16 BEST Cairns Day Trips Not to Be Missed [2022 Guide]

Thinking about Cairns day trips to add even more adventure to your visit? In this post, we’ll cover 16 great ideas for memorable day trips from Cairns!

Cairns, in Tropical North Queensland, is known for the amazing tropical gateways, lush landscapes, towering waterfalls and of course for being the launching pad for adventures to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

The town is a brilliant place to base your self to explore the this area, and while there are so many incredible things to do in Cairns, most of the top attractions are actually outside of the city.

There are tonnes of day tours from Cairns that offer visitors the chance to learn more about places like the Great Barrier Reef, the Daintree Rainforest or about our Australian Aboriginal people and their land.

From beautiful beaches to fast flowing waterfalls and numerous World Heritage Sites, the area up here in Far North Queensland is easily one of the most unique destinations in all of Australia

And with so many Cairns tours you can choose from, where do you even start?

Right here, in this expert article…

Zillie Falls Atherton Tablelands Cairns Day Trips
Don’t miss Zillie Falls in the Athernton Tableands on your day trip from Cairns.

The Best Day Trips from Cairns, Queensland

Get out of the city with these best Cairns day trips filled with nature, adventure and tonnes of fun.

The best way to get around is to rent a car and explore on your own! We recommend Rental Cars, which has the largest range of vehicles for the best value on the market.

1) Palm Cove

  • Distance from Cairns – 78km one way (1 hour and 15 mins)

Palm Cove is a beautiful little coastal town found just half an hour north from Cairns.

It’s so quaint, you might have trouble believing it’s real! This beautiful tranquil village is the perfect environment for anyone looking for a relaxing beach getaway while still having lots of exploring that can be done in the area.

The area is packed with lush rainforest trails where you might find wallabies hopping about as well as some stunning waterfalls just waiting to be discovered.

The waterfront stretches for miles with swaying palms to match the shoreline. Or wonder the streets and pick up some great souvenirs or gifts from local artists.

Palm Cove is perfect for spending a relaxing morning on the beach. While later spending the afternoon exploring nature trails by foot through old-growth forests of towering palms draped in lush vines.

You may want to be careful heading into the sea though. While they look invitingly blue from afar, Queensland coasts can hold some dangerous surprises too.

However, there is an area that is netted and patrolled by lifeguards where you can safely swim.

Other destinations than can be added on this day trip:

  • Port Douglas
  • Mossman Gorge
  • Daintree River
Palm Cove Beach Queensland
Palm Cove is one of the great Day Trips from Cairns you can do

2) The Great Barrier Reef

  • Distance from Cairns – 1.5 – 2 hours to get out there by boat one way.

Visiting the Great Barrier Reef is easily one of the most popular day trips you can do from Cairns. And the best way to get out there (unless you own your own boat) is to jump on a guided tour.

The reef covers a vast expanse from eastern Australia and all the way up to New Guinea.

The Great Barrier Reef is one of the greatest wonders and mysteries in our world that stretches for over 2,900 kilometres and holds an area that’s nearly 344,400 square kilometres!

As the world’s largest coral reef, it is home to over 400 different types of coral, 1,500 species of fish and 4,00 types of molluscs.

If you are lucky, you may spot a large green turtle or a dugong, also known as the sea cow, which are both threatened with extinction. There are so many reasons this reef needs to be protected.

The Great Barrier Reef was awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status back in 1981 for its outstanding natural beauty and scientific interest. But now, the reef is under threat and in need of protection.

There are many boat companies offering snorkelling, scuba diving tours out on this huge underwater marine world. But note that when you do book a tour out to the reef, make sure the tour company is responsible and cares for the reef.

You can venture southwards towards Queensland or head northward along the coast depending upon your location within Cairns city limits!

If you’re going to Cairns, don’t leave without exploring the Great Barrier Reef. The day tours are a full day from either Cairns, Port Douglas or Cape Tribulation beach.

