Located between the oldest rainforest in the world and the stunning Great Barrier Reef, Cairns is one of the best cities to visit in Australia. If you love adventure travel, you are in for a treat!
Although most visitors rush to the Great Barrier Reef, visiting the waterfalls near Cairns should be on your bucket list! There are so many of them and they are stunning!
Going on a day trip from Cairns to the waterfalls is a wonderful experience. These places are so magical, they seem to come straight out of a fairytale!
In this article, we tell you everything about the best waterfalls in Cairns and around.
Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I get a commission if you decide to make a purchase through my links, at no extra cost for you! As an Airbnb Associate, I may earn when you book through these links.
How to get to the waterfalls near Cairns
Firstly, let’s talk logistics! The waterfalls are located in remote places and there is no public transport going there. This leaves you with two options: driving or booking a tour.
Driving from Cairns to the waterfalls
If you have your own car, the best way to get to any of the waterfalls mentioned in this article is driving. It will give you more freedom and flexibility in your plans. You do not need a 4WD to access these locations so that’s not something to worry about.
If you flew to Cairns and don’t have a vehicle, you may consider renting one however, that will only be worth it if you are planning several day trips or even a road trip along the East Coast.
Waterfall tour from Cairns
Booking a waterfall tour is the hassle-free solution. You won’t have to worry about a thing except having fun. The waterfall tour takes you to the best waterfalls near Cairns and is great value for money.
I particularly recommend it for:
- solo and international travellers
- people who don’t want to rent a car
- people short on time who want to make the best of their trip
- visitors who want to discover more about the area and appreciate being with a guide
The Cairns waterfall tour lasts 10-11 hours and includes:
- Transport (to the different stop and transfer from your accommodation)
- Lunch at the pub and afternoon tea
- Visit of Millaa Millaa Falls, Josephine Falls, Dinner Falls, Mount Hypipamee, Atherton Tablelands, Yungaburra and Lake Eachaam.
Map of the most beautiful waterfalls near Cairns
Top 3 Best Cairns waterfalls
There are so many beautiful waterfalls near Cairns and it’s very hard to choose which one are the best ones but 3 of them stand out. Here is our selection of the top 3 waterfalls in Cairns!
Millaa Millaa Falls
Distance from Cairns CBD: 101km – 1 hour 40 minutes
Millaa Millaa is located in the Atherton Tablelands. It takes under 2 hours to get there from Cairns. The nearest town is Millaa Millaa. If you need to grab food, water or coffee, this will be the best place to do so. The name comes from the Mamu aboriginal name “Malay Malay” which refers to a rainforest vine.
This heritage-listed plunge waterfall is the perfect example of a fairytale fall. It’s a true rainforest oasis. The falls are 18.3 metres high and feature a stunning natural pool.
When you get there, you might have this feeling of déjà vu. This is because Millaa Millaa falls were featured in the 1995 “Mysterious Girl” video clip by singer Peter Andre.
There is a picnic area by the waterfall so feel free to take lunch and enjoy your meal there.
It’s also a great place to go for a swim. The water is pretty cool and going for a refreshing swim is particularly pleasant.
Millaa Millaa Falls are part of the waterfall circuit which includes Zillie and Ellijaa Falls, two other breathtaking waterfalls in the area.
Please note that Millaa Millaa Falls are the most famous waterfalls near Cairns and for this reason, it can get pretty busy, especially during peak season. Getting there early is best, especially if you want to get a chance to take beautiful photos.
If you opt for the waterfall tour from Cairns, you will be stopping here.
Distance from Cairns CBD: 75km – 1 hour 4 minutes
Josephine Falls is a multi-level waterfall located in the Wooroonoran National Park. It takes about 1 hour to get there from Cairns. You can park at the Josephine Falls carpark and walk from there. Alternatively, if you are up for a longer hike, you may want to consider going on the Mount Bartle Frere trail.
Josephine Falls are known to be one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Australia. They are often used in commercials and ads. The falls onto multiple levels of rocks before ending up in a big natural rock pool. You will love swimming in the crystal clear water at the bottom.
