Waterfall lovers will find it hard to plan a day trip: there are so many waterfalls near Cairns to choose from! We planned our Cairns Waterfall Circuit to check out the best waterfalls in the region and avoid the crowd. I always enjoy waterfalls a lot more when I can connect with the surrounding nature. That’s why I like to avoid crowded places.
Renting a car in Cairns to drive the Cairns Waterfall Circuit
This article is a self-drive itinerary from Cairns, so you’ll need a car to explore this list of waterfalls near Cairns. We organised many self-driving trips from Cairns to Atherton Tablelands waterfalls and always had a great time. We’d hire a car from the airport (more choices and flexibility with timings to take and leave the car) and explore the region.
It’s better to have a car so that you can visit the less famous waterfalls, enjoy the tranquillity of being the only ones there and keep your itinerary flexible if you want to spend more or less time at one of the beautiful spots.
However, hiring a car is not always an option. Once, when we travelled during the school holidays, we struggled to find a car at a decent price. If unfortunately it happens to you and you’re looking for things to do in Cairns (other than visiting the reef), there are many guided tours that will take you to visit the waterfalls near Cairns:
Our favourite waterfalls near Cairns to visit on your Cairns Waterfall Circuit
The numbers are not by order of preference but by stop during your drive.
1. Barron Falls
You cannot plan your Cairns Waterfall Circuit without going to Barron Falls. They are one of the most famous falls in the region, and maybe even in Queensland. If you leave Cairns early, you may avoid the crowd. We were lucky to be by ourselves for a few minutes. But as they’re closed to the city and quite impressive, the lookout is often very busy.
A 40-minute drive from Cairns CBD will take you to the end of Barron Falls Rd. The first lookout is not far from the carpark. A boardwalk winds down in the forest all the way to the scenic train station. It’s only a short and easy ten-minute walk worth doing. The rainforest canopy is beautiful and the views of Barron Falls at the end of the walk are much better than the first lookout.
Another option is to check out Barron Falls another day as part of your Skyrail experience and not during your Cairns Waterfall Circuit drive. You will get a unique point of view on the gorge from up there and on the opposite side. If you take the Kuranda Train to get there, you will get to see another beautiful waterfall on the way, Stoney Creek Falls. Check out these tours:
2. Little Millstream Falls
When you’re planning a waterfall circuit in a region with enough waterfalls to keep you entertained for days, you don’t want to visit the small falls as a priority. Still, we found Little Millstream Falls are worth the detour, especially if you’re looking for quiet spots to enjoy beautiful nature. I’ve even written a full article about it (read it here).
Plus, it only takes 15 minutes to drive there from Big Millstream Falls.
3. Big Millstream Falls
After you read that Big Millstream Falls are Australia’s widest single-drop waterfall, it’s hard not to put them on your list of waterfalls to visit on your Cairns waterfalls circuit. The lookout is very easy to access (700m return).
4. Millaa Millaa Falls
Millaa Millaa Falls are reputedly Australia‘s most photographed waterfall. It’s hard to avoid the crowd when you visit this one. Still, they should be on your list if you explore Cairns Waterfall Circuit for the first time. Your best chance is to visit it first thing in the morning or late in the afternoon. Tours groups shouldn’t be there anymore.
The other nearby waterfalls are also quite busy but worth the short drive. Zillie Falls are just a few minutes away from Millaa Millaa Falls. It’s a lot less visited than Milla Milla Falls but I found them as impressive. And my favourite on this road is Ellinjaa Falls. Again, if you go there early or late, there won’t be too many people.
5. Wallicher and Tchupala Falls
This one-hour return hike gives you the opportunity to view two waterfalls near Cairns. As you have to walk a bit, you won’t find many people there. The Y-shaped trail takes you to Wallicher Falls on the left and Tchupala Falls on the right. The hardest part is to make sure you don’t miss it as you drive down the motorway.
Wallicher Falls were my favourite of the two. Unfortunately, since a cyclone hit in 2006, walkers can no longer access the bottom of the Tchupala Falls and the lookout on the other side. It is a bit frustrating, but still worth the short detour.
Other waterfalls near Cairns that weren’t included in this Cairns Waterfall Circuit itinerary
Waterfalls near Cairns
You won’t have time to see all the waterfalls near Cairns in just one day. There are too many. But if you’re staying in Cairns and still want to check out nearby waterfalls, these ones are close to the city: Crystal Cascades (we visited them while canyoning in Cairns, it was a lot of fun!) and two others I am yet to visit, Stony Creek Falls and Isabella Falls.
Other waterfalls in the Atherton Tablelands
Josephine Falls are one of the most popular waterfalls near Cairns and are often included on Cairns Waterfall Circuit itineraries. They look stunning, but they’re also very often crowded. I prefer visiting the other waterfalls with fewer people to get a better connection with nature and the surrounding beauty. But if you don’t mind the crowd, you may prefer to have these ones on your list.
Nandroya Falls, Cannabullen Falls and Windin Falls
I haven’t visited these ones yet. You need to hike to these waterfalls and it was too hard to fit a long walk in our Cairns Waterfall Circuit itinerary.
A 6.6-kilometre circuit will take you to Nandroya Falls, a 60-meter drop waterfall. The walk in the rainforest is known to be splendid, and you’ll get to see Silver Falls on the way.
A 4WD vehicle is recommended to access both Cannabullen Falls and Windin Falls. And both trails are about 14km return long. Windin Falls offers stunning views of the Wooroonooran National Park. You may have seen a few photos on Instagram taken from the infinity pool with breathtaking views of the valley in the background.
We decided to skip this one as it is located within an Outdoor Education Centre, so we weren’t sure what to expect in terms of the crowd during the school holidays.
What’s the best time to visit waterfalls near Cairns?
It rains quite a lot during summer (December – February), so the waterfalls near Cairns get full. So the best time to visit waterfalls near Cairns is just after the wet season, in autumn. However, if you plan to hike, then the winter is a better time to visit waterfalls near Cairns. The trails will be less slippery and temperatures will be more comfortable.
Morning lights are the best to see waterfalls, but you’ll need a full day to check out all the waterfalls near Cairns.
We found the waterfall circuit was a good activity to do on a rainy day in Cairns as we spent a lot of time in the car, and most waterfalls still looked very pretty (and full!) with a bit of rain.
What equipment should you bring for the Cairns Waterfall Circuit?
I highly recommend bringing good shoes to visit the Cairns Waterfall Circuit. Most people will be fine doing it with sandals. However, some tracks are slippery and the terrain is uneven, so you’ll walk a lot quicker with good shoes.
It’s often hot in the region, so you’ll be happy to have your swimsuit and towel with you.
Responsible travel tip: Did you know your sunscreen can pollute the water and harm animals? The best way to protect your body from the sun is to cover it with long sleeves and pants. If you do have to use sunscreen, choose a mineral one (like zinc) to avoid harmful substances (see the full list here) and apply it at least 20 minutes before entering the water.
If you want to visit all the waterfalls on this list, I recommend packing food and snacks in Cairns. You won’t have time to look for a place for lunch and wait to be served. It’s better to maximise your time and have a picnic while you enjoy one of these beautiful waterfalls near Cairns. Make sure you bring your rubbish home.
One last tip for this waterfall itinerary: make sure you download the local map on your phone so that you can access it offline. You will drive to places where the phone reception is poor, so it will be useful to still be able to access your GPS.