BONUS – Booking ahead of time ensures you won’t miss out on the tour, and get the best price too! And just for NOMADasaurus readers, if you use the Klook discount code “NOMADS10” on the website when checking out, you’ll get $10 off your first booking!

Turtle Great Barrier Reef Tours From Cairns
Do not miss the Great Barrier Reef. It is incredible

3) Cape Tribulation

  • Distance from Cairns – 111km one way (1 hour and 45 mins)

Cape Tribulation is a tropical paradise known for its lovely white sand beaches, lush rainforest and amazing wildlife!

Stepping straight onto the beach from the rainforest is a very special experience up here.

This amazing stretch of the Daintree National Park has so much to offer. You can explore the rainforest on multiple hikes then climb aboard a fast boat and explore the Great Barrier Reef all in one day!

You will get space on the beach to yourself, where you can explore the driftwood and shells that wash up to form natural sculptures.

Unfortunately, looking at the ocean is the only thing you can do here. These waters are not for swimming as there are crocodiles.

Please keep back from the water at least 5 metres as this is a croc’s striking distance and they are fast. But getting the chance to spot crocs in the wild is an experience of its own!

Experienced hikers can spend the day admiring spectacular views from Mount Sorrow, while those less experienced will enjoy shorter walks taking in these natural wonders.

Australia’s richest diversity of flora and fauna is found here. If you are on a day tour, your guide will explain the intricacies behind this ancient environment full of diverse wildlife like peppermint stick insects or Boyd’s forest dragons.

Guided tours on private properties allow you to see animals that may otherwise be difficult or impossible to find, as well as plants normally out of reach for most people.

If you are lucky you may spot a Cassowary out in its own habitat. We were lucky enough to spot 2 on our trip there. One was in a carpark and one ran out in front of us on the road. Definitely take care driving and slow down!

Not only can you visit this amazing Rainforest and look up at the canopy but also you can participate in unique tastings in the area.

From exotic fruits, to Jackfruit burgers and durian ice cream and more.

You can try things up here you never thought existed. Do not be shy now!

BONUS – Booking ahead of time ensures you won’t miss out on the tour, and get the best price too! And just for NOMADasaurus readers, if you use the Klook discount code “NOMADS10” on the website when checking out, you’ll get $10 off your first booking!

Other destinations than can be added on this day trip:

  • Daintree River

4) Daintree River

  • Distance from Cairns – 111km one way (1 hour and 45 mins)

The Daintree River is a long, meandering waterway that starts in the hinterland, winding up through the Daintree Rainforest and then heading out into the ocean.

This area is the world’s oldest rainforest, which is protected by a World Heritage Site status, and it provides essential habitat for local wildlife.

The river offers a refuge for various wildlife as well as boat tours searching for crocodiles in one of Australia’s most beautiful natural landscapes.

If you want to see some wildlife, this is your best place. Visit one of many boat tours in search of crocodiles and pythons.

The Daintree River is an Australian national treasure with a rich cultural history that is not to be missed as one of the amazing day trips from Cairns.

We did a tour down the Daintree River with a company called Solar Whisper, which are the most eco-centred company in the area. Their boats are operated by solar and they do not make wakes.

This means their boats do not contribute to the river banks’ corrosion. They are also very quiet so the animals are not scared of them.

We got up so close to the birds, crocodiles and snakes we saw as they were not phased at our presence. The owners have so much knowledge about the area and this was easily one of the best tours we did up in the Daintree National Park.

Other destinations than can be added on this day trip –

  • Mossman Gorge
  • Cape Tribulation (this will be a big day though)
Scarface Crocodile In The Daintree River
You may spot Scarface the local crocodile. Going on a cruise is the best way to discover the Daintree River.

5) Atherton Tablelands

  • Distance from Cairns – 93km one way (1 hour and 30 mins)

The Atherton Tablelands is a large green plateau with lots of places to explore. Found at a much higher altitude than Cairns, the Atherton Tablelands are worlds apart from their coastal counterpart.

