A local’s guide to the best freshwater swimming spots and waterfalls near Cairns
Planning a trip to Cairns? 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.
Here’s 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 spectacular swimming spot to get your chill on.
Bring a picnic and laze about, splash around in the emerald green waters and take in the too-green-to-be-true surrounds of the rainforest towering above. It’s not hard to see why the boulders are a favourite amongst both tourists and locals.
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.
Looking for a little more adventure? Set your sights on Behana Gorge.
Located 30 minutes south of Cairns, this local hotspot will have you work up a sweat before you cool off. There’s a relatively steep hike to the top of the gorge with an impressive waterfall at the end.
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 Days.
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 it’s well worth the drive. The inland freshwater lake is formed within an extinct volcanic crater, and its cool blue waters and lush rainforest edging make it a truly unique find.
It’s got everything you need for an awesome day trip here: 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.
Zoom down rocky slides in 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 here 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 day 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 you’ll need to follow the Old Cairns Track across the Gillies Range. Be prepared to spend two hours hiking each way, and pack snacks.
Once at the falls, you’ll be treated to views out across the World Heritage-listed Wet Tropics Rainforest.
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).
Tip: there is a little ledge hidden behind the falls that you can sit on and take in the scenery.
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. Tucked away amongst the rainforest of Barron Gorge National Park near Kamerunga (15 minutes north of the city), you won’t find any crowds here. And if you do, simply keep on walking and pick another secluded pool to laze about in.
Follow the walking track alongside the creek. It leads 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.
Head into the rainforest around Redlynch Valley to 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.
Tip: Check out Fairy Falls while you’re here. 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. .
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 north of Cairns. The swimming spots become even more stunning as you head deeper into the rainforest.
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 intriguingly rich with history and Indigenous heritage.
Start at the Mossman Gorge Centre and catch a bus up to the gorge ($11.80 adults, $5.90 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 to gain a deeper insight into the ancient flora and fauna of the rainforest, and learn about traditional plant uses and Kuku Yalanji culture.
Best time to visit: Mossman Gorge is open year round, but get there early to avoid the crowds.
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, stop at Mason’s Store at Cape Tribulation to fill your belly with a yummy lunch AND 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.