17 Best Cairns Day Trips – Reef & Rainforest

There are a huge number of Cairns day trips you can do. They take you to rainforest lined gorges and swimming holes to the Great Barrier Reef and fun north Queensland towns like Port Douglas, Babinda and Mareeba. Explore the waterfalls in the Atherton Tablelands, swim in volcanic craters at Lake Eacham, look for cassowaries at Etty Bay or take the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway and explore the markets at Kuranda.

The best thing about many day trips from Cairns is there are day tours to these places that will pick you up from your Cairns CBD accommodation. We’ll give you a guide to who would like each of these Cairns day trips and the travel times if you are driving yourself.

Featured Image: Green Island

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Great Barrier Reef Day Trips

Stingray Great Barrier Reef
Great Barrier Reef
Great Barrier Reef

Day Trips from Cairns to the Outer Great Barrier Reef

🕒  Cairns to the Outer Great Barrier Reef travel time – cruises leave from the Cairns Marina and take 90 minutes to 2 hours to get to the reef depending on whether you are going to an island or the outer reef.

❤️️ Who will like this?  The Great Barrier Reef Marine park is one of the wonders of the natural world and everyone will like seeing the amazing variety of marine life.

No matter your swimming ability you can experience the beauty of the Great Barrier Reef. When you come to Cairns, day trips to the reef are one of the most popular things to do. There are dozens of tour operators offering both snorkelling and scuba diving trips to a variety of outer reef locations. Our day trip with Divers Den took us out to Hastings Reef and Michealmas Cay.

Read more about the different options for seeing the Great Barrier Reef in our Guide to Great Barrier Reef Tours

Frankland Islands Snorkelling

Frankland Islands Cruise

🕒 Cairns to Frankland Island travel time – It is 40 minutes from Cairns to the Deeral Wharf. You can drive yourself or be picked up from your accommodation in the Cairns CBD. From Deeral it is about a 60 minute cruise to Frankland Island.

❤️️ Who will like this?  This is a Great Barrier Reef experience everyone can enjoy from families and nervous swimmers to experienced snorkellers.

This is a fantastic Cairns Day Trip to one of the closest access points to the Great Barrier Reef. You will need to book a tour with Frankland Islands Reef Cruises to do the Frankland Island day trip. It is a great day and an alternative to day trips out to Green Island or Fitzroy Island.  Only one tour provider can go to the Frankland Islands, so it is a less crowded experience than other Great Barrier Reef Island day trips and there is lots to do when you get there.

The day trip tour includes the cruise down the Mulgrave River and out to Normanby Island, guided snorkelling tours, guided island wildlife walks, a free ride in the semi-submersible, free use of kayaks and stand up paddleboards, lunch, beginners snorkelling tours and lots of free time to swim on your own to explore the coral and local sea turtles.

We had a great day; you can read more about The Frankland Islands here

Fitzroy Island Turtle

Fitzroy Island Day Trip

🕒 Cairns to Fitzroy Island travel time – The cruise departs from the Cairns Marina, and it takes 45 minutes to get to Fitzroy Island.

❤️️ Who will like this?  This is a great day trip from Cairns for anyone who wants to snorkel on the Great Barrier Reef and relax on a beautiful tropical Island. It’s suitable for both couples and families.

The Fitzroy Island Tour is one of the most popular day trips from Cairns to the Great Barrier Reef. There are plenty of great snorkelling spots on the island including off the main beach where the ferry docks. You can also do the short walk to Nudey Beach and snorkel over the coral in this idyllic bay. There is plenty of room to find a patch of sand for yourself where you can relax under a palm tree or if you feel energetic you can go for hike to the lighthouse. A day trip to Fitzroy Island can be as action packed or relaxed as you like.

Read our full review of our Fitzroy Island Day Trip

Green Turtle

Green Island Tour

🕒 Cairns to Green Island travel time – The cruise to Green Island departs from the Cairns Marina and takes 45 minutes to get to Green Island.

❤️️ Who will like this?  Snorkellers and anyone wanting a bit of secluded tropical island beach time.

