Many people go to Cairns to visit the reef or the rainforest, but few realise some of the best waterfalls in Australia are in this region. The Atherton Tablelands is a region surrounding Cairns, home to the majority of Cairns waterfalls. A tour of the Atherton Tablelands waterfalls is one of the most popular Cairns day trips due to the fascinating mix of rainforest, wildlife and wetlands.
The Atherton Tablelands Waterfalls Circuit is a 17km driving loop that includes Millaa Millaa Falls (one of the most famous waterfalls in Australia) as well as some hidden gems well worth a detour.
Many of the waterfalls near Cairns are safe to swim in, so offer the perfect refreshing escape from the crazy humidity not to mention a beautiful photo opportunity. However, during the intense rainfall of the wet season (December to March), swimming can be an absolute no-go due to the dangerous currents so practise caution and always do your research before popping on your bathers.
HOW TO GET TO CAIRNS WATERFALLS
Car Hire, Cairns
We recommend hiring a car to be able to see as many Cairns waterfalls as possible. We did a bus tour which was EPIC, but it barely scratched the surface – we only squeezed in 3 falls and some other popular swimming spots. The good thing about Cairns waterfalls is that some are just a few miles apart, so it is possible to tick a few of these off your list in one day if you plan it well and pack all the road trip essentials.
Did you know you can use Skyscanner to compare car hire deals as well as flights? We rented a car for seven days, which cost AU$235.00. This included insurance and 2 full tanks of fuel which lasted for all our day trips from Cairns, not just the Atherton Tablelands.
Atherton Tablelands Tours
As mentioned, we did an Atherton Tablelands tour as it was pre-booked as part of an activities package we organised during our East Coast road trip. The tour was with Barefoot Tours and our guide was hilarious. The cairns waterfalls are so spectacular that one couple on our tour even got engaged and our guide bought champagne for the whole bus. As mentioned however, with bus tours there is the obvious advantage that they only go to the popular spots so many of the Cairns waterfalls mentioned in this guide are a little off the beaten track and will only be accessible by car.
Alternatively, these are some of the best value tours that include Cairns waterfalls plus transport from your accommodation:
This award winning tour is very similar to the Atherton Tablelands tour that we did – it includes Josephine Falls (which has a natural waterslide) Millaa Millaa and many more Cairns waterfalls. It also includes a pub lunch plus refreshments! Learn more here.
CAIRNS WATERFALLS MAP
10 BEST OF THE BEST CAIRNS WATERFALLS
Even after hiring a car (and doing an Atherton Tablelands tour) with so many Cairns waterfalls to see, we didn’t have time to visit them all, so we asked our fellow travel bloggers also to share a few of their favourites.
We’ve also included a few tips at the end to ensure a safe visit. Let us know how many of these Cairns waterfalls you manage to visit and if you braved a swim in their cool waters!
1. MILLAA MILLAA FALLS
Location: Theresa Creek Road, Millaa Millaa, Tablelands Region
Millaa Millaa Falls is the most famous of all Atherton Tablelands waterfalls thanks to a certain shampoo advert and a Peter Andre lie. To clarify, many blogs (and tours) will say that Millaa Millaa falls were the location for the infamous “Mysterious Girl” 90s music video by Peter Andre; however, this is not true. It was filmed in Thailand but tour operators and travel bloggers alike, share this lie to encourage more tourists to attempt that famous hair flick and frolic under the falls.
Millaa Millaa was used, however, as the location for a Herbal Essence advert, (which due to its popularity in the UK and US, also entices busloads of tourists determined to nail that Insta shot. Although we expected it to be as busy as the Insta-famous Kawasan Falls which we visited in The Philippines, we were delighted to late afternoon to only a handful of others.
Internet rumours aside, Millaa Millaa Falls is a heritage-listed waterfall towering at 18m high and “plunges” into a refreshing pool – we were there in the dry season, however, so it was more of a trickle with a misty rainbow than a plunging cascade.
The pool, however, is safe to swim in which made up for the lack of falls, though even by Scottish standards is bloody cold. The surrounding gum trees, ferns and Ulysses butterflies which frequent Millaa Millaa make it a beautiful (yet busy) oasis within the Cairns waterfalls circuit.
