Complete guide to visiting Kinabalu Park in Sabah, Borneo. Features the best hiking trails and options for an awesome day out from Kota Kinabalu.
Kinabalu Park is a natural stop on the Malaysian Borneo travel route. Understandably then, you might be wondering what to do in Kinabalu Park, especially if you’re not prepared to fork out the $700+ entry price for the summit.
To hike the several Kinabalu Park trails below the mountain and to see most of the area’s offerings it’s possible to head here on a Kinabalu National Park day trip from Kota Kinabalu.
If you leave early enough, you’ll still have plenty of time to get a good nature and hiking fix in.
- About Kinabalu National Park
- Where is Kinabalu National Park?
- How to Get to Kinabalu Park
- What to Do in Kinabalu Park – Hiking Guide
- Kinabalu Park Hiking Trails
- Mount Kinabalu Hike
- More Sabah Travel & Adventure Guides
About Kinabalu National Park
Kinabalu National Park is Malaysia's first World Heritage Site, made famous for its plant and animal diversity, and of course, housing the tallest mountain in South East Asia; Mount Kinabalu.
Kinabalu Park is Malaysia’s first World Heritage Site. Also the Centre of Plant Diversity for South East Asia, the Park boasts more than 5,000 vascular plant species and the Park has no shortage of fauna as well, being home to some 90 lowland mammal species and many others.
Other than the main summit, there are plenty of winding and interconnecting trails that offer great hiking opportunities.
Where is Kinabalu National Park?
Kinabalu Park is located approximately 100 kilometers east of Sabah's Capital; Kota Kinabalu (KK). The road in from KK is a continuous steady ascent as it snakes its way up the mountain foothills of the park.
You'll immediately notice the altitude, with temperatures rapidly dropping once you reach the Kinabalu park entrance, which sits at 1550 meters.
Tip for Climbing Mount Kinabalu
If you're planning to climb Mount Kinabalu, then I highly suggest booking your trip in advance. Permits are limited and quite scarce in the peak trekking seasons of March-September.
How to Get to Kinabalu Park
Getting to Kinabalu Park is quite easy from Kota Kinabalu. You'll have the option of choosing either a shared bus, a private taxi, or visiting on a guided tour. Transport from KK takes approximately 2 hours, regardless of how you get here.
Option 1: Kinabalu Park & Poring Hot Spring Day Trip
One of the best and most convenient ways to visit Kinabalu Park is to book this organized day trip to avoid booking each activity separately.
This trip includes hiking and a canopy walk in the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Kinabalu National Park, a visit to the epic Poring Hot Springs, and the Nabalu Market. I found this a pretty good option as it includes all the transport and fees.
Bus From KK to Kinabalu Park
The cheapest way to get to Kinabalu Park from KK is to take a shared bus. These leave regularly from the small inner-city bus station, located in front of the hotel "Dreamtel".
The cost for a bus from KK to Kinabalu Park is 30 ringgit per person for a small minivan that drops you directly to the park entrance. My advice is to get here before 6:30 am if you plan to make it a day-trip, as the first bus fills up quickly.
If you miss the first bus, you might have to wait a couple of hours for the second bus to fill up, or jump in a shared taxi.
Taxi from KK to Kinabalu Park
If you'd prefer to take a taxi, you can find 4 and 6-seater cars right next to the bus terminal. The cost-per-person for this option is 30 ringgit or 120 ringgit for a private car.
While the Grab App does work in Kota Kinabalu, we found it cheaper to just go to the bus terminal and organize taxi transport from there.
Getting Back to Kota Kinabalu
Both the above options to get to Kinabalu Park from KK are one-way only. This means that you will need to organize your own return transport. After you've finished the hikes and all of the things to do in Kinabalu Park, you can find minibusses going back to KK back at the entrance to the National Park.
Since we were returning a little late, we didn't see any private minivans. Instead, we waited to wave down a passing bus heading back from Ranau.
The fare for the bus trip back from Kinabalu Park to KK was 30 ringgit, however, dropped us at the Northern Bus Terminal (Inanam). We then needed to get a Grab car back to our hostel, which was only an additional 10 ringgit.
Kinabalu National Park Accommodation
If you'd prefer to stay in the park over taking a Kinabalu National Park day trip from Kota Kinabalu, then you have a couple of options:
- Cheap hostel option: Happy Garden Resort - This hostel is just outside the main entrance to the Kinabalu National Park area. You'll be able to grab a room in an 8-bed dorm here for under $10 a night.
- Stay inside the park: Sutera Sanctuary Lodges - This one is a little more pricey, but still isn't going to break the bank, especially for the luxury you get for an amazing stay within the national park.
You also have the choice of staying in nearby Ranau or Kundasang, both of which have several lodges and hostels to choose from. You can compare all the best accommodation deals around the "Mount Kinabalu Landmark".
