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Saddle Mountain Summit Hike near Cairns: Complete Guide

Saddle Mountain Summit Hike near Cairns: Complete Guide

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.

Saddle Mountain is a 10.5 km out-and-back summit hiking trail located between Kuranda and Smithfield, north of Cairns.

Cairns is a serious contender for the title of Australia’s best hiking and bushwalking hub. 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 near Smithfield, just north of Cairns.

I’ll also throw in some photos that I hope will inspire you to lace up and hit the trail!

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).

  • GPS Coordinates: 16°49'00.1"S 145°41'28.9"E

If you don't have your own car, public buses are running from Cairns and The Beaches that stop at James Cook University, which is right beside the park.

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 recommend booking well in advance. I always use DiscoverCars as they compare the widest range of rentals across dealerships in the Far North.

How to Get to the Saddle Mountain Trail

Confusingly, several trailheads 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 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.

View from the summit of saddle mountain cairns

Map and GPX

Below I've included a GPX file that I generated using my Garmin GPS watch. You can download the file by clicking the link 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

  • Hike Distance: 10.5 km
  • Duration: 2.5 -3.5 hours
  • Elevation: 640 m AMSL (670 m total elevation gain)
  • Difficulty: Difficult (steep and muddy)

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.

Smithfield hiking track
Fork to downhill access track

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.

Smithfield hiking trails
"Island Tree"

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.

Saddle mountain trail cairns
Carpet python on a hiking tail in cairns
I found this Carpet Python blocking the already narrow 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.

Cairns weather radar station at saddle mountain

View From The Top of Saddle Mountain

The views from the Saddle Mountain summit are some of the best in the area. 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.

Saddle mountain view of the northern beaches
View of double island and the Northern Beaches from Saddle Mountain
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.

More Cairns 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.

Saddle mountain summit hike cairns hiking 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.