Best Day Trips In Cairns Australia

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Best Day Trips from Cairns: A Comprehensive Guide for Travelers

Cairns, in Australia’s Far North Queensland, serves as the gateway to some of Australia’s most amazing natural wonders. From the world’s largest barrier reef to dense, ancient rainforests, Cairns is a launching pad for adventures that cater to every type of traveler. Whether it’s a road trip along the coast or a journey into the heart of the Daintree, the opportunities for exploration are boundless.

For those seeking to immerse themselves in the natural beauty, Cairns offers an array of day trips to places where the rainforest meets the reef, and where ancient landscapes can be explored. These trips are not only about witnessing the beauty of the tropical north, but also about learning, with guides offering insights into the rich ecological and cultural history of the region.

Cairns’ strategic location provides easy access to both the Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics of Queensland, making it a perfect hub for day trippers looking to explore the best of both worlds.

Table of Contents

The swimming lagoon, Cairns foreshore
The swimming lagoon, Cairns foreshore

Why Cairns is the Perfect Hub for Day Trippers

Cairns is ideally situated for day trippers, offering easy access to a variety of unique destinations. Take a river cruise down the Trinity Inlet, explore the Barron Gorge National Park or venture up to Port Douglas for the day (one of my favourite things to do).

The city’s proximity to the Coral Sea means that day trips to the Great Barrier Reef are a must-do, with options to snorkel or dive among the vibrant marine life.

For those looking to relax, Palm Cove provides a serene beach setting, while suburbs like Trinity Beach offer the chance to blend in with the locals. With so much to offer within a short distance, Cairns is the perfect hub for day trippers seeking adventure and relaxation.

View from Rocky Point Lookout in Trinity Beach Cairns
The view out to the Coral Sea from the headland on Trinity Beach.

Exploring Cairns Land Based Natural Wonders

While Cairns is well known for its access to the awe-inspiring Great Barrier Reef, it also offers you the chance to experience the ancient rainforests of the Daintree. Whether you choose to do a day trip to the Daintree and Cape Tribulation or a multi day tour, this area of the tropical north shouldn’t be missed.

1. Cape Tribulation – Where the Rainforest Meets the Reef

Cape Tribulation epitomizes the unique beauty of Queensland, where the Daintree Rainforest, one of the oldest rainforests in the world, sweeps down to meet the vibrant coral ecosystems of the Great Barrier Reef.

This area offers day trippers a rare opportunity to explore two World Heritage sites in a single journey. From river cruises along the Daintree River to walks along the lush rainforest and pristine sand beaches of Cape Tribulation Beach, visitors can immerse themselves in the natural beauty of this tropical paradise. The area is also a gateway to Mossman Gorge where you will find a fantastic cultural centre and a variety of walks and hikes.

Cape Tribulation Beach
Cape Tribulation Beach

Driving From Cairns To Cape Tribulation

Driving from Cairns to Cape Tribulation will take you between 2.5 and 3 hours. The drive will take you up the range toward Port Douglas, however instead of turning into Port you will continue straight through Mossman and Lower Daintree to Cape Tribulation.

There are many accommodation options from Camping to B&Bs. You can participate in horse rides, check out Kulki Lookout, go on night walks or see the stunning beaches.

Day Tours From Cairns

If you don’t wish to drive, there are many options for day tours to Cape Trib from Cairns or Port Douglas. If you do decide to stay overnight in Cape Tribulation, consider doing the Ocean Safari tour. It is one of the best snorkelling tours I’ve done. I’m a snorkelling maniac and I LOVED this tour. Unspoiled reefs and to and from Cape Trib which enables you to do the rainforest and the reef easily.

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There are also quite a few tour operators that run from Port Douglas, so if you are staying in Port, some of these tours might be better suited to you.

Multi-Day Tours To The Daintree From Cairns

There are usually a few great multi day tours from Cairns and these pretty much always visit both the Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation.

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2. Daintree Rainforest – A Glimpse into Ancient Ecosystems

The Daintree Rainforest, accessible from Cairns through a scenic road trip, offers a glimpse into an ancient world where towering trees and dense undergrowth create a canopy teeming with life. River cruises on the Daintree River provide an intimate look at this lush ecosystem, showcasing the incredible biodiversity that calls the rainforest home. A lot of the day tours also explore Cape Tribulation Beach, where the rainforest meets the reef, offering a unique landscape where two World Heritage sites converge.

