Freshwater Escapes – Cairns favourite swimming holes

Want to know a secret? I rarely visit the beaches during summer. WHY? Well when you live in Tropical North Queensland the creeks and waterfalls offer MUCH more during our official ‘wet’ season. Cool, refreshing and bordered by rainforest these rivers and creeks create the perfect escape from the heat and humidity of the wet season. So here’s my round-up of Freshwater Escapes close to Cairns…….


Crystal Cascades at the end of Redlynch Valley

Near Cairns

Crystal Cascades (15-20 minutes from Cairns City Centre)

Perhaps the best known and most frequented freshwater creek near Cairns City. Crystal Cascades sits at the end of Redlynch Valley and provides an oasis of green rainforest, sparkling clear water and plenty of deep pools for swimming.


Natural waterslides are the best type & there’s plenty of these at Crystal Cascades

Parking space is provided along with toilets, picnic facilities and a landscaped footpath that follows the creek for about a kilometre. Access to swimming holes is along the way.

Hot Tip: It can get busy here so go earlier in the day and beat the crowds.


There’s plenty of deep pools at Crystal Cascades

Getting There: Head out towards the suburb of Redlynch (10-minutes northwest of Cairns City) and follow the Redlynch Intake Road all the way to its end (approximately 10km).


A moment of serenity at Stoney Creek

Stony Creek Falls (15-20 minutes from Cairns City Centre)

This small creek tucked in amongst the suburb of Rainforest Estate provides a quick and easy escape from the hot steamy days of a Cairns summer. At the end of Stony Creek Road a gate signals the start of a path that takes you along the creek to an old weir.


The kids crossing the old weir at the top of the Stoney Creek track

There are plenty of tiny pools along the way to stop and refresh in whilst absorbing the natural surrounds of the Barron Gorge National Park.

Hot Tip: Don’t forget to bring your spray just in case the mozzies are out in force.

Getting There: Head north via the Reservoir/Cairns Western Arterial Road towards the suburbs of Kamerunga and Caravonica. Before crossing the bridge at Barron River turn left at Stony Creek Rd into Rainforest Estate. Stony Creek sits just beyond the gate at the end of this road.


Freshwater Creek winds through Goomboora Park

Freshwater Creek (10-15 minutes from Cairns City Centre)

Freshwater creek provides plenty of cool swimming opportunities for locals after a hot summers day. The ‘creek’ is a continuation of Crystal Cascades and winds down Redlynch Valley through the suburbs and cane fields and eventually spills out into Barron River.


Shallow water rafting at the Rocks

There’s a great cycling/walking path that starts in Redlynch Valley Estate and follows the creek most of the way down the valley. Picnic benches and barbecues are provided at different spots along the way. The most popular spot to swim along here is the Rocks Picnic Area – a deeper section of the river with a big boulder that the kids always delight in jumping off.


Natural play for kids at Goomboora Park

Goomboora Park is popular for families and dog lovers. It’s a great spot for boogie boards cause there’s plenty of spots to put the boards in and cruise down the river through the park. Barbecues, toilet facilities and a new adventure playground for kids are all on offer here as well as plenty of parkland for a ball game or picnic.

Ryan Weare Park is another popular place for a dip amongst locals. The bend in the river means there are a couple of deep pools. There’s also a basic playground for the smaller children, a nice picnic area and a toilet block.

Hot Tip: These spots are suited for ‘board’ riding, lilos and kayaks.


Anywhere along Freshwater Creek is good for a boogie board

Getting There: Head out towards the suburb of Redlynch following the Reservoir/Cairns Western Arterial Road. For Goomboora Park turn left after the traffic lights at Cool Waters Caravan Park. For the Ryan Weare Park turn right after the traffic lights and follow the Brinsmead/Kamerunga Road to the roundabout. Turn left at the roundabout and cross a small bridge to the park’s entrance on your right.

To get out to the Rocks take the turn-off to the suburb of Redlynch, follow the signs for the Big 4 Crystal Cascades Caravan Park along Redlynch Intake Road and then turn left at the tennis courts into the Rocks Road. Once you’re past the caravan park and the sharp bend turn left into a small dead-end road that has a small carpark and toilet block and follow the path up the valley for a minute or two.

