The largest island in Asia, Borneo is home to some of the earth’s oldest rainforests, and the best hikes here put you beneath a towering canopy teeming with life. Along with a long list of exciting rainforest residents, you’ll see wild orchids, carnivorous pitcher plants, and possibly even rafflesia blooms, the largest flower in the world. Walking in the jungle isn’t easy—you’ll feed some leeches and mosquitoes along the way—but the experience is unforgettable!
Sadly, heavy deforestation for logging and palm oil plantations has taken its toll: Approximately half of the world’s tropical timber comes from Borneo, while Indonesia and Malaysia are the world’s top two producers of palm oil. You’ll definitely see the impact of these industries while hiking in Borneo.
Any discussion about the best hikes in Borneo has to begin with the biggest! With an elevation of 13,434 feet, Mount Kinabalu in Sabah is the tallest mountain in Malaysia and can be climbed by anyone reasonably fit. No technical mountaineering skills are necessary, only determination to deal with steep elevation gains and temperatures that feel especially cold after enjoying Borneo’s beaches. A typical trip consists of hiking all day, sleeping in a simple lodge near the top, then an early start to enjoy the summit and start down.
Climbing Mount Kinabalu requires a permit from Sabah Parks and a guide; reserve in advance during busy season. Permits are limited.
The oldest national park in Sarawak, Bako National Park is easy to reach from Kuching. With a surprising amount of flora and fauna squeezed into just 10.5 square miles, Bako is probably your best chance of spotting endangered proboscis monkeys in the wild. Walk quietly and listen for the telltale grunts from above.
Although there are many trails for all skill levels in Bako, the 8-mile hike from Telok Limau back to park headquarters is one of the most challenging and rewarding. Begin by hiring a boatman to take you out to the remote beach at Telok Limau, then scramble through the jungle for eight to nine hours before cracking open a well-earned cold drink. Hiring a guide isn’t required, but you are expected to register your trip with HQ.
The Pinnacles Trail (Mulu National Park, Sarawak)
Many hikers say the Pinnacles Trail through Mulu National Park, Sarawak’s most famous national park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is more difficult and dangerous than climbing Mount Kinabalu. Yet this is where you'll see the park's iconic limestone spikes.
The trek is usually spread over three tough days and two nights with a boat trip involved. Ladders and ropes assist with the vertical, class III scrambling required to reach the top. The two nights are spent in simple, hostel-style accommodation at Camp 5.
Danum Valley Conservation Area (Sabah)
Although relatively difficult to reach, the Danum Valley Conservation Area is one of the few places left in Malaysian Borneo that hasn’t been extensively logged or affected by palm oil plantations. Some trees in the impressive canopy stand over 100 feet tall; in fact, the tallest tropical tree in the world (331 feet tall) was discovered here in 2019. The Danum Valley is a happy place for scientists and conservationists, while visitors can hike through virgin rainforest only lightly touched by tourism.
Rare fauna in the Danum Valley includes leopards, orangutans, gibbons, elephants, and even rhinos—although you may be too busy removing leeches to notice! To get there you’ll need to take a bus or plane to Lahad Datu, then hire an AWD vehicle to brave the muddy, rutted roads to one of the lodges.
Ulu Temburong National Park (Brunei)
Thanks in part to wealth from oil reserves and the sultanate’s green policies, Brunei did less logging and more protecting of its best rainforests. Ulu Temburong National Park was established in 1991, making it the oldest national park in Brunei. Like the Danum Valley, visitors get to enjoy hiking beneath a rainforest canopy practically untouched by tourism or industry.
Unfortunately, Ulu Ulu Resort, the oldest lodge in the national park, closed in 2020. You’ll need to book a tour through your lodge to hike in Ulu Temburong; the average cost is $100 per day. Tours can include four to five hours of hiking, canopy walks, and cooling off beneath jungle waterfalls.
Hiking in the hilly Crocker Range is tough but feels like a real Borneo adventure. The Salt Trail is the most popular long-distance route and gets its name from the villagers who used it to carry goods to market, then returning with salt. Treks are typically three to five days long and include overnights in traditional villages. Learning a bit about the indigenous way of life is a real bonus, and a good guide will also point out edible jungle plants used for medicine. Expect misty mornings in the valleys and numerous river crossings.
On a side note, the Crocker Range is especially dear to etymologists who come for the startling number of insects. A word of caution: Some of their favorite subjects will be excited to meet you.
Not far from Miri in Sarawak, Lambir Hills National Park is a great choice if you’re looking for accessible, self-guided hikes in Borneo. The national park offers simple accommodation (reserve in advance by visiting a Sarawak Forestry office) with a shared kitchen for cooking your own meals.
Like Bako, trails range from way-too-easy to challenging, especially in jungle humidity. The longest trail is the 3.5-hour, one-way grind up Bukit Lambir. You'll walk through wild orchids, see giant ants, and can divert to swim beneath clear jungle waterfalls. At the top you’ll enjoy a view from above the canopy.
Most travelers passing through the hub of Tawau are on their way to Semporna to access some of the best diving in Borneo. For that reason, Tawau Hills National Park (15 miles to the north) is one of Sabah’s least crowded parks. You’ll have some of the trails mostly to yourself, and if you walk quietly, you can spot numerous hornbills roosting in the canopy. This is a great alternative to the Danum Valley for seeing original dipterocarp rainforest.
Gunung Bawang (West Kalimantan)
West Kalimantan may be more challenging to travel than the Malaysian side of Borneo, but that means you’ll enjoy wilder hikes! Gunung Bawang is a prominent mountain five hours north of Pontianak. Although elevation is less than 5,000 feet, views from the top are panoramic—a rare bonus while hiking in Borneo where vegetation usually rules. You’ll cross rivers and see giant butterflies, monkeys, and hornbills. Reaching the top takes around eight hours.
Inobong Substation (Sabah)
Inobong Substation, a ranger outpost in the Crocker Range Park, is around 7.5 miles roundtrip, making it just challenging enough for a day hike. You probably won’t see any proboscis monkeys, but you will meet friendly locals on the popular trail. At the end of your hike, you’ll be rewarded with views of Kota Kinabalu, the coastline, and offshore islands.
The trailhead begins just off Highway 500; from there, you’ll walk south and uphill for around two hours to reach the substation. Want to continue for another five days? You'll find the trailhead for the famous Salt Trail here.