The Best Day Trips from Cairns Australia

lake eacham national park

Cairns Australia is one beautiful place and you can take some amazing day trips from Cairns! I had no idea what to expect when we touched down at the teeny tiny airport ready to commence our Australian east coast road trip! I’d heard that Cairns gets the big thumbs up from a lot of backpackers because of its insane nightlife. Now call me a granny but my clubbing days are well and truly behind me so I was sceptical to whether we would really enjoy Cairns, given we wouldn’t be participating in staying out until 3 am.

Luckily, Cairns exceeded all of our expectations set the bar high for our road trip! As well as spending two days in the city of Cairns, one day on the Great Barrier Reef we also took two-day trips from cairns. In this post, I’ll be giving you low down on the best day trips from Cairns! If you love chasing waterfalls and jumping in lakes then these day trips will be right up your alley! 

The Gateway to the Ocean and Rainforest

Cairns is the city where the rainforest meets the reef. You’ve got. The Daintree rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef both easily accessible from Cairns, which is what makes this city so popular! Both the Daintree and Great Barrier Reef are incredible places and I urge you to visit both! Snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef is one of the most fabulous experiences I’ve ever had. In fact, I think it was easily as epic as sailing the Whitsundays and our weekend on Fraser Island! The reef may not be as colourful as it once was but it still blew my mind! The views as you’re sailing out into the middle of the ocean when the reef comes into view is like nothing I’ve seen before. If you’re planning to visit Australia then the Great Barrier Reef has to be on your Australian Bucket List! 

Cairns Lagoon
Cairns Lagoon – Get ready for plenty more water selfies like this throughout this post!

Even though the reef maybe what made Cairns so popular it’s not the only amazing sight to see! The day trips we took from Cairns were so much fun! We spent a full day exploring waterfalls and another one jumping into lakes in the Atherton Tablelands.

The Best Day Trip from Cairns – Places to Go

  • Atherton Tablelands
  • Yungaburra
  • Lake Eacham
  • Lake Barrine
  • Curtain Fig Tree National Park
  • Lake Tinaroo
  • Josephine Falls
  • Millaa Millaa Falls
  • Diner Falls and Crater

These are some of the best destinations to visit near Cairns. I’ve gone into details about each of these places below and it’s safe to say I recommend them all!

Driving into the Backcountry 

Before I get into some of the best day trips from Cairns in Australia a few things about the drives! The places mentioned in this post are located in the Atherton Tablelands. To get there the main highway is called the. Gillies Range and it is very windy with steep drop-offs! We managed to avoid on the way there but braved it on the way back. I must admit, although it was fine, it was a little scary! Just be sure to go very slowly around the bends especially in a campervan, those drops are big as! There are other routes so just take a look on your navigation device before you set off.

The backcountry is also very rural and there’s only a few gas station so just make sure you fill up before you go and at anywhere you pass. Don’t try to be savvy and wait until you pass a cheaper station and you just might not find one before having to push and nobody wants that on vacation do they?! 

Day Trips from Cairns – Lake Eacham and Lake Tinaroo 

Nestled into the Atherton Tablelands are three beautiful lakes which are 100% worth a visit. I actually didn’t know much about these lakes but they turned out to be awesome! The Atherton Tablelands is gorgeous the countryside is stunning. The hills roll for miles. It’s so refreshing to be back into the countryside and leave the coast behind for a day. Hopping between lakes in the Atherton Tablelands is a great day trip from Cairns, pack your swimmers and bring the kayak if you’ve got one! 

Lake Eacham 

The best lake in the Atherton Tablelands in undoubtedly Lake Eacham it was my favourite part about this day trip from Cairns. This crystal clear lake is situated in the Crater Lakes National Park. The lake is surrounded by lush green rainforest and if you could see if from above it literally looks like a crater in the middle of the rainforest which is pretty cool! The lake was created by a volcanic explosion many years ago, over the years the crater filled with water creating Lake Eacham. 

Lake Eacham
The gorgeous Lake Eacham!

Swimming in Lake Eacham 

Swimming is allowed in Lake Eacham, there were even people diving in the lake during our visit. The lake is deep but there’s also a ramp down to the water so you can even have a little paddle if you’re not a confident swimmer. If you do swim in the lake then make sure you bring some goggles! We didn’t have any and I was so gutted as there are so many fish in this lake. There are also turtles and we saw 3 baby turtles swimming around which was magical! 

baby turtle in lake eacham

Crocodiles in Lake Eacham 

Before visiting Lake Eacham it’s handy to be aware of the crocodile that lives in the lake! Yes, you can swim in the lake with Lake Eacham’s very own freshwater crocodile! It wasn’t until we got out that we heard some other travellers talking about it! It turns out that this crocodile has lived in the lake for years. This particular croc is known to be timid and never attacked any swimmers. As a rule, freshwater water crocodiles are very tame compared to the saltwater croc – you don’t want to meet one of those guys whilst swimming!

Be aware that there are plenty of saltwater crocodiles in the lakes of Far North Queensland so just be careful and only swim where swimming is permitted! 

Other Things to Do at Lake Eacham 

If you don’t fancy swimming on this day trip from Cairns then there are plenty of walks to enjoy at Lake Eacham. The Lake Circuit Track is a great walk to enjoy that’s accessible for all. This 3 km walk follows around the lake and is a great spot for spotting wildlife and enjoying views of the lake. Make sure you do stick to the track though because there are some prohibited areas which are clearly signposted! For more information on the walk take a look at this website. 

couple swimming in lake eacham
Just swimming with a freshwater croc..