A day trip to Green Island is another great option for getting onto the Great Barrier Reef from Cairns. Surrounded by coral, there are probably more snorkelling opportunities here than Fitzroy Island, especially for confident swimmers who are happy getting further offshore. There are also glass bottom boat tours and a walking track that takes you through the low lying rainforest that covers much of the island. There are plenty of opportunities to find a private bay to have all to yourself as well.

Day Trips from Cairns

Four Mile Beach Port Douglas

Port Douglas

🕒 Cairns to Port Douglas travel time – It is a bit over 60 minutes from Cairns to Port Douglas. Just take the Bruce Highway north and look for the turnoff just after Craiglie.

❤️️ Who will like this?  Port Douglas has wide appeal. There are plenty pubs, cafes and restaurants to explore, some fun wildlife experiences and great beaches.

It might only be an hour from Cairns, but you could spend a whole day getting from Cairns to Port Douglas – check out our road trip post on all the things to do along the way. But a day in Port Douglas could include a visit to the Wildlife Habitat Wildlife Park, spend some time relaxing on beautiful Four Mile Beach, go on the fun Port Douglas River Cruise and take in the views at Rex Smeal Park and Flagstaff Hill Lighthouse.

There are also some great places to wine and dine in Port Douglas. Try the waterfront Tin Shed or iconic Iron Bar in the main street. Grant Street is also full of eateries like Mocka’s Pies and Chilliy’s Pizza where you can also see cane toad racing. You could also pop into Mossman Gorge which is 15 minutes further north – we have made it a separate day trip from Cairns.

Read More about our Carins to Port Douglas Road Trip

The Cathedral

Mossman Gorge

🕒 Cairns to Mossman Gorge travel time – it takes 75 minutes to get from Cairns to Mossman Gorge. Follow the Bruce Highway to Mossman and signage will get you rest of the way.

❤️️ Who will like this?  Anyone who likes swimming in freshwater rivers, seeing waterfalls and likes walking through a rainforest.

You could include a trip to Mossman Gorge on your Cairns day trip to Port Douglas, but you will want to allow a good couple of hours at Mossman Gorge to take it all in. There is no shortage of this waterfall, rainforest, freshwater swimming hole scenery in tropical north Queensland but Mossman Gorge is about as beautiful as it gets.

You will need to park at the Visitor Centre and pay to get a shuttle bus into the gorge but the boardwalk views over the Mossman River, short but spectacular rainforest walks, and swimming holes make it worthwhile. There are also excellent guided tours with local Kuku Yalangi people you can book too. For more information about swimming at Mossman Gorge and the walks at Mossman Gorge read our separate stories.

Find out more about drifting along the Mossman River

Birdworld Kuranda

Kuranda Village

🕒 Cairns to Kuranda travel time – It depends how you get there. You can drive to Kuranda from Cairns in 40 minutes. The Skyrail Cable Car takes 90 minutes departing from Smithfield or the Kuranda Scenic Railway takes 2 hours departing from Cairns Railway Station.

❤️️ Who will like this?  Kuranda has something for everyone. It’s a fun day trip for wildlife and nature lovers and shoppers. All the attractions are very close together.

Heading into the hills to Kuranda Village has to be one of the most popular Cairns day trips. Getting there is half the fun with the option to either take the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway or Kuranda Scenic Railway. Once you are in Kuranda there are markets to wander through, you can visit the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary, Kuranda Koala Gardens or Kuranda Birdworld.

Get a rainforest experience either at the Rainforestation Nature Park or you can do the fun Barron River cruise that departs from near the train station. If it has been wet, it is also worth going to the Barron Falls Lookout. Another great free thing to do in Kuranda is check out the fossils and minerals at the Emu Ridge Gallery and the art at the 12 art galleries dotted around the village.

Palm Cove
Palm Cove

Palm Cove & Northern Beaches

🕒 Cairns to Palm Cove travel time – it takes 26 minutes to get from Cairns to Palm Cove. Follow the Bruce Highway to Mossman and signage will get you rest of the way.

