Cairns Botanic Gardens

Blog Post

How to explore the rainforest near Cairns

TNQ Writer

Flying into Cairns, you can see the city’s close proximity to the rainforest so you know don’t have to go far to explore this wonder. In fact, you can even find it in an inner-city suburb.

The Wet Tropics rainforest is undoubtedly one of Tropical North Queensland’s biggest drawcards, covering an area of some 900,000ha of pristine wilderness along the east coast of much of the region. While many choose to make the pilgrimage to the iconic Daintree & Cape Tribulation section, the rolling hills and tumbling falls of the Atherton Tablelands, or rugged trails of Mission Beach & Cassowary Coast, you can head into the greenery from as little as 5mins from the Cairns CBD.

Here’s how to explore this incredible ecosystem without straying far from Cairns.

Explore at Great Heights

Explore the rainforest from above and below the canopy with Skyrail Rainforest Cableway

Red Peak Station, Skyrail Rainforest Cableway

For a comprehensive insight into the history, evolution and extraordinary beauty of this ancient rainforest, hop aboard Skyrail Rainforest Cableway. Skyrail grants you access to views that no other experience in the region is able to offer, skimming over the mesmerising canopy where the forest floor seems to disappear into oblivion below.

Before embarking, download the Skyrail Interpretive App for educational insights and fun augmented reality experiences along the journey. Join a ranger-guided tour at Red Peak Station and take your time wandering through the engaging Rainforest Discovery Zone to learn even more about this spectacular and irreplaceable bioregion.

TIP: Pair a trip on Skyrail with Kuranda Scenic Railway for more incredible views and interesting history.

Distance from Cairns CBD: 12.7kms

Cool off at Stoney Creek after returning from Smiths or Douglas Tracks

Find ancient kauris on a short detour from the Smiths Track

To explore great heights on two feet, find a network of hiking trails departing from Kamerunga, around 25mins drive from Cairns CBD. The picturesque Douglas Track takes around 2-3hrs return and climbs to Glacier Rock, permitting you panoramic views over Cairns and the Coral Sea. It’s best done early to catch the sunrise and before the heat of the day sets in.

Smiths Track climbs up the opposite (and very steep) ridgeline of Stoney Creek Gorge. Eventually, the track interconnects with the Douglas Track however you can just choose to complete parts of the trail. Take a short detour from Toby’s Lookout to a grove of giant kauri pines and a shallow swimming hole. Upon return of both tracks, cool off in the shady pools of Stoney Creek.

Distance from Cairns CBD: 14.4kms (Stoney Creek)

Inner City Greens

Cairns Botanic Gardens

Some of the scenery you can expect on the Arrow walking trails

Only 5mins from the Cairns CBD, you’ll find yourself in the lush inner-city suburb of Edge Hill, home to the Cairns Botanic Gardens and Centenary Lakes. The gardens house one of the best exhibitions of tropical plants, both native and exotic, in Australia. Sections of the gardens are only open between 7:30am- 5:30pm daily, however simply strolling down leafy Collins Avenue or through the boardwalks of Centenary Lakes (open 24hrs) can satisfy your nature fix.

Those after more of a challenge can tackle the popular Mount Whitfield Conservation Park walking tracks – Red, Yellow, Blue and Green Arrows – which venture into the 300ha forested range just behind the Botanic Gardens, and are a great way to see the rainforest and keep active without leaving the city. Tracks vary in length and difficulty, but all feature scenic lookout points and varied terrain.

Distance from Cairns CBD: 3.7kms

Rainforest Road Trip

Picnic area at Lake Morris

Sunset along Lake Morris Road

Pack a picnic and hit the road for a scenic drive up to Lake Morris (Copperlode Dam). The old adage “the journey is as good as the destination” is a tough call when the final destination is as beautiful as Lake Morris, but when the road is fringed with dozens of Jurassic-looking tree ferns and dotted with spectacular lookouts over Cairns City, it holds true. Once at the top, the magnificent Lamb Range towering over the lake makes the perfect backdrop to enjoy a picnic lunch. To explore from the water, you’ll need to book with Copperlode Fish & Kayak.

TIP: Take a rainforest flight with Nautilus Aviation which includes highlights like Lake Morris.

Distance from Cairns CBD: 21.9kms

Lake Morris is accessible from 8am to 6pm every day. Drive carefully as this is a popular training route for cyclists and cassowaries are also occasionally spotted along the way.

For the Adventurous Spirits

Walk the Plank at Skypark by AJ Hackett

Smithfield Mountain Bike Park

By now, you may have heard that Cairns (and the broader region, is Australia’s adventure capital, and little wonder why. Make like a tree kangaroo and climb the 50m tower jutting out of the forest at Skypark by AJ Hackett, 20mins north of the city. Unlike our endemic furry friends though, you can leap from said tower with Australia’s only bungy jump, walk the plank, or fly over the treetops on the Giant Swing.  

Burn off your adrenaline at nearby Smithfield Mountain Bike Park with a range of trails blazing through the rainforest, ranging from beginner to advanced. Biked at Palm Cove or Cairns Mountan Bike Tours both offer mountain bike hire if you’ve left your wheels at home or don’t have a set of your own.

Distance from Cairns CBD: 16.3kms 

Foaming Fury's half-day Barron River rafting

How many cities can launch a raft on grade 2 and 3 rapids only 20mins from the CBD? Swap tumbling trails for the turbulent torrents of the Barron River with Foaming Fury’s half-day rafting tour.  It’s a place of raw natural beauty with the gorge, cloaked in World Heritage rainforest, towering either side of you as you paddle – sometimes furiously, sometimes leisurely – your way down the river. 

Foaming Fury also offers a similar family rafting tour, designed for those with children aged 6-11 years, with smaller rafts and operating on the lower section of the Barron Gorge. 

Distance from Cairns CBD: Approx 18kms

Magical Waterfalls

Fairy Falls is tucked away in the rainforest near Crystal Cascades

Cairns Canyoning tour at Crystal Cascades

Despite their monikers, you won’t find dragons or castles at Crystal Cascades or Fairy Falls. But, as their names suggest, you will find scenes that could be straight out of a storybook, with waters spilling over large boulders into deep pools surrounded by leafy jungle.

The final 9kms of your trip roughly follows Freshwater Creek, which Crystal Cascades is situated on, and makes for a beautiful drive with mountains flanking both sides of the road. Fairy Falls is located along a small tributary that flows into Crystal Cascades and is accessed by a short walking trail on the left of the Crystal Cascades car park.

TIP: Up the ante on your adventure and join Cairns Canyoning to abseil, jump and slide down exclusively accessed sections of Crystal Cascades.

Distance from Cairns CBD: 18.7kms

Southern Charm

Babinda Boulders

Queensland's tallest peak, Mount Bartle Frere

Leaving Cairns City, the further south you travel, the greener the scenery becomes. Seas of sugarcane give way to mountains on either side covered in thick World Heritage rainforest. As such, it should come as no surprise that this landscape is laden with spectacular swimming holes and epic hikes.

From climbing Queensland’s highest mountain, swimming in the emerald waters of Babinda Boulders, or camping in the jungle at Goldsborough Valley, exploring the jungle south of Cairns is easy.

Distance from Cairns CBD: Various

It’s a jungle out there

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