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West Mulgrave Falls Hike: FNQ’s Best-Kept Secret (Cairns)

West Mulgrave Falls Hike: FNQ’s Best-Kept Secret (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.

West Mulgrave Falls is one of Far North Queensland’s most epic waterfalls! This hidden gem is located deep within the Wooronooran National Park and requires a challenging, yet ultra-rewarding hike to reach.

Are you looking for an epic, off-the-beaten-path waterfall with a truly wild rainforest hike? West Mulgrave Falls is easily one of my favourite waterfalls and hikes in Far North Queensland.

This megalithic cascade is found at the base of a deep gorge within the Wooroonooran National Park.

The hike down is fairly strenuous and requires a bit of bush knowledge and navigation skills to complete. However, if you decide you want to give it a go, then it’ll definitely be worth your while! The waterfall is one of the most spectacular near Cairns and includes a deep, aqua-blue waterhole for swimming.

Note: This hike, while not extremely difficult, isn’t suitable for people without plenty of experience hiking in the Australian bush. The track is wild, often overgrown and you can expect plenty of leeches any time of year. There are also creek crossings involved that I wouldn’t attempt following heavy rainfall.

Best Cairns Outdoor Experiences

Not sure which outdoor experiences & natural attractions to visit for your next adventure to Cairns?

I've visited Cairns a dozen times, have been on over 20 different tours and worked with countless tour operators. This is a summary of my favourite tours & bookable experiences in Cairns.

Fitzroy island ferry

1. Fitzroy Island Full Day Trip

Fitzroy Island is the closest (and cheapest) Great Barrier Reef Island to visit from Cairns. Check out the world-famous famous Nudey Beach and hike to the island summit.

Scuba diving on the great barrier reef tour cairns

2. Great Barrier Reef by Catamaran Top-Pick

Visit the outer reef and snorkel or scuba dive at two pristine reef locations. You might even get lucky and meet the local Maori Wrasse like we did in the photo.

Cairns helicopter tour over the great barrier reef

3. Scenic Helicopter Flight

A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the Great Barrier Reef from above on a scenic helicopter flight from Cairns city.

Travel tip: By far, the best islands for snorkeling in Cairns are the Frankland Islands (pristine reef). There is only one boat trip allowed to stop on these islands and you can book this directly with BackpackerDeals + use code OLLY5 to get $5 off.

Where is West Mulgrave Falls?

West Mulgrave Falls is located within the Wet Tropics, in the incredible Wooroonooran National Park.

This park is home to Queensland's tallest mountain; Mount Bartle Frere. The access car park to the trail is approximately 85 kilometres from Cairns.

The waterfall itself is located at the base of a steep gorge, accessed from the Tablelands side of the Bellenden Ker Range.

Since West Mulgrave Falls is very little known, there isn't much information online or a Google Maps pin for its location. However, if you follow this hiking guide, then you shouldn't have too much trouble finding it, assuming you are well prepared, experienced and the conditions permit.

How to Get to the Trailhead Car Park

The West Mulgrave Falls hike picks up from the same new car park as the Windin Falls hike. To get here, you'll need to drive up to the Tablelands, and then down a fairly long unsealed road. However, the road is well-graded and in good condition, a regular 2WD will make it easy.

Quick Navigation to Old Cairns Track: Either paste in the GPS coordinates below to navigate all the way to the trailhead or try “Lamins Hill Lookout” which is the closest named pin.

To get to the West Mulgrave Falls trailhead from Cairns, drive south on the Bruce Highway (A1) towards Gordonvale, where you’ll turn right onto Riverstone Road (State Route 52). Go through the roundabout and follow the winding Gillies Range Road all the way up to the Tablelands.

Just near Lake Eacham, take a left onto Lake Barrine Road and follow this for 6.4 km, where you’ll need to turn left again onto Topaz Road. This road is very narrow so take care to move aside for oncoming traffic.

After 9.5 km, you’ll reach an intersection near “Lamins Hill Lookout”. Veer left here onto “Old Cairns Track“. Next, just a few hundred metres up the road, you'll come to an obvious fork. Take the right fork and follow this unsealed road for 6.6 km before arriving at a very obvious car par with a sign: "Windin Falls".

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've missed out on cars before & recommend booking well in advance. I always use DiscoverCars as they compare the widest range of rentals across dealerships in the Far North.

