Camping on Bartle Frere

Blog Post

Great places to go camping near Cairns

TNQ Writer

Are your campsites better described as camp palaces, or do you just roll with the bare essentials? Whether you’re at one end of the spectrum or the other, lace up your hiking shoes, load up your 4WD (or hatchback) and string your fairy lights around these camping sites near Cairns.

Babinda Boulders

Babinda Boulders swimming hole

Rise and shine, your crystal clear morning bath awaits at one of Tropical North Queensland’s favourite swimming holes. Located only a short stroll from your humble canvas abode, take a morning dip before other like-minded adventurers arrive to cool off. These large campsites are free and accessible to all vehicles.

Cost: Free, no booking required
Where: End of Boulders Road, Babinda (sealed road)

Mount Bartle Frere

Sunrise above the clouds at the highest campsite in Queensland.

Photo by The Raw Photographer

This is the bare necessities campers’ time to shine. Pack your dehydrated food, Trangia stove and (ultra-light) tent and climb aboard the foot taxi (i.e. get walking) for an adventure to the highest peak in Queensland – Mount Bartle Frere. Your hike through the dense tropical rainforest is rewarded with expansive views from the Atherton Tablelands all the way to the coast. Remember, you’re now over 1,600m in elevation – the warm weather rules of the tropics don’t quite apply here and a warm sleeping bag is definitely welcomed overnight. There are two trails that you can take to venture to the summit and should only be attempted by experienced hikers.

Cost: $6.85 per person per night
Where: Trails begin at Josephine Falls or Topaz, Atherton Tablelands

Ingenia Holidays Cairns Coconut

Kids can enjoy the Water Splash Park

Campsites can be both powered and unpowered

Aerial of the park

Escape the heat

Not just the ultimate playground for kids, but one for adults too, Ingenia Holidays Cairns Coconut is a peaceful tropical paradise that the whole family will enjoy. Challenge the family to a round of mini golf, set the kids free at the Water Splash Park or jumping cushions and play a friendly match of tennis or volleyball. Parents can retreat to the adults-only hot spa or on-site gym while the kids partake in a range of activities provided by the resort.

Where: 23-51 Anderson Road, Cairns

Etty Bay

Etty Bay is frequented by cassowaries

Wave hello to the local residents, the ancient Southern Cassowary, as they meander down the sands on this small stretch of beach. These birds are seen patrolling Etty Bay most days in the early morning and late afternoon so booking a campsite will ensure your greatest chance of an encounter. Spend the rest of your time lazing on the beach, taking a dip to keep the heat at bay, and opting to fire up a barbecue or enjoy a treat from the kiosk.

Cost: From $27 per night for two people, extra persons an additional $5
Where: 20mins south-east of Innisfail

Upper Davies Creek

Swim above the waterfall with views from an infinity pool

Swimming hole at Davies Creek

Top of Lambs Head (Kahlpahlim Rock)

Rainy day at Turtle Rock

If you’re into roasting marshmallows on the campfire and like your tea from the billy, Upper Davies Creek is the place to be. With a total of eight sites spread out along the creek, Upper Davies allows fires and offers a bit more privacy than its Lower campsite counterpart. Enjoy sunset with uninterrupted views to the horizon from the natural infinity pool atop Davies Creek Falls before a night under the stars. For the more active of campers, Lambs Head (Kahlpahlim Rock) and Turtle Rock trailheads both begin by the campground. These challenging hikes finish 1300m and 936m above sea level respectively and are rewarded with spectacular views.

Four-wheel-drives or high clearance vehicles are recommended to access the campground, though smaller cars are ok throughout most of the year.

