Set amongst mighty mountain ranges and lush World Heritage listed rainforest, there are a myriad of waterfalls near Cairns that each offer something unique to photograph. You will find everything from gentle, dreamy waterfalls flowing to an almost meditative cadence, to powerful, crashing falls creating misty, magical scenes.
We have created this guide to help you plan some of the best day trips possible from Cairns, with a focus on the incredible waterfalls nearby.
Discover fairytale scenery amidst rich, tropical rainforest, pristine blue swimming holes, and distinctive rock formations as you explore the many waterfalls near Cairns.
On your journey, you may even encounter native wildlife such as tree kangaroos, platypus, cassowary and even glow worms! Tropical North Queensland is truly a treasure trove of natural wonders.
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Top 17 Best Waterfalls near Cairns
Tucked away in Far North Queensland on the East Coast of Australia, Cairns has an incredible amount of nearby waterfalls. Taking a day trip to these beautiful falls is one of the best things to do in Cairns. This list will help you discover what we consider to be the top 17 best waterfalls near Cairns.
They are all easily reached within a day trip from Cairns and many can be visited on the same day or added to bigger Cairns day trips. Mostly set in the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area, the waterfalls in Tropical North Queensland are some of the best in all of Australia!
Map of All the Best Waterfalls near Cairns
We’ve put together a map of all the best waterfalls near Cairns to help you plan the perfect waterfall chasing day trip! You will want to have this map open for reference as you read through this post. To do that, open it in a new tab by simply clicking the image below.
The Best Waterfalls near Cairns:
Cairns Waterfall Circuit
The Cairns Waterfall Circuit (or Atherton Tablelands Waterfall Circuit) is a common term you’ll hear in Cairns! It refers to three waterfalls on a 17km loop circuit along Theresa Creek in the Atherton Tablelands. These three waterfalls are Millaa Millaa Falls, Ellinjaa Falls and Zillie Falls.
These three falls are easily accessible on a day trip from Cairns, with plenty of time to include some of the other waterfalls on our list as well.
Both Millaa Millaa Falls and Ellinjaa falls have picnic and BBQ areas, with toilets at Millaa Millaa. I’d highly recommend packing a picnic and making the most of your day by having lunch in one of these beautiful settings. All three waterfalls are family-friendly and easily accessed via clear walking tracks from the car parks.
As these three waterfalls are commonly visited together, it made sense to cover them first. Directly following, we will tell you all about some of the other amazing waterfalls near Cairns!
Millaa Millaa Falls
Millaa Milla Falls is nestled against lush tropical rainforest and makes up one of three waterfalls that are often referred to as the “Cairns Waterfall Circuit”. The other two waterfalls in this circuit, only minutes away, are Zillie Falls and Ellinjaa Falls.
This 18m heritage-listed waterfall was made famous by a Herbal Essences commercial and a 90s pop-video. It is now perhaps the most famous waterfall near Cairns, if not all of Australia! As soon as you arrive in Cairns, you will see photos of this waterfall at every tour agency!
The cool water provides a perfect spot for a refreshing dip. However, it does get busy later in the day when the tour buses arrive. Then, you can expect plenty of tourists trying to recreate their own Herbal Essences hair-flick photos!
Apparently, platypus also live here so if you arrive early you may be lucky enough to spot one, although sightings are rare!
Pro Tip: As it is so famous, this is also one of the busiest of the Cairns waterfalls. with tour buses stopping here all day. Get here early for the best chance of having it to yourself.
Distance to Millaa Milla Falls from Cairns
101km (1 hour 34 minutes drive).
Hike Time to Millaa Millaa Falls
Zero! The car park is located RIGHT next to the waterfall.
Out of the three waterfalls on the Cairns Waterfalls Circuit, Ellinjaa was our favourite. This impressive waterfall tumbles down over a series of lava rock columns creating a textured effect to the falls.
The water in the pool here is shallow and, therefore, not a great spot for swimming. However, there is a hidden ledge behind the waterfall where you can sit and marvel at its beauty!
Platypus and turtles are often spotted in the water here too, so keep an eye out for them.
