The 12 Best Day Trips from Cairns, Queensland: beautiful places to visit & excursions

Visiting Queensland and looking for the best day trips from Cairns, Australia? We are here to help!

Cairns is located in tropical north Queensland. It’s a popular destination for backpackers, outdoor lovers and the ultimate destination on an East Coast road trip.

The city itself is quite small. It’s very easy to explore on foot. Although you can easily spend some time in Cairns CBD, going on day trips is the best way to explore the area.

In this article, you will discover the best Cairns day trips and how to get there!

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Amazing Cairns Day trips to take

Best day trips and places to visit within 1 hour of Cairns

Let’s get started with the nearest places. The following destinations are less than 1 hour away from Cairns which makes them very easily accessible.

Great Barrier Reef

great barrier reef scenic flight

The Great Barrier Reef is Australia’s most famous natural landmark. It stretches over 2,300km, all the way down to the Whitsundays and Fraser Island. It’s so big that you can even see it from space. Not only is it beautiful but it’s also a very important ecosystem. It protects the coast from sharks and is home to thousands of species.

No matter what you do, visiting the Great Barrier Reef is a must-do in Australia. The best places to explore it from are Cairns and Airlie Beach.

HOW TO GET THERE: There are several ways to see the Great Barrier Reef from Cairns:

  • Going on a cruise from Cairns to the Great Barrier Reef: this is the best way to experience the GBR in one day. You will be going on a day cruise from Cairns to the outer and coral reefs. It’s a glass-bottom boat which means that you can admire the stunning corals from the boat. You can also go on a snorkelling tour with a marine naturalist which is very interesting. See prices here.
  • Snorkelling and diving: if you want to see the true beauty of the Great Barrier Reef, you need to go in the water. Snorkelling and scuba diving is the best way to get close to the coral and see many fish! To do that, you can book a snorkelling and diving cruise. See prices here.
  • Going on a scenic flight: the only way to truly understand how big and beautiful the Great Barrier Reef is, is from the sky. By going on a scenic flight, you will get to soak up the stunning views of the reef. See prices here.
  • Booking an all-in-one tour with helicopter flight, cruise and snorkelling. See prices here.

 

Pro tip: If you are planning on going on a road trip on the East Coast and visiting the Whitsundays, I would highly recommend exploring the Great Barrier Reef from there. There are many tours from Airlie Beach and day trips you can take. The Whitsundays are a magical place and it’s well worth it. However, it usually is more expensive. If you are on a budget, then exploring the Great Barrier Reef from Cairns is the best option. But if you want to get the best of everything, skip the GBR for now and opt for another Cairns day trip listed in this article.

 

Fitzroy Island

Visiting Fitzroy Island QLD from Cairns
Photo Credit: TristanBMery via Canva Pro

Located only a short boat trip away (45 minutes), Fitzroy Island is one of the most popular day trips from Cairns. It’s the perfect tropical island. It has everything you expect an island in tropical North Queensland to be like.

From there, you can explore the Great Barrier Reef and go snorkelling or scuba diving. 

But the best thing to do is to adventure yourself on the island itself. The beaches are insanely white and beautiful. There is even a nude beach!

Make sure to take hiking shoes as you will want to go on one of these wonderful trails:

  • Summit Track (2.6km return, 3 hours)
  • Secret Garden Track (1km return, 45 minutes)
  • Nudey Beach Track (1km return, 45 minutes)

HOW TO GET TO FITZROY ISLAND: The best way to get there is by booking a day tour. It includes a ferry transfer from Cairns to Fitzroy Island, snorkelling, hiking and lunch. 

Click here to see the latest prices and availability. 

 

Green Island

Visiting Green Island QLD
Photo Credit: Oxime via Canva Pro

If you’d rather discovering a hidden gem near Cairns and stay away from the crowds, visiting Green Island will be the perfect day trip for you!

Green Island is another tropical island near Cairns. It only takes 45 minutes to get there and there is a lot to see and do!

Green Island is surrounded by coral which makes it the perfect place to go snorkelling. You can also opt for a glass-bottom boat ride if you don’t want to get wet. 

You will also find amazing boardwalks on the island. If you like hiking, you will love those!

It’s placed under the protection of Australia parks. The aboriginal name for it is Wunyami.

