Top 11 Hiking Trails & Spots To Go Hiking In Kota Kinabalu

Top 11 Hiking Trails & Spots To Go Hiking In Kota Kinabalu

7 Exhilarating Trails To Experience Hiking in Ipoh Reading Top 11 Hiking Trails & Spots To Go Hiking In Kota Kinabalu 18 minutes Next Top 7 Trails & Hidden Gems To Go Hiking In Kuching

There’s No Need To Travel Far And Wide For Outdoor Adventures When You Can Go Hiking in Kota Kinabalu!

Did you know that you don’t need to venture all the way to Mount Kinabalu and its surroundings to experience adventures in Sabah? Epic adventures in nature can be found in and around Sabah’s state capital of Kota Kinabalu.

Kota Kinabalu and its immediate surroundings is home to rainforest reserves, hiking trails, and hidden gems you can explore without travelling beyond an hour from Kota Kinabalu’s city center. The only trick is to know where they are.

But save yourself the hassle of hunting high and low, because we’ve compiled the best of the best here. All you need to do is take your pick and get ready for an epic experience by hiking in Kota Kinabalu!

Top 11 Hiking Trails & Spots To Go Hiking In Kota Kinabalu For An Epic Adventure In Sabah’s Breathtaking Nature (Because Why Climb Mount Kinabalu When You Don’t Have To?)

Bukit Botak trail view. Photo by cosmas L.

1. Bukit Botak Trail

Aptly named for its bare peak, Bukit Botak (botak means “bald” in Malay) is home to one of Kota Kinabalu’s most beautiful sunrise and sunset spots while treating you to a view of the sea. Can you just imagine what a stunning sight it is when the sun meets the sea?

Bukit Botak is just up to a 50 minutes drive from the center of Kota Kinabalu. Depending on the road you take, it could even be as quick as 32 minutes.

It’s one of the easier hiking trails to conquer around Kota Kinabalu that is popular amongst local hikers and those seeking to venture into hiking. The hiking trail is well-maintained and properly marked across its part bushy, part sandy and steep trail, so even beginner hikers will get a decent challenge out of it. You’ll encounter overgrown tree roots along the way so watch your step to avoid tripping and bring a hiking stick to make your hike that much easier.

Visitors will be rewarded with a beautiful scenery of the sea port, Pulau Gaya, the oil depot, and even Mount Kinabalu on the other side during clear days. But of course, the best times to visit are to catch the sunrise or the sunset.

The peak is rather exposed as is most of the trail, so I’d recommend wearing a hat, applying ample sunblock, and to perhaps pop an umbrella into your hiking backpack to keep yourself cool during the hike. Don’t forget to bring enough water and an energy bar or two, especially if you’re not a hiking regular!

Hiking Time: Up to 1 hour 20 minutes

Trail Distance: 3.1km

Elevation Gain: 231m

Opening Hours: 7am - 6pm, daily

Address: Bukit Botak, 89200, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah

Bukit Tirig dense forest area. Photo by Richard Ang.

2. Bukit Tirig Trail

If you’re looking for a hiking trail that’s easier than Bukit Botak, you simply must check out Bukit Tirig. This particular hill is one of the local’s favourites when it comes to hiking in Kota Kinabalu - especially for beginners and the elderly. It’s much easier than hiking Botak Hill and it is located approximately 45 minutes away from Kota Kinabalu. An easy hike that’s nearby? Sign me up!

The Bukit Tirig hiking trail is a mixture of shaded forest pathways and exposed dirt trails. And it wouldn’t be much of a hiking experience without the occasional stretch of overgrown roots blanketing the way now, would it?

A gazebo awaits hikers at the peak so you can take a much needed break while soaking in the breathtaking view of Mengkabung Bridge, the coastal line of Kota Kinabalu, and if you’re lucky, Mount Kinabalu on clear days!

You’ll want to bring your favourite chilled beverages in a double-walled insulated bottle and some snacks for a cheeky picnic on your own or with your hiking buddies since there’s a gazebo there to truly make it a memorable experience. You definitely deserve it after braving the trail, especially if this is one of your first few hikes!

Hiking Time: Up to 1 hour

Trail Distance: 1.6km

Elevation Gain: 132m

Opening Hours: 24 hours, daily

Address: Bukit Tirig, 89200, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah

Bukit Kopungit tyre path. Photo by Vann Lee.

3. Bukit Kopungit Hiking Trail

Bukit Kopungit is home to a hiking trail that brings a whole lot of fun for families. Locals love it as a natural, family recreation zone and explorers love it for the fun discoveries and challenges it offers.

