Caves. My advice is to keep an eye out for the tags and ribbons because it's pretty easy to get lost.

As you approach the cave, you'll need to follow the trail up the hill a little, revealing a huge cavern opening.

Tomanggong limestone area, sukau caves hike

Kinabatangan Wildlife in the Tomanggong Limestone Area

However, you will definitely need to be careful. Growing up in Australia, I tend to forget about wildlife hazards other than those of the venomous variety. Consequently, the outcome of the hike could have been much worse if I had unknowingly and innocently wandered into a pack of angry boars or a territorial bull elephant.

Truth is, we did run into a pack of boars and were chased by them. Read the bottom section for the story.

What to Expect at the Kinabatangan Caves

The hike itself is very beautiful, passing through the dense and damp jungle interior that you might expect of Borneo.

The Sukau cave itself has two main caverns. By the looks of it, it also descends deeper underground. There are bats everywhere in the main cavern, so you'll need to be prepared for that if you're a bit squeamish.

Sukau caves, tomanggong limestone area, kinabatangan caves
Kinabatangan caves bat cave

We Were Chased By Wild Boars!

Yep. These things were monsters. If you haven't seen a Bornean wild boar before, I'll ask you to google an image of it. The thing is fierce and super scary looking when it's staring you down, grunting through the bushes in the thick of a swampy jungle.

Although we found the caves, we were forced to run away from an angry and territorial boar on the way back. Luckily, we both lived to tell the hilarious but in hindsight, a lucky tale of our great Sukau Caves boar escape.

Where to Stay in Sukau (Kinabatangan River)

While it's possible to stay in Sandakan and take tours into the Kinabatangan, staying on the Kinabatangan River is in my opinion, a must-do on any Sabah itinerary!

This region is one of the last remaining sanctuaries for wild orangutans, Bornean pygmy elephants, probosci's monkeys, to name a few. Here are some great accommodation picks.

Room at borneo natural sukau bilit resort

1. Borneo Natural Sukau Bilit Resort

An amazing eco-jungle resort surrounded by lush greenery. Spot monkeys swinging from the vines from your own balcony overlooking the river.

Kinabatangan wildlife lodge

2. Kinabatangan Wildlife Lodge Mid-Range

Affordable but comfortable lodges on the doorstep of the Kinabatangan.

Outdoor garden view at sukau backpackers b&b

3. Sukau Backpackers B&B Budget

Cheap rooms right on the edge of the Kinabatangan River. The real-deal raw jungle experience and run by guys who organize cheap river cruises.

Top Sabah Travel Experiences

Sunrise over kota kinabalu, sabah

1. 2D1N Mount Kinabalu Climb

Climb Borneo's highest peak and most renowned World Heritage site (top tour company with hundreds of 5-star reviews).

Proboscis monkey, kinabatangan river

2. Kinabatangan River Cruise Must-Do

This 2D1N Sandakan tour from KK offers an incredible opportunity to spot orangutans in their natural habitat.

Bohey dulang on a tun sakaran marine park island hopping

3. Tun Sakaran Marine Park

An incredible island-hopping trip to top destinations around Semporna including Bohey Dulang viewpoint!

More Photographs of the Sukau Caves and Trail

I hope the hidden gem of Sukau's awesome cave has convinced you to get out and explore the wild region of the Kinabatangan River. For more travel guides and adventure ideas, check out the list below.

Here are some more photos that we took along the trail to the Sukau Caves (Kinabatangan Caves).

If you decide to take the hike, let me know by posting a quick comment below.

Sukau caves cavern entrance
Sukau caves
Kinabatangan caves - elephant trail hike to sukau caves
Thanks for Reading

I'm Olly Gaspar, adventure traveler from Australia. I’ve spent the last six years traveling the world full-time, sharing my first-hand experiences & photography in over 700 travel guides on We Seek Travel. I visit every destination I write about to bring you unique travel itineraries, epic hiking routes, fun tour ideas, travel & photography gear ideas, & interesting places to stay.

I only make genuine, worthwhile recommendations based on my experience, expertise, & research. If you buy through my links, I may get a commission, supporting this website at no extra cost to you. Read my Publishing Ethics Statement.


Friday 28th of June 2024

Thank you for these tips, I'm making my whole itinerary based on your recommendations! I'm lucky enough to have the same taste for adventure and wild things, just like you! :)