Day Trips from Cairns – Lake Tinaroo 

Even though we spent just one day visit all three of the lakes you could easily spend a whole day at Lake Tinaroo. Lake Tinaroo is huge stretching over 3000 hectares! As well as being a beautiful landscape to enjoy the lake also supplied water to some of the neighbouring rural towns. Lake Tinaroo is a popular place enjoyed by locals and travellers. You can swim, kayak and enjoy various walking tracks around the lake. We actually stayed overnight at Lake Tinaroo and only had a few hours left of the day to enjoy the lake. I recommend having at least a whole afternoon to enjoy the beauty! The Lake Tinaroo Holiday Park is located upon the lake where you can rent boats and kayaks, they also sell gas if you end up running low! 

Lake Tinaroo
Lake Tinaroo!

Day Trips from Cairns – Yungaburra, Lake Barrine and Curtain Fig Tree 


Yungaburra is a tiny village nestled in the heart of the Atherton Tablelands! The village may be small but it’s quaint and runs a market every weekend which has the locals from Cairns flocking in! Stroll around the streets enjoying the old feel of the village. You can also explore the Avenue of Honour a memorial honouring those who fought for Australia and New Zealand in the War.  

Lake Barrine 

Lake Barrine is another gorgeous lake! If someone told me how much I would love walking around and having lunch beside a lake when I was younger I’d have a lot more attention to the places my mum used to take me πŸ˜‰ anyone else? Anyway, Lake Barrine is stunning. They have a cafe with a veranda that looks out onto the water and their cheese toasties are one of the best I’ve ever had (and I’m a toastie snob)! You can also take out a glass-bottom boat on the lake which you can find more information about here. 

Curtain Fig Tree National Park

the curtain fig tree in australia
The impressive Curtain Fig Tree!

The Curtain Fig tree is worth seeing on one of these day trips from Cairns! It’s only a short distance away from Lake Barrine. It’s one of those natural wonders you could just stare at for hours. This Curtain Fig Tree is huge! The fig tree has been around for over 500 years and started out as a single tree! Several branches then grow out of the tree’s branches and back into the ground and new trees then grew into it! You can see it’s quite impressive! 

Day Trips from Cairns – Waterfalls in the Atherton Tablelands 

We spent one of our day trips exploring three of the best waterfalls around Cairns. This actually wasn’t something we had planned which made our day trip even better! We actually saw heaps of leaflets advertising waterfall trails from Cairns. Most of them were included in tours but we decided to take a look at the waterfalls online and drive ourselves if they looked fun! As soon we started researching we were literally on our way into the backcountry of Cairns hunting down waterfalls. The three waterfalls we visited were: 

  • Josephine Falls 
  • Millaa Millaa Falls 
  • Crater Lake 
  • Diner Falls


There are plenty more hidden waterfalls near Cairns but we knew that you could swim in these so thought if we stick to just a few we’ll have plenty of time. Travelling slowly is what Dave and I love! I’m so over rushing around places just to fit everything in. If we see less but enjoy the places we do see more then it’s totally worth it! So if you are thinking of taking a day trip from Cairns to chase waterfalls and want to fit more in then take a look at this post about the best waterfalls near Cairns! 

waterfall in cairns
Millaa Millaa Falls!

But if you decide just to visit these waterfalls then you certainly aren’t missing out. It actually took us all day to get around each of these falls. And no, it isn’t because I’m a slow driver. I recommend starting at Josephine Falls and ending at Diner Falls. You can swim in both Josephine and Millaa Millaa but not the Crater or Diner falls so it makes sense to visiting this last when it starts cooler and you start losing some light. 

I’m not going to go into too much detail about this day trip chasing waterfalls because I actually wrote a whole other post on it here!

But it’s honestly one of the best things to do near Cairns. Josephine Falls has an epic natural slide where you can throw yourself down and land in another section of the waterfall. Don’t be fooled as you watch kids throw themselves down, it’s actually scary as hell, you can tell by my terrified face on the footage below!

Millaa Millaa is a little more mellow but the water if gorgeous to swim into. Millaa Millaa was actually used for the Herbal Essence advert broadcast all over the world so expect to see people trying to get the perfect Instagram shot of them whipping their hair back! It’s pretty funny when the boys attempt it though! 

Sharing is Caring

Cairns is surrounded by an epic landscape so it’s worth taking one of these day trips to experience all that the region has to offer. We loved every moment of these trips as you can see by the photographs and hilarious videos! It’s also great to escape the coast. Being from the countryside myself I love being amongst country fields and the land. So many travellers come to Australia and explore only the coast but Australia is just as beautiful inland too! I hope you enjoyed this post on day trips from Cairns! If you did enjoy it I would love it if you could share it with your friends! 

For more of my posts about Australia then take a look here! Also make sure you subscribe to my monthly newsletter where I send out life updates, a round-up of blog posts and general travel tips/information! AND if you’re a fellow nurse like me then you might like these posts about travel nursing! 

Happy Travels!



Alicia is a travel obsessed Registered Nurse who is on a mission to help other unfulfilled nurses reconnect with their purpose, passion and joy for life. Alicia has suffered from countless bouts of burnout in her nursing career and now wants to help other nurses too. Alicia is a huge advocate for travel and travel makes up a huge part of her life and this blog! Join her on her adventures nursing around the world and helping others to live a happier more positive life.

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