Only an hour and a half inland, you can easily visit the Atherton Tableland from Cairns. You will not see everything on a day trip.

But you can get a taste of an escape from the usual tropical Queensland vacation on the beach. Take advantage of all that nature has to offer on some hiking trails or waterfalls near Cairns!

The cool and breezy climate of this region is well-suited to agriculture and farming. You’ll find plenty of cheese factories, local dairy farms or even bat hospitals if that’s your thing!

Stop off at a tea plantation or view the platypus in the rive or visit the number of beautiful waterfalls in the area like the famous Millaa Millaa Falls.

There is so much to do and see in the Atherton Tablelands and visiting is a great road trip from Cairns. You can do it in a big full day or break it up over two days and stay in one of the cute towns along the way.

Check out our guide here on the Atherton Tableland Waterfalls.

Other destinations than can be added on this day trip:

  • Town of Kuranda
  • Waterfall Circuit
Atherton Tablelands Waterfalls Cairns Tours
The Atherton Tablelands has so many waterfalls and
walks in the lush green rainforest.

6) Mossman Gorge

  • Distance from Cairns – 78km one way (1 hour and 15 mins)

Mossman Gorge is such an amazing place. At 56,000 hectares and a World Heritage Listed site, this place is an area best known for its spellbinding beauty.

It’s a place where crystal-clear waters tumble over ancient granite boulders into mossy green depths that lead up towards tree-clad mountains rising sharply from their banks.

Lush rainforests cloak the steep mountainsides from the riverbanks up to the rugged eastern slopes of the Main Coast Range. Here is where you can see amazing views while hiking through magnificent trails that will make your mouth drop in awe!

The Mossman Gorge Centre, a part of the Daintree National Park, is just 20 minutes north of Port Douglas. Yet it feels like a completely different world.

Catch the courtesy bus from the centre directly to your destination. Then take an easy 10-minute stroll along the elevated boardwalk that meanders through this stunning lower canopy before returning along Rex Creek.

Be amazed by vivid butterflies or catch sight of Boyd Forest Dragon clinging on tree trunks!

The Kuku Yalanji people are happy to share all about themselves here through a Dreamtime walk or one of their other tours.

If you’re looking to book a round-trip to Mossman Gorge from Cairns, make sure you check out this awesome tour here.

BONUS – Booking ahead of time ensures you won’t miss out on the tour, and get the best price too! And just for NOMADasaurus readers, if you use the Klook discount code “NOMADS10” on the website when checking out, you’ll get $10 off your first booking!

Other destinations than can be added on this day trip:

  • Port Douglas
  • Palm Cove
Mossman Gorge River
Mossman Gorge is one not to miss. Go on an Aboriginal tour and
find out more about the area.

7) Port Douglas

  • Distance from Cairns – 67km one way (1 hour)

Port Douglas is a gorgeous town on Queensland’s east coast and is an easy drive of one hour north from Cairns.

You’ll find everything here for the adventurous and luxury-loving alike: wildlife encounters, wellness treatments in lush landscapes, or thrilling adventures into two World Heritage Sites right next door to each other (Daintree Rainforest National Park and Great Barrier Reef Marine Park).

This seaside oasis provides plenty of amazing restaurants to stop in for lunch, as well as great walking tracks that lead straight to Four Mile Beach.

Here you’ll find safety nets so you can enjoy the ocean without worrying about getting stung by jellyfish or other sea creatures.

READ MORE: Driving around? Check out our epic itinerary guide for a perfect Brisbane to Cairns road trip!

There’s also an incredible fringe reef just minutes away from Port Douglas. Tourists will love how quickly they’ll be able to explore this remote area near the Great Barrier Reef!

There are many day tours offered from Cairns to Port Douglas if you don’t have your own set of wheels.

Other destinations than can be added on this day trip –

  • Palm Cove
Port Douglas Sunrise Sunset
Port Douglas is a popular destination to visit.

