Climbing Ma On Shan peak is a fantastic challenge for hikers in Hong Kong. An adventurous, steep, rocky trail with stunning 360-degree views from several peaks, this trail will get your heart racing! In this guide, I'll show you how to hike from Ma On Shan to Sai Kung by way of two notable Hong Kong peaks - the Hunch Backs and Ma On Shan.
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Preparing to Climb Ma On Shan
Ma On Shan Peak, sometimes called Saddle Peak for the shape of the ridgeline, is tied for the 10th highest peak in Hong Kong at 702 m / 2,303 ft. It's located in Eastern New Territories in Hong Kong's Ma On Shan Country Park.
Although there are a variety of ways to climb it, I'll be showing you the route starting in Ma On Shan at the Heng On MTR Station and ending in Sai Kung Town. Along the way, you'll also scale the Hunch Backs, Hong Kong's 12th tallest peak at 677 m / 2,221 ft.
The route is ~12-km / 7.5-mi long, gains over 700 m / 2,300 ft in elevation, and takes approximately 5 hours to complete.
Pro Tip: If you take a taxi from the MTR and begin the hike at the Ma On Shan Country Park BBQ site, the hike is only 8.4-km / 5.2 mi long and ~500 m / 1,640 ft of elevation gain.
Who Should Hike It?
Because of the steepness and the difficult terrain, I recommend this Ma On Shan trail for experienced hikers. It's a challenging hike that requires a decent level of fitness for the climbs, plus hiking shoes with a good grip.
A good trial run or practice hike would be the High Junk Peak Hike in Clear Water Bay Country Park. They are similar in that they have a couple steep peak climbs and areas with rock scrambles. However, the Ma On Shan hike is much steeper and has twice as much elevation gain.
Want the elevation gain without the difficult terrain? Check out the Tai Mo Shan Hike!
When to Hike It?
Since this is a difficult hike with many spots that don't have shade, I'd recommend hiking it on a cooler day with low humidity. Even hiking it during the winter (70°F / 21°C), I was sweating profusely!
As far as weekend vs. weekday, we hiked up on a gorgeous Saturday and it was okay. Were there were more people on the trail than I would've liked? Absolutely. But it wasn't as crowded as some of the trails I've hiked on the weekend, such as Dragon's Back or Mount High West.
Items for Your Hike
Although you probably have a gear list for hiking, these are things I'd like to highlight:
Getting to Ma On Shan Country Park
To get to Ma On Shan Country Park from where we live on Hong Kong Island, we took the MTR. The route involved several transfers and it took roughly an hour and 20 minutes to get to our final stop in Ma On Shan town.
Although we chose to get off at the Heng On Station (Tuen Ma Line), exit B, you could go to the terminus - Ma On Shan station. The walk is roughly the same distance from either station.
New to Hong Kong? Check out this Guide to Using Public Transportation.
Overview of the Ma On Shan Peak Hike to Sai Kung
The Ma On Shan Peak Hike from Heng On MTR to Sai Kung town is roughly 12-km / 7.5-mi long and gains over 700 m / 2,300 ft in elevation. The hike took us roughly 5 hours to complete with stops for snacks and photos.
Elevation Note: I use Google Maps to estimate elevation for my hiking guides. However, the elevation Google has listed for Ma On Shan peak is incorrect, which throws off my estimates. Since you descend a bit after the Hunch Backs before climbing back up Ma On Shan, the total elevation gained on this hike is probably closer to 800 m / 2,624 ft.
Throughout several steep, rocky ascents, you'll be in awe of the incredible views the higher you go. Along the way to Ma On Shan Peak, you'll first climb the Hunch Backs (677 m / 2,221 ft). At each summit, you'll have plenty of gorgeous photo opportunities.
Getting from Heng On Station to Ma On Shan Country Park
At Heng On Station, take exit B towards the Chinese YMCA College. From there, you'll head past the Ma On Shan Recreation Ground and towards the mountains. There's a nice walking and bike path that leads the way back to the park area.
