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How to Visit Lake Eacham & the Crater Lakes from Cairns

How to Visit Lake Eacham & the Crater Lakes from Cairns

Olly Gaspar

By Olly Gaspar, full-time traveler for 6 years. I visit every place I write about & share real tips, photos, & advice from my trips.

Discover crystal clear water at the Lake Eacham Crater Lakes, an extinct volcanic crater lake in the Atherton Tablelands near Cairns.

If you’re visiting Cairns and looking for an amazing and safe freshwater swimming hole or lake, I highly recommend making the trip to Lake Eacham and the Crater Lakes.

After living in Cairns and visiting over 30 waterfalls and dozens more hiking trails in the surrounding region, Lake Eacham is still up there with one of my favourite freshwater swimming spots in the Tropical North.

In this guide, I’ll detail everything you need to know about visiting Lake Eacham and Lake Barrine in the Crater Lakes National Park in the Atherton Tablelands.

Lake eacham, queensland

Where is Lake Eacham?

Lake Eacham is located within the Crater Lakes National Park in the Atherton Tablelands region of Far North Queensland, Australia. The second extinct volcanic crater lake is named Lake Barrine.

Below I've pinned the exact location of Lake Eacham on a map to help you find it but continue reading for detailed directions and transport options.

Lake eacham map

How to Get to Lake Eacham & Crater Lakes National Park

To get to Lake Eacham from Cairns or Port Douglas, you have the option of taking a waterfall tour or driving there independently. There are no public buses or public transport routes available.

Below I'll break down each option and include driving directions.

1. Take a Cairns Waterfall Tour to Lake Eacham

Being one of the best natural attractions in the region, you'd expect to find a few bookable tours to the Crater Lakes from Cairns.

I recommend one particular tour which I believe is the best Atherton Tablelands and waterfall tour you can take for the inclusions and the service.

This Waterfall, Wildlife & Rainforest Tour includes a visit to Lake Eacham, as well as:

This is a massive 11-hour day that stops in some of the best areas in the region.

Josephine falls rainforest swimming hole

2. Driving to Lake Eacham from Cairns

If you're staying in Cairns, then you'll want to have your own car to get up to Lake Eacham and the Crater Lakes.

The journey by road just over an hour, following the road south through Gordonvale, passing Walsh's Pyramid, and then climbing the steep but scenic Gillies Range Road (Gillies Highway). Once you reach the top, you're officially in the Atherton Tablelands.

The Crater Lakes National Park is the first stop on the Gillies Range Road once you've made it up. You'll first pass a turn-off to Lake Barrine, which is part of the beautiful rainforest drive. However, if you continue for a few more minutes, you'll see the signed turnoff to Lake Eacham.

Confusingly, this road is called Lake Barrine Road, but you'll follow it only for a short stretch before turning left onto Lakes Drive. Follow this road and you'll arrive at the car park for the Lake Eacham picnic and swimming area.

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.

3. From Port Douglas

The driving distance from Port Douglas to Lake Eacham is just under two hours. But, this time you have the option of taking the back way up to the Tablelands.

Take this via Mossman Mount Molloy Road, or continue south on the Captain Cook Highway towards Smithfield. From here, climb the Kuranda Range on the Kennedy Highway instead. This way, you'll get to pass Kuranda and the impressive Barron Falls.

Either way, you'll end up at Mareeba, where you can continue on and form a loop down to Lake Eacham via Atherton and Yungaburra.

If you take this route, you'll pass so many attractions in the Tablelands. So, I suggest making a day trip out of your visit to Lake Eacham from Port Douglas– spend an entire day exploring all the highlights in the Atherton Tablelands.

Lake eacham crater

About Lake Eacham & Crater Lakes National Park

Lake Eacham belongs to the indigenous Australians and is originally called Yidyam or Wiinggina.

Both Lake Eacham and Lake Barrine in the Crater Lakes National Park are maars.

No, not the planet.

This refers to the geological formation of a volcanic crater that formed somewhere between the Pleistocene (10,000 years ago) and the Pliocene (2 million years ago).

