The Cairns Skyrail experience is truly iconic in Far North Queensland, sending travelers gliding above the canopy of the world’s oldest tropical rainforest.
If you aren’t up for any of the hikes in the region, then this is one of the best ways to experience the incredibly rich and biodiverse rainforest surrounding Cairns and Kuranda
In this detailed guide, I aim to answer all of the questions you might have about Skyrail Cairns and include photos from my Rainforest Cableway experience.
I’ve included tips on how to get the best price, what you should know about the upgrades and how to make the most of your experience at Kuranda.
By Olly Gaspar, traveler, travel blogger & photographer for 5+ years with 600+ published travel guides. I visit every place I write about & share real tips from what I learn.
About the Rainforest Cableway Experience
First thing's first– Skyrail in Cairns is not just a ride, it's a 90-minute rainforest experience and arguably one of the best things to do in Cairns for first timers.
This world-renowned gondola cableway spans 7.5 kilometres over World Heritage-listed Wet Tropics Rainforest connecting Cairns (Smithfield) to Kuranda. This is one of the easiest ways to immerse yourself in the beauty of this unique ecosystem and great if you are short on time or have mobility issues.
Below are a few quick things to note to help you plan for your journey:
- The trip departs from the Skyrail Smithfield Terminal, approximately 15 minutes north of Cairns.
- There are two stops along the way. Firstly at Red Peak and secondly at Barron Falls (total time 90-minutes including stops)
- The trip finishes at Kuranda, where there are plenty of things to see and do. Alternatively, you can book a Skyrail experience from Kuranda and finish at Smithfield.
- It's possible to book a self-guided combined activity combining the very popular Kuranda Scenic Railway. This is another epic experience in itself, offering a convenient and exciting way to return to Cairns.
- If you're not taking the Kuranda Scenic Railway back, you can either return to Smithfield via a return Skyrail ticket or organise transport. There is a road between Kuranda and Smithfield but logistically, this is a bit tricky.
- There is a dedicated Skyrail app that you can download for Apple and Android devices. This provides lots of features and an audio guide to enhance the experience.
Booking The Skyrail Rainforest Cable Way Trip
When booking you have the option of booking either a one-way trip or a return trip between Smithfield and Kuranda.
If you book a one-way trip, you'll need to organise your own transport to get back to Cairns. The return trip also follows the same gondola track as you took on the way up.
I'd say that the best bang-for-buck ticket available is a self-guided combined ticket which includes:
- Hotel pickup
- Skyrail Rainforest Cableway experience
- The Kuranda Scenic Rail experience departing Kuranda and returning to Cairns.
This is arguably the most popular option as it allows for a full day of exploring the rainforest region and it's the most exciting and convenient way to return to Cairns.
Skyrail operating hours and opening days vary between seasons. However, first trips always depart at 8:30 am from Smithfield and 9:45 am from Kuranda.
The last one-way departure from Smithfield terminal is at 1:00 pm and 3:30 pm from Kuranda Terminal and finishes at 5:00 pm. I recommend booking the earliest trip to make the most out of your day trip when exploring Kuranda.
It's best to plan ahead and check the opening days for your trip on the booking page. I'd also suggest booking in advance to secure a trip as the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway is one of the most popular tours in Cairns.
The Skyrail Diamond View Upgrade
An additional booking upgrade for Cairns' Skyrail is the Diamond View upgrade.
This is the one that I took and I can highly recommend it. Not only will you be able to look out the glass windows but the entire floor is made from thick glass so you can look straight down onto the rainforest canopy!
My Experience on the Skyrail
Are you ready to embark? Well, let's go– below is a good summary of what to expect based on my recent experience on the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway from Cairns.
Boarding At Skyrail Smithfield Terminal
Since Smithfield is much closer to Cairns than Kuranda most people embark on their Skyrail trips from this terminal. You can either drive here yourself from Cairns or jump on board one of Skyrail dedicated public transport bus routes departing from several Cairns central locations.
If you book the combined Skyrail and Scenic Rail trip linked above, you'll get accommodation transport included.
Address: 6 Skyrail Dr, Smithfield, Queensland
There is a very large car park beside the Smithfield Skyrail Terminal providing free parking for the day. There's also a gift shop and bathrooms here.
First Stop: Red Peak
The entire process for us was really smooth. We had very little waiting time and almost immediately boarded the Skyrail with our timed tickets that we booked online with GetYourGuide.
The first trip is roughly 15 minutes as the gondola climbs over a field of wallabies and increasingly denser rainforest terrain.
The first Skyrail station is known as Red Peak, a high hill overlooking Smithfield and the Coral Sea. Here, we disembarked to explore the Rainforest Discovery Zone and the rainforest boardwalks.
At Red Peak, there is an optional 30-minute guided rainforest tour which I highly recommend. While we've spent a lot of time in the Cairns rainforest waterfalls and hiking trails, we were still blown away by just how much we didn't know!
Our guide Mike was very knowledgeable and taught us a lot about rainforest ecosystems.
A highlight of the Red Peak stop is a giant Kauri Pine, which is said to be between 300-500 years old. It's amazing to think that this single tree has sat on this hill since before the European settlement of Australia.
If you've downloaded the Skyrail Interpretive App, then Red Peak is a good place to use it. There are AR features that are pretty neat and really enhance the experience if you decide to skip the tour.
After the 30-minute Rainforest Discovery Tour, we reembarked on the Cairns Skyrail gondola to continue climbing up towards Barron Falls, another approximately 15-minute trip from Red Peak.
Second Stop: Barron Falls
The glide over to the Barron Falls lookout area was my personal favourite on the entire Skyrail Rainforest Cableway Experience.
As we got further into the rainforest towards Kuranda, it's clear that the vegetation becomes denser and wilder. At one point, we were gliding just metres above the canopy and even spotted a turtle basking on a log by a small creek.
This was a clear benefit of choosing the Diamond View upgrade!
After about 15 minutes we arrived at the second stop; the Barron Falls lookout.
The Barron Falls lookout is a recently upgraded viewpoint over Barron Falls, one of the most impressive waterfalls in Australia!
The Edge Lookout
This new viewing platform is known as The Edge Lookout, a glass platform extended over the Barron Gorge just beside the waterfall.
I'd visited Barron Falls many times but I think it's safe to say that this lookout is by far the best. The Cairns Skyrail is also the only way to get here, so you're definitely getting a premium view!
Unlike the first stop at Red Peak, it's possible to stay on the gondola and skip the Barron Falls for the return trip. However, if you're coming back on the Kuranda Scenic Rail, then definitely don't skip this one!
We spent about 20 minutes snapping photos and admiring the view of Barron Falls. We got pretty lucky visiting the waterfall in the dry season, as it was unusually powerful!
Final Stop: Kuranda
The final stretch towards Kuranda aboard the cableway climbs another small hill before dropping down and crossing the Barron River.
From here, you can see far into the Atherton Tablelands and admire the far-reaching rainforest from one of the highest points on the tour.
Finally, the Skyrail trip ends at the Kuranda Skyrail Terminal, where they take your photo and ask you to pay for it.
Things to do in Kuranda After the Skyrail
While the Skyrail one-way experience to Kuranda might be over, the day definitely doesn't end here. There are so many fun things to do in Kuranda and everyone should dedicate at least an hour to explore some of the highlights.
Otherwise, below are some links to some of the bookable activities if you're planning your trip in advance:
- The Australian Butterfly Sanctuary
- Kuranda Rainforest Nature Park
- Kuranda Koala Gardens
- Rainforest Riverboat Tour (freshwater crocodile spotting) - $5 OFF with code OLLY5
- Two world-renowned markets; the Heritage Markets and Original Markets
Returning to Cairns
After enjoying all of the highlights and attractions in the quaint rainforest village of Kuranda, you'll have a few options to wrap up the day and return to Cairns or Port Douglas.
As I mentioned above, the best way is to combine the trip with the Kuranda Scenic Rail. You'll find the station right next to the Cairns Skyrail Kuranda Terminal.
Otherwise, take a return trip to Smithfield on the Skyrail or a public transport bus.
Verdict: Is the Skyrail Worth It?
The Skyrail offers travelers an easy, convenient way to experience this rich and biodiverse World Heritage Listed Rainforest on a day trip that is within 30 minutes from town.
This is why I recommend the Skyrail to most people travelling to Cairns, especially if you're visiting on a short itinerary and don't have much time to experience the hiking trails and bushwalks in the region. Additionally, if you have mobility issues then this is one of the most accessible ways to experience the rainforest.
Cairns Accommodation Guide – Where to Stay
Visiting Cairns? The best places to stay are near the Cairns Esplanade or on the sunny Northern Beaches. Below are the top 4 options for varying budgets.
Alternatively, check out my Port Douglas accommodation guide for more ideas on where to stay in Far North Queensland.
1. Crystalbrook Riley Luxury
If luxury and location are what you're after, you can't beat this 5-star resort right in the heart of Cairns Esplanade.
2. Fitzroy Island Resort Mid-Range
Sleep out on one of the picturesque Great Barrier Reef Islands! Staying at Fitzroy often works out cheaper than staying in town & means you get more time to explore the reef, beaches, and rainforest walking trails.
3. Gilligan's Backpackers Budget
The best backpacker option for a great vibe in Cairns. Great place to meet like-minded travelers & features a pool, air-con rooms, a huge shared kitchen, & a great common area.
4. Pepper's Beach Club Palm Cove
Stay at the best beach resort in the heart of Palm Cove on Cairns's Northern Beaches!
More Travel and Adventure Inspiration for Cairns
I hope that this detailed guide to the Skyrail experience from Cairns was useful for helping you plan your activities and adventures in Far North Queensland.
While you're here, make sure to check out some of my many other blog posts for Cairns. I've spent a lot of time exploring Far North Queensland, photographing and documenting my adventures to inspire you!
- 60+ Things to do in Cairns - my ultimate Cairns and FNQ travel resource covering the best activities, hidden gems, and unmissable experiences.
- Cairns Hiking Guide - a huge list of epic rainforest, waterfall, and lookout hikes in Cairns.
- Cairns Waterfalls - a huge list of epic waterfalls that I've visited in Cairns and the surrounding tropics.
- Cairns Islands - discover my favorite Great Barrier Reef islands near Cairns and Port Douglas.
- Cairns Tours - my roundup of the best tours you can book in Cairns and FNQ, from the Great Barrier Reef to the Daintree Rainforest.
- Cairns Packing List - tips on what to pack for a trip to Far North Queensland.
- Top Things to Do in Port Douglas - a comprehensive guide to the sleepy Far North Queensland town of Port Douglas.
- Epic 5-Day Cairns Itinerary - my suggested adventure itinerary if you only have 5 days to spend in Cairns.
- Cape Tribulation Travel Guide - discover where the rainforest meets the reef at one of my favourite places in Australia.
- Magnetic Island Travel Guide - your ultimate resource for visiting "Maggie" near Townsville.
- Best Things to do in the Atherton Tablelands - my guide to one of Far North Queensland's most underrated adventure destinations.
- Accommodation Resources: Discover where to stay in Cairns, the best hotels in Port Douglas and my Cape Tribulation accommodation guide.