12 national parks you’ve never heard of
We’re pretty spoilt for choice when it comes to national parks in Queensland, and no doubt each of us has our favourites when the itch to escape into Mother Nature succumbs.
But being the second largest state in the country, you can bet there are a few beauties that have slipped under the radar.
From World Heritage-listed tropical rainforests and green lakes (no joke) to red desert and sandhills in the Outback, here are 12 national parks you’ve likely never heard of, and should add to your Queensland bucket list stat.
1. Wooroonooran National Park
Stalking the coastline from Innisfail to Gordonvale south of Cairns, Wooroonooran National Park is a natural cash cow for adventure seekers, home to gushing waterfalls, foresty foothills, wild rivers, and mountainous peaks, including Queensland’s highest, Mount Bartle Frere.
Making up a huge chunk of the World Heritage-listed Wet Tropics (aka one the oldest living rainforests in the world), you can bet this is an oasis come summertime, with nippy freshwater swimming holes hiding deep within its greenery.
What to do:
- Get your hike on trekking between Queensland’s two highest peaks – Mount Bartle Frere and Bellenden Kerr – along the historic Goldfield Trail, or conquer the tropical pyramid known as Walshs.
- Cool down at the Babinda Boulders, where the crystal waters of Babinda Creek weave their way between huge boulders to create large swimming pools.
- In Palmerston, hit up the Nandroya Falls Circuit Track, stopping at Crawford’s lookout for some gorge-porn of the North Johnstone River.
- Skill up on the complexity of the rainforest and its rich culture when you take to the rainforest canopy along the Mamu Tropical Skywalk.
- Picnic, camp, swim and repeat at the Goldsborough Valley sitting below the rugged Bellenden Ker Range.
- Get to steppin’ on the Josephine Falls Walking Track to be rewarded with this bad boy.
2. Mount Hypipamee National Park
The term ‘green like you’ve never seen’ isn’t thrown around in Tropical North Queensland for no good reason: cue Mount Hypipamee National Park in the Atherton Tablelands.
While it might be smaller than its flanking national parks, Mount Hypipamee (you want to say hippopotamus, don’t you?) is packing a pretty incredible sight – centred around a diatreme or volcanic pipe (which was thought to have been created by a massive gas explosion). The core takes the form of The Crater, a deep-set lake covered by a striking green layer of native waterweed.
For a glimpse, follow the easy 30-minute Crater walking track to the viewing platform, before heading back along the Dinner Falls circuit for a dip.
3. Girringun National Park
You’re going to need more than a day trip if you want to truly immerse yourself in the glory of Girringun National Park.
Comprising of five different sections from Cardwell down to Townsville, Girringun is mostly known as the site of Australia’s highest permanent single-drop waterfall, Wallaman Falls. But in recent months, the attention has been snapped up by another natural contender in these parts: the Cardwell Spa Pools.
Thanks to the power of Instagram, explorers have been flocking to the bright blue milky waters of the rock pool and jacuzzi-like spa (the swirling and bubbling water is caused by the natural depression in the creek bed) ever since explorers first started posting about this relatively unknown hotspot earlier in the year.
Impressed? Wait ’til you get a load of the other awesome things to do here!
What else to do:
- Wallaman ain’t the only falls worth chasing; set your GPS to Blencoe Falls, which plunges 90 metres before cascading a further 230 metres to the bottom of Blencoe Gorge.
- Avid walkers will be in hike-heaven along the Dalrymple Gap walking track, crossing the Cardwell Range and winding your way through forests and beautiful streams.
- If heights are more your thing, then experienced climbers should turn to the steep Mount Fox, an isolated, dormant volcano with views over the surrounding Kangaroo Hills countryside.
- Set up camp at the remote Princess Hills and spend your days fishing and exploring the falls and gorge before being lulled to sleep by the sounds of the Herbert River.
4. Hinchinbrook Island National Park
Voted by Australian Geographic as one of the top camping sites in Australia, the island is separated from the mainland by the Hinchinbrook Channel, famous for its variety of mangroves and *squeal* dugong populations.
You’ve probably guessed by now that isolation and wilderness are the reigning themes here, and while you can camp and take to the short, easy walking tracks at your whim and fancy, one of the best ways to explore the island’s vastness is along the epic Thorsborne Trail. Rugged and untamed, the 32km journey will have you traversing through milky pine and palm fig forests, paperbark country and rocky headlands, to reach the other side.
(Psst, before heading over make sure you’ve triple-checked this packing guide.)
5. Eungella National Park
Translating to ‘land of the clouds’ in the local Aboriginal language, Eungella National Park will make you believe magic and fairies truly exist.
Often shrouded in mist, the cool, sub-tropical rainforest sits 1.5 hours west of Mackay in the highlands, and is a frequent retreat for locals and visitors, with over 20km of walking tracks ranging from easy 30-minutes to a full day.
Serious hikers will need no introduction to this park, as it’s the starting point of the Mackay Highlands Great Walk – a mammoth north-to-south trek that stretches 56km and takes roughly three-to-five days to walk.
Getting around the national park is relatively straightforward too, with well-sealed roads and gravel tracks running through the forest-clad mountain.
What else to do:
- On the drive to Eungella, stop into Peases Lookout and Sky Window for mountain-top vistas over Pioneer Valley.
- Head to Finch Hatton Gorge to explore the mini waterfalls and rock pool at the end of The Cascades and Wheel of Fire tracks.
- Set-up your tent in the natural bushland next to Broken River, one of the best places to spot the elusive platypus in the wild.