You can easily spend the whole day at Josephine Falls. Staying in the middle of the rainforest is a wonderful experience and there are loads of walking and swimming opportunities.
You will also find a barbecue and picnic area so make sure to bring some food.
Alternatively, you can opt for the waterfall tour which also includes Millaa Millaa and Dinner Falls. See prices.
Davies Creek Falls
Distance from Cairns CBD: 58km – 1 hour and 4 minutes
Davies Creek Falls are located in Davies Creek National Park, between Cairns and Mareeba.
It takes about 1 hour to drive there from Cairns. You will find a carpark on Davies Creek Road. From there, you can take the bushwalk to the waterfall. It’s only 20 minutes walk (1.1km long).
The path will lead you to 2 lookouts where you can enjoy the views over the National Park.
This is one of the locals’ favourite spot near Cairns. It’s not far and absolutely spectacular. The falls are 75m high, making it one of the highest waterfalls in Queensland. You will be mind blown by the beauty of the place, whether that’s from the top or the bottom.
Along the walk, you will find a couple of rock pools where you can swim. At the end of the trail, you will find a sandy area with picnic tables and barbecues.
Safety tip: There are barriers along the trail and signs indicating not to go on the edge. Please, follow this safety advice at all time. Unfortunately, there have been accidents in the past. These barriers are here to keep you safe and you shouldn’t ignore them, no matter how tempting this may be. The rocks may seem safe but they are slippery.
Best waterfalls in Cairns (less than 30 minutes)
Distance from Cairns CBD: 20km – 25 minutes
If you don’t want to go too far, heading to the Crystal Cascades will be perfect for you. It only takes 25 minutes from the CBD!
These used to be the locals’ best-kept secret but it became a fairly popular spot in the past few years. To avoid the crowds, get there in the morning and avoid school holidays.
From the carpark, take the 1.2km long path to the waterholes. It’s a 30 minutes easy walk. Feel free to go for a swim in the natural pools and river.
The rocks can be slippery though so that’s something to be careful about. Also, some of the waterfalls are pretty high, meaning that there are rock cliffs. No matter what, do not jump from the cliff! There are hidden rocks in the pools and it could be very dangerous to jump. You may see some people doing it, don’t let that influence you. Better safe than sorry!
If you fancy going on a longer walk, you can also opt for the hike to Lake Morris.
You will find barbecues and picnic tables in the car park. If you want to cook something, that’s the place to do so. Once you reach the waterfalls, there will be nothing else than you and the rainforest!
Distance from Cairns CBD: 20km – 25 minutes
The Fairy Falls are located near the Crystal Cascades and you can easily visit both in one day.
It’s a bit of a hidden gem and the path is not clearly indicated. You need to park at the Crystal Cascades carpark and walk past the toilets. From there, you will see a sign about stinging trees and a little path. This is the one! It’s only 300 metres long so it’s pretty quick to get there (15 minutes). If you walk for more than 20 minutes, it’s safe to assume that you are not on the right path.
Please be careful as you head to the Fairy Falls. This is off-the-beaten-path and there are many stinging trees. Stay away from the leaves!
Once you get there, you will discover a beautiful creek with a natural pool and a plunge waterfall. You can swim in the swimming hole.
Although this waterfall is not well known by international visitors, loads of locals head there so it can get pretty busy. To avoid the crowds, head there in the morning.
Stoney Creek Falls
Distance from Cairns CBD: 16km – 21 minutes
Stoney Creek Falls is nestled in the heart of Barron Gorge National Park. It’s one of the closest waterfalls to Cairns as it only takes 20 minutes to get there. From the carpark, take the footpath and the bridge to the waterhole. It’s a good place to swim. If you feel like it, you can also walk a bit more and reach Old Weir Falls.
If you are going on a weekend or during school holidays, Stoney Creek Falls can get a bit busy so it’s a good thing to go to Old Weir Falls. It’s more secluded and less crowded.