8) Fitzroy Island

  • Distance from Cairns – 29km one way (45 min speed boat)

Fitzroy Island is a little piece of paradise that is found just a short boat ride away from Cairns.

The tourism industry thrives here due to its proximity to the coast, and many people come for day trips with their friends or family members.

The beach here is mind-blowing and you can snorkel or scuba dive in the coral reef. And if you want to learn more about turtle conservation there’s an excellent sanctuary at the resort on-site where they offer tours every day into marine life rehabilitation.

You’ll also find exotic flora, like Sheoak, Indian Beech and even native orchids on your bush walk.

Fitzroy also has two main walking trails that lead to beautiful lookouts. Sheoak Forest Trail and Monkey Mia Lookout Walk are just some of the options visitors have!

For some quick exploring, try The Secret Garden Walk for just about an hour of trekking through rainforest-filled paths before reaching lookout points overlooking the Coral Sea below you. 

For spectacular views, go up Fitz Roy Mountain at sunset by following Lighthouse Trail all the way to the summit.

Here it reveals spectacular views over Cairns from high above ocean waves crashing into the shore in front of the resort’s private white sand beach

9) Chillagoe Caves

  • Distance from Cairns – 17km one way (22 mins)

The Chillagoe Caves in the Australian Outback is a bit of a journey from Cairns, but a trip that is so worth it!

The landscape here is stark and dry with scattered vegetation. But it’s usually calm outside of an occasional dust storm or whirlwind that blows through from time to time.

The Chillagoe Caves is very different from the reef-filled coastlines which have their own special beauty. These caves offer up something entirely new – a surprising underground system of karst rocks and caverns amid miles upon miles of nothingness.

The limestone has slowly dissolved over time to create caverns with ceilings decorated by calcite stalactites, stalagmites and flowstones that have been deposited there as water penetrates through the rock. It is absolutely beautiful!

The rocks here were originally laid down as calcareous mud in a shallow sea where Chillagoe is today. Subsequent tilting, folding and erosion exposed the limestone that towers over the surrounding plains. Scientists believe this happened about 400 million years ago!

Animal bone fossils, including those of the extinct giant kangaroo, have been found in the caves. And there are Aboriginal paintings in the National Park left behind by the hunters and gatherers who made the beautiful cave drawings.

The caves of Chillagoe are a popular location for many species of animals, including bats and swiftlets.

Get in your car and go on this road trip from Cairns. Or maybe spend the night in the town of Chillagoe.

Other destinations than can be added on this day trip:

  • Kuranda Scenic Railway OR
  • Town of Kuranda OR
  • Skyrail Rainforest Cableway and the Tijapukai Aboriginal Cultural Centre

10) Kuranda

  • Distance from Cairns – 17km one way (22 mins)

Kuranda is known for its cool and tropical climate as well as the World Heritage-listed rainforest surrounding it.

It is the traditional home of the Djabugay people, who call it Ngunbay or “place of the platypus”.

The village has many spectacular things to do, including walks along Barron River where you may see majestic fig trees.

It also includes walks around Kuranda itself, which boasts vibrant parrots in nearly every tree with an artist’s gallery that features Aboriginal art made by local members of Djabugay tribe.

You can also visit a butterfly conservatory filled with butterflies of all colours, great markets full of local foods, as well as plentiful opportunities for recreation like fishing, hiking and more!

Just outside Kuranda, near Barron Falls, can be found as one of Australia’s strongest waterfalls.

It has a number of tiers that cascade over tumbling rocks and through rainforests as it falls down from high cliffs into deep valleys below.

This is an incredible sight to behold and there are even panoramic view points for optimal viewing!

During dry season times when torrential rains dwindle away, this waterfall becomes just another trickle. But after heavy rainfall there is so much powerful water cover off the top, it is incredible and crazy at the same time.

READ MORE – Check out our article on Cairns Waterfalls.

