Saddle Mountain Cairns is a summit hiking trail located between Kuranda and Smithfield, north of Cairns. Read on for the complete guide to hiking the Saddle Mountain trail from Smithfield.
Cairns is a serious contender for the title of Australia’s best hiking and bushwalking hubs. Its jagged, tropical coastline offers epic ocean and reef views to anyone keen on gaining some altitude. On top of that, the ancient rainforests make up some of the most scenic trails in Australia.
In this quick guide, I’ll provide information on hiking to the radar station at the summit of Saddle Mountain Cairns. I’ll also throw in some photos that I hope will inspire you to lace up and hit the trail!
Cairns: Essential Travel Resources
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Where is Saddle Mountain?
Saddle Mountain is a tropical peak on the MacAlister Range near Cairns in Far North Queensland. The mountain spreads over the Smithfield Conservation Park and the Kuranda National Park.
The Saddle Mountain hike begins in Smithfield Conservation Park on the Northern Beaches, just 15 kilometres from Cairns. You can access this park from three points; James Cook University free car park, the end of McGregor Road (near AJ Hacket) and a car park right off the Bruce Highway (pinned below).
If you don’t have your own car, there are public buses running from Cairns and The Beaches that stop at James Cook University, which is right beside the park.
How to Get to the Saddle Mountain Trail
Confusingly, there are several trailheads that provide access to the Saddle Mountain summit trail. This is because the foothills are found within the Smithfield Conservation Park, an intricate web of hiking trails and mountain bike tracks.
To make things simple, start on the “Ring Road” track, accessible from all access points to the park mentioned above.
For the purpose of this post, I’ll detail what I believe to be the most straightforward route to the summit. However, if you’re a local, or you’re keen on exploring the other tracks, use the map below to design your own route.
Map and GPX Data
Below I’ve included a GPX map that I generated using my Garmin GPS watch. You can download the file by clicking the link below the map and upload it to your watch or phone to help you navigate.
Smithfield Conservation Park Trail Map
Also, here’s the Smithfield bike trail map. This is useful if you want to plan an alternative route to the start of the summit track.
The Saddle Mountain Hike Cairns – Hiking Guide
If you’re following my GPS track, then the start of the Saddle Mountain hike begins just off the Bruce Highway beside James Cook University (map pin above).
From here, park your car and follow the wide, unsealed track on the left and walk through the metal gates. (Don’t take the steeper road to the right). You are now on the “Ring Road” track. Follow this around the edge of the park until you reach a car park and metal bridge.
Continue past the bridge until you come to a fork to the “Downhill Access Track”. This is where the steep climb begins.
Follow the Downhill Access Track as it snakes its way up the mountain. Eventually, you’ll come to a sharp switchback with an unmissable tree that is raised up, almost like an island in front of you.
The Saddle Mountain summit track begins just behind this island tree and is easy to miss if you don’t keep an eye out.
The Saddle Mountain Trail
Once you reach the much narrower Saddle Mountain trail, you’ve already covered half of the distance and climbed half of the elevation. However, this second half is much muddier and steeper. Getting to the summit from this point is very straightforward; just make sure to keep an eye out for snakes basking on the track.
The Cairns Radar Station
Atop Saddle Mountain sits the Cairns Weather Radar Station. You’ll see the fence once you reach the top. It’s possible to walk all the way around the station, but a quicker route is to take the track to the right just behind the station. This leads to a large rock platform that offers great views of the Northern Beaches.
View From The Top
The views from the Saddle Mountain summit are some of the best in the area. The looking north, the crest of the MacAlister Range draws a line to the Daintree, inspiring an image of a wind-stoked wave unable to break over deep water.
From the rock platform, you can also see Double Island and the suburbs of the Northern Beaches, including Kawarra Beach, Trinity Beach and Clifton Beach. If you walk around a little further along the fence line, you’ll get views of Kuranda National Park and the Tablelands beyond.
Once you’ve taken time to enjoy the view, continue down on the same track to return.
More Cairns Hiking Guides and Adventure Ideas
I hope this quick guide to hiking the Saddle Mountain trail near Cairns has been useful. If you’re keen on exploring a few more hikes in the area, check out the list below. Otherwise, why not check out this comprehensive guide to Cairns’ best waterfalls or this guide to the best things to do in Cairns.
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