While Cairns itself is known for its laid back city vibes and stunning esplanade, the Great Barrier Reef, rainforest, waterfalls and quirky townships are just a stone’s throw away. Grab a pen and paper and add these day trips from Cairns to your holiday bucket list.
The phrase “make a day of it” must have been penned with Tropical North Queensland in mind. With lush emerald rainforest, azure waters and bustling attractions galore, each day here is worth making the most of. Whether you’re a first time visitor looking for those bucket list experiences or are a seasoned visitor seeking a new thrill, this list of 50 day trips from Cairns is a good time guaranteed.
1. Keep your cool and head twenty minutes out of Cairns to rainforest-clad Crystal Cascades. Wander along the walkway and choose your perfect pool or head right to the end for a tumbling waterfall. If you fancy a bit more of an adventure, veer into the forest to Fairy Falls and see how this magical spot got its name.
2. Time travel back to the groovy 70s at the Kuranda Original Rainforest Markets. Stay a whole day in the village in the rainforest and visit wildlife parks, taste culinary delights and browse the local stores and Heritage Markets.
3. Hit the reset button with a visit to the stunning seaside village of Palm Cove. Opt for a beach day or a spa day and choose your level of chill. Stay for dinner and dine at one of the taste-bud-tingling beachfront restaurants.
4. Take it all the way to the top with a visit to Ravenshoe, Queensland’s highest town. Take a short walk to a views of Millstream Falls and cool off in the nearby Little Millstream Falls. Fuel up with a meal and beer at Queensland’s Highest Pub and head to Windy Hill Farm for beautiful views.
5. Chase waterfalls on the Waterfall Circuit. First stop is the iconic Millaa Millaa Falls, a dreamy 18m plunge waterfall that is one of the most photographed in Australia. Gaze at Zillie Falls from the top at a viewing platform and plunge into Ellinjaa Falls. Keep your eyes peeled for the electric blue Ulysses Butterfly and the elusive platypus.
6. Dust off your hiking boots and hit one of Tropical North Queensland’s best hiking trails. Our picks? Lambs Head near Davies Creek offers stunning views over Lake Morris and the Atherton Tablelands, whilst Walshs Pyramid is a 6km steep challenge promising the reward of sweeping views.
7. Indulge in a day of natural swimming and rock hop your way along Davies Creek Falls. The grand finale? A stunning infinity pool on the top of the falls. Walk 1.9km to the Bunda Bibandji rock art site – you’ll find the turnoff is located further down along Davies Creek Road.
8. Explore the world’s oldest surviving rainforest on a day trip to the Daintree and Cape Tribulation. Wander through rainforest boardwalks and search for crocodiles on the Daintree River with tours by Jungle Tours & Trekking or Billy Tea Safaris. See where the rainforest meets the reef at Cape Tribulation or cool off in rainforest swimming holes.
9. Hit the highway on the Great Barrier Reef Drive, one of Australia’s most beautiful drives. Beach hop your way from Palm Cove to Port Douglas, stopping at unnamed beaches that you are likely to have to yourself. Wander through the palm plantation at Thala Beach Nature Reserve and have lunch or dinner with the ultimate view at Osprey’s Restaurant.
10. Hop on a Great Adventures ferry and cruise to Green Island, a stunning coral cay just 27km off the shore of Cairns. Relax on white sandy beaches, wander through a rainforest path and snorkel fringing coral straight off the beach.
11. Ch-ch-choose the Kuranda Scenic Rail and journey past rainforest, rocky gorges and stunning waterfalls en-route to Kuranda. Return on Skyrail Rainforest Cableway and glide over the rainforest canopy. Marvel at Barron Falls from the Edge Lookout.
12. Head behind Walshs Pyramid and walk 3.5km to Behana Gorge. The reward? A refreshing dip in the stunning Clamshell Falls, the grand finale of the hike.
13. Experience the local tastes of the tropics with Brett’s Outback Tasting Tour, which visits local food and wine producers on the Atherton Tablelands and includes visits to exclusive venues. Alternatively, self-drive and check out these food trail highlights.
14. Get your adrenaline fix and tackle white water rapids on the mighty Tully River with Raging Thunder.
15. Rock hop through an abundance of swimming holes at Stoney Creek. Walk through the rainforest to the stunning Old Weir Falls. If you fancy more of a challenge, head uphill for a 7km return hike to Glacier Rock Lookout and be rewarded with sweeping views of the city.
17. Delve into an underwater wonderland and explore the Great Barrier Reef on a day tour to the outer barrier reef and search for all its famous residents. Up the ante with an introductory scuba dive.
19. Wander through the rainforest at Mossman Gorge and have a dip in a boulder-lined rainforest stream. Join a local Kuku Yalanji guide for a Ngadiku Dreamtime Walk and learn about traditional plant use, smoking ceremonies and more.
20. Get your art deco fix by visiting the rural town of Innisfail, an hour and a half south of Cairns. Test your croc-o-dial with Snapping Tours and search for the mighty saltwater crocodile and other wildlife on a Johnston River cruise.