Other destinations than can be added on this day trip:

  • Kuranda Scenic Railway OR
  • Town of Kuranda OR
  • Skyrail Rainforest Cableway and the Tijapukai Aboriginal Cultural Centre
Look Out Near Kuranda
A Lookout near Kuranda

11) Kuranda Scenic Railway

  • Distance from Cairns – 29km one way (30 mins)

I put this rail journey as a day trip in itself as you can travel out to Kuranda on the Original Kuranda Scenic Railway if you like. This journey comprises unsurpassed views of dense rainforest, steep ravines and picturesque waterfalls within the World Heritage-listed Barron Gorge National Park.

The famous rail journey winds its way from Cairns to Kuranda with stops at Barron Falls Station for a bird’s eye view of falls before continuing through 15 hand-carved tunnels and 37 bridges.

The ride takes you into stunning Barron Gorge while passing by some amazing scenery in between. The Railway is a very relaxing and scenic journey worth doing as a day trip from Cairns.

Once you get to Kuranda you can get a bus transfer back to Cairns or stay the night in Kuranda and explore.

Other destinations than can be added on this day trip:

  • Town of Kuranda
  • Skyrail Rainforest Cableway and the Tijapukai Aboriginal Cultural Centre
  • Barron Falls
Kuranda Scenic Railway On Track
Kuranda Scenic Railway is a popular attraction in the area

12) Barron Gorge National Park 

  • Distance from Cairns – 17km one way (22 mins)

The Barron River is a tributary of the Pacific Ocean that carves out deep and beautiful gorges. It starts high in the mountains, inland from Cairns, before flowing all the way down to empty into its namesake waterfall at Barron Gorge.

You can visit Stoney Creek or stop off to view Barron Falls on foot. Or you can head to Glacier Rock where you can get equally stunning views.

You can see this breathtaking sight while driving by on one of the scenic drives or join whitewater rafting tours for an adventurous day trip!

Or you can check out the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway, which spans 7.5km and goes over and through some of the most remote areas in Queensland.

What a way to discover Australia’s world heritage listed rainforest in the Barron Gorge National Park.

Other destinations than can be added on this day trip:

  • Kuranda Scenic Railway OR
  • Town of Kuranda OR
  • Skyrail Rainforest Cableway and the Tijapukai Aboriginal Cultural Centre

13) Babinda Boulders

  • Distance from Cairns – 58km one way (1 hour)

The Babinda Boulders are huge boulders with dramatic gorges that you’ll want to explore and are definitely not want to miss.

There are areas where you can safely swim watch the river flow over smoothed granite rocks. And you’ll find a path following the gorge that you can explore stopping off at different view points.

Please do not go beyond the fence. People have died in the area after getting swept away.

You will find the Babinda Boulders near Josephine Falls so you can join the two on the same trip to make the most of your day trip from Cairns.

Other destinations than can be added on this day trip:

  • Josephine Falls and Mission Beach OR
  • Waterfall Circuit in the Atherton Tablelands.
Babinda Boulders Queensland
Mossman Gorge is one not to miss. Go on an Aboriginal tour
and find out more about the area.

14) Josephine Falls

  • Distance from Cairns – 75km one way (1 hour and 15 mins)

The cascading waterfall, Josephine Falls, is found to the south of Cairns, hidden away in the Daintree Rainforest.

It’s a spectacular sight to behold, and shouldn’t be missed if planning an awesome Queensland road trip!

The falls are especially impressive during wet seasons when they become thundering torrents that can take your breath away with their natural beauty and power.

Josephine Creek starts as a gentle trickle high on the southeast side of the summit of Bartle Frere before it falls into Josephine Falls, which is fed by rains falling from Queensland’s highest peak.

The lower plunge pool offers a refreshing respite from the sticky jungle-like environment. But after heavy rain, it may get hit with flash floods so beware!

The waterfalls are located in Wooroonoram National Park and provide spectacular views along their 1.2 km return walk.

