The Great Barrier Reef is ABSOLUTELY gorgeous, but it does drive a lot of tourists to Cairns. With the extreme weather (very hot & humid) we see in far north Queensland, you may need an escape from the heat and the crowds alike. Most people think of cooling off with trips out to the reef, but don't realize that Tropical Queensland has some pretty unique freshwater watering holes to dip in. Don't worry, I got you covered. Check out these 5 secret swimming holes near or just outside of Cairns! You can't visit here without doing some hiking in the gorgeous rainforests and diving into some freshwater pools -- crocodile & stinger free, of course!
1. MOSSMAN GORGE
Slightly north of Cairns (by an hour & 15) and Port Douglas (by 20 minutes), this is a pretty big tourist draw, as people come from around the world to visit the Great Barrier Reef nearby, but an amazing spot to check out nonetheless. You must take a short shuttle bus from the Tourist Centre to get to the trailheads & can find this natural freshwater swimming hole from there. You'll likely find other people swimming & relaxing here too.
2. CRYSTAL CASCADE FALLS
This swimming hole is much closer to Cairns than many of the others on this list (about a 25 minute drive), and is a tropical swimming hole located in the middle of the rainforest. It has a handful of small waterfalls and is the perfect place to cool off! You can reach it by a pretty short & easy hike in.
3. FAIRY FALLS
This spot was my favorite because it was more off the beaten path and not crowded at all. Just behind where I'm standing in the photo below is a deep swimming hole. There's spots for you to jump off into it from the rocks as well. You do have to climb over some small boulders, but it's pretty easy to do. Park in the Crystal Cascades parking lot & follow the path at the far end (the direction you face when driving in). Once the path ends about 10 minute in, continue climbing over the rocks and you'll eventually find the waterfall & swimming hole shortly after! I'd recommend wearing sandals or water shoes to walk in.
4. MASON'S STORE
Located in the Daintree right near Cape Tribulation, Mason's Cafe is North of Cairns by about 3 hours, and Port Douglas by about 1.5 hours, you have to visit the Daintree & Cape Tribulation during your trip to far north QLD. Definitely check out Mason's Store for some lunch, and you can actually wander around behind the store for some pretty sweet, crystal clear freshwater swimming holes!
5. JOSEPHINE FALLS
These are ranked among some of the most beautiful waterfalls in Cairns. It's located in a quaint little country town, about an hour drive south of Cairns, you'll find this spot has plenty of parking and a walking track, making it a great spot for all ages as you don't have to do any crazy maneuvering! There's a waterfall lookout deck, you're able to swim in the freshwater pool, and even do some hiking to the top of the waterfall.
Enjoy these natural beauties and make sure to check out my Cairns and Great Barrier Reef guide here. If you're looking for other must visit places on your Australia trip, don't overlook Byron Bay. It's one of my top recommendations!
Let me know where your favorite swimming holes around the world are in the comments below so I can add them to my bucket list! I'd also love to hear from anyone who's visited these too! Which were your faves?