Travel & Expat Blog


The Best Walks and Hikes In Cairns

There are so many hikes in and around Cairns that I’m pretty sure you can do a different one every week and never have to do the same one twice in a year! As a local, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed getting acquainted with the trails in Cairns over the past few years and I’ve rounded up all my favourite hikes in this post.

Each one has its own reward whether it be a waterfall, creek or scenic viewpoint and I’ve kept them all within a half-hour drive of the city. Most are in the surrounding ranges so there are plenty of secluded rainforest walks with interesting flora and fauna to observe along the way.

I hope you enjoy walking through this green city as much as we have. Happy hiking! x

Map of the Hikes in Cairns

All these hikes are in Cairns and just a half-hour drive away from the CBD. I’ve carefully marked each trailhead on this map to help you get your bearings and you can also open it up on Google Maps for driving directions, you know, so you can spend less time planning and more time exploring. You’re welcome. 🤟🏼

How To Get To The Hikes in Cairns

Most hikes in Cairns are in the ranges where there’s no public transport so the best option is to drive. For some, you may be able to get an Uber there okay but may struggle to get a ride back if it’s a bit more remote. You could also try Cairns Taxi service 131 008 where you should be able to pre-book a guaranteed ride home.

Best Walks and Hikes in Cairns

The ‘Bama’ (Aboriginal Rainforest People) originally paved quite a few of these tracks so you’ll often be hiking on paths that are thousands of years old. Then since colonialism, more were blazed by tin and gold miners and others were created to allow access to communication pylons or dams. More recent ones were created by QLD Parks in collaboration with the Traditional Custodians purely for leisure.

It’s very hard to get lost on them as they’re all pretty well undulated and intuitive, but if in doubt, always follow the most obvious path and keep an eye out for pink ribbon markers. Some routes also have orange triangular markers pinned to trees.

Tip: If you’re a keen hiker and new to Cairns, then you should definitely check out the Cairns Hiking Facebook group. It has over 13 thousand members and it’s a great page for inspiration and useful info. Members actively share their recent hikes, current track conditions and there’s often a hiking event on in Cairns. Definitely worth joining if you’re keen to get out exploring.

1. Crystal Cascades

2.4k return/1 hr/easy – Add Fairy Falls for an extra 1k return

Crystal Cascades waterfall in Cairns // Travel Mermaid

This is one of the most popular hikes in Cairns as the area is gorgeous and it’s an easy paved trail so accessible to everybody. The walk takes you 1.2k along a path that’s beside Freshwater Creek to the waterfall at the end. You can stop for a dip anywhere along the way, or wait until the main swimming hole by the fall.

I love coming here in the late afternoon during the wet season when the waterfall is full and it’s only really the locals that stroll down for a dip after work. We saw stunning blue coloured dragonflies by the creek and had water literally cascading on the rocks next us on the path, it was so pretty,

Crystal Cascades walk in Cairns // Travel Mermaid

To get to the Cascades, open the map above and follow the directions to Redlynch. It’s about 18k from the CBD, roughly a 25 minute ride. Love this rural suburb of Cairns, it’s hard to believe you’re in a city at all around this way.

Park at the carpark and the trail is directly in front. Then it’s an easy 2.4k return walk to the fall and back. There’s BBQ facilities at the start of the path too if you want to really make a day of it.

Crystal Cascades waterfall in Cairns // Travel Mermaid

If you fancy something a little extra afterwards then Fairy Falls is a lesser known waterfall tucked away nearby. Just head back to the carpark and there’s a small rainforest path (about 500m) that’ll take you there.

2. Crystal Cascades To Copperlode Dam

6k return/2.5-3 hours/strenuous

Copperlode Dam/ Lake Morris in Cairns // Travel Mermaid

If you’re a bit of an adventurer and want something a little extra, then doing the return hike from Crystal Cascades to Copperlode Dam is a great workout. The first half is a pretty steep uphill slog but you’ll be prized with awesome views of the dam at the summit. We were the only ones up here that day and it was really peaceful.

You can just drive up here too but the views are even better when you have to work for it!

