The Best Day Trips from Cairns, Tropical North Queensland
See why Cairns is the ultimate starting point with these spectacular Tropical North Queensland destinations accessible within a day. Use this guide to plan your Cairns day trips to charming rural towns, tropical islands, swanky seaside locales, and the two world heritage areas of the Great Barrier Reef and Wet Tropics.
It’s time to get out of the city and go on an adventure through Tropical North Queensland. To help you make the most out of your holiday, we’ve put together this list of the nine best day trips from Cairns. Fill your days with chasing waterfalls, snorkelling through colourful reefs, relaxing on pristine beaches and making new friends in country towns.
Don’t worry if you don’t have your own car and aren’t planning to hire one – we’ve also included links to full-day tours so you can relax and let someone else drive.
So, jump in and see our list of Cairns day trips!
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9 day trips in Cairns and nearby Tropical North Queensland
Great Barrier Reef
When choosing a day trip to the world heritage listed Great Barrier Reef, the first decision is whether to visit the inner or outer reef (or both). The inner reef comprises soft corals and seagrass meadows which are feeding grounds for dugongs, turtles and many fish species. Sometimes referred to as a fringing reef, the inner reef is closer to the mainland or around islands. In Cairns, that would be Green and Fitzroy Islands. See below for information on taking day trips to Fitzroy and Green Island.
The outer reef is where you can expect to find the more colourful coral and fish. This takes 1.5-2 hours to reach on a high-speed vessel, but can be well worth it. A day trip to the outer Great Barrier Reef would be a full-day tour and usually includes multiple snorkelling spots and lunch. Families can opt for the outer Great Barrier Reef pontoon, which caters to non-swimmers with a glass bottom and semi-submersible tour.
Recommended Outer Reef Tours
- Outer Barrier Reef Full Day Snorkelling Tour – over five hours of snorkelling from 2 different pontoons, a lux vessel and a BBQ lunch.
- Cairns: Outer Great Barrier Reef Pontoon with Activities – An excellent choice for families and non-swimmers, this trip includes a glass-bottom boat and semi-submersible tour and the only water slide on the reef.
Located just 45 minutes from Cairns, a trip to Fitzroy Island is one of the best things to do in Cairns if you enjoy the beach. Slotted perfectly between the reef and the rainforest, this tropical island offers everything from beautiful and photogenic sites to loads of activities for the family.
While you’re on the island, make sure you:
- Go snorkelling and admire the reef.
- Take a glass-bottom boat out to see the reef without getting your hair wet.
- Try stand up paddleboarding.
- Take out a kayak.
- Go hiking and explore the 97 percent of the island that’s still untouched national park.
- Go hiking up the Lighthouse Road trail.
- Relax on one of the many beaches!
- Learn more about how to protect this tropical jewel and its animal friends at the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre.
Recommended tours to Fitzroy Island
- From Cairns: Fitzroy Island Full-Day Adventure Tour – Your tour includes 5 hours of free time to snorkel or hike one or more of the five trails on the island, glass-bottom boat, and snorkelling included
- Fitzroy Island Return Cataman Transfers – Do your own thing – this option is just your transfers to and from the island
Like Fitzroy Island, Green Island is also just a 45-minute boat trip from Cairns. What makes it unique is that it’s the only cay in the Great Barrier Reef with a rainforest. You can catch a ferry over and explore Green Island by yourself or choose from the many full-day tours.
A day trip to Green Island usually includes transfers, snorkel equipment, and a glass-bottom boat ride. If you prefer scuba diving, there are Green Island tours that include scuba equipment and instruction.
On Green Island, you can:
- Walk the 1.3km return rainforest walk.
- Hire non-motorised water sports equipment at the beach hire
- Spend your day swimming and sunbathing on Green Island’s sandy beaches.
Recommended Green Island Day Tours
Green Island Full-Day Glass Bottom Boat Snorkel Tour – board the Reef Rocket for the 45 min trip to Green Island; included are snorkelling equipment and an island rainforest boardwalk.