After all, Bukit Kopungit is home to historic bunker tunnels visitors can freely explore. These bunker tunnels date back to the time of the Japanese occupation in East Malaysia during World War 2. It’s truly an experience that’s right out of the history books - making Bukit Kopungit one of the best hiking trails around!

This hiking trail is a moderately challenging loop with steep slopes in store. Think rugged dirt paths, steep steps that are made entirely out of recycled car tyres serving as makeshift steps with knotted ropes on the side to help hikers traverse it.

Sounds daunting? Not to worry. Those seeking to venture up the peak just to catch the sunrise or sunset view can skip the loop and take the easier hiking trail that leads directly up to the peak in under 15 minutes. That said, it still has a pretty steep incline so I’d recommend bringing a hiking stick for an easier time climbing and descending.

Hiking Time: Up to 2 hours, depending on fitness levels

Trail Distance: 1.8km

Elevation Gain: 120m

Opening Hours: 24 hours, daily

Address: Bukit Kopungit Trailhead along Jalan Pintas, 88200, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah

Bukit Perahu stairs. Photo by Syafiq Faisal.

4. Bukit Perahu, a.k.a St. Veronica’s Hill

Bukit Perahu is one of Sabah’s most famous hills because of the iconic inverted boat-shaped rock at the summit’s clearing. It’s also a place of pilgrimage for locals of the nearby Catholic church during Easter day, where you can spot up to 14 crosses which were planted along the hiking trail by the St. Phillip Roman Catholic Church of Tamparuli.

Aside from its local significance, Bukit Perahu is one of the local hiker’s favourite haunts to maintain their stamina levels or to build endurance for their eventual attempt to climb Mount Kinabalu. If that made you guess that it is a moderately challenging hiking trail, you’re absolutely correct!

This hill features a sheer number of steps to be conquered, which is no small feat even with knotted ropes present to make the climb a little more bearable. That said, the steps are made from concrete with the occasional gravel road so it is much easier than dirt paths which tend to get slippery.

Reaching the peak gets you a truly rewarding bird’s eye view of the nearby Tamparuli township and on the other angle you get to see Mount Kinabalu and its misty lowlands if you arrive at sunrise.

Bonus tip: The way up may be mostly shaded, but the summit is not. So pack a cold drink to enjoy at the summit and wear a hat with sunblock applied to make it a more rewarding experience once you reach the peak. The pathway is also unlit so don’t forget to bring a torchlight or headlamp to be safe if you’re hiking before sunrise.

Hiking Time: Up to 1 hour 15 minutes

Trail Distance: 1.6km

Elevation Gain: 260m

Opening Hours: 24 hours, daily

Address: Bukit Perahu, 89250 Tamparuli, Sabah

Bukit Padang trail 6 view. Photo by Vann Lee.

5. Bukit Padang

Those who absolutely do not want to leave Kota Kinabalu but are craving for an adventure in nature will love what Bukit Padang has to offer. This popular hill is found right in the heart of Kota Kinabalu just by the Tun Fuad Stephens Park (temporarily closed for extensive redevelopment). While the recreational park is closed, the Bukit Padang hiking trail is still accessible to visitors for their much needed weekend hiking sessions.

The Bukit Padang hiking trail is widely regarded by locals as a moderately challenging route. Think relatively hilly hiking trails with a mixture of grassy, dirt, and gravel roads throughout its many pathways, with Route 6 being the most popular hiking trail in particular thanks to its almost fully shaded nature - even if it’s the longest trail on-site.

Hikers typically visit Bukit Padang to train their stamina or maintain their physical fitness level with the occasional mountain biker enjoying a thrilling ride down from the hill’s upper levels. Having said that, stay vigilant when hiking this path because these bikers are going at a relatively high speed!

There are ropes and concrete stairs along the way to help you scale to the peak, which are exceptionally handy for beginner hikers or those who are still fresh in their fitness journey. Twin rocks await you just before the peak as a prelude to the stunning scenic views you’ll soon get to enjoy.

Hiking Time: Approximately 1 hour 30 minutes

Trail Distance: 3.2km

Elevation Gain: 147m

Opening Hours: 24 hours, daily

Address: Taman Tun Fuad Stephen, 88300, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah

Nuluh Lapai peak sunrise. Photo by Azhar Azib.

6. Nuluh Lapai Hill

Small hill, larger than life panoramic view. Nuluh Lapai means “up and down hill” in the native Sabahan language, with Nuluh meaning “hill” and Lapai meaning “up and down”.