This is a relatively easy walk on gravel path and boardwalks that leads through humid trees and foliage to several viewing platforms that offer different angles from which you can be utterly amazed by this cascading waterfall’s multiple tiers.

It is a waterfall not to miss. This is a great day tour from Cairns with Babinda Boulders and Mission Beach added on to make the most of the day trip.

Other destinations than can be added on this day trip:

  • Babinda Falls and Mission Beach
Josephine Falls Queensland
Josephine Falls is a great swimming hole and a beautiful waterfall to see.

15) Mission Beach

  • Distance from Cairns – 139km one way (2 hours)

Mission Beach is a string of four beach villages linked by 14 kilometres of wide golden sands, situated midway between Townsville and Cairns.

This beautiful coastal area blends vibrant art and culture with unique tourism attractions to invite you to relax or unwind for the perfect holiday experience.

The four villages offer something for everyone. Whether it’s looking for romantic getaways, family holidays, wildlife sightings or backpackers, there are many adventure-seekers and campers who will find a perfect spot here too!

Mission Beach is a stunning place to go for a walk at sunset and watch the waves roll in. Grab some fish and chips from the restaurant at the caravan park and sit on the beach.

You might meet the local celebrity, the Cassowaries, that wander the area. There is one of these guys that wanders through the caravan park and is not fazed by people.

If you do see him, just please keep your distance as this is still a wild animal.

Note that aside from this, there is not a lot to do in the area. My advice would be to add this destination to a day trip with Babinda Boulders and Josephine Falls to make a full day tour from Cairns.

Other destinations than can be added on this day trip:

  • Babinda Boulders and Josephine Falls
Mission Beach People Walking On Sand With Palm Trees
Mission Beach is a stunning spot to stop off at.

16) Green Island National Park

  • Distance from Cairns – About 27km from Cairns (45 mins by boat)

Green Island is another one of the Cairns day trips you cannot miss.

This island about a 40-minute boat ride, making it a perfect day trip from Cairns, and is known for its white-sand beaches, amazing snorkelling and great food!

Green Island is a beautiful coral cay that’s found hidden away in the Great Barrier Reef, with an abundance of natural wonder on land or sea.

The island has been called “a tropical paradise” with fantastic snorkelling all around the coastline.

It’s easy to enjoy whether you’re an experienced swimmer or just want to keep your head above water!

The Aboriginal people, Guru-Gulu Gungandji, are the traditional owners of this island as they have lived here for thousands of years.

Captain James Cook visited the island and named it after his ship, HMS Green Endeavour as it looks green from afar on clear days.

There is so much to see and learn about the beautiful island. Whilst exploring its depths might best be done snorkelling around the shoreline (with both fish to see as well as sunken wrecks), there are also glass-bottom boat tours that explore the surrounding coral.

You can do a Dreamtime Dive & Snorkel which will take you exploring the Great Barrier Reef’s Dreamtime with Indigenous sea rangers on a day tour.

It’s a great way to learn about what’s under the water and how their people survived living on the water.

You can get close up views of some incredible marine life such as giant clams and turtles swimming about while smaller reef fish gracefully glide through schools of bright corals below them. This is truly a breathtaking sight for divers at any level.

The best way to get there is book onto an organised tour, which maximises your time there.

Couple Walking In National Park
Green Island National Park is a gem in the area.
A great Cairns day trip that you can do on a tour.

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About the Author - Alesha and Jarryd

Hey! We are Alesha and Jarryd, the award-winning writers and professional photographers behind this blog. We have been travelling the world together since 2008, with a passion for adventure travel and sustainable tourism. Through our stories and images we promote exciting off-the-beaten-path destinations and fascinating cultures as we go. As one of the world's leading travel journalists, our content and adventures have been featured by National Geographic, Lonely Planet, CNN, BBC, Forbes, Business Insider, Washington Post, Yahoo!, BuzzFeed, Channel 7, Channel 10, ABC, The Guardian, and plenty other publications. Follow our journey in real time on Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.

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