Green Island Eco Adventure – snorkel the reef and hike in the rainforest, and exclusive use of the island swimming pool.
Green Island Fly & Cruise Package – Combine a 40min Reef Hopper scenic flight with an adventure cruise that buffet lunch and glass bottom boat coral viewing tour or snorkelling
Take a day trip from Cairns to the rainforest village of Kuranda. At this beloved destination, you’ll discover outdoor craft markets, cultivated art galleries, and native animal attractions. Many sightseers make the return trip from Cairns on the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway and the Kuranda Scenic Railway.
Book combo tickets to depart on the railway and return on the cableway, including hotel pick up in central Cairns.
Kuranda Scenic Railway
The Kuranda Scenic Railway departs Cairns Railway station, the most northern stop on Queensland’s Rail Spirit of Queensland journey from Brisbane. Alternatively, you can board or get off at the second stop of Freshwater Railway Station. Although it is operated by Queensland Rail, this isn’t your ordinary train. The head of the train is a 1720 Class Diesel Electric Locomotive with heritage-style carriages dating back to 1909.
Ascending its way up towards Kuranda, the train passes through the world heritage listed Baron Gorge National Park. You’ll have the opportunity to see tropical rainforests and captivating waterfalls, such as Stoney Creek and Din Din (Barron Falls), along the way.
Choose your class aboard the Kuranda Scenic Railway.
- Heritage class – vintage class with large windows
- Gold Class (available on select departures) – lounge-style seating, welcome drink, gift pack and morning or afternoon tea with local Tablelands produce.
Kuranda Rainforest Village and Markets
Once you’ve reached the village of Kuranda, you can explore on foot. The markets are the heart of Kuranda and the first stop on most visitors’ itineraries. There are two markets offering artisan souvenirs which are the Heritage Markets (open from Thursday to Sunday, 10am to 3.30pm) and the Original Rainforest Market (open from Thursday to Monday, 9.30am – 3pm).
Other popular attractions in Kuranda include:
- Kuranda Riverboat Tours
- Jumrum Creek walk – 750m one way from the pathway near the Kuranda Visitor Information Centre
- Rainforestation Nature Park
- Kuranda Butterfly Sanctuary
- Birdworld Kuranda
- Kuranda Koala Gardens
- Rainforest ATV Tours
Din Din (Barron Falls)
Both the Kuranda Scenic Railway and Skyrail have stops at Din Din (Barron Falls), giving you two chances to enjoy this 125m high waterfall in one day. Walk out onto The Edge Lookout, built with glass balustrades for panoramic views.
The land around Kuranda has been home to the Djabugay Aboriginal people for over 10,000 years. The traditional names for Barrons Falls is “Din Din”, Baron River is “Buna” and Kuranda is “Ngunbay”.
Kuranda Skyrail Rainforest Cableway
The Kuranda Skyrail is a two-hour experience, including mid-station stops at Barron Falls and Red Peak Station. The cableway soars above the world heritage listed Barron Gorge National Park, so you can enjoy tropical rainforest views from above. At the Red Peak Station, immerse yourself in the dense wilderness with the Rainforest Discovery Zone, scenic lookout and complimentary guided boardwalk tour by a ranger.
Day trip tickets for both the Kuranda Scenic Railway and Skyrail include transfers from Cairns hotels. If you’re making your own way to the cableway station – it is in Smithfield, 15 minutes north of Cairns and 50 minutes south of Port Douglas. There is also a Cairns city bus that departs from Brinsmead Kamerunga Road at Skyrail Base Station.
Port Douglas is the playground of the rich and famous. Past celebrity visitors have included Kylie Minogue, Tom Hanks, Glenn Close, and Steven Spielberg. This glitzy coastal town is the preferred Tropical North Queensland destination to stay for the uber wealthy. That’s because of Port Douglas’s collection of upmarket holiday homes and seclusion compared to the city of Cairns.
Tucked away on a small peninsula off the Captain Cook Highway, Port Douglas is only an hour from Cairns. And it’s an incredibly scenic drive with notable stops at Palm Cove, Ellis Beach and Rex Lookout.
