Fitzroy island great barrier reef

18 Incredible Day Trips From Cairns You Can’t Skip!

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Cairns may be the biggest city in North Queensland but it also happens to be on the doorstep to some of the most incredible natural scenery in Australia. Discover the best day trips from Cairns so you can experience a little… or a lot of Australia’s tropical paradise!

Whether by car or day tour, you will be amazed by the scenery Far North Queensland has to offer! And Cairns is easily one of the best places to base yourself to see it all.

The Best Cairns Day Trips

Start planning your perfect Cairns itinerary with these incredible Cairns day trips or half-day trips from Cairns. You will want to make time for as many as possible, as each offers something unique!

There are truly so many great things to do in Cairns and in the surrounding area.

Scroll to the end for a few suggested itineraries that will allow you to visit more than one of these places in a single day if you only have a short time to spend in Cairns and surrounds!

Now, let’s check out these day trip ideas for exploring tropical North Queensland:

1. The Great Barrier Reef

great barrier reef snorkelling cruise

There is no experience more essential than experiencing the World Heritage Listed Great Barrier Reef during your North Queensland stay.

The 2,300km long ecosystem is home to thousands of reefs making it potentially the largest living organism on the planet!

Scattered amongst the reefs are some of the most beautiful islands and sandbars in Northern Queensland.

There are many different half-day and full-day Great Barrier Reef tours from Cairns, as well as Great Barrier Reef diving and snorkelling experiences.

Or visit an outer reef pontoon for a day of snorkelling and underwater observatory fun.

Just remember to take care to leave the reef as you found it as the impact of global warming and industrialism have been significant over the decades.

2. Kuranda

kuranda scenic railway

Kuranda is an iconic day trip from Cairns not to be missed! The way you plan your Kuranda day depends on your preference.

We recommend catching the Kuranda scenic railway first and making your way back down via the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway.

Each offers a unique perspective of the stunning scenery that takes you to and from this town in the mountains near Cairns.

You can make your way by car, but that isn’t nearly as memorable!

Although if you do have a car, it is a relatively short drive. Take care around the sharp bends up the mountain.

Once in Kuranda, there are markets and cafes galore, art galleries and a whole town with an artsy vibe.

You can purchase a Kuranda Wildlife Experience pass, which allows you to visit Birdworld Kuranda, the Koala Gardens and the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary.

There is also the Kuranda River CruiseThey claim a 95% success rate of spotting a crocodile up the river!

Find more ideas on things to do in Kuranda.

TIP: The best time to visit Kuranda is between Thursday and Sunday as many of the market stalls don’t operate early in the week.

3. Green Island National Park

Green island national park from cairns

Green Island is situated approximately 27 kilometres off the coast of Cairns and is the only coral cay in the Great Barrier Reef with a rainforest.

The island is home to an eco-resort and a Green Island day trip includes the use of the resort facilities and swimming pool.

If you have time to spare, extend your stay overnight!

You can also enjoy rainforest walks and wildlife spotting. Especially the birdlife.

But best of all is snorkelling the Green Island reef with a huge variety of sea life living just metres from the white sand beaches. Make sure you stick to the lifeguard supervised snorkelling areas for safety!

For a different kind of fun, Green Island also has a crocodile and wildlife park – Marineland Melanesia, in the middle of the island.

Check out our detailed guide of things to do on Green Island.

For a really unique experience, see Green Island by reef plane and by boat on this special day tour.

4. Port Douglas

Four Mile Beach Port Douglas

For an alternative beachside town to spend the day at, Port Douglas is just over an hour from Cairns and home to some beautiful beaches.

Four Mile Beach is a perfect place to swim, with safety nets enclosing the area. There are also some walking tracks nearby for a view of the beach and surrounding area.

Port Douglas is also a quicker option than Cairns for visiting more remote areas of the Great Barrier Reef, so you will find a variety of different tours available from here too.

5. Daintree Rainforest

daintree river cruise daintree rainforest

The Daintree Rainforest is located approximately 100 kilometres north of Cairns and is one of the oldest rainforests in the world.

Explore on your own or take a highly-recommended Daintree River cruise through the rainforest.

This is one of the best ways to see crocodiles in the wild… and if you ask me, a guided tour sure sounds like a better way to meet a croc!

6. Mossman Gorge

mossman gorge daintree rainforest

Mossman Gorge is located at the Southern part of the Daintree National Park.

If you are looking for a scenic place to hike within the rainforest, this is an ideal location.

Explore the walking tracks that lead to the Gorge and enjoy being in the heart of the humid rainforest environment.

The longer walking track requires comfortable footwear and a reasonable level of fitness as the paths are quite uneven in places, and a few small inclines.

You can also swim in the natural pools, but take care to follow warnings and restrictions as weather can be unpredictable in Far North Queensland.

