Places to Visit around Cairns
Cairns is surrounded by gorgeous destinations – Port Douglas, the Daintree rainforest, the Great Barrier Reef, the Atherton Tablelands and Wooroonooran National Park… and Cairns is the perfect base to see it all.
If you would like to visit one of these stunning locations, you will need to have a car or do a tour. For activities you don’t need a car for, see our Free things to do in Cairns page
The Atherton tablelands are home to Lakes and Waterfalls. There is Lake Tinaroo, which is as big as Sydney Harbor and has great camping, fishing and is a local hotspot for water sports. Huge Barramundi can be caught off the bank, which are stocked by the local Tableland Fish Stocking Society Inc, but you do need a permit to fish and also camp.
There are lots of waterfalls to explore including the picturesque Milla Millia falls, Zillie falls, Dinner falls and Malanda falls. Barron falls near Kuranda are amazing especially after recent rain falls. Both the Skyrail and Kuranda Scenic Rail pass by Barron falls, however if you are in Kuranda and would like to see them, it is an easy 1km return walk on a raised boardwalk through the rainforest.
Lake Eacham and Lake Barrine are two lakes close by each other which were formed by volcanic explosions 12,000 years ago. Both are surrounded by rainforest and are great places for swimming, fishing, canoeing and bird watching. Lake Eacham take about 45 minutes to walk around and there is also a camping ground close by. Lake Barrine takes about 1 hour 15 mins to walk around, but if you’re not feeling that energetic there is a wildlife cruise that leaves regularly from the cafe. Also close by to the cafe are two majestic 1,000 year old Kauri pine trees.
Yungaburra is a cute little village centrally located near Lake Tinaroo and a great area to stay to explore the Tablelands. There is a variety of accommodation to suit all budgets from boutique B&Bs to camp grounds.
Just outside of Yungaburra is the famous Cathedral Fig Tree and to understand how large this tree actually is your really need to go there and walk around it, it really is amazing.
If you would like the rare opportunity to try and spot platypus in the wild, in Yungaburra just near “Nicks restaurant” there is a wooden platform built over a creek especially for this purpose. However, people tend to have better luck spotting platypus’ walking down along the creek bank.
Other towns on the Tableland include Mareeba, a farming community, Kuranda a tropical tourist town, Herberton, a historic tin mining town and Ravenshoe, Queensland’s highest town known for its wildlife and walking trails.
Another attraction of the Tablelands is tasting the local produce at farm cafes and retail outlets at places such as Gallo Dairyland, Mungalli Creek Bio-Dynamic Dairy, Coffee Works, Mt. Uncle Distillery, Be Brueys Boutique Wines and Nerada Tea.
If you are happen to be in Tablelands on the fourth Saturday of the month check out the Yungaburra markets. For more information about the tablelands, see the Atherton information centre website. It is also a great place for camping, especially at Lake Tinaroo, see Cairns camping information. Please note: the drive up to the Tablelands involves a windy road.
Visit beautiful waterfalls on our Atherton Tablelands Waterfalls Tour
For a more personalised tour which takes you off the beaten track and deep into the Rainforest, then our Cairns Rainforest 4WD Tour is perfect for you.
Whilst exploring Kuranda make sure you head down to the falls. It’s a short walk to the lookout but worth the effort especially after rain!
The most spectacular way to see Barron Falls is by taking the Kuranda, Train and Skyrail, you will have both a birds eye view and photo opportunities from a lookouts.
Combine your love of hiking with your love of nature.
It’s well worth the drive but a bit tricky to find. Its about a 35 min drive from Cairns.
Drive south past Gordonvale and once you pass Walsh’s Pyramid (the huge pyramid-shaped mountain!), turn right up Behana Gorge Rd. Keep driving until you reach the end of the road, you will not be able to drive further because a white gate blocks your way. Park in the gravel carpark and walk past the white gate and up the sealed road.
From here it is a 45 min hike, mostly uphill so you will need good shoes, some water and a bit of fitness. Don’t forget your towel and bathers because at the end you will be rewarded with a beautiful granite swimming hole!