Distance to Ellinjaa Falls from Cairns
105km (1 hour 36 minutes drive)
Hike Time to Ellinjaa Falls
A few minutes. There is a 200m walkway from the car park.
The final stop on the Atherton Tablelands Waterfall Circuit is Zillie Falls. These spectacular 30m falls are visible from a viewing platform located close to the car park. Zillie Falls also receives less visitors than the other two waterfalls on the circuit.
It is possible to reach the bottom of the falls via an unofficial track. However, I’ve yet to discover where the track to get there is! It is apparently only a short 35-minute return route but is a muddy and slippery scramble.
There is also a resident colony of flying foxes that can often be spotted near the car park, so keep a lookout for those.
Distance to Zillie Falls from Cairns
107km (1 hour 39 minutes drive)
Hike Time to Zillie Falls
A few minutes to the upper viewing platform from the car park.
35-minute return route to the base of Zillie Falls.
READ MORE: Best Things to Do in Cairns
Other Waterfalls near Cairns
While not part of the Cairns Waterfalls Circuit, these waterfalls all still deserve a visit! In fact, some are even better than those included on the waterfall circuit.
We’ve listed our favourite waterfalls near Cairns mostly in order of proximity from Cairns, starting with the closest first, to aid your planning.
Despite being one of the closest Cairns waterfalls, Crystal Cascades is still a bit of a local secret. While it has gained more popularity recently, it’s still something of a hidden gem, tucked away in tropical rainforest in the Redlynch Valley.
Crystal Cascades is comprised of a series of tumbling falls and pristine swimming holes, surrounded by impressive granite boulders. You’ll find the largest and most impressive waterfall at the end of the track. There’s also a large swimming hole here so you can cool off after the short hike.
Be careful here as there are many hidden submerged rocks. Keep an eye out for warning signs and use common sense – in other words, don’t just jump in!
For the adventure seekers looking for things to do in Cairns, the granite boulders at Crystal Cascades make it a popular spot for canyoning. There are a few tour companies that offer abseiling and zip-lining adventures through this part of the rainforest.
Distance to Crystal Cascades from Cairns
19.6km (20 minutes drive)
Hike Time to Crystal Cascades
The most impressive falls at the end of the Crystal Cascades track require a 30-minute walk along a 1.2km well-maintained track. However, there’s plenty of other smaller cascades and swimming holes along the way.
Another hidden gem, Fairy Falls is only minutes from Crystal Cascades so it makes sense to visit both on a day trip from Cairns. Fairy Falls provides a picturesque oasis shaded by the rainforest canopy. Complete with a rope swing, it is the perfect place for a refreshing dip without the crowds.
To reach Fairy Falls, take the unmarked dirt trail at the top of the Crystal Cascades carpark. The path is well-trodden and opens up to the creek. You’ll need to hop a few rocks but it’s a relatively easy track to follow. The reward is well worth the little extra effort as you arrive at your own little slice of tropical paradise.
Pro tip: When the track forks, do NOT head uphill! Keep following the creek to reach Fairy Falls.
Distance to Fairy Falls from Cairns
19.6km (20 minutes drive)
Hike Time to Fairy Falls
About 15 minutes, including a bit of rock hopping and scrambling.
Next up on this list of best waterfalls near Cairns is Barron Falls. These enormous falls are truly the most impressive of the Cairns waterfalls. Comprised of 4 steep tiered drops, the tallest being 107m and with a total width of 259m, Barron Falls is one of the largest waterfalls near Cairns.
Located near Kuranda in Barron Gorge National Park, for much of the year only a gentle trickle is visible. However, during the wet season, these falls transform into a thunderous roar creating a spectacular, dramatic scene. With that said, they are still worth a visit no matter what time of the year.
There are several ways to view Barron Falls. There is a suspended walkway from Kuranda village that takes you to Din Din Barron Falls lookout, where you’ll discover spectacular views over Barron Gorge and the waterfalls.
You can reach the lookout via Barron Falls Road by car, or opt to take the Scenic Railway from Cairns. The Scenic Railway will take you to the viewpoint but with incredible vistas along the way. Another bonus to the Kuranda scenic railway is that you’ll pass Stoney Creek Falls so you get two falls for the price of one!