While the Daintree and Cape Tribulation seem to be different locations, Cape Trib is pretty much a location in the Daintree. You can go to the Daintree and not visit Cape Tribulation which is why I’ve listed these separately. The beach is gorgeous at Cape Trip but if you have limited time or the beach just isn’t your thing, you can visit the Daintree and get a fabulous experience without going to Cape Trib.

Driving From Cairns To The Daintree Rainforest

Driving from Cairns to the Daintree Discovery Centre is just over 2 hours. It would be about an hour and 40 mins from Palm Cove or the northern beaches. You can choose to do a guided tour or just chat to the friendly folks at the Discovery Centre and manage your day yourselves.

Day Tours To The Daintree From Cairns

Day trips to the Daintree and Mossman Gorge from Cairns and Port Douglas are readily available. I’m sure you will be able to find something to suit your budget and tastes.

Popular Tours For The Daintree Rainforest

Daintree, Mossman Gorge and Wildlife Tour from Cairns

Daintree Tour from Cairns with Tropic Wings

Travel via Electric bus from Cairns for a full 10 hour day trip

  • Indigenous ceremony
  • River Cruise
  • Mossman Gorge
  • From $170 AUD

Daintree Waterfall Hike, Lunch, Swim & Crocodile Cruise From Port

Cassowary in the Daintree National Park

Start and end in Port Douglas. Hike, swim and cruise for crocs!

  • Hike through the Daintree
  • Waterfall swim
  • Cruise for crocs
  • From $170 AUD

Private Cape Tribulation & Mossman Gorge Day Tour

Tourists on Cape Tribulation Beach

Private tour for only your group (min of 2 pax).

  • 12 hours
  • Daintree, Cape Trib, Mosman
  • From $212 (8 pax)

Cairns Island Adventures

While Cairns doesn’t have the resort islands that the Whitsundays are known for it does have a few islands close enough to visit on a day trip. Both Green Island and Fitzroy Island are a short boat ride away and offer you the ability to visit on a day tour or for a multi day stay. 

3. Fitzroy Island – A Tropical Paradise

Fitzroy Island, a short ferry ride from Cairns, is a tropical paradise within the Outer Barrier Reef that beckons day trippers with its white sandy beaches and crystal-clear waters.

The island offers a multitude of activities, from snorkeling and scuba diving among the coral gardens to exploring the island’s interior through its network of walking trails. Fitzroy Island is not only a stunning destination but also an accessible adventure for those looking to experience the beauty of the Great Barrier Reef up close.

Fitzroy offers heaps of options including:

  • Forest Walks and hikes
  • Turtle Centre
  • Glass bottom boat tours
  • Beach days
  • Snorkelling tours (or just hire gear)
  • Paddleboarding and Kayaking

The walk to Nudey Beach is a great walk for everyone. And no – its not a “nudest” beach, the beach is named Nudey Beach.

Getting To Fitzroy Island

The ferry from Cairns is only 45 minutes and probably only 20 minutes of that is pure open ocean. While is can get a little rough on the way home, the boats are large and very stable so you shouldn’t get sick. I would buy your tickets at least a week in advance so you don’t miss out on your preferred date.

Staying on Fitzroy Island

If you feel like a resort stay, Fitzroy is a great place to do that. Fitzroy Island Resort is around $280 per night for a couple and staying in the resort will give you access to the pool and resort facilities.


Boats in the bay at Fitzroy Island
Boats in the bay at Fitzroy Island

4. Green Island – An Iconic Coral Cay

Green Island, like its neighbour Fitzroy Island, lies within the inner Barrier Reef and offers visitors a picturesque escape to an iconic coral cay. This island paradise is easily accessible from Cairns and provides a perfect setting for a day of exploration, relaxation, and adventure.

Visitors can snorkel directly off the beach, discovering the colourful marine life that inhabits the surrounding coral reefs, or take a leisurely walk around the island to enjoy its natural beauty.

With facilities to cater to visitors of all ages, including boardwalks and interpretive centres, Green Island makes the wonders of the Great Barrier Reef accessible to everyone. Whether it’s a day spent lounging on the sandy beaches or exploring the underwater world, Green Island offers a memorable experience for day trippers from Cairns.