❤️️ Who will like this? Palm Cove is perfect for anyone who enjoys a day at the beach. Families and couples will both enjoy the safe beach swimming & plentiful cafes.

If you haven’t realised that the beaches in Cairns are non-existent, it can be disappointing when you first set eyes on the Cairns foreshore. But in less than 30 minutes you can have your feet buried in sand when you visit Cairns’ Northern Beaches.

Palm Cove is the go to spot, but Trinity Beach is also lovely. Find beautiful beaches lined with palms and beach almond trees. In both places the Esplanade is full of cafes, and they have stinger nets for safe swimming.

From Palm Cove you can also go on a kayak turtle tour to Double Island. While it won’t take you long to get to the Northern Beaches, you’ll have no trouble spending the day here relaxing and enjoying the stunning tropical north Queensland coastline.

Davies Creek Falls
Davies Creek Falls


🕒 Cairns to Mareeba travel time – It takes about 60 minutes to get to Mareeba. First you wind your way up to Kuranda before the road straightens out to Mareeba – just follow the signs.

❤️️ Who will like this?  From history buffs to nature lovers, Mareeba offers a variety of things to do and quite a different feel to Cairns.

On a day trip from Cairns to Mareeba you get over the ranges and on to the edge of the savannah. Mareeba has an interesting mix of food, history and natural features to explore.  Foodies will want to try a brew or chocolate from Coffee Works or Jaques Coffee Plantation or a fruit wine from De Brueys Boutique Wines. The Mareeba Heritage Museum and Visitor Centre gives you an amazing insight into the region’s history through some great displays. You can also ask about one of Mareeba’s best known attractions -the dawn hot air balloon rides.

Nature lovers should head 15 minutes out of town to Granite Gorge where, in this private park, you can walk over enormous boulders and feed the little black footed rock wallabies. You can explore the walking trails at the Mareeba Tropical Savanna and Wetland Reserve or, if you are feeling fit, explore nearby Davies Creek National Park which has the challenging Ridge (9km) and Kahlpahlim Rock (11km) Trails. The much shorter and easier 1.1km Davies Creek Falls Circuit is also a pretty walk.

Lake Eacham
Lake Eacham

Lake Eacham, Lake Barrine & Yungaburra

🕒 Cairns to Lake Eacham travel time – Lake Eacham is 75 minutes south of Cairns, look for the turnoff as you come through Gordonvale and Yungaburra is less than 10 minutes from Lake Eacham.

❤️️ Who will like this?  This is a dream Cairns day trip for nature lovers. If you like the idea of swimming in or walking around a volcanic crater lake full of crystal clear water surrounded by beautiful forest, you will love Lake Eacham. You can also try to spot a platypus at Yungaburra.

Lake Eacham is one of those stunningly beautiful places that you have to see to believe. Surrounded by rainforest, this (now extinct) water filled volcanic crater is one of the most magic places to cool off near Cairns. There is easy access down to the water and a small jetty. You can also walk the 3km circuit track around the lake, some signage helps you appreciate the place and understand why it is part of the Wet Tropics World Heritage area.

You can also swim and do a slightly longer walk (5km loop) around neighbouring Lake Barrine. The two Lakes are in Crater Lakes National Park. Nearby, Yungaburra is well-known as a platypus spotting location, there is a viewing platform where you can try your luck – dawn and dusk is best. In Yungaburra, walk the Peterson Creek – Wildlife & Botanical Walking Track for more chances to spot a platypus and a tree kangaroo. Also make sure you get to the impressive Curtain Fig tree a couple of minutes from Yungaburra.

Paronella Park © Mandy Potter
Paronella Park © Mandy Potter

Paronella Park & Mamu Skywalk

🕒 Cairns to Paronella Park travel time – it takes 90 minutes to get from Cairns to Paronella Park or Mamu Skywalk. It is a 30 minute drive between Paronella Park and Mamu Skywalk.

❤️️ Who will like this?  This is a relaxing day if you like gardens, architecture and history. The skywalk is also an easy and spectacular way to explore the rainforests of Wooroonooran National Park.