Another way you can see Stoney Creek Falls is by train. Here are your 2 options:
- The Savannahlander is a passenger train that travels from Cairns to Forsayth. Along the way, you will be crossing a bridge. From there, you can see perfectly the waterfall! It’s very pretty! This train also stops at Barron Falls, making it the best option in terms of public transport.
- Kuranda Scenic Railway runs from Cairns to Kuranda. It’s one of the best things to do in the area and is the most scenic train trip in Tropical North Queensland. It takes the same bridge than the Savannahlander so you will get to enjoy the same views of Stoney Creek Falls. You should be opting for this one if you want to spend the day in Kuranda. Click here to see the latest prices.
Distance from Cairns CBD: 18km – 24 minutes
Isabella Falls are much smaller than the other ones mentioned in this article however, it’s very easy to get there and is a good place to visit with kids.
You need to drive up to Waterfall Cl and park there. The waterfalls are located beside the road. The swimming holes are pretty shallow but it’s great for a refreshing dip.
You can also choose to walk up (or climb) to the upper level however, that’s not something you should do with kids as it can be very slippery.
Distance from Cairns CBD: 20km – 25 minutes
Located near Crystal Cascades, Woongalee Falls are the ultimate hidden gem near Cairns. Although they are beautiful and pretty impressive, it’s quite difficult to get there. There is no designated path so you will have to make your way and climb the rocks. The current can be strong so you shouldn’t be swimming there.
Visiting Woongalee Falls is an off-the-beaten-path adventure and you should seek advice from the local visitor centres.
Best waterfalls near Cairns (within 1 hour)
Distance from Cairns CBD: 32km – 41 minutes
Located near Kuranda, in the Atherton Tablelands, Barron Falls are the most spectacular waterfalls near Cairns. They are 250 metres high!
Although you can visit them all year round, the best time of the year would be the wet season. There is more water flowing and the sight is even more impressive during the wet season!
For fantastic views, make sure to go on the Din Din Barron Falls Lookout track. It’s only 1.4km long and takes 40 minutes to complete. It’s an easy walk that is also wheel-chair accessible. Once you get to the lookout, you will be amazed by the views!
Another way to experience Barron Falls is from the Kuranda Scenic Railway. See prices here.
Distance from Cairns CBD: 66km – 57 minutes
This one is actually not really a waterfall but more of a natural pool. That having been said, it’s way too pretty not to be mentioned! Located near the town of Babinda, Babinda Boulders is an excellent place to go swimming. The landscapes are lush and look like they are straight out of a fairytale.
If you are into hiking, you can also go on the waterfall circuit to the top of Mount Bartle Frere.
Babinda Boulders is the subject of an aboriginal story. According to the legend, the pools were created by a young woman from the Yindinji tribe, Oolana. After getting married to an older man from her tribe, she fell madly in love with a young man from another tribe, Dyga. As this adulterous relationship wasn’t allowed, they fled their tribes and were later on captured. Oolana managed to escape but threw herself into the Babinda Boulders out of despair. It is believed that her spirit still haunts the place.
Best waterfalls to see on a day trip from Cairns (within 2 hours)
Distance from Cairns CBD: 107km – 1 hour and 42 minutes
Zillie Falls is one of the three waterfalls you will get to see if you take the Waterfalls circuit in Millaa Millaa. Unlike Millaa Millaa Falls, you can’t really swim there but they are very spectacular and a good place to stop by for a picnic.
Distance from Cairns CBD: 104km – 1 hour and 40 minutes
Ellinjaa Falls are the third waterfalls on the Millaa Millaa Circuit. If you parked in the carpark nearby, it’s only 20 minutes walk. The trail goes downhill. It’s not hard but it’s something to take into consideration.
Once you get to the waterfall, you will discover a little oasis. It’s very peaceful and nowhere as crowded as Millaa Millaa Falls.
You can go for a dip in the pool at the bottom however it’s quite shallow so you won’t be able to swim but it’s quite good for a refreshing break.