!! I always feel that I should tell readers that Green Island isn’t as good for snorkelling as the outer reefs.

Like Fitzroy, it has great areas for snorkelling but the reef isn’t brilliant. In my personal opinion, Green Island in particular wasn’t regulated enough in the early days and very inexperienced snorkellers could and did use the facilities not in the best way. If one person stands on the reef it can be damaged for decades and that’s what happened at Green Island. It always felt to me like Green Island was sacrificed to keep the outer reef as beautiful as it could be. I’m not saying don’t go because its a great day (or few days if you choose to stay) and there are heaps of reef and fishes, but if you are a confident snorkeller, the outer reef would be more impressive to you.

Activities on Green Island:

  • Snorkel hire
  • Glass bottom boat tours
  • Scuba diving
  • Scenic Heli flights
  • Parasailing & Seawalker
Green Island
Green Island Cairns

Great Barrier Reef Tours – Cairns Ocean Based Day Tours

Exploring the Great Barrier Reef is an unforgettable experience. This natural wonder is home to a stunning array of marine life. The clear waters offer a perfect view of the colorful coral and fish. Tours from Cairns make this magical underwater world accessible. Whether you’re snorkeling or diving, you’ll be amazed at what you see. The reef is a must-visit for anyone who loves the ocean.

5. Snorkeling Adventures In Cairns

Snorkeling and diving in the Great Barrier Reef are experiences like no other. The warm waters are teeming with marine life. From tiny, vividly colored fish to majestic sea turtles, there’s always something incredible to see. Snorkeling is easy to learn, making it perfect for families. Diving trips offer a closer look at the reef’s hidden wonders. Both activities give you a chance to see the reef up close.

Noah swimming with Wally on the Great Barrier Reef
My nephew Noah swimming with Wally a giant Maori Wrass on the Great Barrier Reef.

Outer Barrier Reef day tours are available and cater for everyone. Whether this is your first snorkelling adventure or you are super experienced in the water, you will be able to find a tour to the reef to suit your skillset. If you would prefer a more sedate reef adventure, look for a boat that has a pontoon at the reef. This means you get off the boat and have a stable platform to snorkel from. 

If you are comfortable on a boat and in the water, the smaller boats that go out a little further and tie up to moorings will be more suitable to you. I personally LOVE this style of reef trip. I can’t scuba dive but I often look for dive boats that I can still snorkel with. These usually mean way less people in the water (more than half will be diving) so you get to spend a good amount of time at each reef without the crowds. 

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There is also a great 2 day (1 night) trip that is really worth it. The boat has a max of 12 guests and they visit some fabulous remote snorkelling and dive spots. Its about $630 AUD for the 2 days trip and in my personal opinion, that is great value.

6. Diving Tours From Cairns

Diving adventures that take you deeper into the underwater world are where Cairns excels. Scuba Diving is a thrilling way to discover the reef’s secrets. Experienced guides ensure your safety and help you find the best spots. Whether you’re a first-timer or a seasoned diver, the Great Barrier Reef has something for everyone.

Dive trips can be simple day trips or multi day adventures. If you have a decent level of experience you might consider a multi day trip to the outer ribbons. 

Cairns Dive Day Trips

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Port Douglas Dive Day Trips

There aren’t as many day trips for divers from Port Douglas, however Silversonic is known to be a great boat for divers. One of my very close friends worked on Silversonic for years and I’ve done more than a few trips on this boat. You can snorkel for sure, but it is more aimed at divers.

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Unique Experiences Only Cairns Can Offer

Cairns is a treasure trove of unique experiences, from the serene waters of Palm Cove and Trinity Inlet to the adventurous landscapes of Barron Gorge National Park and the vibrant city life within Cairns CBD.

Here are some great activities that you can only do in Cairns.

7. Kuranda Scenic Train and Skyrail – A Journey Through the Rainforest

The Kuranda Scenic Train and Skyrail offer an unparalleled journey through the heart of the rainforest, showcasing the natural beauty of the Barron River and the World Heritage-listed rainforest canopy. This unique experience combines the historical significance of the Kuranda Original railway with the modern marvel of the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway, providing breathtaking views and an immersive rainforest experience. Visitors can also explore the vibrant rainforest markets and heritage markets in Kuranda, making it a day trip that blends adventure with culture.