Fun Fact: The dam is also called Lake Morris and it’s the main water supply for Cairns.

Copperlode Dam to Crystal Cascades hike // Travel Mwermaid

To access, walk just past the first BBQ pit at Crystal Cascades and there’s a sign in front of the trail to your left. The path is really well marked and undulated, though a bit narrower at the start. The first few hundred meters is the steepest and hardest, but stick with it! It gradually opens up and becomes a little easier.

About halfway up you’ll reach a power pole & viewpoint of Yorkeys Knob 👇🏼. Then you’ll reach a gate that says ‘Welcome To Lake Morris’ and there’s a road just after. Take a right to the lookout by the kiosk.

View of Yorkey's Knob along the Copperlode Dam hiking trail // Travel Mwermaid

Sadly the kiosk was closed when we came which I think is permanent, so you may wish to take a light snack to refuel with. Once you’re done, head back to the Cascade on the same path and treat yourself to a refreshing dip in the creek.

3. Douglas Track to Glacier Rock

9.5k return/3.5-4 hours/moderate

Glacier Rock Lookout at Barron Gorge National Park, Kuranda // Travel Mermaid

Walking the Douglas Track to Glacier Rock lookout is one of my favourite hikes in Cairns. The rainforest trail felt pretty remote with lush and interesting flora to sight, and it was really quiet when we came. It was also a nice mixture of flat and uphill walking without it being too steep, so it wasn’t mega tiring like some of the other hikes around here.

At the top we were prized with an awesome view of Cairns, The Northern Beaches & nearby ranges that sadly my last phone didn’t capture that well.

This Heritage Listed rainforest is nestled within Barron Gorge National Park in Kuranda, just a 20 minute drive from Smithfield in Cairns. It houses an awesome large network of thousands-of-years-old trails, originally blazed by the Djabugay Aboriginal people who walked them for trade, to gather seasonal food and visit ceremonial sites. Later the Douglas Track was an important route to the goldfields on the Tablelands. There’s a few ways to reach Glacier Rock (check out the map here) but this is my preferred route.

To get here: follow your GPS to ‘Speewah Regional Park Campground’ and park up just before it, opposite the Djina-Wu Track sign (Djina-Wu means ‘Let’s go walking’). Take this short 765m trail. It begins on a boardwalk before leading you to a junction where you’ll begin the Douglas Track, then it’s another 3.75km on this trail. The route is really well signed and an obvious path.

We saw a few cassowary poos on this trail and I’m pretty sure we heard one nearby but they’re so hard to spot sometimes in the thick rainforest! Though we were lucky to see two crossing the road as we drove back to Cairns.

Close to the top (after about 1.5 hours of walking) you’ll come to a crest with a sign to your right saying ‘Glacier Rock’. Take it and walk 250m up to the lookout for incredible views. Without stopping time, we completed the return track in 3.5hrs.

Did you know?… This was the first national park in Queensland to receive a native title determination. It took 10 years for the Djabugay Bama Aboriginal Peoples to have their application approved, and they’ve been actively managing the park alongside Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service since 2004.

Glacier Rock Lookout at Barron Gorge National Park, Kuranda // Travel Mermaid

4. Barron Falls and Surprise Creek Track

◇ Barron Falls – 1k return/40 minutes/easy

◇ Surprise Creek – 3.2k return/1.5 hrs/moderate – with option to extend

Barron Falls in Kuranda, Far North Queensland // TravelMermaid

Staying in the hippie village of Kuranda and these ancient trails, here are two other hikes I’ve done a couple of times at Barron Gorge National Park around Cairns.

Barron Falls is a really impressive waterfall that shouldn’t be missed. The walk to it is on a boardwalk through the rainforest which is scenic and beautiful with lots of lush vegetation.

As it’s only a short walk, it’s nice to combine it with a longer trail and there’s one just down the road. Simply drive a few more minutes to Wrights Lookout (below) to begin the Surprise Creek Track.

I enjoyed this longer route because it was also quiet and peaceful, the creek area is pretty and the lookout at the start is gorgeous. It’s also only a moderate hike, half flat and half hilly, so not too strenuous.