This formation happened due to two massive explosions from superheating groundwater. The cause was molten magma rising from the Earth's mantle, effectively heating the water table.

The crater itself is actually a huge vent from this even, which formed the lake. Furthermore, there are no creeks, streams or rivers connecting to Lake Eacham, so the crystal clear water is its own unique and enclosed catchment.

Lake eacham in australia

How deep is Lake Eacham?

Lake Eacham is 65 metres deep at the deepest point. People actually go scuba diving here! The deeper water is found in the center of the lake. In saying that, you won't notice as the water depth drops significantly as soon as you swim out a couple of metres.

Is Lake Eacham Dog-friendly?

Since Lake Eacham is within a National Park, dogs and other domestic animals are not allowed to enter.

Deep extinct volcanic crater lake in queensland

What to do at Lake Eacham

Considering making the trip up to this epic hidden gem in the Tablelands? Below I'll give you a brief outline of exactly what you can expect to discover at Lake Eacham and the Crater Lakes National Park based on my trips.

Lake Eacham Viewing Platform, Picnic & Lakefront BBQ Area

When you pull into the car park, you'll find a huge, cleared area with plenty of space. If you're visiting in the peak season or on a beautiful day, you can expect this place to be quite busy.

When I said it was a hidden gem, it is for travellers! But, for locals, this is one of the best spots to cool down and hang out with the family.

There's a public toilet, cleared grass picnic area, picnic tables, and even free electric BBQ sites set up all around the eastern lake's edge and along the crater rim. Right in front of the grassy picnic area is a steel-fenced viewing platform which provides a great vantage point of the lake.

Lake eacham tablelands

Rainforest Walking Tracks

The Atherton Tablelands is full of amazing world heritage rainforest hikes. The Lake Eacham circuit (lake circuit track), is a 2.9-kilometre, mostly flat loop that forms a circumference around the lake. This is a beautiful track and easy for families.

Tip: There's also a huge giant tree on the western side which you'll want to stop by.

Additionally, you can make the walk up to Lake Eacham Falls, just 30 minutes from the car park. This is a beautiful track with opportunities to spot unique bird species and other local fauna typical in these types of upland rainforests.

Lake eacham walking tracks

Swimming at Lake Eacham

Of course, swimming at Lake Eacham is probably one of the main reasons so many people come up here. Swimming in this crystal clear water, 65-metre-deep volcanic lake is incredibly refreshing. There's a concrete staircase you can easily enter the pristine waters from just near the large picnic area.

Another popular spot at Lake Eacham is the small jetty found just to the left of the grassed picnic area. Simply continue around the lake circuit and you'll find it. This is a great spot to hang out and jump into the water.

Water temperature: Since the water at Lake Eacham is fresh, you can expect some variations, depending on the season. During the summer months, the water can be as warm as 28 degrees Celsius. But, in winter, the cool water can drop to around 22 degrees. Remember that the Crater Lakes are at a higher elevation than Cairns and the coast.

This results in cooler weather year-round but you can expect excellent swimming conditions regardless.

Freshwater swimming in far north queensland
Fresh water kayaking in far north queensland

Water Level

The water level can vary dramatically depending on the season. In the dry season, the water level can drop as much as 4 meters from the high point in the wet season.

Lake eacham

Is it Safe to Swim at Lake Eacham?

Of course! Swimming in Lake Eacham is completely safe. Yes, you might of heard that there is a crocodile living here (explained further on), but this guy is a freshwater crocodile and completely harmless.

Furthermore, since there are no connecting streams or creeks, the water is always calm. Just remember that it is very deep and you will need to be able to swim of course.

The only other animals you might expect to find in the water are the Lake Eacham rainbowfish (Melanotaenia eachamensis). This is an endangered and endemic species of freshwater fish that is unique to the area.

Freshwater turtle
You might also spot a freshwater turtle!

Kayaking & Stand-Up Paddle Boarding

If you've got a kayak or stand-up paddleboard (SUP), you'll want to bring it on your trip to the Crater Lakes. Lake Eacham is a great place to explore since the lake has a huge surface area of 65 hectares!