Once you're in the park, you'll see a small path on your left with a guard rail across it. Take that turn and head up to Ma On Shan Tsuen Road.
Pro Tip: In the park, Google will try to take you on the path after the one with the guard rail which shows up as stairs on the map. Those are private maintenance stairs though, so be sure to turn left at the first road.
At the traffic circle, head to the right up the hill. This is the road that will take you up to Ma On Shan Country Park BBQ Site.
Since Ma On Shan Tsuen Road is accessible for cars, if you want to shave a bit off your hike, you could take a taxi up to the BBQ site. Taking a taxi up cuts off ~3.5 km / 2.2 mi of distance, 250 m /820 ft of incline, plus ~50 minutes of time.
Starting on the Ma On Shan Family Walk
Enter the Ma On Shan Country Park BBQ Site as soon as you reach it. In the back left corner, you'll find the trail entrance - an archway for the Ma On Shan Family Walk.
The Ma On Shan Family Walk is a gentle loop trail (750 m / 0.5 mi) from the BBQ site. It ascends gradually up stone stairs and you'll break off from it about midway through it.
You'll know you've reached your trail when you see the danger sign and the barriers in front of it.
Climbing to Ma On Shan Peak
After turning off the Family Walk, the trail immediately increases in difficulty. It's a rocky and steep trail. Since it hasn't rained in a while, the area was quite dusty when we hiked it (January 2021). But, I can imagine the trail would be slick and muddy during rainy season.
Despite the warnings, a lot of people hike this trail, so you can follow it easily. However in parts, it's so narrow it feels like you're hacking through the jungle. I had several scrapes and bruises on my legs from branches and rocks afterwards. Granted, I'm kind of clumsy so this is not unusual.
As you climb, it always seems like you're almost at the top. But then you get to the top of one hill, and you see the next one in front of you! And the trail doesn't get easier as you go either.
In the past, there was a rope to help navigate some of the steeper sections leading up to the Hunch Backs. But that is no longer the case. I saw some of the old hooks and even an old frayed rope attached in one location. Let's just say, I wouldn't trust it in its current condition with my safety!
The Hunch Backs
After scaling multiple hills, finally we reached the top of the Hunch Backs (Ngau Ngak Shan). The Hunch Backs is the 12th highest peak in Hong Kong at 677 m / 2,221 ft, just behind Ma On Shan which is tied for the 10th highest.
Once you crest the peak of the Hunch Backs, you get an amazing view of the blue waters of Three Fathoms Cove in northern Sai Kung. Not to mention, you can finally see the ridge across to Ma On Shan Peak clearly.
Ridgeline to Ma On Shan
If you're afraid of heights, this ridgeline might be difficult for you. Actually, this entire hike would probably be a bit scary!
On certain sections, the ridgeline is narrow with drops on both sides. If people are coming the other direction, it's tough to squeeze past. Especially when others decide to stop in the middle of the path for lunch!
Final Push to Ma On Shan Peak
But once across the ridge, you'll have (yet another) steep climb up to Ma On Shan Peak. I was so full of dust by the time I reached the top! Kept using my hands to climb then wiping them on my pants. But I noticed I wasn't the only one!
Once you arrive at the peak, you'll have epic 360-degree views! On a clear day, you can see all the way to the High Island Reservoir East Dam in Sai Kung East Country Park.
Plus, you can easily see the rest of your trail winding along the hills below you. Enjoy the views for as long as you want, then it's time for the steep climb down!
The day we hiked this trail, it was pretty windy and a bit crowded up at Ma On Shan peak. Had to hang on tight to my phone as I took a million photos and videos. Certainly felt refreshing though after that tough climb!
Initial descent from Ma On Shan
Just as the climb up to Ma On Shan is steep and rocky, expect a similar challenge on the way down. Hopefully your legs haven't fully turned to jelly by the time you reach the peak. If they have, take a snack break before climbing down. And don't be afraid to hang on!