If you fancy something  little extra, then there’s an option to continue past Surprise Creek onto the Mcdonald’s Track. From here you can also access Glacier Rock Lookout, or keep going south to reach Stoney Creek. The possibilities here are endless!

Wrights Lookout at Barron Gorge National Park in Kuranda // Travel Mermaid

Surprise Creek Track at Barron Gorge National Park in Kuranda // Travel Mermaid

Getting here: to reach Din Din Barron Falls first, set your sat nav to take you there (it’s just a bit further on the highway past Kuranda Village). It has a big car park as this waterfall gets popular.

Then it’s a 500m stroll to the waterfall on a rainforest boardwalk that winds 8 meters above the canopy. There’s a railway station right next to the falls too which I think may be one of the most scenic stops in Queensland.

Once you’re done at Din Din, head back onto Barron Falls Road and chuck a left onto Wrights Lookout Road, then it’s just a few minutes drive to the viewpoint where you’ll park. Enjoy the vista! (you’re kind of given the reward at the beginning but hey!).

Then continue on to the start of the Surprise Creek Trail just ahead, which is a wide service track. It was interesting to see how the rainforest changes from wet and dense to drier as you get closer to the creek. The creek isn’t very deep so it’s not swimmable but it’s a nice spot to cool off. It’s a 3.2 return walk that took us about an hour.

Surprise Creek Track at Barron Gorge National Park in Kuranda // Travel Mermaid

If you’re feeling hungry after, we always enjoy heading into Kuranda for a bite to eat. If the original rainforest markets are still open (check their web for opening hours), then I really like the savoury crepes at Le Petit Cafe (they have sweet ones too). Or for something more naughty, then a good snag and beer at German Tucker should do the trick.

5. Stoney Creek Weir Track and Falls

4k return/1.15 hrs/easy

Stoney Creek Falls in Cairns // Travel Mermaid

The Stoney Creek Track is another local’s favourite, so it can get busy, but unlike Crystal Cascades it’s not on a paved trail. It’s a good one if you fancy a short and easy hike in Cairns with a safe swimming spot, a winner if you’ve got kids.

The path begins by the creek and continues through the rainforest on a stony track to a pretty waterfall. It’s at the south end of the Barron Gorge National Park by the Cairns outer suburb of Kamerunga, just a 20 minute drive from the CBD.

The historical weir at Stoney Creek used to supply water to Cairns. Although no longer operational, it could potentially be used in the future. It’s predicted that Cairns’ water supply will no longer be able to meet demand in the next 5 years due its growing population!

To get here: drive to Stoney Creek carpark off the Western Arterial Road, and the walking track is just ahead. It starts on a small concrete bridge (which was erected to support a waterpipe that leads to the wier) and then continues on a disused instillation and maintenance track. Note: At the beginning you’ll see a sign and path to your right that leads to Glacier Rock which is another option if you want to extend your walk (roughly a 7.1k return).

To reach the Old Weir Falls, continue ahead on the main trail. There’s a bit of uphill walking at the beginning but then it flattens off. You’ll be trotting beside the old waterpipe the whole way.

After 20 minutes you’ll reach the weir at the top and see a nice top-down view of the falls. Then retrace your steps a little and walk down a short steep path to get to the bottom of the falls, take your shoes off and walk over the rocks.

The waterfall plunges about 8 metres and the pool at the bottom is quite shallow so only suitable for a paddle. However there’s a deeper swimming hole above the Old Wier if you fancy a bit of of a climb and rock hop to get there.

You can also stop at any point along the main path for a refreshing dip, there’s a few short trails that branch off for easy access. Most pools are pretty shallow, maybe up to thigh height in certain parts, though there’s a deeper swimming hole near the start of the hike. To get there, take a left turn just after the bridge and walk upstream for a couple of minutes.