Its popularity is heightened by its accessibility as there is no strenuous hike or expensive park fee required – it’s free to enter with the car park mere steps away from the falls themselves. There is also toilets and a picnic area nearby.
2. MENA CREEK FALLS
Location: 1648 Innisfail Japoon Rd, Germantown QLD 4871, Australia
The waterfalls near Cairns are all beautiful, but my favourite has to be Mena Creek Falls. Not only are the falls awe-inspiring by themselves, but they are also onsite at the beautiful Paronella Park.
Situated about a 90-minute drive from Cairns (100km), Mena Creek Falls are, unfortunately, no longer safe to swim in due to a croc being spotted in the area. Despite this, they are still well worth a visit along with Paronella Park, which is home to the ruins and grounds created in the 1920s by Jose Paronella.
You can still access Mena Creek Falls without paying to enter Paronella Park, simply take a walk over the top of the falls to look down into the creek below. To get an impressive photograph in front of the bottom of the falls, this will require an entry fee to Paronella Park. There is also a perfect, peaceful little area on the bank to sit and enjoy a picnic under the trees.
By Sophie Marie – From Baby, Toddler & Kids.
Follow her adventures on Facebook.
3. CRYSTAL CASCADES
Location: Redlynch Intake Rd, Lamb Range QLD 4870
From one of the most famous Cairns waterfalls to a hidden gem, Crystal Cascades is considered one of the best secret swim spots in Tropical North Queensland. Hidden amongst tropical rainforest, Crystal Cascades are a series of smaller waterfalls which flow into larger pools popular with locals and adrenaline seekers alike. Due to large impressive granite boulders, canyoneering is popular in the area, as well as abseiling, and zip-lining offered along the falls by Raging Thunder Adventures and not to be attempted on your own.
One of the closest Cairns waterfalls at only 25 minutes from the city centre, making it an ideal stop if you are short on time but crave a refreshing, freshwater swim. From the public car park, it is around a 1.2 km walk (along a well-maintained pathway) to Crystal Cascades, with the most impressive falls found towards the end of the track (around a 30-minute walk.)
If you have time to detour, Crystal Cascades is linked to the city’s reservoir Lake Morris which you can reach via a steep rainforest hike taking around 3 hours (return.) The walkway starts near the picnic area, which is also home to a BBQ area and nearby changing block.
4. BARRON FALLS
Location: Centenary Park, Coondoo St, Kuranda QLD 4881, Australia
Around a 40-minute drive from of Cairns is Kuranda the ‘Village in the Rainforest’ – because it quite literally is. Granted, this little place is very touristy, but it’s not every day you can stroll through markets, visit wildlife sanctuaries and pass by a variety of cafés, bars, shops and galleries all while being surrounded by tropical rainforest.
Two unique ways to see the surroundings include gliding high above the treetops on the Skyrail Cableway or sticking to ground-level on the Scenic Railway. For me (visiting in the HIGH wet season) my only option was going to be the Railway, which probably didn’t overwhelm me as much as the Cableway might have but the showstopper was witnessing Barron Falls.
I’d heard a ‘waterfall stop’ was included in the ticket and we’d already passed a few small cascades as we bumped along the tracks, so I wasn’t expecting anything quite like the enormity of Barron Falls.
Once I’d stepped off the train and approached the edge of the lookout, I was finally thankful to be in Cairns during the wet season. The flow of those falls was so powerful and incredible to watch. Not exactly somewhere you’d go for a relaxing swim, but one for the photo gallery.
By Lucy from Of Wandering Far.
Looking for more highlights of Australia’s East Coast? You need Lucy’s East Coast itinerary.
Follow her adventures on Instagram.
5. DINNER FALLS
Location: Upper Barron QLD 4883, Australia
Another popular stop on the Atherton Tablelands waterfalls circuit is Dinner Falls located in the Mount Hypipamee National Park. They are located on the same walking circuit as the beautiful Mount Hypipamee Crater.
Thousands of years ago the Mount Hypipamee Crater was formed during a violent eruption where trapped gases burst their way through the earth’s surface, creating an impressive hole (crater) in the middle of the mountain.