Alternatively, you can also take the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway that runs from Smithfield, north of Cairns. From the Skyrail, you’ll have unparalleled views looking down into the gorge and over Australia’s Wet Tropics World Heritage Area. Additionally, there is another viewpoint accessible from the Skyrail.
Couple seeing Barron Falls with a visit to Kuranda (the “village in the clouds”) for a great day trip from Cairns. For the perfect trip, travel one way by scenic railway and the other by Skyrail. The easiest way to do this is by booking a self-guided day tour from Cairns. This includes pick up from your accommodation, tickets for the Scenic Railway and Skyrail Cableway, and visits to the best viewpoints. Click here to check prices and book a tour.
Distance to Barron Falls from Cairns
32km (36 minutes drive)
Hike Time to Barron Falls
The boardwalk to Din Din Barron Falls Viewpoint is a 1.2km return walk. It is suggested to allow 40 minutes for the walk. It’s an easy walk and the walkway is wheelchair-accessible, with assistance.
Behana Gorge and Clamshell Falls
Situated in Wooroonooran National Park just south of Cairns, Behana Gorge and Clamshell Falls are another local secret. Despite being only a half-hour from Cairns, these spectacular sights are rarely visited by tourists. But for those who do venture here, you’re in for a real treat!
Awaiting you lies a deep gorge with raging water cascading over granite boulders and creating unspoiled swimming holes, all surrounded by lush rainforest. Part of the Cairns Regional Council water area, Cairns city’s drinking water is sourced from Behana Gorge – which should give you some idea as to the quality of the water here!
Reaching Clamshell Falls requires a reasonable amount of fitness as, although paved, the hike is mostly uphill. However, the reward at the end is entirely worth the effort. Additionally, the walk itself follows the creek so you’re treated along the way to stunning views of the gorge. And if you get tired, you’ve got plenty of opportunities for a tranquil rest stop. Enjoy the serenity of this idyllic place and wallow in one of the many small creeks and waterholes to break up the trek!
As you continue on, Clamshell Falls will eventually emerge into sight; a majestic waterfall crashing down into the gorge with a cool swimming hole at its base. A little rock hopping is required to get down to the base of the falls, but it’s an easy task.
Distance to Behana Gorge from Cairns
34.2km (33 minute drive time)
Hike Time to Behana Gorge and Clamshell Falls
Getting to Clamshell Falls requires a 6.4km return hike along a cemented road. Allow 1.5 hours for the walk, plus time to enjoy Behana Gorge and the falls. Although entirely concreted, the trek is undulating and mostly uphill on the way there, and gets pretty steep at times.
Babinda Boulders and Babinda Creek
Around the little town of Babinda, south of Cairns, is Babinda Creek and a series of rapids and small cascades. While there is a two-tiered waterfall, Babinda Falls, I never quite ventured that far as it requires quite a hike along the creek. It is well worth taking a stroll in this area and immersing yourself in the tropical rainforest situated at the foothills of the Bellenden Ker Range.
Babinda is most well known for the Babinda Boulders; a popular swimming hole that is one of Cairns’ top attractions. However, if you venture a little further around the area you will discover many other small swimming holes and cascades.
Pro tip: Take care in this area though as flash floods can occur. Do not go beyond any warning signs as there are very strong undercurrents in some sections.
Distance to Babinda Boulders from Cairns
65.5km (1 hour drive time)
Hike Time to Babinda Boulders
There is a 2km rainforest walk to three lookouts that provides views of the boulder formations and waterfalls. There are a number of walking tracks starting here to explore the area.
Continuing south from Babinda is Josephine Falls. This multi-level waterfall cascades down the Bartle Frere Range through the rainforest creeks of Wooroonooran National Park into a large freshwater pool. Its crystal clear waters provide one of the best swimming holes near Cairns.
What makes Josephine Falls even more appealing is that it has created a natural waterfall rock slide, making it a really fun place to spend some time!
The Mt Bartle Frere trailhead also starts at the Josephine Falls car park. If you’re looking for something adventurous to do in Cairns, this track will take you up Queensland’s tallest mountain!