This Cairns day trip takes you south of Cairns and onto a short scenic drive called The Canecutters Way. Paronella Park is one of Queensland’s best known and most popular attractions, the sight of this old stone castle surrounded by beautiful gardens and the nearby rainforest and cane fields is quite something. There are day and evening tours of Paronella Park, at night the place looks even more amazing lit up. Mena Falls are right next door and a walk across the suspension bridge to see them is great fun.

Mamu Skywalk takes you up into the rainforest canopy on a series of elevated boardwalks and cantilevered lookouts. It’s a great way to learn about the rainforest, it’s a similar experience to the rainforest skywalk at Tamborine Mountain – which we also loved. Only a few minutes from Mamu Skywalk you can do short and rewarding walks to Tchupala and Wallacha Falls. If you want some more waterfall action, the beautiful Milaa Milaa Waterfall is 20 minutes from the Mamu Skywalk.

Millaa Milla Waterfall Atherton Tablelands
Millaa Millaa Falls

Atherton Tablelands

🕒 Cairns to Atherton Tablelands travel time – This Cairns day trip is all about the journey. Rather than going to a single destination there are lots of stops. Expect to cover around 100km over the course of the day.

❤️️ Who will like this?  Waterfall watchers, nature lovers and foodies all have something to look forward to on a day trip through the Atherton Tablelands.

A great way to explore the Atherton Tablelands is to follow the Atherton Tablelands Waterfall Circuit. Not only will you get to see the lovely Milaa Milaa, Zillie, Ellinjaa, Malanda and Tchupalla Falls from only short walks, but you’ll pass Lake Eacham, Lake Barrine and Lake Tinaroo, lovely spots all. At Yungaburra look for a platypus from the viewing platform and visit the huge Curtain Fig Tree. At Tolga try some delicious high oleic peanuts.

Although we have them listed as separate daytrips, you will also find yourself near Babinda Boulders, Josephine Falls and Paronella Park. If you like a landmark, you can also include a detour to Ravenshoe to see Millstream Falls, the widest single drop falls in Australia. There really is a lot to see on this day trip so you might want to think about where to spend your time or whether you want to stop for a day somewhere or break it into a couple of daytrips.

Find more great Waterfalls in Queensland

Babinda Boulders
Babinda Boulders


🕒 Cairns to Babinda travel time – It is 50 minutes from Cairns to Babinda along the Bruce Highway south of Cairns.

❤️️ Who will like this?  You’ll like this day trip to Babinda if you enjoy swimming in freshwater rock pools or palm lined beaches, kayaking and nature walks.

Babinda, once a bustling sugar mill centre, is now a quiet little town less than an hour from Cairns. The bakery alone is worth the drive but the other main attraction here are the Babinda Boulders. ‘The Boulders’ are a beautiful, easy to access swimming and picnic area. The swimming area is safe and stunning and there is a short walk to Devils Pool where you can see water tumbling of huge boulders. You can also hire kayaks and go for a paddle down the Babinda River which a lot of fun – just book your kayaks in advance.

From Babinda, you can also get some sand between your toes at Bramston Beach which is just 15 minutes away. On your way there, you’ll see a turn off to Eubenangee Swamp where there is a fun short walk to a picturesque lookout over the swamp. And 15 minutes in the other direction you can explore Josephine Falls for more freshwater swimming holes although these ones take a bit of rocking hopping to get into the water. You also get great views of the impressive Walsh’s Pyramid.

Plan your day in Babinda here

Etty Bay Cassowary
Etty Bay Cassowary

Innisfail & Etty Bay

🕒 Cairns to Innisfail travel time – It takes 75 minutes to get from Cairns to Innisfail along the Bruce Highway and Etty Bay is only 15 minutes further. You could combine the day trip from Cairns with your day trip to Babinda.

❤️️ Who will like this?  History buffs will enjoy Innisfail’s architecture and the sugar cane museum. Etty bay is a beautiful place for some beach time and a great place to spot a cassowary.