South of Cairns

Goldsborough Valley (45 mins – 1 hour from Cairns City)

Goldsborough Valley acts as a catchment area for the Mulgrave River as it tumbles off the side of Queensland’s highest mountain, Mt Bartle Frere. Drive all the way into Goldsborough Valley, and you’ll find a pleasant camping and picnic site that offers plenty of opportunities to dip in the Mulgrave River and explore old gold mining routes.


Take a mask and you might discover one of these guys underwater

At Goldsborough Valley there is the Wajil walk which will take you to the base of some falls and a lookout. You can also walk or mountain bike along the Goldfields track to the Mulgrave River top causeway which offers great swimming. For more details click HERE


Ross & Locke is a popular spot for the ‘whole’ family to enjoy

A closer alternative is the Council’s Ross & Locke Park, which offers a decent sized swimming hole and picnic site along the riverbank. This spot is popular with the locals because you can virtually drive right up to the riverbank and plunge straight in.

Hot Tip: After a decent rain you’ll often find March flies (horse flies) populate these spots – bring your repellant.


There’s some shady spots around Ross & Locke & plenty of shallow spots for the kids to play

Getting There: Head south along the Bruce Highway towards Gordonvale. Turn right onto the Gilles Highway and head towards the Atherton Tablelands. Goldsborough Valley is signposted approximately 6km from Gordonvale on the left hand side. It’s a further 15km to the end of the road and the camping and picnic sites.


You can’t miss Walsh’s Pyramid if you drive south of Cairns

Ross and Locke can be found further along the Gillies Highway, 1.5km past the Goldsborough Valley turn-off.


Taking a rest from the big rapids of Behana Gorge

Behana Gorge (30-45 mins south of Cairns City)

Tucked behind the impressive Walsh’s Pyramid at Gordonvale is the beautiful Behana Gorge, one of my all time favourite freshwater escapes. It’s like Mossman Gorge on steroids – the boulders are bigger, the drop down the valley steeper and you have to work damn hard to get to your swimming hole – but it’s worth it!


It’s a workout to Behana Gorge’s best swimming holes BUT it’s worth it

The walk into Behana Gorge is not for the faint-hearted (the track seems to have become the ‘Red-Arrow’ of South Cairns) but when you do arrive at a swimming hole expect crystal clear water and huge granite boulders to bask upon.

Hot Tip: Take your bike – It’s a bit of a slog on the way in BUT it’s all downhill on the way back.


If you make it to the top of Behana Gorge you’ll spot this beautiful waterfall & swimming spot.

As a kid-friendly alternative you could try further down Behana Creek at the Behana Creek Picnic area (near Aloomba). You can park close to the creek, which is shallow and offers some great sandy spots for the kids to play in.

Spending the day at Behana Gorge

A photo posted by @lisalastrange on

  Getting There: Head south along the Bruce Highway past Gordonvale and past Walsh’s Pyramid (you can’t miss it trust me). Turn left into Behana Gorge Road and follow it right to the end. Leave you car at the small parking area and precede up the concrete roadway (behind the gate). It takes at least 45 minutes of uphill walking before you come to the best swimming holes. To get to Behana Creek picnic area turn left instead of right off the Bruce Highway and follow Leumann Rd into Hesp Rd and then turn right into Moller Rd. Drive along here until you come to the bridge. You can park on either side of the bridge and walk down to the creek below.


Charlie leading me up the creek at Babinda Boulders


Babinda Boulders (1 hour south of Cairns)

A dramatic mix of huge granite boulders, clear rushing water and plenty of good lookouts makes this creek a must see during the wet. Devil’s Pool has a local Aboriginal legend attached to it and a disproportionate number of young men have lost their lives in and around this spot.


The kids love exploring the main swimming area at Babinda Boulders

Fortunately there is a large and deep swimming area next to the car park to stop the temptation of venturing near the slippery rocks and fast water. The recreation area also provides picnic benches, toilets and gas barbecues and for those that wish to stay overnight, a campsite is nearby.

