Waterfall lovers will find it hard to plan a day trip to Atherton Tablelands: there are too many waterfalls to choose from! We planned our Cairns Waterfall Circuit to check out the best waterfalls in the region and avoid the crowd.
This article is a self-drive itinerary from Cairns. We did many self-driving trips from Cairns to Atherton Tablelands waterfalls and always had a great time. Once, when we travelled during school holidays, we struggled to find a car at a decent price. If 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:
The numbers are not by order of preference but by stop during your drive.
1. Barron Falls
You cannot plan a Cairns waterfall circuit without going to Barron Falls. They are one of the most famous falls in the region. 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 on 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 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. I’ve even written a full article about it (read it here). 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. I really liked 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. 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.