After dropping more than 100 m / 330 ft in ~0.4 km / 0.25 mi, you'll join the MacLehose Trail, Sec. 4. Keep going straight when you meet up with it.
To Pyramid Hill or Not to Pyramid Hill
The MacLehose Trail, sec. 4 is a wonderful break for the legs. A nice, gentle trail which winds along the ridges overlooking the beautiful waters of Sai Kung as well as the town.
After the ridge, you'll see a peak rise up in front of you - this is Pyramid Hill. It's another steep, rocky trail leading straight up a mountain. To get to the Ngong Ping Viewing Point, you can a) climb up and over Pyramid Hill or b) continue on the MacLehose Trail, sec. 4 around the peak.
Since we'd already taken on the Hunch Backs and Ma On Shan that day, we chose option b and skipped Pyramid Hill.
Another factor influencing our choice was restaurants closing at 6pm due to COVID restrictions. We wanted to make sure we had time for dinner in Sai Kung before the trip back to Hong Kong Island!
Ngong Ping Viewing Point
On the MacLehose Trail, sec. 4, it was an easy and gradual downhill trail to the Ngong Ping Viewing Point. This viewpoint is a wide, open space that's perfect for picnicking, flying kites, and apparently paragliding. It was quite busy on the Saturday that we visited.
A short walk away, there's also a campground and toilets according to the signage. We didn't actually walk back to see them.
Ngong Ping to Sai Kung
After leaving the Ngong Ping Viewing Point, you'll come to a large intersection of trails. Turn left on the Ma On Shan Country Trail towards Tai Shui Tseng.
The last portion of the hike is an easy and gradual downhill on stone stairs. We pretended to be trail runners and jogged down most of them which helped us make up some time. The trail ends just north of Sai Kung in Tai Shui Tseng village.
Continue walking straight down through the village on Pak Kong Au Road and you'll come to Hiram's Highway - the main road in Sai Kung. At this point, you can stay and explore Sai Kung for a bit or catch a bus/minibus back to the MTR.
Bus / Minibus from Sai Kung to MTR
If you'd like to catch a minibus out of Sai Kung, cross the highway to get to the bus stops. Some of the bus and minibus options from Sai Kung to MTR stations include:
Pro Tip: On the weekend, be prepared for a lot of traffic heading out of Sai Kung at the end of the day. Also, the buses may be full unless you catch them at the terminus in Sai Kung town.
Sai Kung Getaway
If you're not quite ready to head home, why not stay in Sai Kung? This charming seaside town has great restaurants, cute shops, and plenty of beautiful hikes nearby.
Places to Stay in Sai Kung
Sai Kung is a residential area so you won't find many hotels. So if you'd like to stay in Sai Kung, it's also a good idea to check out vacation rental sites like Airbnb or VRBO for accommodation options.
Though I haven't stayed in these accommodations, I've found a couple places that I would consider booking if I were planning a weekend getaway in Sai Kung.
This stylish and cozy 2-bedroom apartment in the heart of Sai Kung town would be perfect for a family or a couple to stay. Steps away from shops, restaurants, as well as the beach in Sai Kung - it's incredibly convenient for a Hong Kong weekend retreat.
Plus, it's pet-friendly so you can bring your favorite hiking companion along with you!
The Pier Hotel is located just south of Sai Kung town in Hebe Haven, or Pak Sha Wan - a tranquil harbor which is home to several yacht clubs. Its spot right on the waterfront provides beautiful views from the chic and modern guest rooms. This hotel is a great jumping off point for exploring Sai Kung's many excellent restaurants, local hikes, and beautiful beaches.
If you're looking to relax at the hotel, the rooftop pool (summer only) and on-site fitness center are excellent amenities to enhance your stay.
Other Hikes in Sai Kung You Might Enjoy
A challenging hike with an awesome 360-degree views as a reward, the Ma On Shan hike via the Hunch Backs is a perfect adventure for Hong Kong hikers. It's also an outdoor workout designed to make you feel worthy of that craft beer at the end!