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Atherton Tablelands Rail Trail: relaxed riding

Cameron McGavin

TNQ Writer

Tired of the hustle and bustle of the city? Take a break and ride the Rail Trail in the Atherton Tablelands.

Tropical North Queensland offers some of the most hardcore mountain biking on earth but it’s also a place where you can take life on two wheels at a slower, easier and altogether more indulgent pace. If that’s what you crave it’s time to make your way to the Atherton Tablelands Rail Trail, where this region’s natural attractions, history and culture, as well as its famed food and produce, can all be savoured in an easygoing few hours on the bike.

With its diverse wilderness and abundant national parks, Tropical North Queensland is home to many breathtaking mountain biking tracks. It’s important to always follow the advice from Queensland Parks and never venture into dangerous areas to prevent serious injury or death. Check trail conditions for the Smithfield MTB Park, Atherton Forest MTB Park and for all other trails visit Trailforks.

9am – Slow start

Stop in at Petals & Pinecones before you start your day

You’ve woken up in Atherton and headed down to Atherton Bike Hire or Northern Bikes to grab your hire bike. Now you’re setting sail for Petals and Pinecones, one of Atherton’s best cafes, for a lazy breakfast and caffeine charge. The full Atherton Tablelands Rail Trail stretches 20.5km from here in Atherton north to Walkamin but you won’t be riding all of it today. So order that extra coffee, relax and enjoy the ambience of this charming agricultural town.

9.30am – Roll on

Ride the Rail Trail

It’s time to jump onto the rail trail and head north, crossing Mazlin Creek in Atherton’s northern outskirts, then continuing on through the trees and farmland towards Tolga. The riding is easy on the trail’s consistent, gently graded surfaces, so you can drink in the surrounds and keep your eyes peeled for interpretive signposts that tell you about the fascinating history of this region. Passing the Tolga Scrub, a small remnant of Mabi forest that once covered most of the Atherton Tablelands, the small hamlet of Tolga comes into view.

10.15am – Tolga, Tolga!

Ride through Tolga on the Rail Trail

Didn’t we tell you today would be relaxed? You’ve made it to Tolga, so it’s time to drop down a gear and explore this low-key but lovely Tablelands town. Check out handmade crafts by top artisans at the Rainforest Gems Gallery or drop into the Tolga Historical Society and Museum, right next to the rail trail in the town’s old railway station, for a deeper insight into the area’s history. If it happens to be the first Sunday of the month and before midday, make sure you stop in at the Tolga Markets, one of the best farmers’ markets in the region. When your belly starts rumbling, make a beeline for The Spring Bean cafe to refuel.

11.30am – Look back

Trail through Rocky Creek

It’s time to delve deeper into the fascinating history of this area, so veer back onto the trail and head north to Rocky Creek. This tiny settlement housed the southern hemisphere’s largest military hospital complex during World War II and one of the last remaining buildings is the Rocky Creek Igloo, now an entertainment venue. Cross the road to the Rocky Creek Memorial Park to see plaques representing the many World War II military units camped across the Atherton Tablelands which made this area the largest military base in Australia.

12.30pm – Homeward bound

Kayaking at Lake Barrine

Curtain Fig Tree on the Atherton Tablelands

The Crystal Caves

If you were feeling sprightly you could continue north to Walkamin but today is all about taking it easy, so it’s time to point your wheel south for the easy return ride to Atherton. You’ll be back with plenty of the afternoon to spare, giving you time to experience what Atherton has to offer, whether it’s the tunnels, crystals and fossils of The Crystal Caves, the abundant bird life of Hasties Swamp National Park, the Atherton Forest Mountain Bike Park or the many amazing waterfalls to be found in this part of the world.


Explore the Tablelands

There’s something for everyone in the Atherton Tablelands. Check out these guides to get a taste for what else is on offer.