To be perfectly honest, there is surprisingly little to do in Innisfail, hence you could spend some time around Babinda on the way through.  Innisfail’s Art Deco architecture is interesting to look at and Warrina Lakes is a pretty spot for a picnic lunch and walk but otherwise… The highlight here is the Australian Sugar Heritage Museum (which is actually in neighbouring Mourilyan) and is a fascinating place that does a great job painting a picture of the sugarcane industry in Queensland. 

The fun part of this Cairns day trip is going to Etty Bay, a beautiful beach lined with palm trees and tucked in front of a rainforest covered hill. There is a netted swimming area, lots of shade and a great fish and chip shop. Best of all, there is a resident cassowary that, if it smells your lunch, is a chance of coming by to say hello. They are stunning creatures and seeing one up close is a fantastic experience.

Plan a Day Trip to Etty Bay or Stay for the Night

Big Day Trips from Cairns

There are some Cairns day trips that are do-able in a day, but to be honest they are better done over more than a day. However, if you are based in Cairns, you can still get to these locations in a day or join tours there, they are just big drives.

Raging Thunder Adventures
Raging Thunder Adventures © Tourism & Events Queensland

Tully White River Rafting

🕒 Cairns to Tully travel time – It takes 2 hours to get to Tully and for this tour there are hotel picks in the Cairns CBD.

❤️️ Who will like this?  Adventure lovers that want to take on the North Queensland rapids.

White water rafting is one of the best adventure activities in Cairns and the best place to do it is on a day trip to the Tully River (you can do white water rafting closer to Cairns, but the rapids are more rapid in Tully!). With white water guaranteed by the timely release of water from an upstream dam, this is an amazing full day activity done under the watchful eye of expert guides. It’s a big day with a couple of hours in a bus either side of your rafting, but it’s sensational fun and scenery on the bus ride is pretty decent too.

South Mission Beach
South Mission Beach

Mission Beach

🕒 Cairns to Mission Beach travel time – It takes just under 2 hours to get to Mission Beach. Most of the drive is on the Bruce Highway then you turn off towards the coast at El Arish.

❤️️ Who will like this? People looking for a super relaxed seaside town with some great rainforest walks where you can look for a cassowary. But adventure lovers will enjoy the sky diving option here too.

There is a bunch of great stuff to see between Cairns and Mission Beach including many of the day trips mentioned above. But one thing unique to Mission Beach that is worth the trip here on its own is the chance to go sky diving over the Great Barrier Reef. Get strapped onto the back of an experienced sky diver for aerial views of the reef, rainforest and Family Islands before you land right on the sand in the heart of Mission Beach.

Once your heart rate has dropped, you can enjoy the rest of the day relaxing in this quiet tropical town. Try and spot a cassowary at Lacey Creek or Licuala Rest Areas or go for a stroll along the coast on the Ulysses Walking Trail. There are some great cafes here too making a day in Mission Beach something to remember.

Find the Best Things to do in Mission Beach

Daintree Discovery Centre
Daintree Discovery Centre
Daintree Rainforest
Daintree Rainforest

Cape Tribulation & Daintree Rainforest

🕒 Cairns to Cape Tribulation travel time – It takes about 2 hours 30 minutes to get to Cape Tribulation which includes crossing the Daintree River by ferry which will cost you about $45.00 return for a car.

❤️️ Who will like this? Nature lovers who want to explore the beautiful Daintree National Park where the rainforest meets the reef.

The wet tropics is an exquisite place with the UNESCO World Heritage Listed Daintree Rainforest at its heart. It’s a big day just to get here for a day but you won’t regret it, there are day tours from Cairns which are a great option. From Cape Tribulation Beach you can access the Great Barrier Reef. A super-fast runner duck has you snorkelling on Mackay and Undine reefs in just 45 minutes, we loved that tour.

To explore the rainforest, you can go to the Daintree Discovery Centre for self-guided audio tours on elevated walk ways. There are also several short walks you can do through the rainforest including the Kulki Boardwalk (600m), Dubuji Boardwalk (1.2km), the Madja Boardwalk (1.2km) and Jindalba Boardwalk or Circuit Track (600m/3km).

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Cairns Day Trips
Cairns Day Trips
Cairns Day Trips
Cairns Day Trips
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