To get to Mossman Gorge, there is a bus that runs at 15-minute intervals. At the time of writing, the bus is $12.50 AU per adult for a return trip.

This has helped reduce the impact of the local wildlife by minimising traffic up to the Gorge tracks.

7. Paronella Park

paronella park day trip from cairns

Paronella Park is considered a Queensland bucket list item for many and once you visit, it is no surprise why!

A Spanish cane farmer, Jose Paronella, envisioned what has now become a popular and unique tourist attraction in Far North Queensland, just an hour and a half south of Cairns.

Step back in time as you wander through the grounds and the buildings on this breath-taking Innisfail property and learn the history of how it came to be.

They have regular tours throughout the day and we highly recommend joining one before exploring on your own.

If you can, join the night tour when the whole area takes on a new kind of magic with a light show you have to see to understand why. You won’t regret it!

There is also a campground at Paronella Park, which is perfect for anyone who wants to stay for the night show. The first night is free of charge!

8. Fitzroy Island

Fitzroy island great barrier reef

Reach Fitzroy Island by ferry, with a 45-minute ride to your destination from Cairns.

If it’s white sand beaches you crave, you simply can’t miss a chance to do this day trip from Cairns. And best of all, it rarely seems to be overly crowded!

Go kayaking, snorkelling or take a glass-bottom boat tour to see beneath the crystal waters. There is even a sea trampoline for a bit of extra fun with the family!

For walking tours, make your way to the Fitzroy Island lighthouse via either the Lighthouse Road or the Summit Track.

There is also a turtle sanctuary where you can learn about the important conservation efforts being made towards rehabilitating this endangered species.

9. Mission Beach

mission beach cairns day trip

Head to Mission Beach for a breath-taking coastline, minus the hustle and bustle of Cairns.

Mission Beach consists of 4 beachside villages. There are plenty of delicious local eats and boutique stores.

Spend a peaceful day strolling along one of the walking tracks, or go for something a little more adrenaline charged, such as a ride in a wind-powered blokart.

10. Palm Cove

palm cove beach at sunset

Palm Cove sits north of Cairns and much like Port Douglas, it is an enjoyable seaside town to visit, with its wind-swept palm trees lining the coast.

Whether it’s day spas or water sports you crave, Palm Cove is a great place to do it.

It is also a great place to pick up some beachy local wares if a spot of shopping is on the cards for you.

There are plenty of restaurants and cafes located along the waterfront, making this a great location for longer stays if you want a relaxed beachside holiday.

11. Cape Tribulation

cape tribulation beach meets rainforest

Cape Tribulation is one of the longer day trips from Cairns, taking approximately 3 hours to get there. But well worth it!

A guided day tour can be a great way to experience everything, rather than self-driving the whole way and potentially missing something special.

It is situated in the northern end of the Daintree National Park and is so secluded, you must reach it by ferry. After you disembark the ferry, it is a further 45-minute drive into the rainforest.

Once you arrive, join a guided walking eco tour or a mountain bike tour and see the glory of the rainforest meeting the ocean.

Or take a 2-hour horse-riding tour through the rainforest and along the beach. The horses will take you into the ocean! So cool!

You could easily turn this into an overnight stay from Cairns if you have the time to do so.

12. Josephine Falls

josephine falls waterfall

Josephine Falls is one of the best waterfalls in Queensland. Located approximately 75 kilometres South of Cairns, it is tucked away in the rainforest.

Stroll along the boardwalk and snap some memorable photos at one of the many viewing decks.

At the base of the waterfall, the lower plunge pool is a popular swimming spot. Crystal clear water, sandy shores and a few sloped rocks doubling as waterslides if you dare.

Tip: Take care following heavy rainfall as the area is prone to flash flooding. Follow the warnings and don’t swim if it is deemed a risk!

13. Atherton Tablelands

atherton tablelands mountains day trip

Head inland from Cairns to where the rolling mountains lie, in the Atherton Tablelands.

You will find rainforest, villages and beautiful scenery galore, where the country meets the forest.

Take a hot air balloon ride for a memorable experience. Or indulge in some cheese tasting and other handmade delicacies.

There is so much to do in the area, for both foodies and outdoor lovers, making this one of the best day trips from Cairns.

A food and wine tour from Port Douglas is a perfect choice if you want to enjoy the tastes of the region!

14. Chillagoe Caves

chillegoe caves
  • Distance From Cairns – 213 KM | 2 hours 55 minutes

Equally far as Cape Tribulation, but also equally worth the 3-hour drive, Chillagoe Caves is located west of Cairns.

To visit, make your way through Mareeba to the edge of the Queensland Outback.

The area was once a thriving mining zone, but now the limestone caves are an incredible underground system of karst rocks and caverns.

The caves are located around one kilometre from town, at the Chillagoe-Montana National Park. There is also a museum to visit.

15. Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures

barron falls day trip from cairns

Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures is located approximately 40 minutes north of Cairns.