Finding the Trailhead

The trailhead to West Mulgrave Falls begins about 100 metres up the Windin Falls track but is unmarked and quite difficult to spot initially. My best advice is to just follow the wide Windin Falls Track while keeping an eye out for a track in the bush to your right.

This track is often overgrown with grass so it can be difficult to spot. Below, you'll find the GPS coordinates for the West Mulgrave Falls trailhead, and if you keep scrolling, a GPX file that you can follow to help you navigate.

  • Car Park GPS Coordinates: 17°21’50.6″S 145°44’59.6″E
  • West Mulgrave Falls Trailhead: 17°21'49.3"S 145°45'05.9"E
Hiker with garmin inreach satellite device

How I Stay Connected Off-Grid

I've been using the Garmin InReach Mini satellite communicator for all serious treks and expeditions since 2020.

It lets me send unlimited SMS anywhere on earth and has an emergency SOS feature that could save your life.

The West Mulgrave Falls Hike

  • Hike Distance: 12 km
  • Duration: 4-5 hours return
  • Elevation: 535 m total gain (most on the way back)
  • Difficulty: Difficult

The West Mulgrave Falls hike is considered difficult, both in terms of navigation and physical effort. You'll definitely need to have bush experience and a decent level of fitness to reach this waterfall.

The track is overgrown in sections and is more of a general "route" than a worn hiking trail. However, there are well-marked pink and orange ribbons on the trees that are an essential navigation tool. My advice is to download this blog post for offline use (there is no reception on the track) or download the GPX file below to supplement the ribbons for navigation.

This GPX track is the one that I recorded on my trip to the falls. Tracks and conditions often change in the Wet Tropics, so remember that it should only be used as a general aid and not a primary means of navigation.

The route down to West Mulgrave Falls crosses through dense tropical rainforest before descending steeply down the gorge. Once at the base, hikers will follow a creek all the way to the waterfall.

Two knee-height creek crossing sections are fairly easy to manage, assuming regular conditions (can change rapidly). Please don't attempt to cross any rivers following heavy rainfall or any that you aren't comfortable with and only do so at your own risk and judgment.

Wooroonooran national park creeks
Mushrooms in wooroonooran national park

Hiking Guide

Below I'll detail a route based on my experience on the West Mulgrave Falls hike. This might prove to be a helpful aid for you to complete the walk safely.

First Section: Flat But Tricky to Navigate

Begin the West Mulgrave Falls hike by picking up the overgrown, grassy trail on your right, just a few hundred metres from the start of the Windin Falls track. Traverse through the long grass as the track follows the edge of a fenced cattle property.

This first section is one of the most difficult to navigate due to the lack of ribbons. Also, the track pretty much disappears after entering the rainforest, so the GPX map below might be useful here. If you struggle with navigating this section, then it's a good sign that you're ill-prepared for the hike.

Woroonoornan national park trees

Continue following the route through the rainforest on soft and root-filled undergrowth. Keep an eye out for ribbons as you go. This section is fairly dense but you won't need to do much bush bashing. Eventually, the ribbons lead you to a wider, obvious track and then back into the bush.

This first, flat section before the descent is very serene and will offer what I believe to be a real slice of Tropical Far North Queensland's ancient rainforests. After approximately 3 kilometres, you will begin the very steep descent down to the base of the gorge.

West mulgrave falls waterfall hike
Follow the pink ribbons

The Descent

Prepare your legs up as you make your way down the steep and slippery 40-degree gradient for almost a kilometer as you descend roughly 250 metres to the base of the creek.

This part is easy to follow but there are pink ribbons every 5 metres or so. If you are up to it, continue down and push thoughts of the return climb to the back of your mind, for now.

Hiking the west mulgrave falls track

Following the Creek to West Mulgrave Falls

Once you arrive at the base of the creek, the track opens up to a broad and very scenic rainforest oasis. You can fill your water bottle here (consider filtering) and there is even a small waterfall just a few hundred metres upstream.

Next, follow the pink ribbons to the other side of the creek. Several spots were suitable for crossing during my visit. However, we had to take our shoes off as the rocks were too slippery to jump across. Again, it has been raining heavily, or if the creek is flowing too hard, don't attempt to cross.

West mulgrave falls river crossing
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.

