An inspiring travel guide to the Atherton Tablelands Region near Cairns. Discover 22 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 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.
Do yourself a favour, include a visit to the Tablelands in your next visit to the Tropical North. In this guide, I’ll help you out with just that, by outlining the 21 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!
How to Get to the Atherton Tablelands
The Atherton Tablelands region 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. There are three main routes to get here, 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 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.
Related: Visitor’s Guide to Cairns
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 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
Updated price: Waterfall, Rainforest & Wildlife Tour
22 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 22 Best Things to do in the Atherton Tablelands!
I’ve written independent blog posts for several of these Atherton Tablelands attractions 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 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
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 experiences 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.
Book: Hot Air Ballooning (cheapest online)
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.
Book: Crystal Caves Entry Ticket ($25 online)
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 things to do in the Atherton Tablelands if you’re chasing waterfalls and hikes!
Tip: visit Windin Falls for sunrise for the best scenes!
Read More: Windin Falls Hike
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.
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. Lake Eacham
Lake Eacham is a 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 bird watching.
8. The Curtain 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 beauty of the World Heritage Listed rainforest, stop by the Curtain Fig tree near Yungaburra!
This tree is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful trees I’ve ever seen! It truly looks like it belongs in the movie Avatar.
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!
Read More: Curtain Fig Tree in Yungaburra
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 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!
Visitors can access this park from Innisfail or from the Atherton Tablelands. For those looking for things to do in 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)
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.
This park features castles, tunnels, bridges and fountains surrounded amongst 7500 trees in a prized tropical garden. There’s also a waterfall here that’s definitely worth checking out.
Read More: Mena Creek Falls & Paronella Park
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 recommended 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.
Check price: Chillagoe Caves from Cairns
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!
Read More: Kahlpahlim Rock Hike (Lambs Head)
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!
Read More: Turtle Rock Hike
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 extra drive from Cairns!
10% OFF: Tully River Whitewater Rafting when you use code: OLLY10
Any of the activities, attractions or things to do in the Tablelands Region can be booked with 10% off using my code OLLY10 on BackpackerDeals.com.
18. Granite Gorge (Rock Wallabies)
Granite Gorge is a beautiful camping spot in the Atherton Tablelands. If you’ve 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. 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!
Read More: Dinner Falls and Mount Hypipamee Crater Loop
20. 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.
I’ve documented how to reach the top of the waterfall below.
Read More: Cannabullen Falls Hike
21. 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 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!
Read More: Tully Gorge Lookout – How to Get Here
Similar: Travel Guide to Port Douglas
22. 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!
Read More: Innot Hot Springs (Guide)
About the Atherton Tablelands
The Atherton Tablelands 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 are indigenous to this region. The most common are known as the Mbabaram people.
Resources & Essential Tips
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
- Cheap, clean rooms
- 10 minute walk to town
- Every room has fridge, microwave, TV & kitchenware
Lakeside Lodge: Chambers Wildlife Rainforest Lodges
- Full lodge with kitchen and varandah
- Right next to Lake Eacham for swimming
- On-site pool
- Abundant wildlife in rainforest setting
- Best-reviewed accommodation in the Tablelands
- Located on 40 acres near scenic Yungaburra
- Big rooms with spa baths
- Outdoor pools and BBQs
- Close to many highlights, attractions and things to do in the Atherton Tablelands
Compare in the Tablelands Region: All the Best Accommodation Options
Should I stay in Cairns or the Tablelands?
A lot of people have asked me this and my immediate reaction is always to say both! 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.
As you can see, there are just so many things to do here that squeezing it into a day trip is a bit of an ask! With that said, the below organised tour is about the best you’ll get on a day trip.
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.
- Car Next Door – sharing economy car rental app. I usually use this if I need to rent a car anywhere as it always ends up cheaper. Use my link for $15 off your first booking.
If it’s a campervan you’re after, consider these options:
- 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 22 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. 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!
MY CAMERA AND PHOTOGRAPHY EQUIPMENT
- Mirrorless Camera: Canon R5
- Drone: DJI Mavic Pro 2
- 360 Action Camera: Insta360 One X2
- Landscape Lens: Canon RF 15-35mm f/2.8L
- All-Round Lens: Canon RF 24-105mm f/4L
- Telephoto Lens: Canon RF 100-500mm f/f/4.5-7.1 L
- Long Action Pole: Insta360 Invisible Pole (BulletTime)
- Landscape Lens Filter: Hoya Circular Polarizer
- Camera Backpack: F-Stop Tilopa
- Favorite Photography Accessory: Peak Design Capture Clip
For a list of all my recommended photography gear (including what I use and why) check out my guide to camera gear for travel.