A local’s guide to the best freshwater swimming spots and waterfalls near Cairns
Planning a trip to Cairns? Well, get ready to shed a few layers. In this tropical paradise, the mercury rarely dips below the 20s and the humidity is sure to keep you on the lookout for swimming spots and waterfalls year round!
With that in mind, let me give you the low-down on a few of the best freshwater hangs this region has to offer.
SOUTH OF CAIRNS
THE BABINDA BOULDERS
Located one-hour drive south of Cairns, the Babinda Boulders are definitely worth escaping the city for. It’s got rainforest, it’s got boulders and most importantly it’s got a sweet, sweet swimming spot to get your chill on.
Bring a picnic and laze about with the fam, splash around in the emerald green waters and take in the lush surrounds of the rainforest towering above you. It’s not hard to see why the boulders are a favourite amongst both tourists and locals alike.
Best time to visit: The water is generally flowing all year, although it rains A LOT in Babinda, so keep an eye on the weather and aim for a rain-free day.
If you’re looking for a little more adventure, set your sights on Behana Gorge. This local hot spot is located 30 minutes south of Cairns and offers not only a beautiful place to keep cool but also an opportunity to work up a sweat.
There is a relatively steep hike to the top of the gorge and an impressive waterfall at the end.
Hot Tip: If you’re a bit of a thrillseeker, try your hand at something that’s rumoured to be loads of fun and take a canyoning tour down the gorge with Behana Canyoning.
Best time to visit: Any time of the year this place is perfect for an adventure but it’s especially fun after a downpour.
This little treasure will take nearly an hour and a half of I-spy from Cairns but trust me it’s well worth the drive. The inland freshwater lake is formed within an extinct volcanic crater and with its cool blue waters and lush rainforest edging it’s seriously one epic find #nofilterneeded!
You’ll also find everything you need for an awesome family day trip here, with coin-operated BBQs, picnic areas, walking trails and plenty of fascinating wildlife to say g’day to (the turtle viewing platform is a must to check out).
Best time to visit: A hot summer day as the water can be quite fresh at all times of the year.
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.
Want to work up a sweat before you cool off? Hit the mountain bike trails with this handy guide.
To find Windin Falls – an area infamous on Instagram – you’ll need to follow the Old Cairns Track across the Gillies Range, so be prepared to spend two hours hiking each way. Pack snacks. Once at the falls, you’ll be treated to views out across the World Heritage-listed Wet Tropics Rainforest. You’re welcome for all the likes you’re about to get.
Just a 15-minute walk from the carpark down a dense rainforest staircase, Ellinjaa is perfect for those who like milky-white waterfalls (and well-positioned rocks to take photos on). Local’s tip: there is a little ledge hidden behind the falls that you can sit on and take in the scenery (or a GoPro selfie).
CLOSE TO THE CITY
Hoping to stick closer to Cairns? No worries! There are still plenty of nearby swimming spots to keep your cool.
Stoney Creek is another much-loved local spot and one of my personal favourites. Tucked away amongst the rainforest of the Barron Gorge National Park near Kamerunga (15 minutes north of the city), you won’t find any crowds here and if you do then simply keep on walking and pick another secluded pool to laze about in.
Follow the walking track alongside the creek and it will take you all the way up to the weir, a lush waterhole with deep rock pools of cool, clear water and a stunning waterfall. This swimming spot is certainly worth the short 15-30 minute hike off the beaten track.
Best time to visit: Any time of the year, however, be careful if there has been lots of rain as it can get slippery.
Heading into the rainforest around Redlynch Valley, you’ll find Crystal Cascades.
Located around a 20-minute drive from the city centre, this is a family-friendly hang with multiple swimming spots and plenty of space to spread out.
BYO floaty and go with the flow for an afternoon of fun and adventure.
Hot tip: If you’re looking to chase some waterfalls as well, check out Fairy Falls. Follow the rainforest path at the back of the car park for a 20-minute walk alongside the creek all the way up to the falls. You won’t be disappointed.
Best time to visit: This one is better to visit when it’s a bit dryer as it can involve boulder hopping, especially to visit the falls and is very slippery when wet. Be careful!
Set your GPS further north of Cairns and, as you head deeper into the rainforest, the swimming spots tend to become even more stunning.
Mossman Gorge attracts visitors from all over the world and it’s not hard to see why. This little pocket of paradise is around an hour and a half from the city and is not only a jaw-dropping-ly beautiful destination to get wet but it’s also intriguingly rich with history and Indigenous heritage.
Start at the Mossman Gorge Centre and catch a bus up to the gorge ($9.50 adults, $4.70 children). From there you can opt to explore the ancient rainforest on your own before jumping in for a swim, or take a guided tour with a local Aboriginal elder and learn about the history of this magical place.
Best time to visit: Mossman Gorge is open year round but my advice is to get there early and avoid the crowds. The first bus of the day is always the least crowded and the best!
MASON’S STORE, CAPE TRIBULATION
A trip to Tropical North Queensland isn’t complete without a trip to the Daintree. If you’re heading that way, I highly recommend stopping into Mason’s store at Cape Tribulation, firstly to fill your belly with a yummy lunch and secondly for a swim at their stunning swimming hole.
Wander around to the back of the store and you’ll find deep pools of crystal-clear water, where you can often spot turtles and different types of tropical fish. Some people even bring a snorkel and mask to explore beneath the surface.
Cape Tribulation is located a three-hour drive from Cairns or 1.5 hours from Port Douglas and involves a ferry crossing over the Daintree River
Best time to visit: Better to visit when it’s dry as access can be difficult after lots of rain.