The Nuluh Lapai Hill is home to the Nuluh Lapai trail and it is located at just a 35 minutes drive away from Kota Kinabalu city, making it a fantastic one for a sunrise hike with stunning views whenever you don’t want to venture too far. Its trailhead can be found right across the road from Gayang Seafood Restaurant along Jalan Sulaman.

True to its name, Nuluh Lapai is actually home to two jungle trails that lead to the peak of which you’ll soon notice as you begin your hike. The left route leads you to the shortest trail to the peak with the trade-off being steep inclines. Whereas the right path takes you through a longer trail that is much easier as it gradually ascends.

Both routes form a full loop that ultimately allows you to decide whether you want to return through the route you came from, or be adventurous and continue on with the loop until you arrive back at the trailhead.

Nuluh Lapai is a little remote so you won’t find lights on the trail. It’s best to bring a torchlight here instead of a headlamp because hikers have reported bugs being attracted to their faces with a headlamp in place. One more piece of great news - there are no leeches on this trail as it is a relatively dry one with no wild boars nearby (known leech carriers).

Montigo Ace Mega, one of the best hiking companions to stay hydrated.

So bring at least 1L of cold water in your favourite double-wall insulated water bottle as you’ll be sweating buckets while navigating through fallen trees, dense shrubs, and narrow dirt paths. Not forgetting to pack insect repellent too as mosquitoes are reportedly active during the wee hours of the morning.

Hiking Time: Up to 1 hour

Trail Distance: Approximately 1.8km

Elevation Gain: 150m

Opening Hours: 24 hours, daily

Address: Jalan Sulaman, 89200, Tuaran, Sabah

Bukit Janggut Trail. Photo by Fazli J.

7. Bukit Janggut Trail

Here’s another fun fact - did you know that janggut means “beard” in Malay? That means Bukit Janggut essentially means “bearded hill”. Bukit Janggut is located in Sepanggar, a sub-district of Kota Kinabalu which is just an hour’s drive away from the city center.

Much like how traversing a beard would be if you were as tiny as an ant, Bukit Janggut’s hiking trail is littered with steep steps and dirt paths that can get slippery during rainy periods. This makes it one of the best hiking trails for experienced hikers, but an incredibly challenging one for beginner hikers.

If Bukit Botak and the other hills of Kota Kinabalu are considered easy hiking trails for you, you’ll want to test yourself with a hiking adventure up Bukit Janggut. Because your reward for overcoming the challenges posed by this hill are breathtaking views of Mount Kinabalu and its truly rich surroundings on days with a clear sky.

Hiking Time: Up to 1 hour

Trail Distance: Approximately 1.4km

Elevation Gain: 138m

Opening Hours: 24 hours, daily

Address: Malawa, Sepanggar Bay Road, 88450, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah

Bukit Merah Karambunai peak. Photo by Syeda Gary.

8. Bukit Merah Karambunai

What used to be a popular spot for scenic photographs is now one of the most underutilised trails with it comes to hiking in Kota Kinabalu, with most hikers moving to Bukit Botak and Bukit Janggut (what’s with the hair-related hills?).

Bukit Merah Karambunai is a serene hiking trail that is perfect for those who want to avoid the crowd and go for a quiet hiking adventure with their own regular hiking group. It’s also a great one to explore if you’re looking to tick off a list of trails in Kota Kinabalu to hike.

This hill is home to 2 peaks and 3 trails of varying difficulties, making Bukit Merah an overall moderate to challenging hill to conquer. But as of 2023, the second peak has been closed off due to its dwindling visitor count and neglect, leading to an overgrowth of plant-life that tends to be dangerous even for experienced hikers and explorers.

Always remember that safety comes first, so stick to the first peak and avoid trail 3 which leads to the second peak.

Large tree roots line the way along with occasional steep climbs towards the summit, so be ready for a proper workout and come prepared with worn-in hiking shoes, up to 1L of water, and a snack or two for the trekking journey. You’ll also want to wear a long-sleeved top and long joggers for the hike because the overgrown shrubs and grass can be rather sharp at times.

Hiking Time: Up to 1 hour

Trail Distance: Approximately 1.4km

Elevation Gain: 141m

Opening Hours: 24 hours, daily

Address: Bukit Merah Karambunai, 89200, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah

UMS Peak trailhead. Photo by Syafiq Faisal.