Bringing a SUP will allow you to explore the lake further and find some calm spots away from the crowds to soak in the tropical rainforest ambiance.

You can easily deploy your kayak, canoe, or small boat from the boat ramp directly in front of the large picnic area.

Sup on lake eacham

About the Lake Eacham Crocodile

Are there crocodiles in Lake Eacham?

Yes, there is one crocodile living in Lake Eacham. This guy is a freshwater crocodile and is completely harmless. These crocodiles feed on small fish and will never attack a human unless stepped on or attacked.

Chances are, you won't spot this guy, he's very good at hiding!

Where to Stay Near the Crater Lakes

Do you like the sound of the region and up for staying near Lake Eacham for a night or two?

Don't worry, I've got you covered with the three below suggestions. All are situated very close to the lakes, as well as everything you'd need from supermarkets to restaurants like the Lake Eacham Roadhouse.

Lake eacham tourist park & cabins

1. Lake Eacham Tourist Park & Cabins Cabin & Camping

Best for: Couples & young families
The closest Lake Eacham accommodation (3 minutes drive) offering self-contained cabins with a kitchen, and bathroom and is set upon 10 acres of lush rainforest.

Chambers wildlife rainforest lodges

2. Chambers Wildlife Rainforest Lodges Lodge

Best for: Two person trip or family outing
3 minutes from Lake Eacham and offers multiple-bed setups for up to 7 people. Swimming pool, pool table, free wifi, BBQ area, & spot native animals like possums, turkeys, platypus & kangaroos.

Sharlynn by the river

3. Sharlynn by the River Hotel

Best for: Young families
4 kilometres from Lake Eacham and the Crater Lakes National Park offering free wifi, room service, free parking and an outdoor swimming pool and BBQ area.

Camping at Lake Eacham Tourist Park

If you're on a road trip or prefer to stay at campsites and campgrounds, then you can also camp at the Lake Eacham Tourist Park. Here you'll find cool mountain air and plenty of powered sites with concrete slabs for caravans and campers, as well as grassy sites for tents.

Lake eacham

When is the Best Time to Visit Lake Eacham?

I'd say that Lake Eacham is worth a visit all year round. I've driven up to this spot multiple times, in the dry seasons and in the wet seasons. It's always a great place to relax and to enjoy the Far North's ancient rainforest.

Nevertheless, here's a quick run-down on the seasons to help you plan your trip.

Dry Season: April to November
During typical dry seasons, the weather is dry and warm, averaging around 22-25 degrees Celcius. This is a great time to visit as there is less rain. However, expect much cooler waters!

Wet Season: December to March
During these hot and wet summer months, the Tablelands can see tropical rainfall almost daily. This makes visiting Lake Eacham an excellent choice since it's the perfect place to cool off. However, be prepared for rain!

Woroonoornan national park trees

More Activities & Places to Visit After Lake Eacham

Looking for more epic adventures and must-see spots in the Tablelands? Below are some of my favourite waterfalls, hikes, or attractions nearby.

Nandroya falls, wooroonooran national park, far north queensland

More Far North Queensland Travel Guides & Blogs

I hope you've enjoyed this guide to visiting Lake Eacham in the incredible Crater Lakes National Park of the Northern Queensland Wet Tropics World Heritage Area.

While you're here on my blog, make sure to check out some of my other articles. I've spent a great deal of time exploring the Tropical North after living here. I've detailed all the best spots and adventure locations on this website.

Lake eacham crater lakes national park, queensland
Lake eacham cairns guide
Thanks for Reading

I'm Olly Gaspar, adventure traveler from Australia. I’ve spent the last six years traveling the world full-time, sharing my first-hand experiences & photography in over 700 travel guides on We Seek Travel. I visit every destination I write about to bring you unique travel itineraries, epic hiking routes, fun tour ideas, travel & photography gear ideas, & interesting places to stay.

I only make genuine, worthwhile recommendations based on my experience, expertise, & research. If you buy through my links, I may get a commission, supporting this website at no extra cost to you. Read my Publishing Ethics Statement.