HOW TO GET TO GREEN ISLAND: Getting to Green Island is very easy. You can book a day tour which includes the transfer, lunch and activities on site. The tour provider also offers packages with snorkelling and/or glass-bottom boat rides.

Click here to see the latest prices.

 

Kuranda

Day trip from Cairns to Kuranda
Photo credit: Takehito via Canva Pro

If you are not into water activities, going on a day trip from Cairns to Kuranda will be a better choice for you. 

Kuranda is a mountain town located only 30 minutes from Cairns. It’s the ideal place to visit if you want to discover what Far North Queensland is really like. It’s a tropical town with a strong historical background. There is a bit of everything and will make happy all kinds of visitors, even kids and backpackers!

The main attractions are the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway and the Kuranda Scenic Railway.

The Kuranda Scenic Railway is a historical train that will take you around the town. Not only is the experience very unique but it’s also a great way to experience the Australian culture, landscapes and learn more about history.

For fantastic views, the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway is the way to go. This 7.5-kilometre scenic tourist cableway runs above the Barron Gorge National Park. It goes from Smithfield to Kuranda and is an amazing journey!

If you are travelling with kids, consider going to the Australian Butterfly sanctuary.

Finally, Kuranda is also an excellent destination for outdoor lovers. There are many hiking trails you can take. You can also opt to go rafting on the Barron River

HOW TO GET TO KURANDA: If you have a car, you can drive to Smithfield or Kuranda and hop on the railway and cableway. Click here to see the prices.

Alternatively, you can book a day tour with transfer included. You will be picked up at your accommodation in Cairns and go to Smithfield to take the cableway up to Kuranda before exploring the town and take the train.

Click here to see the latest prices and availability.

 

Wooroonooran National Park

Wooroonooran National Park in Australia
Photo credit: 4FR via Canva Pro.

Situated 1 hour south of Cairns, Wooroonooran National Park is often overlooked by visitors but yet, has so much to offer. If you love swimming in natural waterholes, you are in for a treat!

The main attraction in Wooroonooran is Josephine Falls but Babinda Boulders, Behana Gorge, Goldsborough Valley, and Nandroya Falls are also worth a visit.

If you like hiking, you will also find loads of trails. Make sure to wear your swimsuit as you will want to go for a dip. The flora is also incredible. You will discover amazing trees!

Walsh’s Pyramid is a half-day hike that will take you up to the summit of one of the most beautiful natural pyramid in the world. The views from the top are breath-taking.

For more stunning views, you may also want to consider going on the Johnston River Lookout walk and the Mamu Tropical Skywalk.

HOW TO GET THERE: You can easily get there by car. There are many free carparks on site. The distance will vary depending on the activities you want to do. Walsh’s Pyramid is only 26km from Cairns (30 minutes) where as Josephine Falls is 75 km away (1h).

If you don’t have a vehicle, there are two day tours you can book:

 

Palm Cove

Palm Cove in Queensland near Cairns
Photo Credit: AustralianCamera via Canva Pro.

Looking for a beach day trip from Cairns? Welcome to Palm Cove!

Located 30 minutes north of Cairns, Palm Cove is a coastal suburb its sandy beaches and proximity to the Great Barrier Reef.

Unlike the other day trips mentioned in this article, this one is more about relaxing and enjoy a bit of tranquillity. The first thing you should do in Palm Cove is going to the beach. It stretches over 1 kilometre so you will have plenty of room! Although you can swim there, make sure to check the signs and only go in the water where it’s allowed. I know it’s tempting to go swimming but tropical north Queensland is also home to sea animals that can kill you so don’t try it!

After the beach, don’t forget to walk along the esplanade. It’s a very pleasant walk. You can even take a skateboard or a bike. You will find loads of restaurants and ice-cream parlour there. 

HOW TO GET THERE: It’s only an easy 30 minutes drive from Cairns to Palm Cove so if you have a car, this is the best way to get there. Alternatively, you can get a taxi or book a transfer from Cairns airport to Palm Cove.

 

Best day trips and places to visit within 2 hours of Cairns

Want to see more around Cairns? If you don’t mind going a bit further, there is a whole new world of day trip destinations opening itself up. Here are some beautiful places to visit within 2 hours of Cairns.

 

Millaa Millaa

Millaa Millaa Falls near Cairns Queensland

If you love waterfalls, Millaa Milla will be your paradise! It’s home to some of the most beautiful waterfalls in Australia!

