Tropical North Queensland is abundant with cooling creeks, wondrous waterfalls, stunning swimming holes, and even a secret infinity pool. We’ve compiled the best swimming spots around Cairns so you don’t miss a single one on your next trip to TNQ.
We acknowledge that these adventures are located on Yidindiji, Djirbalngan, Djabuganjdji Nations, the traditional land of the Yidindiji, Djirbalngan, Djabuganjdji people who have occupied and cared for this land for thousands of years. We pay our respects to them as the Traditional Custodians and recognise that sovereignty was never ceded.
Best Swim Spots South of Cairns
1. Nandroya Falls
Time from Cairns: 1 hour 30 mins
Walk in: 6.5km return loop
Starting from Henrietta Creek campground a 6.5km loop trail leads you through the rainforest, past small cascades and rock pools along the way, before arriving at the jaw-dropping Nandroya Falls.
The first and most impressive drop of this multi-tiered waterfall features a luscious backdrop of ferns, before the flowing river twists around causing the next waterfalls to plunge in a different direction. It’s all quite dramatic and the hike in makes for a refreshing swim in the plunge pool!
2. Pepina Falls
Time from Cairns: 1 hour 50 mins
Walk in: 5 mins
You’ll find Pepina Falls in a small viewing area just off the Old Palmerston Highway, near Palmerston itself. There’s not a lot of parking available and the road is quite narrow, so if there are already three cars parked, best to come back later!
The viewing area is at the top of the falls but to reach the swimming hole at the bottom, it’s a short, albeit steep and slippery, walk down a 90 metre path. A lovely roadside pit-stop to cool off!
3. Josephine Falls
Time from Cairns: 1 hour 5 mins
Walk in: 1.2km to lookout
The water that tumbles over the immense granite boulders of Josephine Falls, started as no more than a trickle, high up on Queensland’s highest peak, Mt Bartle Frere.
Over the course of 7.5km, this trickle grows to become the flowing Josephine Creek, which turns into a natural waterslide at the falls itself!
It’s important to only swim in the designated swimming areas, which unfortunately does not include the top pool, but the view is more than satisfying enough!
There’s a wheelchair accessible viewing platform over the top of the falls which is just 700 metres along a paved path. To access the bottom of the falls and the natural waterslide where all the swimming takes place, take the short raised-platform track from the viewing platform through the rainforest to the bottom.
4. Behana Gorge & Clamshell Falls
Time from Cairns: 30 mins
Walk in: 3.5km
Behana Gorge is a gorgeous spot to while away an entire day, rock hopping and swimming your way down the creek.
Starting at the Behana Gorge car park, it’s a 45-60 minute walk up a paved trail, where at any point you can clamber down to the creek to find your own private swimming hole, or continue on to the end where you’ll be greeted by the lovely Clamshell Falls.
Behana Gorge is a super family friendly swim spot, but make sure you check there’s nothing submerged below the surface before jumping in!
5. Babinda Boulders
Time from Cairns: 1 hour
Walk in: 50m
Babinda Boulders sits at the foot of Mt Bartle Frere which provides gorgeous views, as well as the stunningly green water! There’s a picnic area right by Babinda Boulders themselves which makes for a lovely place to relax in the shade.
Babinda is also culturally significant to the local Yidinjdji people, as it’s the site of a tragic Aboriginal love story, so take extra care to be respectful while visiting.
Take the 1.3km track downstream to the Devil’s Pool, which passes two viewing platforms where you can ogle the granite boulders and wonder how many years it’s taken the flowing water to shape and smooth them so perfectly.
Alternatively the 850 metre Wonga Track Rainforest loop crosses a suspension bridge into the rainforest, where you can wander along the creek and find a shaded swim spot all to yourself. Just make sure to only swim in the designated swimming areas.
Swim Spots West of Cairns
6. Davies Creek Falls Infinity Pool
Time from Cairns: 1 hour
Walk in: 300m
Who doesn’t love a natural infinity pool? They’re what literal dreams are made of, and Davies Creek Falls is absolutely no exception.
Just an easy 300 metre walk down a dirt track and you land right at the top of the falls, looking out over the plunging valley below. If you’re coming from the southern states you’ll looove the water temp! Just check there hasn’t been a tonne of rain recently making the current super strong before you pop in for a dip!
7. Fairy Falls
Time from Cairns: 30 mins
Walk in: 15 mins
Just a short walk from Crystal Cascades car park you’ll stumble across Fairy Falls, a magical little falls and swimming hole, tucked between carving cliffs on either side.
You can find the trail to Fairy Falls to the far left of the car park near a sign warning about stinging plants (watch out for these along the path!) When you reach a fork in the trail, continue alongside the creek rather than up the hill and you’ll soon arrive at Fairy Falls.
Fairy Falls is one of the quieter swim spots around Cairns, and if you’re there during the week you’ll probably have the place to yourself.
8. Emerald Creek
Time from Cairns: 1 hour 15 mins
Walk in: 1.9km to waterfall
Emerald Creek is another series of beaut swimming holes that you can easily spend the day dipping in and out of (just be careful on the rocks! They can get extremely slippery).
The creek and picnic area are accessible from the car park (and are pet friendly!), although part of the drive to Emerald Creek is along an unsealed road, ruling out caravans and trailers.
There’s a 1.9km walk along a dirt track that passes both the top and bottom of the waterfall and offers up spectacular views above the Emerald Creek Falls as well as down the valley and across the Atherton Tableland.
Pack a picnic to stay the entire day – and keep an eye out for Australia’s largest dragonfly, the giant petalurid dragonfly.
9. Crystal Cascades
Time from Cairns: 25 mins
Walk in: 1.5km
Crystal Cascades is a family-friendly swim spot super close to the centre of Cairns. This cascading creek creates a series of small waterfalls and swimming holes, meaning there’s plenty of places to take a dip and enough room for people to spread out.
The rainforest canopy overhead ensures the picnic area and pools themselves stay nice and cool year round. There are BBQs and toilets here too, making Crystal Cascades a popular spot (but for good reason).
If you’re feeling adventurous, Fairy Falls is just a short 1.5km walk away, which is usually more secluded.
Swim Spots Offshore From Cairns
10. Green Island
Time from Cairns: 45 mins by boat
If it’s the salty sea that you’re craving after all those freshwater swimming holes, a snorkel sesh at Green Island will not disappoint.
This tiny isle on the Great Barrier Reef is bordered by reefs that are abundant with tropical sea life, including reef sharks, stingrays, angelfish, parrotfish, and even turtles!
You’ll need to catch a boat about 45 minutes out to Green Island from Cairns, and for the best snorkelling, it’s best to jump on a snorkel tour and jet out to one of the reefs just offshore.
These tours usually provide you with a snorkel, goggles, flippers, and a sun suit for protection against the sun’s rays and seasonal jellyfish. Marine stingers may be present so follow advice from lifeguards and only swim in the designated areas.
If a tour’s not your thing, there’s still fish to spot beneath the Green Island jetty or off the beaches.
Swimming Hole Safety
With its diverse wilderness and abundant national parks, Tropical North Queensland is home to many beautiful hikes, waterfalls and swimming holes.
It’s important to always follow the advice from Queensland Parks and never venture into out of bounds zones, flooded waters or dangerous areas to prevent serious injury or death.
Read more: Staying Safe Around Swimming Holes
There are hundreds of beautiful swim spots around Tropical North Queensland, but it’s important to remember that this is also croc country.
All of the swimming holes listed are deemed safe for swimming year round (unless signposted or declared otherwise), but you should be aware that crocodiles inhabit this region and its waterways.
Always be vigilant, only swim in designated swimming areas, and always follow croc-safety rules.
For up to date information on croc safety, check out the Queensland Government Crocwise page.