Once on the other side of this first creek crossing, follow the ribbons into the bush once again. This final push to the waterfall is filled with heavy treefall and wait-a-whiles hanging off seemingly every branch, fern and palm.

Not too long after the first crossing, you'll reach the second. This creek flows directly from West Mulgrave Falls and is definitely more powerful than the first, so take care and don't cross if you are not comfortable with the conditions.

Finally, once you've crossed, continue to follow the pink ribbons, traversing a slippery boulder field with heavy treefall until you finally see the giant, West Mulgrave Falls at the edge of a spacious clearing.

West mulgrave falls waterfall

Hike Data & GPX File

Below is a GPX map recorded by my Garmin watch and shows the route that I took down to West Mulgrave Falls. You can download the file by clicking the link below.

This resource will be very helpful in case you lose track of the ribbon trail markers. However, don't rely on it as a primary means of navigation. Also, tracks change and the creek crossing sections that I took might not be suitable when you go. So, use your own judgment and don't blindly follow what you find online.

What to Expect at West Mulgrave Falls

As soon as I arrived at West Mulgrave Falls, I was blown away. Having not seen too much information online or even pictures of the waterfall before, the reward was definitely worth the walk!

It's difficult to say how tall the West Mulgrave waterfall is, but I'd say it's at least 60 metres tall. The waterfall crashes violently down the almost vertical cliff face into a deep, aqua-green pool below.

There is also a large boulder on the left side of the waterfall that makes a great vantage point. The waterfall pool extends around this boulder in a section that was at least 3 metres deep when I checked the depth.

West mulgrave falls waterfall

I discovered that it was possible to jump off this boulder into the pool below, but I made sure to do depth checks first as always.

The waterfall pool is the perfect place to swim and cool off before preparing for the steep climb back to the car park. To return, follow the same route as you took on the way in.

Swimming at west mulgrave falls

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 Cairns & FNQ Adventure Blogs

I hope you found this hiking guide to West Mulgrave Falls useful in planning your adventures in the Wooroonooran. For more adventure guides, hikes and waterfalls around Cairns, check out the list below.

West mulgrave falls 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.

R James

Wednesday 12th of May 2021

Strongly disagree with openly publicising routes like this which traverse Wet Tropics wilderness zone and should be for experienced walkers with local guides only. The pink markers are removed periodically because they are unauthorised and not legal. Please stop trying to popularize every last remote walk to the point that no remote experience opportunities remain in the Wet Tropics. Windin has been popularized to the point it is unenjoyable now for most local hikers, don't do the same to West Mulgrave.

Niels Munksgaard

Sunday 26th of February 2023

@Olly Gaspar, I agree that we should let some of the more difficult and possibly dangerous (these creek crossings) walks left unpublished. It is very rewarding to study a map or Google Earth and "discover" these gems by your own effort. Don't kill off that joy. It should also be said that many bloggers derive income from their activity!!!

Olly Gaspar

Thursday 13th of May 2021

First of all, I appreciate your input and I can sympathise with your position. However, my intent definitely isn't to popularise a hike or waterfall of this nature. My goal is to help people (locals included) who are already interested in exploring this beautiful region do so safely while making the most of the experience.

To your point, West Mulgrave will never be another Windin Falls because those that are ill-prepared will be shaken out on the first section requiring navigational skills. Besides, popularisation on that scale doesn't happen off the backs of independent adventure writers, it requires millions of dollars of Parks and tourism investment into track development and promotion.

Also, while I do agree that you need solid bush experience to traverse this route (stated many times throughout the article) I disagree with your view that a walk like this should be hiked by people with guides only. To be honest, I've come across many people with similar input as you all around the world. I've found that most of the time, they're trying to push an agenda of "exclusivity", perhaps to elevate their ego or somehow contain nature trails within their own cliques and walking groups. The Wet Tropics is there for everyone to enjoy, respect and preserve. The more people who get to experience its brilliance, the louder the voice of conservation grows.

To those reading this, while the difficulty of this wilderness route should be respected, you don't require a guide to visit West Mulgrave Falls and you certainly don't need the permission of R James to attempt it.

suzanjack

Thursday 8th of October 2020

Very nicely said your mind is as beautiful as your photography Keep up the beautiful work!I love it , Thankyou for sharing with us.