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Crystal Cascades – Cairns Waterfall Guide (2023)

Crystal Cascades – Cairns Waterfall Guide (2023)

The Crystal Cascades is one of the most famous of all the swimming holes near Cairns. It features several points along the stream for swimming, as well as a nice waterfall at the end. Read my complete guide to visiting the Crystal Cascades in Cairns, Australia.

The Crystal Cascades is a series of freshwater waterfalls located a short 25-minute drive from Cairns. There are several refreshing swimming holes that make for an incredible way to cool off in the hot tropical North Queensland climate.

I lived in Cairns for several months and I have to say, the Crystal Cascades are one of the most accessible freshwater swimming spots around!

In this complete guide to visiting the iconic Cascades from Cairns, I’ve included information on how to get here, what to expect, tips for finding a good swimming spot, and some photos from my trips that I hope inspire your visit!

The main waterfall at the Crystal Cascades
Olly Gaspar

I'm Olly, a full-time traveler for the past 5 years. I visit every destination I write about & handpick all recommendations.

Where are the Crystal Cascades?

The Crystal Cascades is a local name for the many swimming holes and waterfalls along "Freshwater Creek". This creek flows year-round since it is fed by Lake Morris and the many tributaries on the Lamb Range.

If you're wondering how to get here, the cascades have a dedicated car park (free) which is located approximately 18.7 kilometres from Cairns CBD. This is where you want to aim for.

  • Google Maps Pin: "Crystal Cascades"
Map showing location of the Crystal Cascades from Cairns

How to Get to the Cascades From Cairns

Although the Crystal Cascades is a very popular spot for locals, there aren't any public transport options heading to the car park. The closest bus stop is in Redlynch at Redlynch Shopping Centre (Larsen St), but that's a 8.5 kilometer walk away.

So, in order to get to Crystal Cascades, your best bet is a car. If you're coming from Cairns city, then it's only a short 25-minute drive past the back of Redlynch to the outskirts of the Barron Falls National Park.

I've pinned the Crystal Cascades location on the Google Map above. This will lead you to a large car park, where you'll need to leave your car before walking the Crystal Cascades trail.

If you don't have your own car, then the best option is to just book a canyoneering tour from Cairns. This is one of the best canyoneering experiences in Far North Queensland and runs up the "Crystal Canyon".

Nearby: Stoney Creek Falls

Car in the rainforest near Cairns

Car Rentals in Far North Queensland

Cairns is one of the most popular travel destinations in Australia and car rentals quickly book out!

I've missed out on cars before & recommend booking well in advance. I always use DiscoverCars as they compare the widest range of rentals across dealerships in the Far North.

Walking the Crystal Cascades Track

The Crystal Cascades walk is by no means a hiking trail. Realistically, it's more of just a short 1.2-kilometre stroll on a sealed bitumen road. This track picks up from the car park mentioned above and is well-signed and easy to spot.

While you might not need to bring your hiking boots, it's still an incredibly beautiful walk through tropical rainforest and passing fast-flowing rapids.

It'll only take you about 20 minutes to reach the end of the walk, where you'll get to see the main waterfall. However, there are many beautiful swimming spots downstream as you walk to the falls.


The Crystal Cascades Waterfall

The end of the line for the Crystal Cascades hiking trail is the main waterfall. This waterfall is really a series of smaller waterfalls flowing into a wide, deep pool. Officially, the name for this waterfall is Wongalee Falls.

There is access down to the waterfall, where you can relax on the large granite boulders and swim in the natural pool.

Rainforest trees hang over the edges of the waterfall and creek, which can help you cool down on a hot summer day in Cairns.

Grayl Water Filter Bottle

Get Clean Drinking Water on Your Hike

I take the Grayl GeoPress Purifier Bottle on every hike and use it as my go-to source for filtering water all over the world. I've even used it to drink tap water in India!

Compare how the GeoPress stacks up against the best water bottle filters on the market.