You can combine this trip visit a visit to Babinda Boulders which is another 20 mins South.
Beautiful and well maintained. Make use of the free BBQs or picnic areas right next to the lake, take a walk around the lake (approx 45min circuit) or take a stroll on boardwalk through the rainforest. You can also walk or ride your bike along the gravel path around the lake.
A bit of a hidden secret and a bit tricky to find. Head towards Port Douglas, when you get to the Yorkey’s Knob Rd Round about, turn right. Keep a lookout for the little brown signs telling you where to go. If you’ve gone past the Smithfield shopping centre you have gone too far, but don’t worry, there is another turn off soon after. More information about Cattana Wetlands.
Cairns is located in between the Coral Sea and a range of hills. If you drive up the range you get to the Atherton Tablelands. And if you drive West over the Tablelands, you get to….the Outback!
Not many visitors realise genuine “Aussie Outback” is so close to Cairns, about a 3 hour drive.
Chillagoe is home to a series of beautiful ancient limestone caves. Take a guided tour of the caves or you can even explore one yourself.
For more information on the caves, have a look at the Chillagoe National Parks page
Follow the river along a sealed footpath for an easy 1.2km walk to Crystal Cascades Waterfall, great for all fitness levels and suitable for wheelchairs.
Along the way are 3 swimming holes where you can take a dip, but you do have to climb down steep steps to get to them. Take care because the rocks can be slippery and only swim if the water is calm.
It really is a beautiful walk, you have Rainforest on one side and the river cascading down little waterfalls on the other side.
It is approx a 25min drive from the city.There is no public transport or tours to get here, you must have your own car. To get there, drive to Redlynch and follow the signs from there. Getting there: Google maps.
The Daintree is a World Heritage listed National Park. It is located next to the Great Barrier Reef and breaks a couple of records: it is the oldest rainforest in the world and the only place in the world where two World Heritage National Parks meet!
It’s 100km north of Cairns; about a 2 1/2 hour drive with no stops (Port Douglas is about half way) and is a nature lover’s paradise! There are boardwalks through the ancient rainforest, hiking, camping, lookouts and beautiful pristine beaches (not for swimming, there are crocs).
It really is worth staying overnight to truly appreciate the beauty of the place. The Northern end of the Daintree which is called Cape Tribulation, is a popular area to stay as it is right near the beach, grocery store, boardwalks, activities and Mt Sorrow hiking tracks.
If you are driving yourself, there is a river ferry you must cross. It operates from 6am to midnight and there is a fee of approx $22 return per car.
The Daintree itself is not that big, it starts at Mossman Gorge (absolutely beautiful, a must-see!) and stretches approx 35 kms north to Cape Tribulation.
From there the road turns into a 4WD dirt road called the Bloomfield Track which will take you to the tip of Australia.
The Daintree is in a remote tropical rainforest – there is no mobile phone reception, no TV reception and minimal facilities and infrastructure.
If you love nature and want to experience this special place, stay a night. But if you’re freaked out by the thought of friendly geckos in your room and green tree frogs in your toilet, this probably isn’t the place for you! More information about Daintree Cape Tribulation National Park.
To see the best of this beautiful area of the world, we have a day tour that shows you the highlights, our Daintree Rainforest & Mossman Gorge Tour
The whole of Fitzroy Island is a National Park.
It’s untouched beauty and makes for a fantastic island experience.
There are walks through the rainforest to secluded beaches, or if you are feeling more energetic, you can hike to the top of the lookout.
You can snorkel straight off the shore of the beaches and see a colourful array of marine life.
Apart from snorkeling, other water activities you can do while on the island, including kayaking, ocean trampolining and stand up paddle boarding.
There are facilities on the island for day guests, including bistro/bar, convenience store, toilets and change rooms.
For more information, see our Fitzroy Island Tour.
Great Barrier Reef
This is usually what springs to mind when you think of Cairns! Beautiful crystal clear turquoise and ultramarine blue water. And the good news is, it actually does look like that in real life!