Stoney Creek Track in Cairns // Travel Mermaid

6. Green Arrow Track

7.8k return/3.5 hrs/moderate to hard

Views at Green Arrow Track, Mount Whitfield National Park in Cairns // Travel Mermaid

Green Arrow Track in Mount Whitfield National Park in Cairns // Travel Mermaid

The ‘Arrow’ tracks are located at Mount Whitfield Conservation Park in Edge Hill (close to the Cairns Botanical Gardens) and there’s four hikes here. There’s a Red Arrow Track (the shortest and easiest), a Yellow Arrow (coming up next), a Blue Arrow (only accessible via any of the other trails) and the Green Arrow.

I’d highly recommend having a go at all of them at some point if you’re a local, but not in a single day! The next two hikes I’ll be detailing were done on seperate days and I really enjoyed them both for different reasons. Click here to see a bigger map.

Mount Whitfield Arrow Tracks map, Cairns // Travel Mermaid

The Green Arrow is pretty strenuous and very steep in sections, so it’s a great glute workout. The view at the start and end offers gorgeous 360 views of Cairns City and the green outer suburbs (we came in the wet season which is why it looks pretty grey!). We also spotted quite a bit of flora and fauna, like some funky mushrooms, a huge stick insect and a monitor lizard. It was an interesting hike, really peaceful too and the time passed quickly.

To start: drive to the end of Bel Air Drive and park up (such a lovely suburb of Cairns). Pass the gate where the map is, and walk 900m to the start of the trail where you’ll see gorgeous views out to your left. Continue straight until you reach the visible grassy path.

The actual length of the trail is 3k one way, however the 900m return walk to the car park is why I’ve marked the trail as 7.8k return and not 6.

Green Arrow Track in Mount Whitfield National Park in Cairns // Travel Mermaid

The Greek Arrow then leads onto a dirt path with steps along certain parts. It meanders around bends as you wind up the hill and finally levels out as you reach the top. There’s marker signs along the way and it’s well-shaded by the trees on a sunny day.

About  3/4 of the way up you’ll pass the comms tower.

Then after 3k the trail leads into the Blue Arrow. We were enjoying the hike so much that we began a part of it, but then a lightening storm began so we bolted back! I think it would be a nice extension to go to Lumley Hill Lookout though if you have time (approx. 1k more one way).

Once you’ve finished the trail and are heading back to the car on the grassy field, keep left and climb up the small mound where you’ll spot even better 360 views.

Feeling hungry afterwards? Take a short drive to the hip suburb of Edge Hill and check out popular eateries Noa or Ozmosis (pic below)

Lunch at Ozmosis eatery in Edge Hill, Cairns // Travel Mermaid

7. Yellow Arrow Track & Half The Red Arrow to Edge Hill

5k return/2.5 hrs/moderate

Lookout at the Yellow Arrow Track in Edge Hill, Cairns // Travel Mermaid

The Yellow and Red Arrow Tracks are located closer to Edge Hill so they’re more popular, however the Yellow Arrow was only lightly trafficked when we came. The path was a mixture of dirt, concrete and steps so slightly easier than some of the rainforest trails, and it was a nice gradual uphill climb due to all the twists and turns.

As most of the Yellow Track runs parallel to the airport, it was quite noisy from the planes and there was some drilling going on there too. However a perk to that is, closer to the summit there’s an awesome viewpoint leading out to the ocean where you can watch the planes landing and taking off. We sat there for about half hour, it was fun!

Then instead of returning on the same trail, we continued on to complete a tiny bit of the Blue Track which took us onto the Red Arrow, and finished in Edge Hill just in time for lunch. Although the Red Arrow is the busiest trail (because it’s the shortest and easiest, 1.5k in total), it was really pretty with dense forest and bamboo along the way.

Viewpoint along the Yellow Arrow Track in Edge Hill, Cairns // Travel Mermaid

To start: drive to the Yellow Arrow carpark in Aeroglen. Then walk towards the information board and take a right turn to start the Yellow trail (there’s a sign there pointing to ‘Quarry St’). There’s signs all over telling you where to begin and continue the trail so it’s easy to navigate.

As you climb up to the lookout, there’s a few nice viewpoints along the way. Then once you get to the top at the fork, follow the yellow arrow to the grassy patch to watch the planes at the lookout. Neeeow!