My recommendation would be to take the train up and the Skyrail back. I say this because I’ve found that the view from the Skyrail are way better in the afternoon usually and if it rains – well there’s not much anyone can do about that.

The Skyrail goes from Smithfield which is about 15-20 minutes drive north of Cairns city or 10-15 min drive south of Palm Cove.

Skyrail and Train Day Tours From Cairns

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8. Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures – Encounter Australia’s Fierce Predators

Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures presents an opportunity to come face-to-face with Australia’s most iconic predators in a safe and educational environment. This immersive experience allows visitors to observe crocodiles in their natural habitat, learn about their behaviour, and understand the conservation efforts in place to protect these magnificent creatures. Interactive shows and guided tours offer an in-depth look at the wildlife that inhabits the Wet Tropics, making it a must-visit for those interested in the natural world.

Beyond crocodiles, Hartley’s provides a sanctuary for a variety of Australian wildlife, offering educational encounters that emphasize the importance of conservation and biodiversity. This unique attraction combines the thrill of wildlife observation with the educational value of conservation efforts, ensuring a day trip from Cairns that is both exciting and informative.

Get more info on show times and more at Hartley’s Website.

9. Atherton Tablelands – A Landscape of Rolling Hills and Waterfalls

The Atherton Tablelands are a great option for getting out of the city for a day or so. This area is known for its rolling hills and stunning waterfalls. The waterfall circuit takes you to some of the most beautiful spots, like Millaa Millaa Falls. It’s a photographer’s dream. The lush tropical rainforest is home to unique wildlife. There are also tea plantations and food and wine tours. It’s a great place to explore nature and enjoy some local flavours.

Lake Barine is worth a visit (mostly for the scones) as is Yungaburra and Tinnaburra to get a look at Cairns largest inland waterway Lake Tinaroo.

Lake Barine, Atherton Tablelands
Lake Barine, Atherton Tablelands

10. Drive The Waterfall Way

If you are a waterfall lover, the Atherton tablelands is the place to be. Between Atherton and Innisfail there are more than 10 great waterfalls to see and it’s a great day trip from Cairns. Some are accessible from a parking location directly alongside the main road and others are 1-2 km walk into the falls. If you have a car, this is really worth doing. While Milla Milla Falls is the most well known, my personal faves are Tchupala Falls and Nandroya Falls. They are both easy to access via a rainforest walk. Nandroya Falls however can be a leaches paradise so be warned to take a small salt shaker. 

Starting at Gordonvale about 20 mins south of Cairns, you can do a round trip up the Giles range, past Lake Tinaroo to Yungaburra. Yungaburra has a few Platypus viewing locations and then you can go back a few kilometres and turn onto Lake Eacham road which will take you through to Malanda. You can then follow that all the way back into the back in Innisfail which will take you past Millaa Millaa Falls, Nandroya Falls, Tchupala Falls and the Manu Tropical Skywalk.

Nandroya Falls
Nandroya Falls

Once you get to Innisfail you can head back up the highway past Gordonvale where you turned onto the Giles Range and back to Cairns city. This is the link to the Google Maps route shown below.

BEWARE: Giles Range has 263 of turns over 19km, so if you have kids that get carsick you need to plan for that.

Atherton Tablelands Route from Gordonvale
Atherton Tablelands Route from Gordonvale

Atherton Tablelands Tours From Cairns

If you don’t have a car or would prefer to leave the driving to someone else, here are some day tours from Cairns for the Atherton Tablelands.

11. Paronella Park

Paronella Park is a unique location just over 100km south of Cairns. The drive south takes you through can growing communities until you turn off through South Johnston toward the park at Mena Creek.

Built by Spanish immigrants Jose and Margarita in the early 1930s, today the park is open to the public with day, evening and night tours. This is one of my favourite locations in the Cairns region and is worth seeing just for the 7000+ trees!

If you have a car and are doing the Atherton Tablelands, it won’t be too much to add Paronella Park into your day. When you are almost to Innisfail you turn right onto Innisfail Japoon Road and follow that to Paronella Park at Mena Creek.

This Link will show you the full tablelands map with Paronella Park included.

Stairs at Paronella Park south of Cairns
Stairs up to the main building Paronella Park, Cairns
The main building at Paronella Park Innisfail
The main building at Paronella Park Innisfail

Day Tours From Cairns That Do Paronella Park

Paronella Park is available on a few day tours from Cairns. Usually they will do Millaa Millaa falls as well but overall its worth the money for a very unique experience.

