Cairns Rainforest Waterfalls, Walks & Info

Cairns Rainforest. A lush and wild landscape of towering mountains, tumbling waterfalls, rainforest rivers, crater lakes and granite gorges. Protected places, ancient places which are home to plants and animals, some of which are found nowhere else on earth. You might have heard of the Daintree, but that’s just one of the many National Parks in Far North Queensland, that are a part of the Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage Area. We love this place and to help you explore it, we’ve prepared the Ultimate Visitor Guide for the Cairns Rainforests, drawing on our local knowledge and experience.

We love the rainforest. We’ve climbed mountains, dived into waterfalls, wandered along tracks and trails, splashed in crater lakes and white water rafted in rivers. We want you to enjoy this amazing natural paradise too, that’s why we’ve prepared our Ultimate Visitor Guide for the Cairns Rainforests.

I Love CairnsAncient Rainforest.

The rainforests that surround Cairns are the world’s oldest continually surviving tropical rainforests. They are places of remarkable and breathtaking beauty. Places you can connect with the earth and be amazed not only at its resilience, but at the diversity of plants and animals that live here. From the smallest of ferns and fungi, to towering trees, climbing palms and orchids, brilliant blue butterflies, the majestic Southern Cassowary and more. There are many ways and places you can explore this ancient rainforest, and we’re here to help with our Ultimate Cairns Rainforest Visitor Guide.

Cairns’ World Heritage Rainforest

Sir David Attenborough described the Daintree Rainforest as ‘one of the most extraordinary places on Earth’ and of course, we agree (because really, if anyone is qualified to make that kind of statement, surely it is he). The Daintree Rainforest is just one part of the greater Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage Area, which extends from Cooktown in the north to Paluma (just our side of Townsville) in the south. There are many national parks within the World Heritage Area. Those in the Cairns region include Barron Gorge, Davies Creek, Mount Hypipamee, Curtain Fig, Crater Lakes, Tully Gorge and Wooroonooran.

Each of these national parks provide visitors with a range of options to explore and experience the rainforest, which is accessible to people of all ages and abilities. In the Barron Gorge National Park you have Skyrail Rainforest Cableway, which glides over the rainforest between Cairns and Kuranda. The cableway’s gondola cabins can accommodate prams and wheelchairs and there’s boardwalks to explore the forest floor. Further afield there’s ATV tours, coach tours, rafting tours and waterfall tours, walking tracks and trails, crater lakes and look-outs – in fact, there’s something here for everyone and we’ll share some of our favourites with you.

Cairns Rainforest Places And Activities

You’ve found paradise and there’s so many places and ways you can explore Cairns’ rainforests. For those looking for a relaxing and accessible experience, it’s Skyrail, which is just 20 minutes north of the city. If you want to learn historical and botanical information about the places you are visiting, then one of the many rainforest coach tours could be for you. There are tours headed north to the Daintree and south to the Wooroonooran National Parks.

If you want to go chasing waterfalls, there’s lots on the Atherton Tablelands which you can choose to self-drive too or jump on a tour. For all action ATV and army truck rides, with a side of swimming in a waterfall, check out Cassowary Falls in the Daintree. For white water rafting in rainforest rivers, check Barron Gorge and Tully Gorge National Parks. Most National Parks have walking tracks and trails with interpretive signage. Some have waterfalls, some have crater lakes and some have trees that are hundreds of years old. We will showcase them all in time, adding more content to our site as we go and grow. If there’s something you’d like to see on our site, drop us an email and we’ll follow it up. Until then – love our rainforests, take only photos and leave only footprints.

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Questions About The Cairns Rainforests, The Daintree And Wet Tropics World Heritage Area

Is it worth visiting the Cairns Rainforests?

Yes – it is worth visiting the Cairns Rainforests. These are the oldest continually surviving tropical rainforests on the planet. Older than the Amazon. There’s lots of ways to see / explore / visit them, from Cairns rainforest tours (Skyrail Cairns and Active Tropics Explorer) to waterfall tours and self-drive adventures. Cairns is known for the Reef and Rainforest – don’t come and not see both – they are both amazing and beautiful.

Where are the Cairns Rainforests?

The Cairns rainforests are everywhere around Cairns. You will have seen them when you arrived, from the plane, train, bus or car. The mountains that surround Cairns are all covered in rainforest and the forest extends north up to Cooktown – which includes the Daintree and Cape Tribulation National Park and Mossman Gorge – and south down to Paluma (just our side of Townsville) – which includes Wooroonooran National Park – and west on the Atherton Tablelands.

Where is the best place to visit the rainforest in Cairns?