Distance from Cairns CBD: 107km – 1 hour and 47 minutes
Halls Falls is located near Atherton, in Herberton Range Conservation Park. It’s only 40 minutes away from Millaa Millaa which means that you can do both the Waterfalls circuit and Halls Falls on the same day.
From the carpark, it’s a short 15 minutes walk to the falls.
You will actually find 2 waterfalls and a natural pool in between. You can swim there.
Malanda Falls Conservation Park
Distance from Cairns CBD: 77km – 1 hour and 20 minutes
Malanda Falls are a small cascade located in the Tablelands. Although not as impressive as the other ones mentioned in this article, they are a nice place to visit if you want to stay away from the crowds and discover a bit of a hidden gem.
From the carpark, you can opt for one of the two 1km walks to the falls: Tulip Oak and Rainforest walk. They are easy walks. You will need between 15 and 30 minutes to complete them.
Distance from Cairns CBD: 131km – 1 hour and 43 minutes
Mungalli Falls are a bit of a hidden gem in Australia. They are the only privately-owned World Heritage listed waterfall in Queensland. They are located only 14km away from Millaa Millaa Falls which means that you can visit them on the same day as well.
From the Mungalli Falls Outdoor Education Centre, take one of the walking paths to the lookout. Make sure to keep an eye on your surroundings as Platypus are known to live there and it’s always nice to see them walking around.
Distance from Cairns CBD: 114km – 1 hour and 27 minutes
Located in the Henrietta Creek, Tchupala Falls are a stunning multi-level waterfall. They are situated on the same trail that Wallicher falls and near Nandroya Falls. This means that you can hit not only 2 but 3 birds with the same stone!
Distance from Cairns CBD: 37km – 1 hour and 6 minutes
Located in Wooroonooran National Park, Clamshell Falls are another hidden gem. It only takes 1 hour to get there, making it one of the best day trips from Cairns.
Moreover, you will have to go through Behana Gorge to get there. This is one of the best things about visiting Clamshell Falls. You don’t only get to see the waterfall, you also get to see one of the most beautiful gorges in the country!
The Behana Gorge trail to Clamshell Falls is 6km long. It takes about 2 hours to complete.
I particularly recommend leaving early in the morning so you can also do the Walsh’s Pyramid hike.
Emerald Creek Falls
Distance from Cairns CBD: 73km – 1 hour and 16 minutes
This multi-level waterfall is situated in the Dinden West Forest Reserve, near the town of Mareeba. The walking trail to get there is pretty short (1km) and easy. Once you get to the falls, head to the lower one. It may seem less impressive at first but the natural pool is amazing and it’s a great place to swim.
Distance from Cairns CBD: 93km – 1 hour and 43 minutes
The Caribou Falls are one of the local’s best-kept secret. They are located in the Tablelands. This one is for adventurers. There isn’t a marked trail which means that you need to be extremely careful! It’s recommended to ask at the nearest visitor centre how the trail is. Depending on the weather, it could be less accessible and you don’t want to get into troubles.
Distance from Cairns CBD: 121km – 1 hour and 57 minutes
If you are looking for a very impressive waterfall, this one is for you! Millstream falls are Australia’s widest single-drop waterfall! The walk to get there is pretty short (400m). It only takes 15 minutes to get there.
This waterfall is best for people who want to observe and discover stunning landscapes. Swimming isn’t really possible.
Distance from Cairns CBD: 110km – 1 hour and 55 minutes
This lesser-known waterfalls near Cairns are located in the town of Middlebrook. The walking trail is only 220 metres long but a bit steep. They are actually pretty impressive but not a good place to swim. I particularly recommend to add them to your Millaa Millaa day trip. That way you will discover both famous and secret waterfalls!
FAQ about the waterfalls
Here are some frequently asked questions about the waterfalls in Cairns and the answers!
How far is Millaa Millaa from Cairns?
Millaa Millaa Falls are located 101km away from Cairns. It takes 95 minutes to get there by car. If you don’t have a vehicle, you can also book a day tour from Cairns.
How far from Cairns to Josephine Falls?