As you get to the Millaa Millaa Falls, you may have this feeling of déjà vu. This is normal! It was featured in the song “Mysterious Girl” by singer Peter Andre back in 1995. Loads of people watched that video clip so that’s where you know the waterfall from. If you don’t, I highly recommend taking a few minutes to watch it!

Millaa Millaa Falls are what we would call “the perfect waterfall”. They are 18m high and surrounded by lush plants and trees. The water falls into a waterhole with pristine water. The sound is amazingly relaxing. Everything about these waterfalls is pretty magical. You can also swim there if you want to.

Make sure to bring a picnic. There are many picnic tables around and it’s a very nice thing to do.

Ellinjaa Falls and Zillie Falls in Millaa Millaa

While you are in the area, make sure to check out the other waterfalls: Ellinjaa Falls and Zillie Falls. To do that, you can drive to both locations and park your car in the carpark across the road. You will then need to walk down for a few minutes and will discover the waterfalls. But if you feel like going on an adventure, opt for the 17km Waterfall circuit loop. It’s the best way to discover the 3 waterfalls!

HOW TO GET TO MILLAA MILLAA: If you are driving, enter “Millaa Millaa Falls” in your GPS. It takes 1h45 to get there. Otherwise, you can opt for a day tour from Cairns (which also includes Atherton Tablelands and Josephine Falls).

Click here to see the latest prices and availability.

 

Atherton Tablelands

Visiting the Atherton Tablelands in Queensland

Although technically speaking Kuranda and Millaa Millaa are part of the tablelands, it’s worth mentioning Atherton Tablelands as a destination in itself. 

The Tablelands are a vast region (65,000 sq metres) but the main towns are Atherton and Mareeba. There are many hiking trails in the area and it’s a great place to discover the different landscapes. In the tablelands, you can walk in the forest and enjoy amazing views over the plateau. It feels less tropical and more “countrylike”.

There are also loads of lakes. You can walk around them. It’s very pretty and an easy stroll.

Waterfall in the Atherton tablelands

Here are some hikes worth going on:

  • Mount Ida Firetrail – Herberton (5.7km circuit – 2hrs – moderate)
  • Peterson Creek Walking Track – Yungaburra (5km circuit – 1.5hrs – easy)
  • Hallorans Hill – Atherton (3km – moderate)
  • Jungaljungal Walk – Lake Tinaroo (8.2km – 3.5hrs – moderate)
  • Yabi Mountain and Mt Baldy – Atherton (8.5km – moderate to hard)
  • Torpedo Bay – Lake Tineroo (8km circuit – 2.5hrs – moderate to hard)
  • Lake Barrine (6km circuit – 1.5hrs – easy)
  • Davies Creek Falls – Mareeba (1.1km – 1h – easy)
  • Granite Gorge – Mareeba (2-3km circuit – 1.5hrs – easy)

HOW TO GET TO ATHERTON: It takes an hour and a half to get to Atherton from Cairns, by car. Alternatively, you can book a day tour from Cairns (which also includes Millaa Millaa and Josephine falls.

Click here to see the latest prices and availability.

 

Port Douglas

View of Port Douglas in Queensland

Port Douglas is where the rainforest meets the reef, making it an all-in-one destination in Tropical North Queensland. It’s a popular holiday destination. Sea views, outdoors, beach, restaurants… Port Douglas truly has it all! 

Even though it’s worth spending a few days in Port Douglas, it’s also a good day trip from Cairns. There is plenty to do in Port Douglas so you won’t be bored for a single second!

Best things to do in Port Douglas

Here are some ideas:

  • Relaxing on the beach – The Four Mile Beach is an incredibly pretty beach. Palm trees, soft sand… it has it all! There is a patrolled area where you can swim. As the beach is very wide, it’s also a good place to play frisbee, volleyball or other beach games.
  • Going on a scenic flight to the Great Barrier Reef. See prices here.
  • Shopping at the Port Douglas markets – If you are visiting on a Sunday, make sure to visit the markets. You will find food, jewellery… and plenty more!
  • Going on a Catamaran cruise to the Outer Reef. See prices here.
  • Going on a hot balloon ride and admire the beauty of the Tablelands. See prices here.
  • Going snorkelling in one of the secluded islands. See prices here.