Distance to Josephine Falls from Cairns
74.9km (1 hour drive time)
Hike Time to Josephine Falls
An approximately 10-minute walk from the car park along a 700m pathway. The walkway is sealed and mostly flat making an easy walk.
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On your way to the Atherton Tablelands Waterfall Circuit from Cairns, you will naturally pass by Malanda Falls on the North Johnstone River. While not the most impressive of waterfalls in Cairns, it is beautiful nonetheless and worth the brief detour.
Although only 4m in height, Malanda Falls is 30m in length as it tumbles over basalt rock formed by an ancient lava flow. The pool that it flows into doubles as a local swimming pool! Personally, I found the concrete surrounding the pool kind of ruined the feel of it.
While the falls themselves only require a quick pit stop, there are some short walks you can take from Malanda Falls. These will take you through the rainforest and provide information on the Aboriginal and European history of the area. They can also be a good place to spot wildlife, including the unique Lumholtz’s Tree-kangaroo and platypus.
There are also facilities here, should you wish to use the bathroom or even have a BBQ!
Distance to Malanda Falls from Cairns
77.4km (1 hour 15 minutes drive time)
Hike Time to Malanda Falls
Pretty much zero hike time to the falls as they are very near the carpark. The rainforest walks from Malanda Falls are 1-1.5km return and are suggested to allow 30-45 minutes.
Hidden within the Misty Mountain is Souita Falls, yet another local secret! Nestled within lush vegetation, Souita Falls is comprised of two tiers and are only a short scenic walk from the car park. The two tiers are each approximately 7-10m tall with a total drop of about 15-20m.
You’ll likely have these falls all to yourself and there is also apparently a way to the base of the falls where you’ll find a small cave. However, we did not find it! The track down is supposedly after you pass over the creek crossing. Let us know if you have better luck than us and are able to find it!
Distance to Souita Falls from Cairns
111km (1 hour 45 minutes drive time)
Hike Time to Souita Falls
The return hike to Souita Falls takes about 15 minutes along an easy track. The first waterfall is about 150m from the carpark and the second another 70m.
A few minutes from Souita Falls is another of the lesser-visited waterfalls near Cairns; Pepina Falls. There is limited parking at the falls but this is unlikely to be an issue as few people venture here! It is also worth noting that the road here is narrow at times and not suitable for caravans.
The top of the waterfall is visible from the parking area. However, take the short but steep trail down to the base for the best views. The water here is shallow, so it is not the best place for swimming but it’s nice to cool off. You’ll likely have this waterfall to yourself, providing a real sense of seclusion amongst wild rainforest.
Distance to Pepina Falls from Cairns
107km (1 hour 42 minutes drive time)
Hike Time to Pepina Falls
Less than 5 minutes to the base down a steep and often slippery track. The top of the waterfall is visible from the car park.
Mungalli Falls is one of the plethora of waterfalls in the Atherton Tablelands. It’s only 15 minutes from Millaa Millaa Falls, making it a great addition to a day trip from Cairns.
Mungalli Falls is unique in that is it the only privately owned World Heritage listed waterfall in Queensland! It is comprised of three tiers totalling 75m together. The photo below shows the middle tier, which is the tallest and prettiest of the three. The first tier, known as Mungalli Cascade, is a wider cascade with an appearance more similar to a flattened version of Pepina or Ellinjaa Falls.
To reach these falls, take the track beginning at Mungalli Falls Outdoor Education Centre which will bring you to different viewing platforms. There’s also platypus viewing areas along the way and apparently glowworms exist here if you are out late enough!
Distance to Mungalli Falls from Cairns
114km (1 hour 25 minutes drive time)
Hike Time to Mungalli Falls
The bush trail is 1.2km in length and it is recommended to allow an hour to explore.
This may have been our absolute favourite waterfall near Cairns. We saw only two other people here and loved that the short walk immerses you in the thick rainforest surrounded by green ferns and strangler fig trees. Additionally, the double-tiered falls allow for ample photography opportunities. This magical waterfall was the one we spent the most time at!
The lower tier of Nanroya Falls forms a wide but short cascade, whereas the top tier has a tall single drop. You can take a well-earned swim here too!