Hot Tip: Take a sit on kayak or Lilo – there’s plenty of room to drift around in the main swimming hole.

Getting There: Head south along the Bruce Highway past Gordonvale to the township of Babinda (60km from Cairns). Turn right into Babinda and follow the road west 7km to the Babinda Boulders.


Josephine Falls is truly gorgeous – although this part is off bounds


Josephine Falls/Golden Hole (1½ hours from Cairns)

Experience a scenic walk through dense rainforest that takes you to the foot of a waterfall. Dominating the view is Mt Bartle Frere, Queensland’s highest mountain. There are plenty of natural pools and waterslides to entertain yourself but take care on the slippery rocks and don’t venture into the non-swimming areas.


This part of Josephine Falls is fine to swim in

Another popular destination is the Golden Hole. This site is nearby on the Russell River and offers a wide and deep swimming area with sandy beaches (although a croc sign has recently gone up in the last year). There’s also an expansive grassy picnic area that always attracts the locals. Getting There: Head south along the Bruce Highway past Gordonvale to the township of Mirriwinni (66km from Cairns). Just past the town is a right turn off the highway to Josephine Falls. Follow the bitumen road all the way to its end for Josephine Falls (approximately 8km). For the Golden Hole turn left instead of right at the 90-degree bend prior to the Ranger Station and car park. This will take you down to the Biggs Recreation Area which features toilet and picnic facilities and large parklands.

#MossmanGorge #PortDouglas #thisisqueesland #exploresustralia #happyplace #australia #discoveraustralia A photo posted by c00pz88 (@c00pz88) on

North of Cairns

Mossman Gorge (1½ hours from Cairns)

For a taste of the Daintree without having to go too far north try Mossman Gorge. Situated just out of the township of Mossman this area offers excellent swimming opportunities, picnic facilities and a selection of short walks through World Heritage Rainforest.  There is a charge to enter the Gorge and shuttle buses take you into the swimming spots on a regular basis.


The causeway at Shannonvale, Mossman acts as a natural waterfall

We often stop at the causeway at ShannonVale for a quick dip if we are up this way. This spot is shallow and mostly frequented by locals but you can park right at the river’s edge and hop straight in. It’s a bit of fun for the kids when the cars drive across (local traffic only) and create a splash.

Hot Tip: take a mask and snorkel along – there’s always a myriad of freshwater creatures lurking beneath the surface (fish, yabbies, tortoises and the odd eel).


Causeway fun at Shannonvale near Mossman

Getting There: Head north along the Captain Cook Highway to Mossman (north of Port Douglas and 75km from Cairns). Just before you reach Mossman’s centre a signposted left will take you out to the gorge. Park in the visitors carpark and make your way to the visitors centre for the shuttle buses. There’s coffee, food and souvenirs also on offer here.

To get to the Shannonvale causeway turn left at Shannonvale Road off the Captain Cook Highway (just before you get to Mossman township). Follow the road through the canefields until you get to the causeway.


Just chillin’ up the creek

Good Things to Know:

  • During the summer months (November to April) there is good chance of stingers and crocodiles are more active along the North Queensland coastline which is the Number One reason we swim at Freshwater swimming holes. Click HERE for more details.
  • All the Cairns swimming holes I’ve listed above are popular with the locals as well as visitors to our region. If you are concerned about crocodiles in our waterways click HERE to read a great article put together by a North Queenslander.
  • Seek local advice before you swim, creeks, lakes, rivers and dams can hide dangers such as submerged logs and rocks and unexpectedly strong currents, especially after rain

Remember to take some time to just ‘chill’ at your favourite spot

  • Check the current before entering the water
  • Never dive or jump into any waterhole — you could seriously injure yourself if the water is too shallow or there are submerged logs and rocks

Are you a fan of any of the above spots? Can you recommend any other COASTAL freshwater swimming holes close to Cairns?

Please Note: I’ll follow this BlogPost up with a round-up of swimming holes ‘up the mountain’ soon…….stay posted!


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