6. Curtis Island National Park
You could say this is a man’s man national park, choc-a-bloc full of fishing, camping, and 4WDing escapades that would make Russel Coight weak at the knees. But ladies, I assure you, you’re going to be just as impressed by Curtis Island, sitting off the coast of Gladstone.
A stay at one of the two national park camping sites on the island’s south end does require you to be completely self-sufficient, but it pays to go rogue for the sweeping and mostly deserted beaches, rock pool caves, and cute-as-a-button-turtles (this is the third-largest turtle rookery in Queensland, after all).
Here, long, lazy days in the sunshine and salty seas is standard, with nights taken up by star-gazing and crab spotting.
7. Cania Gorge National Park
Sandstone landscapes, fern-covered pools and forests, and ancient caves are all in a day’s leisure at Cania Gorge National Park.
Found 3.5 hours west of Bundaberg, the park has more than 150 different types of plant communities under its belt, including brigalow forest, cypress pine woodland, dry rainforest and grassland (aka total #earthporn).
Eight bushwalks can lead you on adventures to monolithic overhangs, dry gullies, and past cliffs into dark crevices where orchids bloom – from the steady one-hour Dragon and Bloodwood Cave track (keep your eyes peeled for the natural black mural of a ‘dragon’ against the white sandstone wall) to the mammoth 22km-return to Castle Mountain.
While you can’t actually camp inside the national park, there are two camping and caravan parks sitting on the outskirts, one just minutes away from Lake Cania, where boating, swimming and fishing (think Australian bass, yellowbelly, and silver perch) are all going down.
8. Conondale National Park
Kondalilla and Mapleton? Been there, done that.
If it’s a new adventure on the Sunshine Coast you’re seeking, my advice would be to keep going west until you reach the magnificent Conondale National Park.
Heads up: High-clearance 4WD vehicles are needed to reach the day-use and camping areas, as all park roads are gravel and require multiple creek crossings. But you’ll also find locals love to park their cars at the park’s entrance and hike to hinterland happiness – granted, it’s a good couple of kilometres extra on top of the walking tracks of the actual park itself.
On the topic of walks, Conondale is packin’ some stunners, most notably the Conondale Range Great Walk – a challenging four-day, 56-km circuit through heavily forested valleys and ridges of both the Conondale National Park and Kenilworth Forest Reserve.
But there are also a range of easy tracks strewn throughout the open rainforest, most popular the cruisey trail to Booloumba Falls, frequented by many hot and bothered strollers keen to cool off in the refreshing pool at the base of the falls.
9. Diamantina National Park
Okay, so she’s a good 20 hours drive or so from the coastline, but oh, is Diamantina National Park worth it.
Heading south from Winton or Boulia, north from Windorah or east from Bedourie, this is outback terrain at it’s finest: rich red desert, stark limestone ranges, sandhills, and, surprisingly, unexpected glimpses of colour from bright flora and fauna lining floodplains, braided channels and waterholes.
While the drive out to Diamantina is a journey in itself, there are two tracks worth exploring when you get here: the Warracoota Circuit and Janets Leap lookout for a bird’s-eye view of Diamantina Gates.
PS. You’re going to need to load the 4WD with everything you’ll need and then some, because camping out these ways requires you to be completely self-sufficient.
10. Mount Barney National Park
It might be called Mount Barney National Park, but lemme tell you, Mount Barney ain’t the only peak worth gushing about here (but we will give it credit for being the second-highest mountain in South East Queensland).
Set in the World Heritage-listed Gondwana Rainforests of the Scenic Rim, two hours south of Brisbane, the national park boasts seven rugged and distinctive mountain peaks, remnants of the ancient Focal Peak Shield Volcano which erupted 24 million years ago.
Hardcore bushwalking is the name of the game of this park, but keep in mind out of the seven peaks, only two have marked or unformed tracks – Mount Barney and Mount Maroon – and both require a high level of experience and fitness.
But for those of you who are well-worn in to the challenges and skills needed to go off the beaten track, the park offers some of the most spectacular remote area bushwalking opportunities in the region.
*Before attempting any type of walk in Mount Barney National Park, make sure you familiarise yourself with the information and guidelines for staying safe on the Department of National Parks, Sport and Racing site.
11. Carnarvon National Park
For those of you who have heard of the magnificent Carnarvon Gorge (if you haven’t, check out why it’s so dang amazing right here), it would come as no surprise that this sandstone wonder hails from the aptly named Carnarvon National Park.
Each section has its own unique quirks and sights – Ka Ka Mundi more than 30km of sandstone escarpments and plateaus to discover, Mount Moffat the highest plateau in Queensland and significant Aboriginal rock art, and Salvator Rosa with its crystal-clear springs adding more than 10 million litres of water a day to the peaceful Louisa Creek and Nogoa River.
So depending on what kind of experience you’re after, whether it’s wilderness seeking or some easy-breezy exploring and camping with the family, it’s best to do a bit of research before making your way inland.
12. Crows Nest National Park
A little slice of national park paradise in Southern Queensland Country (and only a mere 50 minutes drive north of Toowoomba), Crows Nest is understatedly beautiful, with refreshing swimming holes and simple walks navigating through the park’s granite outcrops and eucalypt forest.
While the Crows Nest Falls waterhole is closed, the lookout is still worth the 2.1km walk to see the water tumbling over the 20m-high granite cliffs (along the way make sure you stop in for a dip at these freshwater pools).
But for the pièce de résistance, keep following the track to Koonin Lookout, where spectacular views out over the gorge (known as the Valley of Diamonds) and distant hills around Ravensbourne await.