The wildlife park is made up of wooden boardwalks and wildlife enclosures and is one of the best places to see crocodiles safely.

There is a huge array of other Australian wildlife to see as well, with daily wildlife presentations, making it a great place to visit when in Cairns with kids.

Hartleys Crocodile Adventures also run their own Daintree River crocodile spotting cruises from a different location, a little further north.

16. Barron Falls

barron falls day trip from cairns

Barron Falls is located just outside of Kuranda, making it possible to combine the two into a single day trip.

If visiting in the dry season, it may not be quite so impressive, but in the wet season, the waterfall is downright spectacular!

Beyond the waterfalls is Baron River, flowing through the widely carved Barron Gorge.

One of the coolest ways to experience the river is by joining a white water rafting experience. Or simply follow the boardwalk down to the lookout area, alongside the Kuranda train stop.

17. Babinda Boulders

devils pool babinda boulders

The Babinda Boulders are located relatively close to the town of Babinda, and a reasonably short distance from Josephine Falls, making it possible to enjoy both in a single day.

The area is well set up for families visiting for a day, or for longer with a campground and facilities.

There is a large area for swimming, with shallow sections perfect for kids. There is also a playground and BBQ facilities, or plenty of picnic benches as well.

If you’re lucky, you might even spot a peacock roaming around!

There are also walking tracks and viewing decks leading to the Devils Pool which shows what an incredible force of nature water can be, carving formations into the rock over the years.

This area looks tempting for exploring and swimming, but just don’t do it! Many lives have been lost and it isn’t worth the risk. Stick to the approved swimming area!

18. Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park

Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park (1)

Learn about Australia‘s native history and Aboriginal culture at Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park.

Located a short distance from Cairns, in Smithfield, this can easily be a half-day experience too.

Explore the Tjapukai Parklands and participant in unique activities that have long been part of Aboriginal daily life and celebration. Learn how to throw a boomerang or a spear.

Sit back and allow yourself to be fully immersed in traditional dances and digeridoo performances. And of course, learn about bush food as you enjoy a feast of damper and billy tea.

Suggested 1 Day Itineraries From Cairns

If you want to maximise your time in Cairns and surrounds, but only have a few days to spend, here are some suggestions of Cairns day trips you could combine in a single day:

  • Daintree Rainforest River Cruise, Mossman Gorge, Port Douglas & Palm Cove

Set-off early for your Cairns day trip, starting with a river cruise, then making your way back south, stopping at Mossman Gorge to do the walk around the gorge, then a quick stop at Port Douglas and Palm Cove as you make your way back to Cairns.

  • Paronella Park, Josephine Falls & Babinda Boulders

Leave Cairns for Innisfail early and spend the entire morning exploring Paronella Park. In the afternoon, split your time between Josephine Falls and Babinda Boulders for a shorter visit to each before making your way back to Cairns.

You will also pass by Queensland’s tallest mountains!

  • Kuranda & Baron Falls

Do a self-drive visit to Kuranda in the morning and explore the markets and attractions. Enjoy a leisurely lunch, then head to Baron Falls for a walk down to the lookout. Or fit your day around a Baron River rafting experience in either the morning or afternoon.

outer reef pontoon great barrier reef
  • Green Island & Outer Great Barrier Reef Cruise

Catch a Great Adventures early cruise to Green Island for a short morning visit before jumping back on the boat 2 hours later and heading to the Outer Reef Pontoon for an outer reef snorkelling experience, then back to Cairns in the afternoon.

  • Green Island and Kuranda Skyrail & Train

Experience two of the best Cairns day trips with a morning cruise and visit to Green Island for 2 hours of snorkelling or a glass-bottom boat tour. Then an afternoon riding the Kuranda Skyrail up the mountain, with time to enjoy Kuranda before catching the scenic rail back down.

How To Get Around Cairns & Surrounding Areas

The easiest way to take day trips from Cairns is by having your own transport.

If you are driving to Cairns, you are already ready to go in your own car. But if not, you can easily hire a car from Cairns Airport or from the city centre.

Having a hire car or your own transport is certainly the most budget-friendly way to see this breath-taking region!

If you would prefer not to self-drive from Cairns, most of the day trips mentioned above are easily reached by day tours instead or by bus.

The best part about a day tour is you can sit back in comfort and enjoy being chauffeured around Far North Queensland to these incredible natural attractions!

Staying in accommodation close to the Cairns Marina and Esplanade also makes it easy for Cairns day tours by boat too!

Travel Insurance: Make sure you don’t leave home without travel insurance. Trust us, it’s one of those things you don’t want to skip, especially when travelling with kids. We recommend World Nomads.

These incredible day trips from Cairns and one-day itineraries will help you plan the ultimate tropical North Queensland experience, whether you have a short time or plenty of time to spare!


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the best cairns day trips