There is no definite answer to this question, as it all depends on who you are, what you are interested in seeing and who you are travelling with. The Daintree Rainforest is the most well-known, but the rainforests in the Barron Gorge National Park, Wooroonoran National Park, Crater Lakes National Park and Davies Creek National Parks are also amazing. If you are visiting with your family, then the Cairns Skyrail in the Barron Gorge National Park is great for accessibility and information. If you are traveling by yourself or with friends and want to learn about the rainforest, then take a coach tour and pick your own destination – the Daintree for pure rainforest or the Tablelands for rainforest and waterfalls. If you are seeking adventure, there’s waterfall tours on the Tablelands, rafting tours in Barron Gorge National Park and Tully National Park and ATV and army truck tours at Cassowary Falls in the Daintree. If you want to self-drive to explore the rainforests, then you can choose your own adventure. The Daintree is amazing with boardwalks and interpretive signage. The Tablelands offers crater lakes, waterfalls and trees that are thousands of years old – again with boardwalks and interpretive signage.

What’s the difference between the Daintree and Cairns Rainforests?

The Daintree Rainforest is a well-known name for the Cairns Rainforests, but it is one of many National Parks you can visit. The Daintree Rainforest is a complex environment which includes the Daintree River, home to saltwater crocodiles, Mossman Gorge where you can swim, soaring mountains, rainforest boardwalks, coastal mangroves and quite a few beaches including Cape Tribulation. You can self-drive or book a tour.

The closest rainforest to Cairns is Barron Gorge, which has the Barron River, Barron Falls and the gorge itself. You can see this on a tour (Skyrail or the Kuranda Scenic Railway) or self-drive and wander the boardwalks in and around Kuranda. You can’t swim in the Barron River, due to the presence of saltwater crocodiles.

The Tablelands has crater lakes, curtain fig trees and waterfalls. You can swim in the lakes and waterfalls and there’s lots of boardwalks and interpretive signage. There’s also several delightful villages and towns across the Tablelands, including Kuranda, Mareeba, Malanda and Yungaburra. There are Cairns Tablelands tours or you can self-drive and explore.

What’s the best family tour to see Cairns’ Rainforests?

There’s no definite answer to this, as it all depends on the age of your children and your own interests. There are quite a few tours available, so we will quickly give you an overview of our favourites.

Kuranda.

A great family destination. Cairns Skyrail is very family friendly – the gondola cabins can accommodate prams – there’s boardwalks and guided tours, and lookouts over Barron Falls and Gorge. Kuranda itself has lots of great family attractions, from the markets themselves to Kuranda Koala Gardens, Birdworld Kuranda and the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary. You can self-drive to Kuranda if you prefer.

Daintree.

Another great family destination. You can take a full day Cairns Daintree Tour, which usually includes swimming at Mossman Gorge, a Daintree River crocodile cruise, rainforest boardwalk and beach walk. These are suitable for all families, but I’d suggest your child is at least 10 years old, because it is a big day on the bus. Another great Daintree family tour is Cassowary Falls. This is an adventure tour which includes an ATV ride with creek crossings, an army truck ride through the rainforest and swimming at Cassowary Falls itself, with fish and turtle feeding. We have done this tour many times – it’s awesome! From Cairns, you would need to self-drive to Cassowary Falls, but they do offer transfers to and from Port Douglas. You can also self-drive the Daintree and book a crocodile cruise yourself.

Tablelands.

There is an awesome half day and full day waterfall tour that takes in the best of the Tablelands. It is on a coach, so again – probably more enjoyable if your kids are just that little bit older (around 10 years of age). This tour is called Waterfall Wanderers.

Tubing and Rafting.

If your family are adventurous and love being in the water, then there is rafting (minimum age to participate is 12 years old) in the Barron Gorge and Tully Gorge National Parks. There’s also tubing tours (minimum age to participate is 5 years old) which is lots of fun.

What is the best time of year to visit the Cairns Rainforests?

Any time of year is a good time to visit the Cairns Rainforests. They are not deciduous, so are green throughout the year.

Are there any waterfalls in Cairns?

Yes, there are lots of waterfalls in Cairns. We love waterfalls and have written a whole page just on this – so check our Cairns Waterfalls page for more information. You can self-drive to explore the Cairns waterfalls or book a tour.

Are there any waterfall tours in Cairns?

Yes – there are Cairns waterfall tours departing every day. For more information check our Cairns Waterfalls page.

Are there any walking tracks in the Cairns Rainforests?

Yes – there are lots of walking tracks in the Cairns Rainforests. Some of these are formed, some are boardwalks and some are graded / dirt. The closest walking tracks to the city are the Red, Yellow and Blue Arrow walks in Mount Whitfield Conservation Park, near the Cairns Botanic Gardens and Tanks Arts Centre in Edge Hill. Most of the National Parks have walking tracks and boardwalks with interpretive signage. Remember to always take water and sun protection when walking, it’s a good idea to have insect repellent too.

Can I go swimming in the Cairns Rainforest? Where can I go swimming in the Cairns Rainforest?