You have the option to reach Nandroya Falls as part of a longer loop walk or a direct in-and-out track. Both options begin at Henrietta Creek camping area. Keep left when the track forks for the shortest route! This will take you up past Silver Falls directly to Nandroya.
Alternatively, if you take the right fork this longer track will wind along Douglas Creek, providing scenic views along the way. You can then come back past Silver Creek Falls to complete the loop.
Distance to Nandroya Falls from Cairns
117km (1 hour 27 minutes drive time)
Hike Time to Nandroya Falls
There is the option to reach Nandroya Falls as part of a 6km loop circuit which is suggested to take 2.5 hours. Alternatively, you can head straight in and out via the same route with is only 4.4km return.
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Wallicher Falls & Tchupala Falls
From Nandroya Falls, you can walk from Henrietta Creek campground along the Wallicher Falls trail to reach both Wallicher and Tchupala Falls. From here it is just over 7km return.
Alternatively, you can drive to a trailhead on Palmerston Highway. This trail requires only a short 500m walk to Tchupala Falls and a further 500m to Wallicher Falls.
Both segmented falls are beautiful and it is possible to reach the base of each to swim.
Distance to Wallicher Falls & Tchupala Falls from Cairns
114km (1 hour 25 minutes drive time)
Hike Time to Wallicher Falls & Tchupala Falls
From the Henrietta Creek campground it is 5km return to Wallicher Falls or 7km return to both Wallicher and Tchupala Falls along an easy track.
From the Palmerston Highway trailhead, Tchupala Falls is only 500m and Wallicher Falls is 1km away.
Alright, as far as Cairns waterfalls go, this one is a bit of a stretch. It is a bit more of a trek from Cairns at 3 hours 30 minutes away. However, Wallaman Falls is so spectacular we just had to include it on this list of best waterfalls near Cairns. And in Australian terms, 287km really is NEAR.
Wallaman Falls, located in Girringun National Park, is Australia’s highest single-drop permanent waterfall, at an impressive 268 metres. This crashing waterfall creates a magical, often rainbow fringed, cloud of mist as the roaring water hits the rocks at the base.
The first lookout provides a great vista capturing the entirety of the scene from above. From this viewpoint, the trail takes you through open forest, into the gorge then onto thick rainforest as you weave your way to the base. On the way down you’ll catch glimpses of this thunderous falls, slowly getting a better impression of the scale of this magnificent waterfall.
At the base of the falls you’ll feel the mist surround you as you look up through a rainbow of colour. It’s one of those places that makes you realise just how tiny you are in this wonderful world!
Distance to Wallaman Falls from Cairns
287km (3 hours 30 minutes drive time)
Hike Time to Wallaman Falls
The hike to Wallaman Falls is via the Djyinda trail. It is a 3.2km return trail with a steep descent to the falls. A moderate level of fitness is required and the track can be slippery at times. Allow 2-3 hours.
Even more waterfalls near Cairns!
While we have included our top 17 best waterfalls near Cairns, there are indeed even more that you could visit! Here is a list of some of the other Cairns waterfalls, which we have also included on the map of waterfalls.
- Stoney Creek Falls
- Isabella Falls
- Davies Creek Falls
- Emerald Creek Falls
- Hartley’s Creek
- Spring Creek
- Kearney Falls
- Vision Falls (Lake Eacham)
- Windin Falls
- Dinner Falls
- Halls Falls
- Millstream Falls
- Cannabullen Falls
- Mena Creek Falls
- Murray Falls
- Blencoe Falls
Practical Tips for Visiting Cairns Waterfalls
In order to ensure you have the best time possible while visiting these Cairns waterfalls, we’ve put together a few practical tips!
The Best Time to Visit these Cairns Waterfalls
Now you know which waterfalls to visit, you might be wondering “when is the best time to visit the waterfalls in Cairns?“. The best waterfalls near Cairns are all permanent and therefore good to visit year-round. However, the strength and flow of these falls vary throughout the year.
