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 and every Queenslander you speak to will have a favourite pick when the itch to escape to Mother Nature succumbs.
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 deserts and sandhills in the Outback, here are 12 national parks you should lace up the boots and leave some footprints in.
1. Wooroonooran National Park
Stalking the coastline from Innisfail to Gordonvale south of Cairns, Wooroonooran National Park is a haven 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 portion of the World Heritage-listed Wet Tropics (aka the oldest living rainforests in the world), this is an oasis come summertime, with nippy freshwater swimming holes hiding deep within its greenery.
For the serious hikers, Queensland’s two highest peaks – Mount Bartle Frere and Bellenden Kerr – await, along with the historic Goldfield Trail and the tropical pyramid known as Walsh’s.
For a less strenuous day out, cool down at the Babinda Boulders, where the crystal waters of Babinda Creek weave their way between huge boulders to create large swimming pools.
2. Mount Hypipamee National Park
While it might be smaller than its flanking national parks, Mount Hypipamee (you want to say hippopotamus, don’t you?) packs a pretty incredible sight, thanks to 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 known as the site of Australia’s highest permanent single-drop waterfall, Wallaman Falls. But in recent times, the attention has been snapped up by another natural contender in these parts: the Cardwell Spa Pools.
The majority of the famed waters of the rock pool flow from underground, where it picks up minerals from the sedimentary rocks, resulting in high levels of dissolved magnesium and calcium in the waters. Depending on the time of day and available sunlight, the colour can vary from a bright, baby blue to a more milky-blue colour.
The pool is seasonal, with May to September providing the best water levels while at other times it can be too dry to swim. The Cardwell Visitor & Heritage Centre is happy to help with your questions about water levels at the Spa Pool as well as suggestions for other great things to do while you’re visiting. Contact them on +61 7 4066 2412 before you visit to make sure you get the most out of your day.
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 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-minute strolls to a full day hike.
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.
Eungella NP is one of the best places to spot the elusive platypus in the wild with the viewing platforms along Broken River providing the best vantage points.
6. Undara Volcanic National Park
Formed by a large volcanic eruption approximately 190,000 years ago, the molten lava cooled and formed a hard crust, leaving behind a series of hollow tubes. Amazingly, the semi-evergreen dry rainforest has grown in the moist and sheltered entrances to the lava caves, ideal for wildlife and vegetation. Today, the lava tubes at Undara are the oldest standing lava tubes in the world.
7. Girraween National Park
Balancing boulders? Tick. Spectacular spring wildflowers? Tick. Wildlife aplenty? Tick. If you’re looking for a national park that ticks all the right boxes, look no further than Girraween National Park.
Located just outside of Stanthorpe in Southern Queensland Country, Girraween is the place to go if you can’t decide between a leisurely stroll through the wildflowers or set off on an adventure day hike. The choice is yours.
The signature peak in the park is The Pyramid, a bald steep climb to spectacular views and balancing rocks. Another classic track is The Sphinx and Turtle Rock – perfect for sunset and spotting wallabies, kangaroos and echidnas along the way.
In case you needed any more reasons to head to Girraween, the Park’s location away from anything that remotely resembles a built up area provides the perfect setting for a picnic dinner and star gazing. Just pack the mosquito spray.
8. Conondale National Park
Kondalilla and Mapleton? Been there, done that.
Heads up: High-clearance 4WD vehicles are needed to reach the day-use and camping areas, as all park roads 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 packing 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 is also a range of easy tracks strewn throughout the open rainforest, most popular is the 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 it’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 the 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 need and then some because camping out this ways requires you to be completely self-sufficient.
10. Mount Barney National Park
It might be called Mount Barney National Park, but let us tell you, Mount Barney ain’t the only peak worth traversing out 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.
For those of you who are well-worn into 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.
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.