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Complete Guide to Sabah’s Forest Reserves


Sabah, the eastern half of Malaysian Borneo, contains the region’s premier wildlife and jungle experiences. 

The coast of Sabah is ringed by coral reefs and white sand beaches, with off-shore ‘turtle islands’ making a diver’s dream. 

The interior could not be more contrasting: dense, primordial jungle, teeming with tropical flora and fauna, a series of protected reserves making up the most biodiverse corner of the entire planet.

Read on for our guide to the very best national parks in Sabah. 

Kinabalu National Park Sabah

Kinabalu National Park

Settling down around the slopes of Mount Kinabalu, the expansive Kinabalu National Park is your best option for alluring nature within an easy day trip from Kota Kinabalu. 

As the park falls across several elevation ranges it boasts an incredible diversity of flora. Enjoy a series of walking trails that showcase Rafflesia (the world’s largest flower), pitcher plants, and also a series of bubbling natural hot springs. 

Mount Kinabalu forms part of the wider Crocker Range which spans across the northeast corner of Sabah. 

Sepilok Orang Utan centre Sabah


Not a forest reserve as such, but a key visit on any tour of Sabah. 

Sepilok, just inland from the port of Sandakan, is home to the famous Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre. A visit is a great warm-up to your oncoming adventures in Sabah, guaranteeing sightings of orangutan during feeding time, and then acting as your starting point for cruises down the Kinabatangan River. 

Complete your visit with a call into the Sun Bear Rehabilitation Centre, located just next door, which continues the same care and protection work for Sabah’s threatened endemic bear species.

Pygmy elephants Kinabatangan River

Kinabatangan River

From Sepilok, you’ll continue your journey along the languid Kinabatangan River into the depths of interior Sabah. 

The forest ecosystem alongside the river teems with life. Gangs of proboscis monkeys, langurs, and herds of elephants are commonly seen. Hornbills, eagles, and a full range of tropical birdlife screech overhead. 

Simple but homely jungle lodges are found near the villages of Sukau and Abai, with cruises up and down the river providing stunning wildlife viewing opportunities. 

Hornbills Tabin Reserve Sabah


Around a 3 hour drive from Lahad Datu, this reserve is co-managed by the Wildlife Department of Sabah (taking care of the animals) and the Sabah Forestry Department (overseeing the trees). 

You’ll find a mix of primary and secondary jungle here. With a thinner treeline, sightings in Tabin are arguably the most productive of any forested area in Sabah. 

Red leaf monkeys are commonly sighted, as are orang-utan and hornbills. Clouded leopards are occasionally seen. Wild pygmy elephants can sometimes be heard crashing through the trees nearby. 

Red leaf monkey Danum Valley Sabah

Danum Valley

The jewel in the crown of Sabah tourism, Danum Valley is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, made up of the oldest and densest tropical forests on the island of Borneo. 

The world-famous Borneo Rainforest Lodge, with its plunge pool villas and astonishing views, is one of the finest hotels in Sabah and a contender for the best jungle lodge on the planet. 

Treks from the lodge are of similarly high quality, taking you through an incredibly pristine forest ecosystem. Wild orangs can often be seen swinging through the trees immediately above the lodge.

Sabah Deramakot Maliau Basin Imbak Canyon

Adventurous Alternatives

The above are the most accessible and most-visited reserves in Sabah. The list is far from complete though, with several further options available for the more intrepid explorers. 

Neighboring Danum Valley is the Maliau Basin. A real-life Jurassic Park, treks through the Basin are not for the faint-hearted, rivaling Mulu National Park for the challenge and dramaticism. 

Even deeper into the jungle is the Deramakot Forest Reserve. The reserve is home to the same diverse wildlife as Danum Valley and Tabin but sees just a trickle of visitors – being primarily a research station. 

In the dead center of Sabah, Imbak Canyon is a protected area used for forest research and conversation. Trekking trails here are fairly straightforward, but accommodation is extremely basic. 

Make sure to contact our Borneo experts if any of these extra special parks appeal – particularly for those paying their second or third visits to Malaysian Borneo.

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