Josephine Falls are situated 75 km away from Cairns. It takes 1 hour to get there by car.
Are there crocodiles at Crystal Cascades?
There are no crocodiles or box jellyfish in Crystal Cascades which means you can swim there safely. This is one of the reasons why the locals love this spot that much. It’s one of the rare natural places where you can swim in North Queensland.
Are there crocodiles at Millaa Millaa Falls?
Millaa Millaa Falls are made of freshwater. There are no crocodiles or jellyfish in the natural pool which means you can swim there in all safety.
Can you swim in Millaa Millaa Falls?
Yes, you can swim in Millaa Millaa Falls. The natural pool at the bottom is perfect for a dip. It’s not too big and very pleasant. A lot of people go there to swim.
Can you swim at Malanda Falls?
Unlike most waterfalls in the area, Malanda Falls end in a man-made pool. While the water is not as clear as you may want it to be, you can swim there.
Can you swim in Barron Falls?
No. Barron Falls are beautiful to watch but it’s not somewhere where you can swim. If you want to do so, you will need to go further down to the Barron River or to another waterfall in the Tablelands.
Can you swim at Crystal Cascades?
You can swim in the freshwater swimming hole at the bottom of Crystal Cascades. It’s safe and very pleasant.
Are dogs allowed at Millaa Millaa Falls?
You are not allowed to take a dog to Millaa Millaa Falls however, there are a lot of other dog-friendly activities in the Tablelands.
Tips to visit the waterfalls and plan your trip to Cairns
Best time to visit Cairns and the waterfalls
As a general thing, visiting Cairns during the dry season (April to October) is best. It’s more pleasant, less hot and humid.
That having been said, when it comes to the waterfalls near Cairns, this statement is not always true. During the wet season (November to March), the water flows in abundance and the falls become way more impressive.
If you like the idea of swimming, then the dry season will be the perfect time.
If you’d rather seeing the waterfalls in all their beauty, then the wet season will be better for you.
Where to stay in Cairns
Wondering where to stay in Cairns? Here are some recommendations for places to stay:
- Budget: Tropic Days Boutique Hostel is an amazing hostel, ideally located near the CBD. See prices here.
- Mid-range: Cannon Park Motel is an excellent choice. It’s located near Bruce Highway which means you can easily hit the road and go to the waterfalls. There is a carpark. See prices.
- Luxury: For a luxurious stay, opt for the Pullman Reef Hotel Casino. There are swimming pools, a casino and bars. See prices.
You can also check this list of beautiful Airbnbs in Cairns.
Safety tips to visit the waterfalls
Although visiting the waterfalls near Cairns is a pretty safe thing to do, there are a few things you must be aware of.
- Follow the signs: You will find signs everywhere telling you what you can and cannot do. Please, follow these signs! They are not here to make your visit unpleasant. They are here to keep you safe. If they say not to go to the edge. Don’t go! As tempting as it may be, some places can be dangerous.
- Be aware of insects and leeches: Cairns is located in tropical north Queensland which means that insect and leeches are common there. Although that’s not something to be overly concerned about, it’s worth being careful.
- Don’t touch the stinging trees: Some places (such as the Fairy Falls) are home to a lot of stinging trees. As the name may suggest, they sting! Be aware of them and don’t touch them.
- Wear hiking shoes: No matter where you decide to go, you will have to walk at some point. Rocks can be slippery and sharp so you must wear closed-toe shoes. Do not wear thongs (flip flops)!
- Take eco-friendly sunscreen: Australia is a sunny country and it’s easy to get sunburnt. Wearing sunscreen is a must! As you will be swimming in natural pools, I highly recommend using eco-friendly sunscreen so you don’t pollute the environment.
- Take a Go-Pro: If you have a Go-Pro (or any waterproof camera), make sure to take it! You will use it a lot.
- Don’t jump: Some waterfalls are surrounded by rocks and cliffs. You may see some people jumping in the water. This is not something you should be doing. You never know how deep the water actually is and if there are rocks underneath.
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