Lookout at the Yellow Arrow Track in Edge Hill, Cairns // Travel Mermaid

After, continue on the path past the wooden bench and go down the steps, then take a left to start the Blue Arrow.

Before long you’ll then merge onto the Red Arrow at the fork. It doesn’t really matter if you take a left or right turn when reaching the Red as both paths are about the same length. Taking a left will take you to another viewpoint similar to the ones you’ve already seen along the way. We just took the right path.

As most of the red is a loop, both paths also join further down anyway and you can decide if you want to come out closer to Tanks Arts Centre (go left) or the Botanic Gardens (go right). We steered right as it’s nearer to Ozmosis and Noa for lunch. 😋.

Once you’re ready to head back to the car, go a left on Collins Avenue towards Sheridan St and then take another left before the creek on the walking/bicycle path. You’ll now walk beside the creek and end up back where you started.

8. Earl Hill Summit (Warrkin Track) & Bakarra Track

◇ 3.2k/4k return/1-1.5 hrs/easy-moderate

◇ 5.5k loop/2 hrs/easy-moderate

Views from Earl Hill Summit Track in Trinity Beach // Travel Mermaid

Now I’m taking you to the Cairns’ Northern Beaches to a hiking trail that surprised us recently as it was so lovely. Located at the end of Trinity Park, it’s the only hike you can do in Cairns that finishes up on the beach and it’s recently been extended so there’s three route options which is kinda cool. Whichever route you take there’ll be pretty sweeping sea views.

This is more of a local trail (lucky folks) and even though we came on a Sunday ‘arvo it was only lightly trafficked. We enjoyed it so much that we got carried away and ended up doing both tracks on a loop which made it more varied nature-wise. There’s a fair bit of uphill to Earl Hill Summit but it’s been made easy with a windy trail and steps, it reminded me a lot of the Flagstaff Hill trail in Port Douglas.

So, here’s your options. You can do a simple return walk via the Earl Hill Summit (Warrkin ‘woodland’ trail). It’s a 3.2k return, approx. one hour-ish that takes you to the viewpoint overlooking Double Island and Buchan Point. It offers the best view on the whole trail.

There’s also the return Bakarra (rainforest) walking track which travels more east around Earl Hill and takes you to another pretty viewpoint closer to Half Moon Bay. It’s about 4k, 1.5-hours and there’s plenty of gorgeous vistas throughout. The habitat changes more to rainforest here and we even saw a monitor lizard basking near the lookout.

The trails start at the same place on Robert’s Drive, or you can begin at the newly built staircase on Half Moon Bay beach. I’ll be guiding you through both routes on a 5.5k loop (approx. 2hrs) starting from Robert’s Drive and coming out of Earl Hill at Half Moon Bay Beach. Didn’t even know this little beach existed until now!

To begin: drive to the trailhead on Robert’s Drive and the track starts just after the ‘Earl Hill Conservation Park’ sign. Meander around this path and in about 1.8k you’ll reach the first junction where you can continue up to Earl Hill lookout, or take a right onto the Bakarra trail. Go up to the summit.

Then in about 200 metres you’ll reach another junction which gives you the option to take the new Warrkin Trail or the old trail which is a bit steeper (both are 500m). Take the Warrkin trail up and old trail down to mix it up a bit.

Views from Earl Hill Summit Track in Trinity Beach // Travel Mermaid

At the summit, continue around to take the old trail down and there’s another viewpoint as you go. It’s not difficult, we did this walk in our thongs but you may be more comfy in trainers.

Then continue back to the Warrkin/Bakarra junction and turn left to start the Bakarra Trail.

Soon you’ll see a left turn heading up to the other viewpoint, take it. Then retrace your steps back to the turn and continue down towards Half Moon Bay beach where you’ll start spurring downhill. You’ll pass more viewpoints as you go, plus some pretty wildflowers and palms.

At the beach, take a right and walk for about 250 metres until you come to Trinity Beach Foreshore where the parking lot is.

From here, either walk back to your car on Roberts Drive, or detour for a beer or lunch over at Bluewater by the marina. This whole area is a bit of a wildlife corridor so we saw a wallaby as we walked down Reed Road. This is a lovely area of Cairns.