HOW TO GET TO PORT DOUGLAS: It takes a bit over an hour to get to Port Douglas from Cairns. The best way to get there is by car. There are also a few buses going there every day. Port Douglas Bus is one of the providers you can check out. Finally, if you want to go straight from/to the airport, you can book this transfer.

 

Mission Beach

Relaxing on the beach in Mission Beach

Located 1h45 drive south of Cairns, Mission Beach is one of the best coastal towns in Australia. This tropical paradise is a popular destination for families who want a relaxing beach escape and backpackers who love outdoor activities.

The most obvious thing to do is to head to the beach and enjoy a relaxing few hours but if you are up for a bit of a walk, make sure to go up to the summit of Bicton Hill. This 4kms hike takes 2 hours to complete. Once you get to the top, you will discover stunning views of Mission Beach. Most visitors head straight to the beach and completely overlook this walk. This is a mistake you don’t want to make.

Views from Bicton Hill in Mission Beach

Mission Beach is also one of the best places in Australia to skydive. Thrill-seekers come from all over the country (and world) to skydive here! It’s one of the rare places where you can land on the beach! During the jump, you can also admire the jaw-dropping views over the Great Barrier Reef. Click here to see the latest prices.

HOW TO GET TO MISSION BEACH: You can easily drive from Cairns to Mission Beach. It takes a bit under 2 hours. 

If you don’t have a car (or don’t want to rent one), you can book a Greyhound bus ticket.

Tully

If you like to discover hidden gems, going on a day trip to Tully will be ideal for you. Although Tully is a pretty big town in Queensland, most visitors never bother visiting. Yet, there are a lot of things to do in the area, especially for outdoor lovers.

The best place to visit is the Tully Gorge National Park. It’s home to beautiful waterfalls such as the Tully Falls and the Tully River where you can go rafting. See prices here.

You will also find a plethora of walking trails in the Tully Valley. Make sure to check out Mount Tyson. The panoramic views from the lookout are stunning!

If seeing all the Australian “Big Things” is on your bucket list, then you can check another off the list! Tully is home to the Golden Gumboot which is, in effect, a giant gumboot!

HOW TO GET TO TULLY: It takes 1h50 to drive from Cairns to Tully. This is from far the best way to get there, especially since you will need to get around to explore the National Park.

Alternatively, you can take a Greyhound bus to Tully but it won’t be easy to get around from there.

Best day trips and places to visit within 3 hours of Cairns

Cape Tribulation & Daintree Rainforest

Things to do in Daintree rainforest

Going to Cape Tribulation and the Daintree Rainforest is a must-do when visiting North Queensland. It’s a bit further than all the other destinations mentioned in this post however, it’s well worth the effort because the road trip in itself is a journey too!

The Daintree Rainforest is the oldest rainforest in the world and lies by the Great Barrier Reef. A bit further up, Cape Tribulation offers the perfect combination between rainforest and beaches. 

Day trip from Cairns to Cape Tribulation

Here are the best things to do in Daintree and Cape Trib:

  • Bloomfield Track
  • Cruising the Daintree River
  • Going up to the Alexandra Lookout (although you will need a 4WD for that)
  • Admiring the wildlife (Cassowaries, kangaroos…)
  • Elevated boardwalk
  • Animal Refuge centre
  • Bungy jumping (prices here)
  • Relaxing on the beach of Cape Tribulation
  • Mossman Gorge

Please note that if you have a bit of time to spare, you may want to stay overnight and camp in Cape Tribulation. It’s a very unique experience.

HOW TO GET THERE: You will need to leave early to get there as it takes about 3 hours. It is an easy drive from Cairns but some parts require a 4WD. You can explore the area with a 2WD but that’s something you should be aware of as you won’t be able to go everywhere.

To make the best of your time, you should opt for an organised day tour from Cairns. It includes transport and lunch.

Click here to see the latest prices and availability.

Daintree Forest is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the aboriginal culture is all around. If you’d like to learn more about this aspect, you may want to opt for a guided tour with an aboriginal guide.

Click here to see the latest prices and availability.

 

Now that you know everything about the best Cairns day trips, pack your bag and have fun!

 

You may also be interested in:

The 21 Best Waterfalls near Cairns, Queensland

18 Incredibly Unique & Best Airbnbs in Cairns, Queensland

17+ Best Airbnbs in Queensland to book for your next holiday

Places to see in Australia

Man-made landmarks in Australia

Best places to skydive in Australia

 

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The best day trips from Cairns Queensland