The Great Barrier Reef stretches 2300 kilometres (1429 miles), and covers an area roughly equivalent to the size of Japan, making it visible from outer space. It has been around for between 6000 and 8000 years and during that time it has cultivated a wide range of colourful and spectacular fish and coral species.
The reef is not actually one reef, it’s made up from 3,000 individual reefs and different tour operators go to different reefs and cays (which are sand islands). The Great Barrier Reef is home to 1500 species of fish and 400 different soft and hard corals plus many, many more marine critters such as sea turtles, starfish and giant clams.
The Great Barrier Reef is faced with natural and man-made threats everyday. These include increased shipping, port and coastal development, climate change, coral bleaching and the elevated number of crown-of-thorns starfish who eat the coral (due to elevated water temperatures). Our local tour operators and environmental organisations are dedicated to protecting the Great Barrier Reef to preserve it for future generations. You can help by supporting online petitions and organisations.
We have sourced the Top 8 Great Barrier Reef tours in Cairns, if you need any help deciding which one is for you, email us, we are happy to help.
Green Island is a small tropical picturesque island only a short 45 minute ferry ride from Cairns.
You can explore the beautiful beaches of tropical Green Island, relax on the beach, snorkel in the clear shallow waters from the shore, sun bake, have a cocktail at the pool side bar or take the boardwalk around the island.
You can even find yourself a secluded beach for a romantic afternoon.
We recommend swimming in the popular area near the pier, which is patrolled by lifeguards, in case you need assistance. Snorkeling off the island is great for beginners and relaxing.
There is a range of dining options including a cafe, restaurant and buffet restaurant in the resort village to suit all budgets.
The Reef and Green Island Tour allows you to experience the best of both worlds with 1/2 day spent on the reef and 1/2 day spent on Green Island
Josephine Falls and Babinda Boulders
Both great for swimming, walking, picnics and a day out. Babinda Boulders is approx one hour south of Cairns. You can walk along the river which has carved out interesting shapes from the rocks surrounding it. It is easy to see why this place is so special to the local Aborigines.
Josephine Falls is another 20 mins drive south and features a series of waterfalls that flow into large pools, plus a large natural waterslide. Both locations feature crystal clear swimming holes, short walks and coin-operated BBQs. More information about Babinda Information Centre.
Our Waterfalls & Paronella Park tour also includes Babinda Boulders.
Kuranda is often called the “village in the rainforest”. It is located in the Atherton Tablelands and is a popular place to visit for the day as it is the destination for both the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway and Kuranda Scenic Rail.
There are lots of cafes, art galleries and short walking tracks, including one to Barron Falls. There are two markets here selling a range of goods including local handmade products (one of the markets, pictured above is a little tricky to find, the entrance is next to the Honey House).
Attractions you can pay to see include the Australian Butterfly sanctuary which gives you a behind-the-scenes tour of their breeding facility, the Australian Venom Zoo, Birdworld and Kuranda Koala Gardens. You can also catch a bus to Rainforestation, an indigenous cultural park with Aboriginal dancing, Army Duck tours (amphibious vehicles) and Australian native animals.
Our Kuranda, Train and Skyrail Tour is the perfect way to experience Kuranda.
Lake Morris/Copperlode Dam
Known by both names, this is Cairns water supply. To get to the base of the mountain is only a 10min drive from Cairns along Reservoir Road towards Redlynch. You turn up Lake Morris Road and it is approx 20 min drive to the top of the mountain.
Along the way there are lookout points overlooking Cairns city and the ocean. Once you get to the top there is a BBQ and kids play area overlooking the dam, all surrounded by rainforest as far as the eye can see.
There are good walking tracks for experienced hikers. They are not well signposted so check out the following link: Copperlode Dam to Crystal Cascades.
Our Cairns Rainforest 4WD Tour includes a stop at Lake Morris to take in the picture perfect scenery.
Mossman Gorge is about a 30 min drive north of Port Douglas.
It is located in the southern end of the Daintree Rainforest, before you cross the river to Cape Tribulation.
It is sometimes overlooked, due to the fame of Cape Tribulation, but don’t miss out on this beautiful and special place.
