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Climbing Mount Bartle Frere: Queensland’s Tallest Mountain

Climbing Mount Bartle Frere: Queensland’s Tallest Mountain

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.

A complete guide to tackling the Mount Bartle Frere Hike to summit Queensland’s tallest mountain. Trail information, overnight camping options and everything else you need to know.

Mount Bartle Frere is located in the Wooroonooran National Park, approximately 51 km from Cairns. It’s the tallest mountain in Queensland, and a summit I had wanted to climb for a long time.

The Mount Bartle Frere hike is a pretty steep climb but offers some of the best views around Cairns and the Atherton Tablelands. I’ve hiked over 38 different trails near Cairns and spent several months exploring Far North Queensland. I have to say, this is now one of my personal favourite hikes in all of Australia.

It can be completed in one long full-day hike, or you can camp near the summit at a designated Mount Bartle Frere camping site.

I climbed to the summit of Mount Bartle Frere and slept there overnight in a tent, descending the following morning. In this guide, I’ll summarise everything that I learned about this summit hike to help you prepare for yours.

Hiking in the wooroonooran national park, australia

How to Get to the Mount Bartle Frere Track

The hiking track to Bartle Frere begins at the car park for Josephine Falls, located 51 km southwest of Cairns near the town of Babinda.

If you're attempting the summit over two days and you want to camp, then it's possible to leave your car there overnight for free. This is what I did, and I had no problems. I also haven't heard of anyone having issues with leaving their car in this car park, since it is quite busy due to the popularity of the falls.

However, I recommend getting there early as there are usually a lot of cars parked at Josephine Falls, especially on weekends.

At the Josephine Falls car park, you'll see a sign pointing towards the Mt Bartle Frere track just past the track to Josephine Falls. This is the start of the trail for the Eastern Approach to the summit.

Josephine falls on google maps
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.

The Eastern Approach to the Summit

The track that I took follows the more popular Eastern Approach to the summit.

The other option is to tackle the Western Approach which begins near the Windin Falls car park in the Tablelands region. It's also possible to complete this walk as a through-hike via East to West, or West to East.

The Western Approach track is more difficult and steeper than the eastern side. For this reason, I don't recommend climbing Mount Bartle Frere from the Western Side. That said, it is well-marked and the trailhead is closer to Cairns.

If you want to attempt it as a through-hike, you can leave a car or have somebody pick you up at the Eastern Approach trailhead at Windin Falls car park. Note that there are no public transport options to Windin Falls.

Sunset view from mount bartle frere, queensland

Mount Bartle Frere Hike Duration

The Mount Bartle Frere hike is usually attempted over two days. It takes approximately 4.5-5 hours to reach the summit at a quick pace with few stops and in great weather.

We departed from Josephine Falls carpark at first light, at around 6:45 am and made the summit at 12:15 pm. While it is definitely possible to reach the summit and descend on the same day, it'll be a little rushed and definitely tough on the knees.

Instead, there is a campsite known as Eastern Summit Camp, where you can set up a tent and choose to either summit on the same afternoon or in the morning.

View from queensland's tallest mountain, mount bartle frere

Hiking Distance

The total distance as marked on the trails and information from QLD Parks states that the total distance to the summit is roughly 9 kilometers.

However, on the Mount Bartle Frere track, we clocked about 11 kilometers, possibly due to the winding turns during the ascent. This seems to match what others have been getting on Strava.

Our combined hiking distance for the ascent and descent was just short of 23 kilometres return.

Total Elevation

Mt Bartle Frere is Queensland's tallest mountain with an elevation of 1,622 meters above sea level. It's a strenuous and tedious climb to the summit, with an average gradient of 20 degrees in most sections.

Mount Bartle Frere Hike Difficulty

You might be wondering; "How hard is the Mt Bartle Frere Hike?"

The track is considered very difficult by QLD Parks, with long segments of steep climbs, some even vertical. In saying that, you won't require any technical climbing skills, just a strong level of fitness and good orientation skills to reach the summit.

While it's not Australia's tallest mountain, Mt Bartle Frere is definitely a more physically difficult hike than the titleholder; Mt Kosciuszko.

Eastern camp mt bartle frere

Camping at the Summit of Mount Bartle Frere

As mentioned, this one is best tackled as an overnighter to get the best sunset and sunrise views over the Coral Sea.

