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Mt William Hike Cairns: Plane Wreck Site Via Smiths Track

Mt William Hike Cairns: Plane Wreck Site Via Smiths Track

The Mt William summit hike is a lightly trafficked trail branching from the Smiths Track near Stoney Creek, north of Cairns. It finishes at an eery plane wreck in the rainforest.

The Mt William hike begins on a very accessible trail on the road near Stoney Creek. Although easily accessed, the Mt Williams trail is fairly demanding, being steep, dense and absolutely full of leeches!

At the top, you’ll find the remains of a 1986 plane crash, which tragically claimed the lives of eight people when it struck the ridgeline 250 metres from the highest point on Mount William. It seems that the wreck has been moved to the summit, where there are now prayer flags and a memorial where one can pay respects.

For those wishing to tackle the Mt William hike near Cairns, I’d suggest leaving early and dedicating at least half a day to the endeavour! In this hiking guide, I’ll detail how to get to the trailhead, as well as a detailed section on how to complete the hike.

Cairns plane wreck site mount william stoney creek
Olly gaspar

By Olly Gaspar, full-time traveler & adventure photographer for 6 years with 700+ published travel guides. I visit every place I write about & share real tips from what I learn.

How to Get to the Mt William Trailhead

The Mount William track is very little known and is more of a marked route than an official National Parks trail. The route forks off the popular Smiths Track, which can be accessed from Stoney Creek or Speewah.

I started the hike by picking up the Smiths Track just off Stoney Creek Road, the same road that leads to the Glacier Rock trailhead. It's a little tricky to spot the trail at first. However, you'll spot the small Smiths Trail signpost just right of the concrete underpass on the left side of the road (when facing en route to Stoney Creek).

Above I've pinned the exact location of the starting point to help you find it. There is a large space on the opposite side of the road, directly in front of the trail where you can park your car. Alternatively, you could also drive up the steep driveway to a broad clearing adjacent to the trailhead.

Start of smiths track on stoney creek road
Smith's Track trailhead on the left

Mt William Hike Cairns - Hiking Guide

  • Hike Distance: 13 kilometres
  • Duration: 4-6 hours
  • Elevation: 1220 m elevation gain |
    ~1000 m AMSL at the summit
  • Difficulty: Hard

The Mt William hike is a fairly long hike with plenty of elevation gain. The first section along Smiths Creek is wide and easy to follow. However, after turning onto the Mt William trail, you will need to diligently stick to the ribbons on the trees and markings to avoid getting lost.

I completed the hike in just over 4 hours at a decent pace. However, it could be a much longer day on the trial depending on your speed. I'd suggest leaving early to avoid navigating down in the dark.

Also, remember to bring deet! I hiked the Mt William trail in the dry season even then, the leeches above the cloud line were absolutely devastating.

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Smiths Track From Stoney Creek Road

Almost immediately after picking up the trail, the Smiths Track ascends steeply up a lightly exposed and predominant eucalypt forest.

Make sure to stretch the legs because there's no warm-up here, just a sharp leg burner to kick off the hike.

Smiths track cairns

At almost any point during this first climb, you can turn around for great views of the Northern Cairns suburbs and over to Glacier Rock to the right.

Follow this wide, obvious track as it levels off, then ascends steeply once again. You'll notice the trees and plants change rapidly with the rising altitude.

Diverting Onto the Mt William Track

After approximately 1.9 kilometres, at an altitude of about 490 m, there is a sharp left fork to veer off onto the Mt Williams trail.

Smiths track cairns
Easy to miss fork onto mount william track

This is super easy to miss, so make sure to keep an eye out for a rather ambiguous trail to the left. To help you not miss the turn, plug in these coordinates: 16° 53' 3.366" S 145° 39' 54.216" E.

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Wet, Muddy Climb to the Mt William Summit

You will notice immediately that this track is much less trafficked than the first stretch. You'll need to navigate over and around heavy treefall and dodge fields of thorny wait-a-while as you slowly climb over dense, rooty undergrowth up the ridgeline towards Mt William.

Mount william track

This track is well-marked by ribbons in the trees. I highly recommend keeping an eye out for these because otherwise, it'd be easy to get lost.

Unfortunately, the Mt Williams hike doesn't offer much in terms of epic views. However, there is a rocky point known as "North Peak" at approximately the 3.8 km mark (according to my Garmin watch), where you can look out over Cairns and the surrounding suburbs.

North peak on mount william hike cairns

Following this viewpoint, the track levels out as you cross the saddle towards Mt William. This section was my favourite, with ancient trees towering over fields of fern and tropical shrubs.

Mount william trail cairns
Cairns rainforest trees
Mount william track cairns

At around 700 m altitude, I entered the clouds which turned everything into a wet, soggy and muddy battle to the summit.

To tell you the truth, I've never seen so many leeches in my life. Even after dousing my legs and shoes with Bushmans, I had to stop every 20 metres or so to peel and flick the pricks off of my legs, arms and face. Tip: bring extra deet!

Push on passed the saddle before a final, light but slippery scramble to the summit.

Wreckage Site of the 1986 Cairns Plane Crash

Since there wasn't much information online about the Mt Williams hike, I was worried I wouldn't be able to find the wreckage amid the dense vegetation. However, before I even knew I was at the summit, I stumbled upon the wrecked fuselage and memorial plaque.

Mt william plane wreck stoney creek

According to the Bureau of Aircraft Accidents, the plane: PA-31-310 Navajo went down in 1986 due to a fatal miscalculation by the pilot, where following some apparent miscommunications regarding flight routes, was flying too low in the cloudy conditions towards Biboohra.

Apparently, the aircraft crashed just 250 metres southwest of the summit. It seems that the fuselage and wreckage remains have been moved to the top of Mt William for the memorial site.

Cairns plane wreck site mount william stoney creek

I decided I wasn't going to stick around for too long as the leeches were still giving me grief. I paid my respects and quickly headed back down to drier ground.

The Descent

The Mt William hike is an out-and-back trail, which means you'll need to turn around and follow the same route back down. However, once you rejoin the Smiths Track, it is possible to take a left at the fork and continue onto Speewah.

That being said, after the heavy, wet slog, I was pretty keen on finishing up for the day. I got in my car and headed straight for Stoney Creek Falls to take a dip and clean the mud and remaining leeches off my body.

More Adventures in Cairns

I hope that you enjoyed this guide to the Mt William hike in Cairns, Queensland. I've spent several months exploring the best adventures, hikes and waterfalls in the area.

So, whether you're a Cairns local or a visitor looking for more epic adventures, make sure to check out some of my other guides and blogs below.

Also, if you have any questions or even trail updates, make sure to leave a comment below to help other hikers out!

Thanks for Reading

I'm Olly Gaspar, adventure travel journalist & photographer. Traveling non-stop since 2018, I've published over 700 travel guides on We Seek Travel. These draw on my personal experience to share unique itineraries, accommodation tips, & fun adventure guides covering hikes, viewpoints, beaches, waterfalls, & tours. Read my Publishing Ethics Statement.

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