The Best Day Trips From Cairns, Australia

Within the Daintree Rainforest | © Bryan Ungard / Flickr
Within the Daintree Rainforest | © Bryan Ungard / Flickr
Photo of Hayley Simpson
Writer8 February 2018

Cairns is not only the gateway to Far North Queensland. It’s also perfectly located for exploring both the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest. Visitors can explore via boat, plane, cable car, or train. Choose your adventure from these top Cairns day trips.


One of the most popular day trips from Cairns is to the small town of Kuranda. Located on the eastern edge of the Atherton Tablelands, parts of the town are located within Kuranda and Barron Gorge National Parks, which belong to the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area. For the most exciting adventure, take the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway to Kuranda, and return to Cairns via the Kuranda Scenic Railway. In Kuranda, spend time exploring the national parks, wander the markets, or check out attractions like the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary and the Koala Gardens.

Taking the Skyrail to Kuranda | © denisbin / Flickr

Chillagoe Caves

It’s a longer day, but a Chillagoe Caves day trip is a great way for visitors to get a quintessential Australian Outback experience. On this particular day tour with Viator, guests visit the Chillagoe-Mungana Caves National Park, where they can see traditional Aboriginal rock art and fossilised coral reef remains. There’s also the opportunity to stop at historic Queensland mining towns, visit wetlands for native animal viewings, and explore Granite Gorge. Morning tea, a pub lunch, and a stop at a souvenir store are all included in this remarkable tour.

Green Island

Green Island is a coray cay located just 45 minutes from Cairns, in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef. Its circumference is only 1.5 kilometres (.9 miles), so visitors can walk around the island in about 20 minutes. It’s the perfect day trip option from Cairns for people who want to go scuba diving or snorkeling around the Great Barrier Reef, as fringing reefs surround Green Island. You can also walk along the island’s rainforest trails, do a glass-bottom boat tour, or enjoy a Seawalker experience.

Snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef | © IIP Photo Archive / Flickr

Palm Cove

A beachside suburb of Cairns, Palm Cove is located 27 kilometres (17 miles) north of the Cairns city centre. It’s known as North Queensland’s day spa capital, so it’s the perfect day trip for anyone who wants to be pampered. Check out the spas at some of Palm Cove’s most luxurious resorts, including Peppers Beach Club & Spa and Alamanda at Palm Cove. After lunch, do some window shopping at the boutiques along Williams Esplanade. Finish the day by watching the sunset from one of Queensland’s most beautiful beaches—according to Tourism Queensland—and dinner at Nunu.

Daintree Rainforest

The Daintree Rainforest is the world’s oldest continually surviving rainforest, so visitors must explore the World Heritage-listed National Park on a day tour from Cairns. There are many options for Daintree day trips. Firstly, there’s the option of doing a tour that visits Mossman Gorge and includes a traditional Aboriginal smoke ceremony. Secondly, do a Daintree Rainforest day trip that includes a guided rainforest walk and a one hour Daintree River cruise. Finally, choose a day trip that includes spending time in Cape Tribulation. Located three hours north of Cairns, Cape Tribulation is where the rainforest meets the sea. No matter which option you choose, make sure a Daintree Rainforest day trip is on your Cairns itinerary.

Within the Daintree Rainforest | © Bryan Ungard / Flickr

Port Douglas

Port Douglas has always been known as Cairns’ more luxurious neighbour, thanks to the exclusive resorts located in town. Fortunately, a day trip to Port Douglas doesn’t have to break the bank. Spend time swimming at its beautiful and sandy Four Mile Beach, or go for a walk around the marina. Try to time a visit to coincide with the local market held on Wharf Street every Sunday too. Then enjoy lunch at one of the many pubs and restaurants on Macrossan Street. There are also daily cruises and tours departing Port Douglas daily that head to the Great Barrier Reef.

Fitzroy Island

Another fantastic island and Great Barrier Reef day trip from Cairns is Fitzroy Island. It takes 45 minutes to arrive at Fitzroy Island by high speed ferry. There’s plenty of things to do on the island, including swimming and snorkeling in the crystal clear waters of Welcome Bay and Nudey Beach; bouncing on the giant ocean trampoline; viewing the reef and tropical marine life from a glass-bottom boat; stand-up paddleboarding and kayaking; hiking one of the three main walking trails through the island’s rainforest and woodlands; and visiting the residents at the Turtle Rehabilitation Centre.

Beautiful Fitzroy Island | © Maarten Danial / Flickr

Mission Beach

Mission Beach is located two hours south of Cairns. It’s bordered by the Great Barrier Reef on one side, and the Wet Tropics Rainforest on the other. There are local companies that offer daily tours to the Great Barrier Reef, including Reef Express and the Mission Beach Water Taxi to Dunk Island. Another very popular Mission Beach activity is skydiving, as daredevils land on the beach. On the way back to Cairns, definitely detour to visit Paronella Park—a castle hidden in lush tropical rainforest surrounds.

Atherton Tablelands

Located west of Cairns, Atherton Tablelands is characterised by its rolling hills, rainforest surrounds, farm country, and historic towns. The best way to start the day in the Tablelands is with a hot air balloon ride. Afterwards, it’s all about choosing your adventure. Go on a self-guided foodie tour and stop at cheese tastings, chocolate stores, and for a cup of locally grown coffee. Spend the day exploring the area and chasing waterfalls. Alternatively, choose a day tour that includes visiting the best sights in the Atherton Tablelands, as well as nearby Millaa Millaa Falls and Paronella Park.

Hot air balloon view over the Atherton Tablelands | © Lenny K Photography / Flickr

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