Arguably, the best time to visit the waterfalls around Cairns is during the rainy season from December to March. During the annual wet season, the excess rain spills spectacularly over the various rock formations creating even more dramatic scenes at the waterfalls. The falls are much more powerful, which is great for viewing and photographing. However, it can make swimming dangerous due to fast-changing conditions and increased likelihood of flash floods.
With that said, the dry season from April to November certainly has its pros. While some of the larger waterfalls, such as Barron Falls, will not be as impressive, many of the smaller falls are still flowing well. This is a tropical rainforest after all, so despite minimal rainfall in Cairns itself, the surrounding peaks still receive plenty of precipitation.
Additionally, the dry season sees fewer crowds in Cairns and the weather is more comfortable. It is still warm and sunny, but lacks the intense humidity of the summer months.
We visited during the dry season between April and September, and subsequently all the photos in this guide were taken during this time. As you can see, the waterfalls are still worth visiting at this time of year.
Getting to the Best Waterfalls near Cairns
It is worth remembering that Australia is HUGE. On a road trip up to Cairns from Brisbane, we looked at what appeared to be a close dot on the map to discover it was 500km away!
To make the most of your days exploring these Queensland waterfalls , it is best if you have your own transport. If you are only in Cairns for a vacation, then there are many rental car companies to choose from.
If you are lucky enough to be spending longer in Australia on a work holiday visa or something similar, you may even want to consider buying a car to save money.
Driving in Australia is uncomplicated (although remember they drive on the left, which may feel weird if you’re coming from mainland Europe or the USA). This is by far the best option for planning day trips to experience the waterfalls near Cairns.
Cairns Waterfall Tours
If you do not have your own transport, then there are many Cairns waterfall tours that will pick you up and drop you off at your accommodation. While these are more restrictive, they will at least take you to some of the best waterfalls near Cairns so you can experience some more of the beauty of Tropical North Queensland.
This full day waterfall and nature tour from Cairns offers some of the best value for money. It will take you to Josephine Falls and Millaa Milla Falls, as well as to other swimming spots and to see platypus, and includes lunch!
What to Take
You’ll likely be out for the full day if you’re planning on visiting a collection of falls. With this in mind, it’s worth packing the following items:
- Eco-friendly sunscreen – The sun in Australia is no joke and you’ll likely be wanting to swim in the pools along the way. These contain delicate ecosystems that regular sunscreen can damage!
- Reusable water bottle – Take plenty of water with you. Some of the waterfalls have facilities to refill bottles.
- Comfortable shoes – While some trails will be fine in flip flops (or thongs are they’re called in Australia!), others will require a bit of scrambling and therefore proper shoes will be best.
- Insect repellent – You will be in tropical rainforest, which equals bugs! Take some insect repellent to ward off the bitey ones.
- Snacks/Lunch – Depending on your route, you’ll want to bring snacks and possibly lunch. There are picnic and BBQ areas at some of the waterfalls so it’s worth checking the facilities of those you plan to visit.
A few key points to help keep you safe while visiting the best waterfalls near Cairns.
- Jumping and swimming – Take care when jumping into or swimming at any of the waterfalls. There are often hidden rocks and some areas have very strong currents. Always check local signs and information for up to date conditions.
- Leeches – Unfortunately, leeches are fairly common at some of the waterfalls. I picked up a couple at Pepina Falls on my ankles (yuck!). If you do get one, be careful with how you remove it! I’m no expert so I’ll leave that to your own research!
- Stinging Trees (Gympie Gympie) – These are extremely painful if you come into contact with them. They are common throughout Tropical North Queensland. Fortunately, you will usually find signs at trailheads where they are present with information on how to identify them.
- Delicate Environment – A lot of the areas surrounding the waterfalls are part of a delicate ecosystem. Help protect these areas by staying on dedicated tracks and taking home anything you bring with you.
Final Thoughts on the Best Waterfalls near Cairns
That’s it! Everything you need to know about the best waterfalls in Cairns to make sure you have an amazing time in this wonderful part of Australia. There are so many incredible waterfalls near Cairns that you could spend days or weeks exploring!
As always, leave us a comment with your thoughts on this guide! We’d love to know if you’ve visited any of these waterfalls or if there’s others you feel should be included.
Finally, don’t forget to check out some of our other guides to Queensland: