An inspiring travel guide to the Atherton Tablelands Region near Cairns, Queensland. Discover 26 awesome things to do in the Atherton Tablelands, from unmissable hikes to epic bucket-list activities!
The Atherton Tablelands is one of Australia’s most underrated travel destinations– especially if you like adventure. This region has some of the best national parks, waterfalls and hikes in Far North Queensland (FNQ), as well as some of the best activities and experiences!
Something you might not be aware of is that while many travellers often overlook the Atherton Tablelands in favour of the more popular Cairns region– they usually end up visiting here regardless. That’s because many of the best attractions in FNQ are found here, with tours and buses running from Cairns daily.
- Quicklist: Here are the Top 3 Tours & Experiences in the Tablelands
- How to Get to the Atherton Tablelands in Queensland
- 26 Awesome Things to do in The Atherton Tablelands
- 1. The Millaa Millaa Waterfall Circuit
- 2. Epic Sunrise Hot Air Balloon Trip (Mareeba)
- 3. Crystal Caves
- 4. Windin Falls
- 5. Herberton Historic Village
- 6. Davies Creek & Emerald Creek
- 7. Crater Lakes – Lake Eacham & Lake Barrine
- 8. The Curtain Fig Tree and Cathedral Fig Tree
- 9. Platypuses At Yungaburra
- 10. Wooroonooran National Park
- 11. Malanda
- 12. Paronella Park
- 13. Millstream Falls
- 14. Chillagoe Caves
- 15. Kahlpahlim Rock Hike (Lamb’s Head)
- 16. Turtle Rock Hike
- 17. Tully River White Water Rafting
- 18. Granite Gorge (Rock Wallabies)
- 19. Rainforest Wildlife Spotting by Night (and day)
- 20. The Hypipamee Crater
- 21. Cannabullen Falls
- 22. Tully Gorge
- 23. Innot Hot Springs
- 24. Lake Tinaroo
- 25. Spot Tree Kangaroos
- 26. Barron Falls
- About the Atherton Tablelands
- National Parks in the Atherton Tablelands
- How to Get Around in the Atherton Tablelands
- More Far North Queensland Adventure Destinations
Do yourself a favour, include a visit to the Atherton and Evelyn Tableland during your next visit to Tropical North Queensland.
In this guide, I'll help you out with just that, by outlining the 26 best things to do in the Atherton Tablelands. At the bottom of this post, I've also included useful information in an "Atherton Tablelands Travel Guide", with tips and hints for booking accommodation, getting around and more!
Quicklist: Here are the Top 3 Tours & Experiences in the Tablelands
If you're in a rush, or simply want the absolute top 3 experiences the Tablelands region has to offer, then take a pick from the three tours below!
- From Cairns: Wilderness & Waterfall Tour - this is the easiest way to see the best of the Tablelands region in an epic day trip from Cairns. Includes some amazing waterfalls, the Curtain Fig Tree, platypus spotting, and a swim at Lake Eacham.
- Rainforest & Wildlife By Night - a wildlife tour of the World Heritage Listed Wet Tropics Rainforest in the Tablelands from Cairns. Spot unique and amazing wildlife during the day and into the night.
- Hot Air Ballooning - experience the beauty of Far North Queensland during an epic sunrise balloon flight from Mareeba!
How to Get to the Atherton Tablelands in Queensland
The Atherton Tablelands region of Queensland spans a vast 65,000 square kilometres, stretching from Tully to Kuranda in the North and all the way to Chillagoe in the West.
The Tablelands Region is a large plateau rising 700 metres above sea level from Cairns. If you're wondering how to get from Cairns to the Atherton Tablelands, there are three main routes to get here. That's if you are driving yourself.
The most popular is via the Kennedy Highway north of Cairns. This begins climbing the steep MacAlister range from Smithfield (Kuranda Range Road) and passes Kuranda on the way.
The other two options include climbing the Gillies Range Road (steep and winding), south of Cairns and the Palmerston Highway from Innisfail.
Best Atherton Tablelands Organised Trip From Cairns
If you find yourself in Cairns without a car and you're itching to tick off some of the epic things to do see in the Atherton Tablelands, then your best bet is to book an organised tour.
Luckily, since there are so many attractions and highlights in the Tablelands, you will find many tours.
By far, the most bang-for-buck trip is the Waterfall, Rainforest and Wildlife Trip by Cairns Adventure Group. This costs less than $130 and you get a lot for your money including:
- Hotel pickup/drop off
- Millaa Millaa Falls
- Mount Hypipamee
- Curtain Fig Tree
- Platypus Spotting in Yungaburra
- Swim in Lake Eacham
- Morning & Afternoon Tea
- Lunch at Malanda Pub
26 Awesome Things to do in The Atherton Tablelands
Now that you know how to. get here, let's dive into this epic list of the 26 Best Things to do in the Atherton Tablelands!
I've written independent blog posts for several of these Atherton Tablelands tourist attractions and hidden gems linked below each item. This will give you more information on what to expect, how to get to each attraction and more photos.
1. The Millaa Millaa Waterfall Circuit
Millaa Millaa Falls is Australia's most photographed waterfall, and it's quite easy to see why. This beautiful 18-metre cascade falls perfectly into a deep pool surrounded by tropical ancient rainforest.
If you're visiting the Atherton Tablelands and looking for things to do, definitely make sure to stop by Millaa Millaa. You'll also find two more epic waterfalls just nearby, including Ellinjaa Falls and Zillie Falls– both of which are easily accessible.
Read More: Millaa Millaa Waterfall Circuit
Book a Trip to Millaa Millaa FallsRainforest & Waterfall Tour from Cairns
2. Epic Sunrise Hot Air Balloon Trip (Mareeba)
Are you looking for one of the most exhilarating experiences in the Tablelands? If so, you might be interested in this epic sunrise hot air balloon trip departing from Mareeba.
This is a popular trip for those staying in Cairns as it includes an early-morning pickup for the long drive out to Mareeba. This hot air balloon experience is one of the most affordable in Australia.
It features a roughly 90-minute float over the pristine Tablelands countryside with views extending out to the Great Dividing Range.
Read More: Hot Air Balloon Experience (Tablelands) - What to Expect
3. Crystal Caves
One of the cheapest attractions worth checking out at the Atherton Tablelands is the Crystal Caves.
This is one of Australia's largest privately owned collections of natural prehistoric crystals and fossils and an entry ticket costs $25 online.
There's 300 sqm of grottos and you'll get to heart the story of Rene Boissevain, a passionate collector, of some of the world's most precious and rare stones. There's even a massive amethyst crystal found in South America and worth over $US120 000.
4. Windin Falls
Windin Falls is one of Far North Queensland's waterfall icons and is located in the Wooroonooran National Park. Hikers can reach the top of this megalithic waterfall for incredible views over the gorge below.
This is easily one of the best free things to do in the Atherton Tablelands if you're chasing waterfalls and hikes!
Tip: visit Windin Falls for sunrise for the best scenes!
5. Herberton Historic Village
Are you interested in learning about unique Australian history on your visit to the Tablelands? The Herberton Historic Village is an open-air museum located in Herberton, approximately 15 minutes south of Atherton.
This village features 8 live working displays including billy tea making, heritage train rides, blacksmiths and more. You'll also get to see a 130-year-old pioneer homestead!
There's an entrance ticket to get into the village, but it's very affordable and helps with the maintenance of this historic site and employs locals.
Tip: Skip the line & save money by booking your Herberton Historic Village Entrance Ticket in advance online. (Simply show the QR code once you arrive).
6. Davies Creek & Emerald Creek
I've already mentioned that many of the waterfalls in Cairns and the Tropical North region are located in the Tablelands! But, what you might not know is that the Atherton Tablelands also has some of the most unique waterfalls!
If you're up for a change from the tropical rainforest terrain, head over to Davies Creek and Emerald Creek, just north of Atherton. These regions feature dryer, eucalypt-dominant forests and beautiful rock formations.
You can even bring your dog to one of these waterfalls, which is rare up here!
7. Crater Lakes - Lake Eacham & Lake Barrine
One of the most popular places to visit in the Atherton Tablelands is the Crater Lakes National Park. This park is home to two volcanic lakes; Lake Eacham, and Lake Barrine. Don't worry, these are the remnants of an extinct volcano, and won't be erupting any time soon.
Lake Eacham is a crystal clear, blue volcanic crater lake located at the end of the long Gillies Range Road from Cairns. When people ask for things to do in the Atherton Tablelands, a visit and swim in Lake Eacham is often recommended as a must-do activity.
Lake Eacham features picnic areas and is salt-water croc free, meaning it is safe to swim. However, there is a harmless, resident freshwater crocodile who lives here– try to spot him! It's surrounded by beautiful rainforest and a popular spot for kayaking and spotting rare bird species.
While Lake Eacham is more popular than Lake Barrine, I'd say they're both worth a visit!
8. The Curtain Fig Tree and Cathedral Fig Tree
A lot of people visit Cairns, the Atherton Tablelands and the Tropical North with only 3 days or less! They come to see the reef and the rainforest. If you're on a really tight schedule like this and looking to see the beauty of the World Heritage Listed rainforest, stop by the Curtain Fig tree near the town of Yungaburra.
The walk to the Curtain Fig tree is less than 2 minutes along a suspended boardwalk. This is definitely an attraction to do in the Atherton Tablelands for people on a tight schedule!
There is also a similar tree known as the Cathedral Fig, located on Boar Pocket Rd, off the Gillies Highway near Lake Barrine.
9. Platypuses At Yungaburra
While we're here in Yungaburra, head down to the platypus viewing platform for a chance to spot one! You'll find this platform hidden above Peterson Creek near Nicks's restaurant.
If you're having trouble finding it, it's actually got its own Google Maps pin "Yungaburra Platypus Viewing Platform".
Tip: If you don't spot any from the platform, walk around to the trail on the right, which leads under the bridge and continues on a short loop alongside Peterson Creek. You'll often see them hiding here.
10. Wooroonooran National Park
The Daintree is by far the most well-known rainforest region in Far North Queensland. But, what if I told you that there is a National Park even more breathtaking and with many more waterfalls and hiking trails?
After spending a very long time photographing and documenting outdoor adventures in the Tropical North, The Wooroonooran National Park has earned its spot as my personal favourite! It's even home to Queensland's highest mountain; Mount Bartle Frere.
For those looking for things to do around the Tablelands, check out these awesome hikes and waterfalls in this park:
- Nandroya Falls
- Crawford's Lookout
- Wallicher and Tchupala Falls
- The Mamu Tropical Skywalk
- Windin Falls (above)
- West Mulgrave Falls (only for the well-prepared)
Visitors can access this park from Innisfail or from the Atherton Tablelands.
Malanda is a small, rural town in the Atherton Tablelands that is very scenic and features its very own waterfall and swimming hole. Additionally, this township is synonymous with milk and cheese, since the popular brand Malanda Milk is sold in many parts of Australia.
If you're on a road trip and looking for things to do in the Atherton Tablelands, stop by Malanda to cool off at the local waterfall/swimming hole.
12. Paronella Park
Paronella Park is an Atherton Tablelands tourist attraction that's really been doing the rounds on social media lately.
Book: Paronella Park Admission Ticket
This park features castles, tunnels, bridges and fountains surrounded by 7500 trees in a prized tropical garden. There's also a waterfall here that's definitely worth checking out.
13. Millstream Falls
At the far end of the Atherton Tablelands lies the township of Ravenshoe. This region is the highest town in Queensland by altitude and is set within a unique landscape featuring two impressive waterfalls.
Big Millstream and Little Millstream Falls, as they're called, are two separate waterfalls on the same watercourse. Little Millstream is better for swimming but I'd definitely recommend adding both of these falls to your own list of things to do in the Atherton Tablelands!
14. Chillagoe Caves
Chillagoe - Mungana Caves National Park is the furthers west region that can be considered part of the Atherton Tablelands. This area has a dramatic volcanic history and remnants of this are everywhere.
Visiting the Chillagoe caves and lava tunnels is a deep dive into a land before time. Here, you'll discover dramatic outback landscapes, ancient coral reefs, caves and unique Australian wildlife.
The drive out to Chillagoe is quite long. If you find yourself in Cairns and you're looking for unique things to do in the Atherton Tablelands, consider an organised trip to Chillagoe.
Car Rentals in Far North Queensland
Cairns is one of the most popular travel destinations in Australia and car rentals quickly book out! I recommend booking well in advance. I always use RentalCars.com as they compare the widest range of rentals across dealerships in the Far North.
15. Kahlpahlim Rock Hike (Lamb's Head)
For those seeking a bit more adventure in their trip to the Atherton Tablelands, head out to Mareeba for an epic hike up to Kahlpahlim Rock, or Lamb's Head.
This hike begins just past Davies Creek Falls (return here to cool off after), in the Davies Creek National Park.
Expect around 4-5 hours to complete this 18 kilometre hike and be rewarded with some of the best views available in the Tablelands. If you're up for it, leave early and try to make it up there for sunrise!
16. Turtle Rock Hike
The Turtle Rock hike is another worthwhile walk in the Tablelands. This one is a little tamer than the Kahlpahlim Rock trail, which might be better suited for those on a tight schedule.
Visitors will find Turtle Rock in the neighbouring Dindin National Park at the end of a much shorter 1.5-2 hour walk.
Hikers can also walk this one in a circuit loop, which is refreshing as you don't need to double up on your tracks!
17. Tully River White Water Rafting
If you're visiting Cairns already, then you'll know that the white water rafting trip down the Barron River is one of the best tours you can book!
However, you might not know that the Tully River rafting trip is actually much more epic! The rapids on the Tully River are more impressive and it's certainly worth the short drive down from the Tablelands.
$5 OFF: Tully River Whitewater Rafting when you use code: OLLY5
18. Granite Gorge (Rock Wallabies)
Granite Gorge is a beautiful camping spot in the Atherton Tablelands. If you're exploring the region by camper or tent, definitely check this place out.
However, with that said, I'd recommend checking out Granite Gorge even if you're not staying the night!
This awesome place features a beautiful gorge with freshwater swimming spots and abundant wildlife! One of the highlights is meeting the rock wallabies, who are super friendly!
19. Rainforest Wildlife Spotting by Night (and day)
The Wet Tropics region is full of unique and amazing native wildlife. While you'll most likely spot kangaroos, lizards, and possums durign the day, there are many creatures you can only see during the night.
That's why this nocturnal wildlife spotting tour is rated as one of the top things to do in the Tablelands for nautre lovers. This is led by an expert guide to help you find the elusive platypus and Lumholtz tree kangaroo in their natural habitats.
20. The Hypipamee Crater
One of the more unique places in the Atherton Tablelands is the Hypipamee Crater walk near Ravenshoe.
This crater is a huge, volcanic sinkhole filled up with water. The water colour is very green from the algae growth, which makes for excellent photography opportunities.
There's also a great waterfall along this track called Dinner Falls– definitely add it to your list!
21. Cannabullen Falls
Cannabullen Falls is one of my favourite waterfalls in Far North Queensland and one that is bound to blow you away! Determined hikers will find this megalithic cascade deep in the Tully Gorge National Park.
This one is definitely a bit off the beaten path, but an awesome trip for those keen on adventure!
22. Tully Gorge
The Tully Gorge was once a tourism highlight for the Tropical North. However, since they dammed the water upstream, the once magnificent waterfall has now been reduced to a mere trickle.
However, don't let that dissuade you from making a trip out here. The Tully Gorge Lookout is one of the most incredible viewpoints in Australia, especially if you get out here early! It's a destination that many overlook these days, so do something unique on your trip to the Atherton Tablelands!
Similar: Travel Guide to Port Douglas
23. Innot Hot Springs
Yep, the Tablelands really has it all. While hot springs probably won't excite you too much in the hot season, they are a hit in the dry, where temperatures are much lower than in Cairns.
The Innot Hot Springs is a free activity in the Atherton Tablelands and you'll find it near Ravenshoe. These warm pools are deep enough to sit and bathe in, and can get very hot!
24. Lake Tinaroo
Another great place to visit in the Tablelands for a day of swimming, kayaking, and cooling down is Lake Tinaroo. This lake is much bigger than the nearby crater lakes and is a popular spot for activities like sailing, skiing, swimming, fishing, red clawing and bird watching.
If you've come up to the Tablelands for fishing, then Lake Tinaroo is a good option. Many people come up here year-round to chase the famous sportsfish; barramundi. However, you'll need a permit, which you can buy from the Lake Tinaroo Village.
25. Spot Tree Kangaroos
If you're a wildlife enthusiast and wondering what to do in the Tablelands, you'll want to add spotting a tree kangaroo to your list.
Tree Kangaroos are not another drop bear, they're a real animal! They look like small kangaroos but hang around in the canopy of the tropical rainforests. And, one of the best places to spot them in Australia is the Atherton Tablelands. You'll get a chance to see them in several national parks throughout the region.
However, thse guys are the most illusive animal! I've hiked all over the region and have yet to spot one. However, sometimes even first-time visitors to the Tablelands get to spot one! I'm always keeping my eye out.
26. Barron Falls
Barron Falls is one of the largest waterfalls in Far North Queensland, and is located near Kuranda. Din Din Falls is its indigenous name, and it's a majestic 250 meters of cascading water forcing its way down the deep Barron Gorge.
This waterfall is easy to get to and is one of the most popular waterfalls in the Wet Tropics Area. The water force will vary depending on the season. However, to see this waterfall in full force, you’ll need to visit in the wet season.
Where to Stay in the Atherton Tablelands
With all of the epic things to do in the Atherton Tablelands, you're probably a little overwhelmed! Don't worry, below I've got recommendations for the three best places to stay here to help you plan your visit.
- Best-Rated Value Hotel in Atherton: Atherton Hinterland Hotel - beautiful clean rooms located just a 10-minute walk into Atherton town. Each room has a fridge, microwave, TV, and kitchenware.
- Lakeside Lodge: Chambers Wildlife Rainforest Lodges - beautiful lodges set in the tropical rainforest near Lake Eacham. Features an on-site pool and great opportunities for wildlife spotting off the verandah!
- Top Pick: Gumtree on Gillies Bed and Breakfast - the best-rated accommodation in the Tablelands, located on 40 acres near Yungaburrah. This B&B includes big rooms, outdoor BBQs, and is close to many of the attractions.
Stay in Port Douglas!
Port Douglas, just a short hop from Cairns makes for an ideal alternative (or addition) with great accommodation options such as:
- Top Resort: Sheraton Grand Mirage
- Mid Range: Oaks Resort
- Budget: Global Backpackers
- ...+10 more in this Port Douglas Accommodation Guide
About the Atherton Tablelands
The region considered to be the Atherton and Evylyn Tableland are named after the town of Atherton, but is often just referred to as "The Tablelands" by locals. The name Atherton stems from a remarkable early settler known as John Atherton. He was an explorer by heart and is famous for overlanding sheep from New South Wales to Rockhampton in North Queensland.
He was among one of the first Europeans to settle in the area in 1870.
However, indigenous populations have long used the rainforest-rich lands now known as the Atherton Tablelands. In fact, Australia recognises that over 12 different tribes of aboriginal people are indigenous to this region. The most common are known as the Mbabaram people.
More Things to do in the Tablelands
This list of 26 not enough for you? Here are a few more activities and highlights you might want to check out.
- Atherton Forest Mountain Bike Park
- The Kuranda Scenic Railway and Skyrail
- Evelyn Tableland
- The Mareeba Wetlands
- Stop by the Mt Uncle Distillery
National Parks in the Atherton Tablelands
As you'll notice, most people aren't looking for things to do in Atherton (the largest town). Instead, you'll want to head out to the national parks! Below are the best national parks in the Tablelands region.
- Kuranda National Park
- Davies Creek National Park
- Curtain Fig National Par
- Mt. Hypipamee National Park
- Millstream Falls National Park
- Wooroonooran National Park
- Dinden National Park
- Mount Lewis National Park
- Hastings Swamp National Park
- Danbulla National Park
Should I stay in Cairns, Port Douglas or the Tablelands?
A lot of people have asked me this and my immediate reaction is always to say all three! If you've got the time on your trip to Cairns, I'd dedicate at least 20% of that to spending it in the Tablelands Region since there are just so many things to do up here.
Related: Where to Stay in Cairns: Best Areas & Hotels
How to Get Around in the Atherton Tablelands
The Atherton Tablelands is a big area to cover! Unless you've booked an organised tour, you'll struggle getting to all the sites and attractions by public transport.
That's why, the best way to get around is to have your own car. While you will find some car rental places up in Mareeba and Atherton, I recommend just booking one in Cairns for a few reasons.
Firstly, there is more variety in Cairns, which means you'll get a better price. Secondly, most visitors fly into Cairns, meaning it's more convenient to pick your car up from the airport. And, lastly, the drive up to the Atherton Tablelands is very scenic and realistically not very far at all!
Now, for helping you book a car or camper, I've included some resources below.
- RentalCars.com – a rental car comparison site similar to Skyscanner. Great way to compare rates and availability across companies.
- Spaceships Vans: Budget, backpacker-style campers. There’s a depot in Hobart – the cheapest option.
- Jucy Vans – Another budget/backpacker option with a bit more variety to choose from. Also has cheap cars. You’ll have to pickup and drop off in Melbourne.
More Far North Queensland Adventure Destinations
I really hope this travel guide to the 26 best things to do in the Atherton Tablelands, Queensland has been useful in helping you plan your trip to the Tropical North.
As you might have guessed, I've spent a great deal of time photographing and documenting all the best adventures and attractions in the Far North Region. If you're up for more adventures like exploring the Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef, you'll find everything you need to know on my blog.
Therefore, before you high-tail it out of here, check out some of my other guides. I guarantee you'll find something you didn't know existed!
View: Tablelands Web Story
Sunday 4th of September 2022
Curtain Fig and Cathedral Fig are two separate (though similar) trees. Cathedral Fig is located on Boar Pocket Rd, off the Gillies Highway near Lake Barrine. And Tully River Rafting is NOT part of the Tablelands.