What to Expect at the Crystal Cascades Cairns

Thinking of paying the Cascades a visit? If you're looking for things to do in Cairns, then I'd definitely recommend spending at least a day trip here.

While everything else in Far North Queensland seems so far away, this waterfall is one of the closest freshwater swimming areas you'll find to the CBD. It's also arguably one of the most beautiful natural spots in Cairns, so take your time and enjoy the trip.

Here's what to expect.

Related: 11+ Best Cairns Tours & Experiences

Finding The Best Freshwater Swimming Holes

When you arrive at the car park, you'll begin the walk on the left side of the creek. This walk is sealed and easy to follow. Along the way, you'll see some access points to some refreshing swimming holes along Freshwater Creek. If you're looking for a more secluded place to swim, then I'd recommend walking down by the creek and picking a spot.

Most people tend to gather at the waterfall or at the first few spots, leaving some beautiful secluded pools all along the track. These are my favorite freshwater swimming spots at Crystal Cascades, especially on hot weekends when the main waterfall is very busy.

There are several spots with water deep enough to swim, so go ahead and explore.

Great Barrier Reef aerial photograph near Cairns, Australia

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Tip: Make Sure to Monitor Water Levels

Sadly, several people have died at the Crystal Cascades. While it might seem safe and innocent enough on a calm day, the Crystal Cascades can be a completely different beast in the wet season following torrential rain.

Thankfully, there are warning systems in place to alert tourists and locals alike when the water levels get too high. Still, freshwater rivers, creeks, and waterfalls near Cairns can be extremely unpredictable. Make sure you monitor the conditions and definitely don't enter the water if you have any doubts.


Cliff Jumping at the Crystal Cascades

When I was at the main waterfall at Crystal Cascades, I was shown some small 6-meter cliff jumps into the deep pool below. The main pool is adequately deep to jump on the right side, however, we did find some submerged rocks.

It can also get fairly slippery on the sloping granite edge. Missing a jump and landing on the rocks below will cause serious injury. It's best to be shown by a local where to jump before attempting. Remember, the signs advise you not to jump, so use common sense.

Are the Crystal Cascades Secluded?

A few other blogs that I read online have claimed that the Crystal Cascades are a local secret and that you'll have it all to yourself. Unfortunately, this has never been the case for me. I've visited the Crystal Cascades countless times during my time in Cairns and have never had it to myself.

Perhaps there has been a recent spike in popularity in recent years, but it definitely seems to be more than a handful of people at the Cascades most of the time.

Before You Go: Don't Miss The Nearby Fairy Falls

If you are looking for something a little more secluded, there is another local secret waterfall located at the Crystal Cascades known as Fairy Falls. To reach it, you'll need to head back to the Crystal Cascades car park. On the left of the car park (facing the Crystal Cascades trail) is a small unmarked trail.

This trail winds through some thick rainforest vegetation before revealing a spectacular little waterfall with a deep swimming hole.


Cairns Accommodation Guide – Where to Stay

Visiting Cairns? The best places to stay are near the Cairns Esplanade or on the sunny Northern Beaches. Below are the top 4 options for varying budgets.

Alternatively, check out my Port Douglas accommodation guide for more ideas on where to stay in Far North Queensland.

girl sunbathing at Crystalbrook Riley resort in Cairns

1. Crystalbrook Riley Luxury

If luxury and location are what you're after, you can't beat this 5-star resort right in the heart of Cairns Esplanade.


2. Fitzroy Island Resort Mid-Range

Sleep out on one of the picturesque Great Barrier Reef Islands! Staying at Fitzroy often works out cheaper than staying in town & means you get more time to explore the reef, beaches, and rainforest walking trails.


3. Gilligan's Backpackers Budget

The best backpacker option for a great vibe in Cairns. Great place to meet like-minded travelers & features a pool, air-con rooms, a huge shared kitchen, & a great common area.


4. Pepper's Beach Club Palm Cove

Stay at the best beach resort in the heart of Palm Cove on Cairns's Northern Beaches!

