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Where to go wild swimming in Tropical North Queensland

Queensland is renowned for its plethora of golden beaches but there are plenty of other spots to swim that aren’t about surf and sand.

From remote waterholes to inland lakes, here’s our pick of places for swimming, SUPing or kayaking in Tropical North Queensland.

Twin, Eliot and Fruitbat falls, Cape York

Serious campers and 4WDers descend on Cape York Peninsula every dry season (May-October) to tackle the epic Old Telegraph Track. It’s rough, dirty and challenging, which makes stopping into the Cape’s croc-free swimming holes all the more special.

Twin and Eliot Falls are practically side by side, with Twin being a shallow option and Eliot having a decent drop into the water.

Fruit Bat Falls is nearby, too, and is a great all-rounder, as there’s a large pool, gushing falls and lots of tiny rock pools to sit and soak in. Even if you take the less challenging but heavily corrugated Peninsula Development Road (PDR) to the tip, it’s easy to duck into these natural attractions as you pass.

The best time to visit… is in the dry season, when the roads are open and the creeks and waterfalls aren’t dangerously swollen.

Josephine Falls, Wooroonooran National Park

If you fancy sliding down rocks, you’ll love the natural playground of Josephine Falls, an hour south of Cairns.

There’s a beautiful top pool, with wheelchair access to a viewing platform, but it’s off-limits for swimming. Take some snaps instead and then follow the easy trail to the bottom swimming hole, where you can wallow about for as long as you like. There’s a sandy beach to relax on as well.

The falls feature on a couple of tours, so if you want to beat everyone else there, take your breakfast with you.

The best time to visit… is in autumn or spring, when you can avoid the crowds of winter as well as the summer rainfall. It’s best not to go during or straight after heavy rain as the area can experience flash flooding.

Want to work up a sweat before you cool off? Hit the mountain bike trails with this handy guide.

Emerald Creek Falls, Atherton Tablelands

Cascading water washes over granite boulders at the beautiful Emerald Creek Falls near Mareeba.

Picture a rainforest-cloaked mountain range and water pouring down into a creek and continuing over large rocks into tranquil pools. Surrounded by eucalypts, you’ll either want to soak up the serenity or revert to your inner child and play in the series of falls.

You can spend all day here, hopping between several swimming spots. There is also a lookout with views across the valley.

The best time to visit… are the shoulder seasons of autumn and spring. But, as mentioned above, it’s pleasant all year.

Millaa Millaa Falls, Atherton Tablelands

It’s hard to pick favourites on the Atherton Tablelands’ picturesque Waterfall Circuit but let’s just say you won’t be disappointed by Millaa Millaa Falls.

Only 100 kilometres (1h 40m) south-west of Cairns, expect to discover a cool waterhole surrounded by dense rainforest. Get there early to have it all to yourself, and then dry off while enjoying a picnic on the grassy bank.

Keep your eyes peeled for resident platypus, and leave time to complete the loop by checking out Zilzie and Ellinjaa Falls, too.

The best time to visit… is anytime, with the Atherton Tablelands enjoying a temperate climate. That said, if you want to swim, temperatures can drop to single digits in winter.

Alligators Nest, Tully Gorge National Park

Okay, so its name isn’t exactly enticing but rest assured that this popular swimming spot is named after a local scout group, not the menacing reptile.

There is a large swimming platform making it easy to get into the refreshing rainforest stream, as well as a pretty picnic spot with tables and gas barbecues. Although it may be tempting, do not swim in Tully River at the Tully Gorge camping and day-use areas due to the possibility of saltwater crocodiles.

The best time to visit… is in the cooler months, from April to September, as summer rain is frequent and heavy.

Finished floating around? Why not take on one of these adventures around Cairns.

Lake Tinaroo, Danbulla State Forest

For something different, head to Lake Tinaroo, about 45 minutes from the town of Atherton. Although you can go swimming here, this lake is ideal for kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding and water-skiing, and it’s hugely popular for barramundi fishing.

There are a tonne of campsites where you can pitch a tent on the shore (we recommend Downfall Creek camping area); avoid weekends as this is a local favourite and gets busy.

The best time to visit… is mid-week, when the locals are at work and there are no major fishing competitions on, unless, of course, you want to partake in them. Low (read: quiet) season in the Atherton Tablelands is from December to April.

Want more freshwater swimming holes? Check out this local’s guide.

What are your favourite wild swimming spots in Tropical North Queensland? Tell us in the comments below.