This crater is now filled with water that also runs beneath the mountain through the old lava pipe. The water can be quickly spotted thanks to the vibrant green duckweed, giving it a swamp-like appearance. No chance of swimming in here, instead head further down the track to the cascading Dinner Falls.
Dinner Falls are created from the headwaters of the Barron River. As well as being a safe spot for a refreshing swim, there are picnic tables for a well-earned fuel stop. Be warned; this is cassowary territory so although a sighting is lucky, these creatures can prove dangerous if feeling threatened.
6. ELLINJAA FALLS
Location: 1174 Theresa Creek Rd, Millaa Millaa QLD 4886, Australia
If you’re on the hunt for stunning waterfalls near Cairns, then you really can’t miss the mighty Ellinjaa Falls. This was our favourite waterfall out of the three falls that make up the waterfall circuit in the Atherton Tablelands because instead of the water falling straight down in one neat sheet of liquid, it cascades down lava rocks in pretty individual streams of water. It’s like lots of little waterfalls coming together to make one huge, cascading, beautiful waterfall.
Ellinjaa Falls is around 100km from Cairns so it should take you around 1 hour and 45 minutes to drive there. Alternatively, you do it as part of the Atherton Tablelands waterfalls circuit which makes a great day out and one of the best things to do in Tropical North Queensland. It is a fantastic spot for swimming in as long as you don’t mind sharing the waters with turtles and maybe even a platypus if you’re lucky.
By Sean & Rhianne from Wanderfully Living.
Follow their adventures on Instagram.
7. LAKE EACHAM FALLS
Location: Lake Eacham QLD 4884, Australia
Another one of Cairns waterfalls hidden away in the rainforest, Lake Eacham Falls are named after the popular swim spot Lake Eacham which is nearby. Located on the Eastern side of the Atherton Tablelands, Lake Eacham is around 68km (approximately one hour’s drive) from Cairns via the Gillies Highway.
A short 30-minute walk through the luscious rainforest will bring you to this hidden gem. If you are driving the Cairns waterfalls circuit, unfortunately, these falls are not signposted so head for Lake Eacham then as the road divides in two head for the right, unmarked road instead of the left which leads to Atherton & Yungaburra.
Around 200m down this unmarked road will lead you to a small bridge and a car parking area on the left-hand side. Head back over the bridge, and you will begin the Lake Eacham falls circuit – a short 1km path which follows the creek and forms a circuit, passing under the bridge and back towards the car park.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to visit the falls during our tour of the Atherton Tablelands waterfalls, but we did squeeze in a swim at Lake Eacham which we highly recommend.
Despite the signs warning of a rumoured crocodile in the lake, we were assured it was safe to swim and found the pontoon epic fun to jump off into the refreshing waters, which are astonishingly 65m deep in parts. We also witnessed small turtles (possibly terrapins) in the water here, and visitors have the opportunity to spot over 180 bird species as well as kangaroos.
8. NANDROYA FALLS
Location: Wooroonooran QLD 4860, Australia
Nandroya Falls is located in Wooroonooran National Park, approximately 1.5 hours (117km) from Cairns. Unlike other Cairns waterfalls on this list, it is permanent, making it a great place to visit year-round.
Access to Nandroya Falls requires a short hike from the car park. The hike starts to the west of Henrietta Creek camping area, where you take the footbridge over Henrietta Creek. After 700m the track forks. I’d recommend taking the left trail, which is the most direct to Nandroya Falls. This track snakes through the Wet Tropics rainforest and past Silver Falls before reaching the impressive Nandroya Falls.
You’ll find the upper tier of this double-tiered waterfall carving its way through the rock wall and crashing into the pool below. This pool provides the perfect place to take a dip and cool off. The water then continues its journey, cascading over another rock face and dropping 10m to create the bottom tier.
When you’re ready, you can return the same way or take the other trail to complete the loop. The hike is listed as being a 6.6km (2-3 hours) loop. However if you take the shorter route, it’ll likely take around 1.5 hours.
You should be aware of leeches and stinging trees along the way. Luckily, I didn’t encounter any, but they are prevalent in the area.
By Sophie from Travels of Sophie.
Looking for more things to do in Cairns, check out her top things to do in Cairns.
Follow her adventures on Instagram.