22. Head south to Mission Beach and explore funky beachside villages and palm-fringed shores. Make a pit stop at Murdering Point Winery to sample tropical fruit wines, ports and liquors produced on-site.
23. Wander through gardens of stunning tropical rainforest plants at Cairns Botanic Gardens. The street comes alive during the Tanks Art Market, which takes place monthly between April and November. Enjoy brunch at the trendy suburb of Edge Hill.
24. Live out your castaway dreams with a trip to the Frankland Islands, a paradise with white sand beaches and fringing coral teeming with marine life.
26. Cast a line with a fishing charter to the reef or in one of Tropical North Queensland’s many rivers and creeks.
27. Make for a lake day and head to the Atherton Tablelands. Dive into a volcanic crater lake at Lake Eacham and tuck into a Devonshire Tea with dreamy views of Lake Barrine. Explore the village of Yungaburra, spot platypus at Peterson Creek and marvel at the Curtain Fig Tree or Cathedral Fig Tree.
29. Set your compass south to Babinda Boulders and swim in emerald rainforest pools. Walk to the Devil’s Pool lookout and learn about the eerie Indigenous legend behind its moniker. Continue south to Josephine Falls, a triple-tiered wonder tumbling from Queensland’s highest mountain, Mount Bartle Frere. Swim in the bottom pool which has its own natural waterslide!
30. Caffeinate your way through Mareeba for a day full of local-produced delights. Head to Coffee Works for locally-produced coffee and chocolate. Finish at Skybury Coffee and treat your tastebuds to some papaya, which is grown on-site.
31. Have croc-o-clock with a visit to Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures. Cruise the makeshift lagoon and see crocodiles jump for their dinner, or hold a wombat or cockatoo on a Premium Wildlife Encounter.
32. Walk into the ultimate fairytale at Paronella Park, a Spanish castle in the rainforest located around and hour and a half south of Cairns.
34. Embrace the best kind of blues with swim in the Cardwell Spa Pool, a vibrant-blue natural pool that shot to fame on Instagram. Make a day of exploring the Cardwell Forest Drive, which also features the beautiful Attie Creek Falls.
35. Join a Kuku Yalanji Indigenous guide on Walkabout Cultural Adventures for a day of traditional spearfishing and learn about bush tucker before visiting the Daintree Rainforest.
36. Head deep into the rainforest on a 6.6km return hike to Nandroya Falls, a gigantic drop that looks straight out of Jurassic Park. Make way to nearby Wallicher Falls and Tchupala Falls for a full day of waterfall adventures.
37. Seas the day at Trinity Beach, a beach paradise that’s a hit with the locals. Relax on the beach and treat yourself to breakfast, lunch or dinner at one of the beachfront restaurants.
38. Kayak down a crystal clear rainforest creek with Babinda Kayaking and search for fish, turtles and platypus. Don’t forget to pack a picnic to enjoy along the way.
39. As its name suggests, swimming is a no-no at Lake Placid, however this scenic lake, which is only 15km from the city centre, is worth a visit. While you’re in “this end of town”, drive to Barron Gorge and wander across the bridge for views of the Barron River and hydro station. In summer, you can often see Surprise Creek Falls cascading down into the valley.
40. Bird is the word in the Cassowary Coast! Spot Cassowaries at Etty Bay, located 15km from Innisfail. Search for birds and wildlife at Eubenangee Swamp National Park, home to hundreds of bird species.
41. Enjoy a day on island time at Fitzroy Island. Walk to the stunning Nudey Beach, SUP off the main beach or simply relax and enjoy a cocktail at Foxy’s Bar.
42. Drive up a winding range to Copperlode Dam and Lake Morris, 22km from Cairns. Walk to the intake tower and breathe in the beautiful glory of this lake, which despite being so close to Cairns, feels a whole world away.
43. Have a Dr Doolittle of a day at Granite Gorge Nature Park, an animal lovers paradise. Hand-feed wild Mareeba rock wallabies and meet an abundance of birds, horses, reptiles and even a pig! Rock hop your way through walking trails and cool with a swim in the weir.
44. Stare 57 metres down into the eerie Mt Hypipamee Crater. Enjoy a refreshing swim at the nearby Dinner Falls before heading to the rural village of Malanda. Plunge into Malanda Falls and search for the endemic Lumholtz’s Tree Kangaroo at Nerada Tea.
Don't have a car?
Don’t have a car?
Check out these action-packed days in the Cairns CBD.
49. Spend the day swimming at the iconic Cairns Lagoon, featuring its own sandy beach. Wander along the Esplanade to Muddy’s Playground, a kids paradise with water play areas, slides and a flying fox. No kids in tow? The newly revamped Esplanade Dining Precinct has funky roof top bars and a range of restaurants to sink your teeth into.
50. Go where the wild ones are and meet native animals at Cairns ZOOM & Wildlife Dome before zip-lining over a 4.5m crocodile. Step into an underwater wonderland at Cairns Aquarium and refuel with lunch or dinner at the on-site Dundees at the Aquarium.