Half Moon Bay by Trinity Park // Travel Mermaid

9. White Rock Lookout

5.5k return/2 hrs/moderate

White Rock Lookout hike in Cairns // Travel Mermaid

As well as the Douglas Track, this is another of my favourite hikes in Cairns that winds through the rainforest. Even though it was a Saturday afternoon, the trail was quiet and peaceful, and there was lots of interesting pieces of nature to observe. Then at the end you’re prized with ripper views of the Yarrabah Ranges, Trinity Inlet and the outer burbs, I think the best I’ve seen on a hike in Cairns.

To get here: set your sat-nav to the White Rock Lookout Trailhead along Lake Morris Road. The trail isn’t that far from Cairns CBD (approx. 16k) but it’s about a 35 minute drive as the road is narrow and windy, and you’ll need to take it slower as it’s also a popular training road for cyclists and runners.

On the way you’ll pass the newly revamped Campbells Lookout which offers panoramic views towards the city and Coral Sea. Then after is an access gate which closes from 8pm to 8am, so don’t get locked in! It was closed when we first tried to do this hike in the wet season due to flooding, maybe best to check for road closure updates here beforehand.

Park up about 20 metres before the trail on the right by the Dinden National Park sign where there’s space for a few cars on the gravel. Then cross the road and on the left is a metal gate, climb around it to begin.

The track starts on a gravel/grassy 4WD access road before spurring into the rainforest. There’s quite a bit of uphill at the beginning so be prepared for a  bit of a quad workout, then it’s a nice mixture of flat and up. It’s not as steep as the Bump Track in Port Douglas, but there’s more protruding tree roots on the floor to stumble over.

As you reach the first pylon, turn right. Keep going on the main path and then you’ll reach the communication tower which you’ll pass on the right. As you enter the forest, the path narrows but it’s well-worn and clear throughout. There’s also a lot of orange triangular markers to guide you through, so no-ones getting lost today. 🖖🏼

White Rock Lookout track in the Lamb Range // Travel Mermaid

After approximately 2.5k you’ll see a marker on the tree with ‘white’ engraved on it and the path will spur downwards. This is perhaps the hardest bit of the trail as it’s very steep, but there’s a lot of natural footholds from the tree roots and trunks to hold onto as you go down- keep your hands free for this bit as you’ll need them.

White Rock Lookout hike in Cairns // Travel Mermaid

Then there’s two lookouts- one on the left (above) and one on the right (below). The right is the better one as you’ll be standing on White Rock with uninterrupted vistas. Lap it up! If it’s a clear day you’ll see Walsh’s Pyramid out to your right and Green Island out in the Coral Sea.

Views from White Rock Lookout track in Cairns // Travel Mermaid

10. Behana Gorge & Clamshell Falls

6.6k return/2.5-3 hrs/moderate

Behana Gorge Hike and Clamshell Falls // Travel Mermaid

Located at the top end of the Wooroonooran National Park, this hike is just an easy 35 minute drive from Cairns. Although the route is on a paved trail, it’s still pretty because you’re in the rainforest.

This is easily the most gorgeous waterfall and swimming hole close to Cairns, and the 3.3k hike to get there is easy-moderate, a great one for families. To find out more about this hike (plus another awesome one further down), check out my post on waterfalls near Cairns.

Rudge Lookout along the Behana Gorge Walking Trail near Cairns // Travel Mermaid

* * *

So there you have it! 10 awesome hikes and walks in Cairns that I hope you love.

It’s not until I ventured onto these hiking trails that I realised how many lovely green burbs there are on the outskirts of town. It’s easy to see why Cairns is called ‘a city in a garden’! These hikes would also be a great starting point if you’re looking to move up this way.

Gimme More Juice! Extra Hikes Near Cairns

I’ve kept this post all about hikes in Cairns but there are plenty of others nearby too if you’re up for a longer drive. Some are just an hour away if you’re heading into the Atherton tablelands or Port Douglas, and others are within a 2 hour drive past the Daintree ferry crossing.

Here’s some other hikes I’d recommend near Cairns :

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