9. JOSEPHINE FALLS
Location: Josephine Falls Walk, Bartle Frere QLD 4861, Australia
Josephine falls were our favourite waterfalls in Australia, so if there’s one Cairns waterfall we insist you visit it’s this one. They are so special in fact that a couple we were with on our Atherton Tablelands waterfalls tour, got engaged here during our visit.
Josephine Falls where one of our favourite day trips from Cairns not only because of the spectacular natural beauty of the area but the falls themselves are nicknamed “nature’s playground” due to the natural slide which you can slide down. We queued alongside eager children and slid down again and again likely scaring off all wildlife with our squeals of fear.
If you don’t fancy sliding down the falls, view them from above instead. There is a boardwalk which leads through the towering ferns and foliage to various viewing platforms offering opportunities to view these cascading falls from different (dry) angles.
We were fortunate to visit during the dry season, which meant the currents and flow at Josephine Falls were safe to swim in. However, it is prohibited to swim in the top pool, so stick to the lower plunge pool, which is popular with locals and tourists alike. Like all Cairns waterfalls, avoid swimming here after heavy rainfall as the area is often affected by flash floods which have proved fatal in recent years.
10. WALLAMAN FALLS
Location: Lookout Rd, Wallaman QLD 4850, Australia
When searching for waterfalls near Cairns, Wallaman falls aren’t exactly the closest. In Australian terms, however, a 4-hour drive is a quick jaunt down the road so it won’t feel that far as it’s literally straight down the Bruce Highway to Ingham, then head 50km inland. We’ve included it in this list however as Wallaman falls are the tallest waterfalls in Australia.
After that long drive, there’s no need to head back to Cairns as there is a campground nearby. We loved camping in Australia as it is an incredibly affordable – to camp at Wallaman falls is only AU$6.35 per person. The added advantage of camping is that it allows you to witness these striking falls at sunset and sunrise, making the long drive well and truly worth it. You can book the campsite at the Ingham visitor centre or pay online.
If you don’t fancy camping, the car park is right next to the Wallaman Falls lookout. From here you can then take the trail to the base of the falls to embrace them in full splendour. Be warned, as the falls descend more than 250 metres down, ensure you leave enough time to make the hike down and back to the car park before it’s dark – otherwise you will end up camping in the rainforest.
TIPS FOR VISITING CAIRNS WATERFALLS
- Reef Friendly Suncream: As mentioned earlier, it can seriously pollute the eco-system and poison the water supplies which wildlife relies on if you use shampoo, suncream or shower gel in the waterfalls.
- Camp: To enjoy the Cairns waterfalls crowd free and without the bus tours, the best time to visit is first thing in the morning or at sunset. In order to do this, camping near by is a great option to get a head start! Find campsites near Atherton Tablelands here – don’t forget your camping essentials!
- Go in Winter: You may notice in some of our Cairns waterfalls photos the falls are overflowing where as during our visit the majority were only a trickle. The best time to tour Cairns waterfalls is in Winter as heavy rainfall will make the falls even more spectacular (although not safe to swim in!)
- Beware of March Flies: During our Atherton Tablelands tour, the tour guide avoided Babinda Boulders (one of the best Cairns day trips) as the march flies were that bad during our visit! Double check your mosquito spray also works with march flies and avoid wearing navy or dark blue clothing (for some reason they’re attracted to it!?) light coloured clothing is best!
- Don’t forget these essentials: As there are likely many other people visiting the cairns waterfalls, it is not always safe to leave your belongings on benches etc, instead use a dry bag to keep your belongings safe and dry (and on you!) Don’t forget a go pro and also try and purchase wet shoes instead of flip fops. Some of the cairns waterfalls require a slippy or rocky climb which is not suitable for flip flops (no one wants to see a flip flop floating down the falls!) so wet shoes are best.
- Is it safe to swim? Finally, always check the National Park website (especially after heavy rainfall) if they are safe to swim in as conditions can change overnight and the falls can be a lot more dangerous than they look!
Exploring the waterfalls near Cairns was without a doubt one of our highlights from our time in Australia. We will never forget those refreshing swims and the natural waterslides (other travellers won’t forget our squeals any time soon either.) Whether you manage to visit only one or two of Cairns waterfalls or make it to all 10 you are guaranteed an unforgettable road trip.