However, if you want to camp on the trail, you'll need to buy a permit online. This currently costs $7.25 for an individual or $29 for a family (not really a discount there...). Camping spots available are:

  • Big Rock Camping Ground
  • Eastern Summit Camping Area - where we camped
  • Western Summit Camping Area
  • Junction Camp Camping Area

While there probably won't be anyone there to check, the money goes to rainforest conservation, so is well spent.

Mt bartle frere campground, at eastern summit

Mount Bartle Frere Hike: GPX Route

Below you'll find the track that I took to the summit. Throughout the hike, you'll find markings every kilometer, usually found on rocks. There are also coloured ribbons along the trail to help you not get lost.

If you stay on the main Mount Bartle Frere track, then you'll be taking the same route that I have. If you have a GPS fitness watch like a Garmin, or you want to follow the route with an app, you can download the GPX file below.

Note that the exact elevation data won't be 100% accurate. It seems that my Garmin's altimeter was about 50 m off at the summit, so adjust your expectations accordingly.

GPX File: Download

My Strava: Visit

You can also download the official QLD Parks Mount Bartle Frere map.

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.

Best Time to Hike Mount Bartle Frere

The best time to climb Mount Bartle Frere is in the dry season, from March to September. This season offers cooler weather, less rain, and much better hiking conditions overall.

It is possible to climb Mount Bartle Frere in the tropical wet summer season, however, it can get very wet and slippery. The leeches are also known to be pretty treacherous during this season.

Weather and Climate in Wooroonooran National Park

Mount Bartle Frere is part of the larger Bellenden Ker Range, which also has a peak with the same name. These mountains seem to have their own climates and generate their own cloud and rain patterns. This means that weather conditions can change rapidly and without notice

The foothills of the mountain are generally pretty warm and humid, consisting mostly of tropical rainforests. Once you begin your ascent, you'll notice that the weather cools and shifts to cloud forest climates.

Due to the unique weather and climate of Mount Bartle Frere, the summit and surrounding ranges are typically 10 degrees cooler than the coast. This means that if you're looking to camp, then it can get pretty cold at night, even in Summer.

Mt bartle frere campground

Mount Bartle Frere Hiking Guide: Step by Step

Below is a trip report from my climb of Mount Bartle Frere, broken down into each section to help you plan your route.

1. Josephine Falls Car Park to Big Rock Camp

The first two kilometers are very easy. You'll enjoy a gentle warm-up stroll through the incredible tropical rainforest, typical of the Cairns coast and especially Wooronooran National Park.

After approximately 3 kilometers, you'll make the first river crossings, one directly after the other. In the dry season, this was calm and easy to cross. However, I can imagine it could flow pretty hard in the wet season.

Shortly after, you'll reach Big Rock Camp, where there is a small space for a tent. To the left will be the path to Broken Nose Lookout, however, you'll need to follow the trail to the right which leads to the Mount Bartle Frere summit.

Woornooran national park rainforest creek
Hiking mount bartle frere track

Related: Kahlpahlim Rock Hike

2. Begin the Ascent to Mount Bartle Frere

Almost immediately after diverting from the Broken Nose Lookout trail, you'll notice the incline begin. There are short segments of intermittent, vertical root climbing and gradual climbs.

Kilometres 4 and 5 are the toughest by far. This section is very steep and continuous at a constant incline. You'll have some vertical sections where you can climb the thick roots straight up the mountain. Don't worry, it's not technical, just a little hard on the legs.

Steep track on mount barle frere
Mount bartle frere hike cairns, wooroonooran national park

3. Breaking Out of the Rainforest

At approximately 6 km, you'll begin to notice the terrain changing to large boulders, some of which you'll need to climb over. Soon after this, you'll break out of the thick rainforest and be rewarded with your first views.

Follow the signs on the rocks as you scramble up the boulders in the clearing.

Shortly after, and just before the 7 km mark, you'll notice the emergency hut and evacuation helicopter pad known as the Eastern Summit Camp.

Congratulations, the worst of the hike is behind you.

Summit of mount bartle frere, queensland
Bellenden kerr range from mount bartle frere summit

Related: Devils Thumb Hike - (Manjal Jimalji)

4. Camping at Mt Bartle Frere Eastern Summit Camp

The emergency hut can be a useful spot to get out of the elements and change your clothes. A little further up the trail past the helicopter pad and through the short shrubs is a small clearing large enough for a two-man tent.

From the Eastern Summit Camp, it's only another 45 minutes or so to reach the summit. Now is a good time to assess how much daylight remains, and whether or not to summit in the morning.

Keep in mind, if you have enough daylight and you have clear weather, then I'd recommend shooting for the Mount Bartle Frere summit. Clouds often linger in the morning making the boulder scramble ahead slippery. You'll also have better sunrise views from the camp spot than at the summit.

This is the best spot to camp, with incredible views right out of your tent door at the Coral Coast below.

Mt bartle frere campground
Mt bartle frere campground, bartle frere eastern summit
Hiker with garmin inreach satellite device

How I Stay Connected Off-Grid

I've been using the Garmin InReach Mini satellite communicator for all serious treks and expeditions since 2020.

It lets me send unlimited SMS anywhere on earth and has an emergency SOS feature that could save your life.

5. Approaching the Summit

Just further up is a false peak. The next section is mostly boulder scrambling, which is easier due to the bolted rails. However, this can be very slippery and difficult in the wet season.

After clearing the false summit, there is a short section of flat terrain covered in thin bushes. In my opinion, this section has the best 360-degree views you'll get on the Mount Bartle Frere hike.

After this, you'll once again be drawn into the rainforest, taking the winding trail and a final steep climb to the summit

Bellenden kerr range at wooroonooran national park, australia
Mt bartle frere false summit

Views from the Summit of Mount Bartle Frere

The Mount Bartle Frere summit is fairly anti-climatic, especially considering the steep effort. It's not much more than a small clearing shrouded in taller trees and a sign.

You won't have any views at the very top, however, there is a boulder to your left as you approach which you can stand on and get excellent views of the Tablelands.

Mount bartle frere eastern summit
Scrambling at mount bartle frere boulder field

Sunrise on Top of Queensland's Tallest Peak

Considering spending the night below the peak of Queensland's tallest mountain? Hopefully, these sunrise photos from my trip will inspire you to take a little longer.

Sunrise at mt bartle frere,
Sunset at mt bartle frere cairns

The Descent to Josephine Falls

If you have someone to pick you up, and you want to through-hike. Then it's possible to continue down the Western Ridge. However, if you decide to descend on the same side, then you'll just need to follow the same trail that you came in on.

The descent is much easier, however, might get a little hard on your knees. It took us roughly 4 hours to reach Josephine Falls carpark from the Eastern Summit Camp.

What better way to celebrate the summit than a swim in a tropical rainforest waterfall? Josephine Falls is only a short 700-metre dash from the car park and is definitely worth the visit.

Josephine falls wooroonooran national park

FAQ About Climbing Mount Bartle Frere

When's the Best Time to Climb Mount Bartle Frere?

The optimal time to climb Mount Bartle Frere is during the dry season, typically between March and September. During this period, you'll encounter more stable weather conditions and a lower risk of heavy rain disrupting your trek.

How Difficult is the Climb?

The trek is classified as a challenging hike, requiring a good level of physical fitness. It's an ascent of over 1,600 meters, and the trail stretches around 9 km one-way. When I climbed it, I found that the terrain varied from well-trodden paths to rocky and root-filled sections that were pretty steep and definitely demanded extra care.

Do I Need Special Equipment to Summit Bartle Frere?

You'll need to be well-prepared, but you don't need specialized mountaineering gear. A sturdy pair of hiking boots, a reliable raincoat, and a GPS or compass are essential.

What Should I Pack for Food and Water?

I always pack high-energy foods like trail mix and protein bars, and make sure to carry at least 2-3 liters of water per person. I found plenty of natural water sources in the creeks along the way. However, I'd say that the last reliable one would be at Big Rock Camp. Still, remember to treat your water.

What Permits Do I Need?

As of my last climb in 2023, no special permits are required for Mount Bartle Frere besides the camping fees if you're staying overnight. However, always check the latest information, as regulations can change. I recommend checking on the QLD parks page.

What Wildlife can I see at Bartle Frere?

Expect to see a variety of bird species, maybe some pigs, and maybe even a tree kangaroo if you're lucky. Always remember that it's their habitat you're entering, so take all your trash with you. On my climb, I got covered in leeches, so it's a good idea to wear long pants and bring insect repellent.

Wooroonooran national park hike

More Cairns Hiking, Travel & Adventure Guides

I hope you've enjoyed this quick guide to the Mount Bartle Frere hike in Far North Queensland, Australia. While you're here, make sure to check out some of my other hiking and adventure guides!

Mt bartle frere in wooroonooran national park, hiking queensland's tallest mountain
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.

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