This small reserve has forested hills rising dramatically from the surrounding plain. If getting into the Maliau Basin or Danum Valley feels like too much of an effort, consider Tawau Hills a user-friendly alternative. The forest here is impressively thick, there are trails for hikers of all abilities and the park is excellent for bird-watching and night walks. On a clear day the Tawau Hills Park's peaks make a fine sight. Avoid day-tripper-heavy weekends.
The park was gazetted in 1979 to protect the water catchment for settlements in the area, but not before most of the accessible rainforest had been logged. Much of the remaining forest clings to steep-sided ridges that rise to 1310m Gunung Magdalena.
One trail leads along the Sungai Tawau for 2.5km to Bukit Gelas Falls, which, when not swarmed with school groups and tourists, are perfectly picturesque and fine for a dip. Another track leads 3.2km to a tepid sulphur spring – locals believe the ubat kulit (skin medication) water has medicinal properties. Alternatively you can always take a quick 30-minute walk to Bombalai Hill (530m) to the south – the views from here are quite rewarding. Another reason for coming here is to see what was formerly the world's tallest tropical tree (88m); a new 9km trail to a newly found 96m tree is due to open in 2019. Longer trails lead to the three main hills; only Mt Lucia is accessible without a guide and there's a hostel on its slopes.
Accommodation at Tawau Hills Park consists of a chalet (RM290) for up to six people and spartan, spotless four-bed dorms (RM30). It's well worth staying here overnight to go birding at sunset and dawn, and frog and snake spotting by the creek at night. Book ahead with Adventure Alternative Borneo to combine a stay at Tawau Hills with elephant spotting at the nearby Softwoods Plantation.
Tawau Hills is 28km northwest of Tawau. A taxi will cost around RM40; a Grab ride is around RM20.