Kinabalu Park Entrance Fee
Before you hit the trails, you'll need to pay the Kinabalu Park entrance fee, which they call a "conservation fee" This fee is 10 Ringgit for Malaysians, and 50 Ringgit for foreigners. This is the updated fee and more expensive than when I visited. You can check the latest price on the Sabah Parks website.
What to Do in Kinabalu Park - Hiking Guide
After arriving and paying the entrance fee, you might be wondering about what to do in Kinabalu Park. If you're not climbing Mount Kinabalu, then there are still several hiking trails that loop around the park.
Due to the high altitude, Kinabalu Park has a unique variety of vegetation, which is a habitat for hundreds of different birds, possums, and monkeys. The area is fairly wet year-round, so the hikes prove to be a real Bornean rainforest experience.
If you'd also like to add the Porong Hot Springs to your Kinabalu National Park day trip, then you could also book this tour in advance, which includes all fees, lunch, and transport to both destinations.
Mount Kinabalu Trail Map
Here's the official map to help you orientate yourself around Kinabalu Park. It details all of the main trails as well as the main Mount Kinabalu trailhead.
Want to ride here yourself? Rent a motorbike online in advance in KK.
Kinabalu Park Hiking Trails
Here's a quick summary of the main short hiking trails that wrap around the feetof the towering Kinabalu peak.
Hike Distance: 5.6 km
Hike time: 2 hours
The Liwagu trail is the longest path in Kinabalu Park. The majority of the trail follows the small river that runs down the mountain. Since it's the longest, you won't find many day-trippers here, which is perfect if you'd prefer to hike by yourself.
Along the way, you'll climb over several waterpipes, make some steep ascents and descents and eventually reach the top carpark which is the trailhead for Mount Kinabalu. In my opinion, if you're wondering about what to do in Kinabalu Park and you have to choose one trail, make it the Liwagu Trail.
Mountain View Trail
Hike Distance: 150 m
Hike time: 15 minutes
At the top of the Liwagu Trail, just before the entrance to the Mount Kinabalu trailhead, you'll see a small but steep trail that penetrates into the thick scrub on the opposite side of the road.
This trail is short but offers some of the best views of Mount Kinabalu and the Kandamaian Borneo Waterfall which flows down its steep cliffs.
Bukit Ular Trail
I was planning to add this trail into the loop but found that it was closed when I visited. Unfortunately, I can't comment too much on this one, but if you visit Kinabalu Park and find that it's open, let me know what it's like.
Update 2023: This trail is now open.
Kiau View Trail
Hike Distance: 2.3 km
Hike Time: 1 hour
An alternative to the longer Liwagu trail is the Kiau View Trail, which also begins near the park entrance. This trail is also scenic, with many colorful species of birds. There's no river to follow on the Kiaw View Trail, but the end offers an excellent view over Kinabalu National Park.
Hike Distance: 598 m
Hike Time: 30 minutes
The Pandanus trail is a short trail that joins the Kiau View trail to the road leading through the center of the park. You typically wouldn't choose this trail as the main hiking path, but it's better served to access the Kiau View Trail.
Silau Silau Trail
Hike Distance: 3km
Hike Time: 1-1.5 hours
The Silau Silau trail is one of the most popular trails in the park since it joins several of the other branching trails in Kinabalu Park. Compared to the others, it's also very easy due to being almost completely flat.
Hike Distance: 3.4 km
Hike Time: 2 hours
Mempening is another flat trail, which is also a common choice for what to do in Kinabalu Park. I didn't complete the entire path, but it is fairly flat the whole way up to the road where you can join onto the Kiau View trail to create another loop.
From the Mempening trail, you can also detour up the steeper routes to Bukit Tupai and Bukit Burung for some small shelters and viewpoint opportunities.
Mount Kinabalu Hike
Of course, the main attraction of what to do in Kinabalu Park is Mount Kinabalu itself. The mountain is the tallest in South East Asia, and trekkers can make the summit in a 2-day trip without any climbing experience.
This means that the trek is very busy. The National Park has responded by making the entry price and trekking fees ridiculously expensive. As a result, I chose not to climb, mostly because of my budget but also because I don't particularly support the requirement of paying hundreds of dollars to do a hike.
Still, if it's on your bucket list, you'll need to book in advance as apparently, slots fill out very quickly.
For a full package with all permits and transport organized for you, you can book this package which is the highest-rated Mount Kinabalu package I could find online.
Alternatively, you could check out the official website, which also has a wealth of information about the hike.
More Sabah Travel & Adventure Guides
As you can see, when it comes down to answering what to do in Kinabalu Park, it mostly is just hiking and trekking! If you're like me and decided not to hike to the summit, then I'd still recommend that you take a Kinabalu National Park day trip to explore the lower trails and spot some unique plants and wildlife!
Want to share your experiences? Let me know what you thought of the park in the comments!