Enjoy a swim in the stunning, clear waterholes in an unusual shade of green. Or take a walk through the ancient rainforest.
You can also pay to do a walking tour led by an Indigenous guide.
You must park at the visitor information centre and catch a shuttle bus a short distance to Mossman Gorge; it only costs a few dollars. Find a map of the area and a list of native species, see the National Parks website.
Our Daintree Rainforest and Mossman Gorge Tour combines experienced guides with stunning locations.
Port Douglas is about an hours drive from Cairns.
Cafes, restaurants, pubs and shops line the main street of this relaxing resort town. Port Douglas Markets are on 7am – 2pm every Sunday.
There is a lovely swimming beach there called 4 Mile Beach, it is patrolled all year round with nets during stinger season.
Visit Port Douglas on a Half day or Full day Tour, great for all ages and budgets.
This 922 metre high mountain has a walking track to the top. Located 30 mins drive south of Cairns (you can’t miss it – it’s the giant pyramid-shaped mountain!) A high level of fitness is needed. They race this mountain in August every year.
Wooroonooran National Park
Wooroonooran National Park stretches south of Cairns from Walshs Pyramid to Josephine Falls.
This is natural lovers area, and has many hiking opportunities for experienced hikers, including Bartle Frere, the highest peak in Queensland. Hiking trails and council-run National Park campgrounds (which you do have to book).
Visit Josephine Falls on our Atherton Tablelands Waterfalls Tour, a fantastic value day tour.
120km south of Cairns is an unlikely place to find a Spanish Castle, especially one that was voted Queensland’s #1 Tourist Attraction in 2004 by tourism Queensland also in 2009 by RACQ. Paronella Park was hand crafted in the 1930s, a dream of Spanish immigrant Jose Paronella.
On the 13 acre site he created a ballroom, cinema and cafe, the architecture inspired by Spanish Castles. The park was a great success, people from all around came to explore the beautiful landscaped gardens, including a lake and waterfall, fountains, hidden footpaths, bridges and tunnels.
Over the past 80 years floods, fire and a cyclone have turned the buildings into picturesque moss-covered ruins which looks like they have been there for hundreds of years. Every 45 mins a guided tour leaves from the restaurant that is included in the price.
The park is open 9am – 7.30pm daily and they also have a night tour every night at dusk. Entry is $43 adults, $37 pensioners & $21 for children.
They also have a camping ground next to the park and your entrance also give you a free night in the campground.
Our Paronella Park and Waterfalls Tour takes you to some gorgeous locations and includes your entrance fee to Paronella Park.
Stoney Creek is a series of shallow cascading waterholes. A walking track runs along side the creek and there are multiple waterholes you can stop along the way for a dip or picnic. You can usually find one all to yourself!
The untouched beauty of this place will make you feel lucky to have found it. You won’t find that many tourists here because it is a bit obscure to find and you need a car.
It takes approximately 30 mins to walk the 1km track and at the end you will come to a waterfall, and above that, a small weir. Both the weir and the old pipe you would have noticed running along side the path, used to be used when the Kuranda Train was a steam engine. It is a lovely little waterfall, but it is not Stoney Creek Falls, which you would have seen if you have been on the Kuranda Scenic Railway.
It is possible to hike to Stoney Creek Falls, but to do so, you need to turn right onto the Douglas Walking track just after you cross the bridge from the carpark and from there it is a 2.6km (approx 2 hour) moderate-difficult hike. The walking track along Stoney Creek is a rough rocky path and can be steep at times, especially the first and last 50 meters and because the soil is clay, it can be slippery after rain.
You must take care both walking the tracks and swimming in the waterholes. Make sure the water is calm and remember the rocks can be slippery.
To get there, it is approx a 15 min drive North of Cairns, along the Western Arterial Road. Just before you cross the Barron River, turn left into Stoney Creek Road and follow it to the end.
You can jump in a hire care and go exploring yourself. Or if you’d like it all taken care of, book one of our fantastic Cairns tours.
We have listed the Best 20 tours in Cairns with comprehensive information to help you pick the best one to suit your needs.