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12. White Water Rafting on the Tully River

White water rafting on the Tully River in Cairns is an exhilarating adventure that attracts the more adventurous tourists in Cairns. The Tully River is renowned for its challenging rapids, lush rainforest surroundings, and beautiful scenery.

This adrenaline-pumping experience offers an exciting way to explore the natural beauty of North Queensland, making it a must-do for adventure enthusiasts.

Expect a full day of action as you navigate through grade 3-4 rapids, guided by experienced instructors who ensure both safety and fun. The river’s course winds through stunning gorges and cascades, providing moments of both intensity and serenity.

Along the way, you’ll have the chance to swim in tranquil pools, marvel at cascading waterfalls, and enjoy a riverside lunch. Whether you’re an experienced rafter or a beginner, the Tully River offers an unforgettable white water rafting experience that combines the thrill of adventure with the beauty of nature.

If you are lucky the Ulysses Butterflies will be around which is really amazing. The last time we did this we had them sitting on our head (not during the rapids) and fluttering all about. They are just beautiful and it was really surreal.

If you would prefer a little less excitement consider doing the Barron river instead. The rapids are of a lesser grade so it isn’t as thrilling as the Tully River.

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13. Try The Mulgrave River Tubing

If you would prefer a much more sedate option, check out the Rainforest River Tubing down the Mulgrave River instead.

14. Visit Port Douglas for a Day

Port Douglas (or just “Port” as us locals call it) is one of my favourite places on earth. I just LOVE Port. A lot of the big Reef Boats leave from Port Douglas, you can do a great Sunset Sail, hike the hills and headlands, visit the weekend markets, eat some amazing food and laze on 4 mile beach.

Port Douglas has some great restaurants if you are planning an overnight stay, but if you are doing a day trip consider Hi Tide by the Beach for breakfast and maybe the Tin Shed for lunch. It overlooks the water down along the inlet and has a great deck. Alternatively try The Watergate for lunch. The Watergate is a little more upmarket, but the food is amazing if you would like something really yum.

If you are staying for dinner, Salsa Bar and Grill is always good, Star of Siam also great and Nautilus is considered Port Douglas premier restaurant.

Secret Cove in Port Douglas
Secret Cove in Port Douglas

15. Do A Sunset Sail

Experiencing a sunset cruise in Cairns is a magical way to end your day in tropical North Queensland. As you set sail from the marina, you’ll be greeted with panoramic views of the Coral Sea and the mountainous coastline.

During the cruise, you’ll witness the sky transform into a canvas of vibrant colors as the sun dips below the horizon. Many cruises offer complimentary drinks and snacks, enhancing the luxurious feel of the experience.

You can choose from a simple one and a half hour sunset cruise up the Trinity Inlet, or opt for a more luxurious dinner experience. Either way, seeing the sunset over the water is always something you will enjoy.

Sunset River Cruises In Cairns

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Wrapping Up Your Adventure in Cairns

As your journey in Cairns comes to an end, you’ll find that the memories of the rainforests, reefs, and unique wildlife are unforgettable. Cairns offers an unmatched blend of adventure and natural beauty, from the ancient Daintree Rainforest to the vibrant Great Barrier Reef. The city serves as a gateway to exploring the wonders of Tropical North Queensland, making every day trip a potential adventure of a lifetime.

Whether you’ve experienced the thrill of snorkeling among the coral reefs, marvelled at the ancient ecosystems, or enjoyed a serene dinner cruise, Cairns leaves you with a sense of wonder and a longing to return. The city’s commitment to accessibility and a safe adventure ensures that every traveller can enjoy their visit to the fullest, promising an even richer experience upon your next visit.

Having lived in Cairns for 12 years, I am always comfortable recommending it as a great holiday destination. There is so much variety in things to see and do which makes it a wonderful vacation spot for everyone.

Jenny Marsden - Charge The Globe
About the author

Meet Jenny, a passionate Australian travel blogger who has explored 103 countries to date. With over 30 years of travel experience, Jenny has a wealth of knowledge to share with her readers about the cultures, landscapes, and people she has encountered on her journeys. She’s always battling unfashionably frizzy hair and you will never catch Jenny in anything but comfortable shoes. Learn more about Jenny and her travels.