A perfect day trip to Port Douglas could include:
- Taking a swim on Four Mile Beach (with stinger enclosure for safety)
- Snapping a selfie at Four Mile Beach Lookout
- Stretching your legs on the Flagstaff Hill Walking Trail
- Window shopping at the boutiques on Macrossan Street
- Tasting new brews at Hemingway’s Brewery FNQ.
Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation
Cairns is surrounded by tropical jungles, so of course, there are plenty of rainforests for you to explore. In fact, this is one of the most popular and rewarding day trips from Cairns.
The Daintree Rainforest is a true marvel. It’s magnificent, but it’s also so ancient that there were likely to be dinosaurs wandering among its trees at one time. These days, the Daintree is full of quirky flora and fauna.
You may be lucky enough to see the giant stick insects that spit out peppermint-scented liquid. This incredible and strange variety is because of Australia’s relative isolation from the rest of the world. The animals and plant life evolved in isolation, which is why they’re so unique – and, dare we say it, odd.
The Daintree also has fantastic scenery, waterfalls, coastal views, and many walking trails for you to enjoy. Some of the best walking trails include:
- Kulki boardwalk (600m return)
- Dubuji boardwalk (1.2km circuit)
- Marrdja boardwalk (1.2km circuit)
- Jindalba boardwalk (650m return) and circuit track (3km)
- Mt Sorrow ridge trail (7km return – for experienced bushwalkers only).
For wildlife and crocodile adventures, there are several tours operating within Cape Tribulation and on the Daintree River. If you don’t have your own car or plan to hire one, you can book a package tour from Cairns, including Mossman Gorge, a wildlife river cruise on the Daintree River, and guided walks through the Daintree Rainforest.
Take a rainforest meets reef day tour – this 11hr tour includes a visit to Mossman Gorge, the Daintree River, Rainforest Boardwalk and Cape Tribulation.
The Atherton Tablelands has diverse landscapes, from dry savannah plains to lush tropical rainforests. The entire area spans over 64,000 square kilometres with enough natural and local attractions to keep you entertained for days. If you only have one day, you can cover quite a few of these spots in a recommended day trip from Cairns to the Atherton Tablelands.
Don’t have a car? This Atherton Tablelands Food and Wine Tasting Tour will allow you to explore the best produce the Atherton Tables can offer with wine, cheese, coffee, chocolate, and fruit tasting included. Visit Mount Uncle distillery, De Bruey’s Boutique Wines, Jacques Family coffee plantation and more!
Paronella Park was created because of a dream. José Paronella wanted to construct a castle in the middle of Australia. So, beside Mena Creek Falls, he built his castle on five hectares of land, about one and a half hours from Cairns.
The park is one of the best things to do in Cairns if you have kids because of all the activities. There are picnic areas, tennis courts, Queensland’s first privately owned hydroelectric park, and a vast range of experiences – all wrapped in a tropical rainforest. Some of the best things to do in the park are:
- Look out for rare flora and fauna.
- Take the 45-minute tour through the park to learn about its history and vision.
- Try delicious local produce at the café.
- Check out the amazing architecture that went into making the castle.
- Take the Darkness Falls Tour for amazing photo opportunities of the castle lit up at night.
If you’re looking for relaxing, natural, and slightly magical things to do in Cairns, visit the Babinda Boulders. About an hour from Cairns, this iconic attraction is one of the most popular swimming holes in the state. It’s surrounded by rainforest and perfect for a dip at the end of a long, hot day.
The Babinda Boulders are basically a creek lined with huge rocks. Freshwater weaves between stones to fill many large pools, and the water is usually nice and cool, even on the hottest days. The scene is beautiful and relaxing, set against Mt Bartle Frere, Queensland’s tallest mountain.
You can also do a nocturnal walk.
See more Cairns waterfalls, including Millaa Millaa Falls, Josephine Falls, Barron Gorge and Waterfall in this guide 24 Beautiful Waterfalls in Cairns and Nearby North Queensland.
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