Best Time to Visit the Crystal Cascades

The best time to visit the Crystal Cascades is during the dry season from May to December. The weather is a dream in Cairns at this time and floods on the falls and creek are rare.

However, since this swimming hole is croc-free, it's also a great spot to visit in the hot and muggy wet season between December and April. However, as I mentioned above, the Crystal Cascades can get crowded, especially on weekends and on public holidays.

I recommend arriving early in the day for the best experience, as the swimming holes fill up fast.


FAQs About Visiting the Crystal Cascades

Is it free to visit Crystal Cascades?

Yes, access to Crystal Cascades is free. You won't have to shell out anything to enjoy this natural wonder, but you will need a car to get there as there's no public transport available.

Are there toilets at the Crystal Cascades car park?

Yes, there are toilets just next to the car park, as well as changing rooms. I've noticed that these are always kept pretty clean.

Are there other waterfalls to explore nearby?

Don't miss Fairy Falls. It's a bit hidden and requires a short trek through the forest, but you'll likely find fewer people and a serene swimming hole. The walk begins directly next to the wide trail to the cascades.

Is it safe to swim at Crystal Cascades?

Generally, it's safe to swim, there are no crocodiles but caution is crucial. You'll want to check the water levels and heed any warning signs. Accidents have happened here, especially during the wet season when water levels can rise suddenly.

How long is the walk to the main waterfall?

The walk to the main waterfall is a short 1.2-kilometer stroll on a sealed road. It takes about 20 minutes to reach the waterfall, and you'll pass several swimming spots along the way.

What to bring to Crystal Cascades?

I usually only bring a towel and swimmers, but that's because I've visited many times with my camera. So, if it's your first time visiting, bring a camera, phone, and some bug spray as the big horse flies can get very annoying.


Tips for Planning a Trip to Cairns

Still in the planning stages of your trip to Cairns and the Tropical North? Here's a quick list of essential travel resources that I use to plan and book all my travels around the world independently.

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Flights: Find & compare flight deals to Cairns International Airport using Skyscanner. Use the "search by month" feature to discover the cheapest day to fly.

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Hotels: Travelers will find the best hotel deals in Cairns and Port Douglas by booking online on or Expedia. I recommend using the map feature to find the best places to stay.

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Hostels: When it comes to scoring epic deals on hostels and cheap stays your secret weapon is Hostelworld. If you're traveling to Cairns to meet people, use the “See Who's Going” function.

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Travel Insurance: HeyMondo is my top recommendation for travel insurance for Cairns and the Wet Tropics. They've got your back with comprehensive coverage, from unexpected flight hiccups to those "oops" moments. Click the link to get 5% OFF your policy.

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Internet & Connectivity: Stay connected as soon as you land in Queensland with Airalo's eSIMS. Aussie sims will work. But if you're coming from overseas, I'd download their app and grab an eSIM before you set foot on Australian soil.

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Tours & Unique Experiences: Use GetYourGuide and Viator to plan ahead and lock in those must-see experiences & tours in Cairns. So, whether you're exploring the Great Barrier Reef or the Daintree Rainforest, these two sites have got you covered.

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Car Rental: Don't overpay for a rental at the airport. Compare rental car prices across all dealerships in Cairns and Port Douglas. Use DiscoverCars to choose the perfect ride for your journey, whether it's a compact car or an SUV for off-road adventures.

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Transportation: Public transport is limited to the natural attractions around Cairns and its best to use tour companies or rent a car. However, if you're arriving at the airport, or need a transfer between Cairns and Port Douglas, use the popular Cairns & Port Douglas shuttle.

To learn more about independent travel to anywhere else in the world, read my ultimate step-by-step guide on how to plan a trip.

More Cairns Travel & Adventure Guides

I hope that you found this guide to visiting the Crystal Cascades in Cairns, Australia useful. I've spent close to a year exploring all of the epic things to do in Cairns, so make sure to check out my blog for more adventure inspiration and travel guides.