Yes – you can go swimming in the Cairns Rainforest BUT you need to pick the right places. The best places to swim in the Cairns Rainforest would be Crystal Cascades and Behana Gorge. The waterfalls and crater lakes of the Tablelands are fantastic and you can also swim at the Babinda Boulders and Josephine Falls in Wooroonooran National Park, to the south of the city. Cassowary Falls is the best place to swim in the Daintree and Cape Tribulation Rainforest.

In the coastal section of the rainforest, especially around the city and to its north, many of the rivers, creeks and streams have saltwater crocodiles present. You will see signage. Saltwater crocodiles are very dangerous and if in doubt, assume they are present and not swim.

Are there any lookouts in the Cairns Rainforest?

Yes – there are lookouts in the Cairns Rainforest. Pretty much every National Park has a look out of some description. Some are elevated with sweeping views over the surrounds, some are on boardwalks providing views into river systems and waterfalls.

Where can I find a Cassowary in the rainforests around Cairns?

There are lots of places you might spot a Cassowary around Cairns – and this is such a popular question, we’ve written a story on the Best Places To See A Cassowary In Cairns – so check it out for the answer to this question.

Is it worth visiting the rainforests if it’s raining?

Yes – it is definitely worth visiting the rainforests when it’s raining. They are called rainforests, because they require lots of rain to thrive and survive, so when it is raining you are seeing the rainforests at their best.

What will I see when I visit the rainforests around Cairns?

You will see lots of trees, that is a given. In fact, there are over 2,800 plant species in the Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage Area. Some live for hundreds of years – like the Kauri Pines – some live for just a few years. There are ferns and fungi, climbing palms, tree ferns, orchids, cycads and so much more. It is the plants you will mostly see when you visit the rainforests around Cairns. However, there are an abundance of animals that live in the Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage Area too, this includes 40% of Australia’s bird species, 35% of mammal species, 29% of frog species and 60% of butterfly species. The animals you are most likely to see are the birds and butterflies, perhaps lizards and forest dragons and insects.

What should I wear when visiting the Cairns rainforests?

What you should wear when visiting the Cairns rainforests depends on the time of year and how you are seeing them. If you are on a tour – they will advise suggested clothes – but generally speaking, you will be on boardwalks so light clothing and sun protection are suggested. If you are walking and exploring some of the many tracks and trails on your own, then again light clothing with sun protection and closed in footwear. At all times we recommend taking lots of drinking water. If you are visiting in winter, perhaps pack / wear a light jacket as well.

I am in a wheelchair, can I still see the Cairns rainforests?

Yes, if you are in a wheelchair you can still see the Cairns rainforests – the Skyrail Cableway is very accessible. The gondola cabins can accommodate wheelchairs and there are ramps to the boardwalks.

Can I stay in the Cairns Rainforests?

Yes – you can stay in the Cairns Rainforests. There are lots of accommodation providers across the Tablelands and in the Daintree Rainforest. There are also lots of campgrounds.

Where’s the best place to stay in Cairns’ Rainforests?

As always with these types of questions, there is no definite answer as it depends on what you are looking for and what your budget is. There are lots of places you can stay in the rainforest, which range from 5-Star Properties to Treehouses, Chalets, Retreats, Air BnBs, Bed and Breakfasts and Backpacker Accommodation. For high end properties check out what is available in the Daintree and Cape Tribulation parts of the rainforest. There is also backpacker accommodation in Cape Tribulation and camping grounds. For treehouses, retreats, bed and breakfasts and Air BnBs check out Kuranda and the southern Tablelands – there are also some in Cairns (check for properties in the Edge Hill, Stratford, Freshwater area).

Is it safe to visit Cairns’ Rainforests?

Yes – it is safe to visit Cairns’ Rainforests – on tour or exploring by yourselves.

Are there any koalas in the Cairns Rainforests?

No – there are no koalas in the Cairns Rainforests – as there are no food sources in the rainforest for koalas to eat. The eucalypt leaves preferred by koalas are not a rainforest species. However, there are lots of places you can see koalas in Cairns – including Kuranda Koala Gardens and Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures.

Are there any orchids in the Cairns Rainforest?

Yes – there are lots of orchids in the Cairns Rainforests. In fact, 30% of Australia’s orchid species live in the Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage Area.

What is the bright blue butterfly I saw in the Cairns Rainforest called?

If you saw a bright blue butterfly in the Cairns Rainforest, then it was most likely a Ulysses Butterfly. These beautiful butterflies have bright electric blue wings and they seem to dance through the leaves, making them easy to spot.

About the Author

Julie was born in Cairns and grew up running around in the cane fields south of the city. She has explored, breathed and loved everything about our amazing Cairns region her whole life. Excited to be able share this wonderful place with our son and see it all again through ‘new’ eyes. Watch this space for more info on the people, places, destinations and things you can do up here.

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