9. UMS Hill

UMS Hill is one of the most hidden trails in Kota Kinabalu that is found deep within the University of Malaysia Sabah’s (UMS) campus. It’s a gazetted forest reserve that is also known as the “Sustainable Forest Education and Research Area”.

This jungle trekking trail is partly shaded with a nice blend of dirt trails, grassy paths, followed by a stretch of steep stairs as you get closer to the summit. It’s best to explore UMS Hill with someone who is familiar with the area as it is not widely known, nor is it popular amongst the locals in Kota Kinabalu.

True to its gazetted status, the UMS Hill is home to various species of flora and fauna that you may or may not encounter while exploring within. Hikers who have explored this hill often advise other hikers not to explore too fervently because it is easy to get lost within its winding pathways and sea of trees. It’s best to simply venture in as if it is an out-and-back trail to be safe.

Keep in mind that it can get particularly hot and humid as some parts of the trail aren’t shaded, so you’ll want to keep this for days where the weather is cooler!

Entrance Fee: RM10 per pax

Hiking Time: Up to 1 hour

Trail Distance: Approximately 1.4km

Elevation Gain: 136m

Opening Hours: 24 hours, daily

Address: Universiti Malaysia Sabah, Jalan Canselor, 88400 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah

Manukan Island trail loop. Photo by Ishak Husni.

10. Manukan Island Loop

Manukan Island is known as Sabah’s most-visited island but you’ll probably know of it through its other moniker of Sapi Island. It is a popular destination amongst local and international tourists who intentionally make short trips there to experience scuba diving, snorkelling, and swimming in its clear waters, or to simply lounge about its sandy beaches.

To access the Manukan Island hiking trail loop, you’ll first need to take a 20-30 minutes speedboat ride from Jesselton Point Ferry Terminal in Kota Kinabalu. The Manukan Island trail is a trail leading to the popular Sunset Point at the island’s far western edge, where two critically endangered mangrove trees dwell. Aside from rare mangrove trees, you’ll also be treated to the most lovely sunset view that faces the South China Sea.

In Manukan Island, you’ll have the choice between the adventure’s haven - a jungle trail, or the jogging track which is a cemented walkway for visitors to experience a leisure walk or to attempt their first foray into trail running.

The jungle trail is a rather challenging one that is fraught with occasional steep stretches, flat but muddy pathways, and fallen branches and trees that litter the path. That said, the sound of the ocean waves that travel as you venture through the jungle makes it an experience unlike none other.

Insect repellent is an absolute must for this trail as mosquitoes tend to be rampant during the hotter periods. I’d also advise going with a group as going solo for the jungle trail isn’t recommended due to how challenging and potentially dangerous it could get.

Entrance Fee: RM3 per pax (does not include speedboat fare)

Hiking Time: Up to 1 hour 30 minutes

Trail Distance: Up to 3.2km

Elevation Gain: 132m

Opening Hours: 24 hours, daily

Address: Manukan Island, Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia

Kionsom Waterfall. Photo by Andy V.

11. Ulu Kionsom Waterfall

Waterfall chasers who want to experience hiking in Kota Kinabalu rejoice! The Ulu Kionsom Waterfall is a stunning one that is located just under 40 minutes drive from Kota Kinabalu city.

It’s a rare hidden gem where you have a choice between walking straight into the waterfall zone to partake in a cool swim in its waters, or to go on an adventurous hike to reach the waterfall’s upper tiers.

Aside from hiking and swimming, you can also enjoy several other activities such as abseiling, flying fox, and even a picnic by the waterfall!

Fun Fact: According to the locals, Ulu Kionsom Waterfall’s waters actually flow directly from Mount Kinabalu so you don't have to go through the Mount Kinabalu climb just to experience its pure waters.

Those who prefer to take the adventurer’s path and hike up the waterfall will be glad to know that the hiking trail is suitable for beginners. The terrain can be a little challenging thanks to its steepness and rocky pathways that are lined with slippery rocks, but rest assured that the hiking trail is well shaded which takes away part of the fatigue.

The only other thing to take note of is that leeches are occasionally found here due to the damp nature of the trail. So remember to apply eucalyptus essential oil or spray on the lower half of your body before venturing through the dense hiking trail that is the Ulu Kionsom Waterfall trail!

Entrance Fee: RM10 per pax

Hiking Time: Up to 4 hours for the full hiking experience

Trail Distance: Approximately 10.8km

Elevation Gain: Up to 730m

Opening Hours: 8am - 6pm on Sundays to Thursdays, 8pm - 12am on Fridays, and 12am - 6pm on Saturdays

Address: Jalan Kionsom, 88450, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah