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Guide to the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway in Cairns

Guide to the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway in Cairns

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.

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.

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 rainforest cableway experience from cairns

Skyrail Timetable

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.

Skyrail map
Map of the Cairns Skyrail experience

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!

Skyrail diamond view upgrade
Skyrail diamond view gondola

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.

Skyrail cairns, smithfield terminal

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.

Gift shop at skyrail smithfield terminal

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.

Skyrail cable car in cairns

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.

Red peak rainforest discovery centre guide
Red peak rainforest discovery centre guide
Red peak rainforest discovery centre

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.

Kauri pine at red peak rainforest discover centre, cairns

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.

Red peak discovery centre guide on the skyrail rainforest cableway experience from cairns
Kuranda rainforest at red peak, skyrail rainforest cableway

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!

Skyrail rainforest cableway experience from cairns
Skyrail diamond view gondola

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!

Skyrail rainforest cableway experience from cairns, overlooking barron falls

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!

Kuranda scenic rail, the edge lookout over barron falls
Kuranda scenic rail, the edge lookout over barron falls
Barron falls from the edge lookout on the skyrail rainforest cableway

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.

Kuranda river boat cruise from the skyrail rainforest cableway

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:

Kuranda scenic rail station
Butterfly at kuranda sanctuary
Barron falls stop on the cairns skyrail

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.

Kuranda scenic railway overlooking barron falls, cairns

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.

However, for adventure travelers and those who love hiking, I would probably skip it in favor of other, more raw experiences like hiking to Kahlpahlim Rock, Nandroya Falls, or even the Mossman Gorge.

You also have the option of booking more adventurous activities like White Water Rafting on the Barron River, a scenic flight, or a day trip to Fitzroy Island.

Red peak rainforest discovery centre guide

Where to Stay In Cairns

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.

Girl sunbathing at crystalbrook riley resort in cairns

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.

Fitzroy island wharf

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.

Gilligans backpacker resort

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.

Peppers beach club four mile beach port douglas

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!

Skyrail terminal in kuranda, skyrail rainforest cableway
Skyrail diamond view gondola
Skyrail experience in cairns
Skyrail cable car (skyrail rainforest cableway) in cairns
Red peak rainforest discovery centre on the skyrail rainforest cableway
Red peak rainforest discovery centre guide
Red peak rainforest discovery centre guide
Cairns skyrail rainforest cableway gondola
Skyrail rainforest cableway experience from cairns
Skyrail rainforest cableway experience from cairns
Kuranda scenic rail station platform 1
Kuranda scenic rail station
Kuranda scenic rail, the edge lookout over barron falls
Kuranda scenic rail, the edge lookout
Kuranda scenic railway station platform 1
Barron river near kuranda, austrlaia
Barron river near kuranda, austrlaia
Barron falls from the skyrail rainforest cableway
Kuranda scenic rail station
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.