Cost: $6.85 per person per night
Where: Turn off the Kennedy Highway between Mareeba and Kuranda

Ellis Beach

Palm fringed Ellis Beach

Rainforest clad mountains rise straight by the beach

Take cover in the shade of a palm tree or swim in the glassy waters

Say goodbye to civilisation and hello to paradise. Meet Ellis Beach, where the only obstruction between the beach and dramatic rainforest clad mountains is a narrow stretch of road and a line of coconut trees. Tropical mode activated as you string up your hammock between the palms and watch the sunrise over the glassy coral sea. Thanks to the “great barrier” the reef provides, waves are a rarity and the water blends seamlessly with the horizon for a spectacular sunrise featuring a gradient of pastel hues. When the tummy starts rumbling, saunter down the sands to Ellis Beach Bar and Grill for a breakfast sure to make the mouth water and the stomach full.

Cost: From $36 per night for two people
Where: Captain Cook Highway, halfway between Cairns and Port Douglas

Fitzroy Island

Welcome Bay at Fitzroy Island

Sunset from Nudey Beach

Sunrise from the summit

Ahh, Fitzroy Island; not a soul who has been here can deny its island charm. Just a hop, skip and a jump from the coral beach and aquamarine waters, this is a campground you’ll never want to leave. The island will be all but yours when the final ferry takes the last of the day passengers back to Cairns. Watch the sun disappear over the mainland mountains from Welcome Bay or Nudey Beach, while first light is best observed from the lighthouse or summit.

Cost: $37 per tent per night (up to 4 people)
Where: 45min ferry ride from Cairns

Goldsborough Valley

Float on the Mulgrave River

Far enough from civilisation to fuel that true escape feeling, convenient enough that even your non-camper friends will enjoy themselves. Creature comforts of Goldsborough Valley include flushing toilets, wood and gas barbecues, fire pits and picnic tables. Pass time floating around the cool waters of the Mulgrave River (inflatable toy necessary) and if you’re feeling really adventurous, tackle the ~9km (one-way) hike or cycle to the causeway on the Goldfield Trail. Read more below about this stunning trail.

Cost: $6.85 per person per night
Where: Turn off at Peet’s Bridge on the Gillies Range Road near Gordonvale

Goldfield Trail

Causeway on the Goldfield Trail

A 19km walk between Babinda and Goldsborough surrounded by thick rainforest vegetation makes up the Goldfield Trail. Approximately halfway the East Mulgrave River carves its way through the track marking the campground area. The causeway features a deep swimming hole and a beautiful waterfall so it’s a welcome destination after a long walk. It’s first in, best dressed as sites here are undesignated however they must be booked through National Parks. The trail is commonly walked one way, with walkers being picked up at the other end or doing a car shuffle. It’s also possible to hike to the campground and back the same way, completing half the trail.

Cost: $6.85 per person per night
Where: Trail begins at Babinda Boulders or Goldsborough Valley Campground

Frankland Islands

Camping doesn't get more beachfront than Russell Island. Photo by PhlipVids

Snorkel in the aquamarine waters. Photo by PhlipVids

Take in the views on an island walk. Photo by PhlipVids

Pink sunsets over the Great Barrier Reef. Photo by PhlipVids

Rustle up friends for a private getaway to a secluded island on the Great Barrier Reef. Russell Island is part of the Frankland Group National Park, a cluster of continental islands just south of Cairns. The fringing reefs are overflowing with marine life and corals with sightings of dugongs, manta rays and whales not unheard of. There are only two camping sites available so bookings typically need to be made well in advance. BYOB (bring your own boat) or arrange transfers with Frankland Island Cruises.

Cost: Free, booking required
Where: Leave from the boat ramp at Deeral, 45mins south of Cairns

Lake Tinaroo

Explore the many picnic areas around Lake Tinaroo

Sunset over the lake

Campsite at Genazzano Retreat on Lake Tinaroo

Lake Tinaroo in the Danbulla State Forest have the kind of campsites you see on movies – grassy fields scattered with eucalypts, gently sloping down to an idyllic lake and a few canoes for good measure. A famed water sports lake, skiers and wakeboarders alike frequent “Tinaroo” so it’s the perfect place to dust off the old skis if you’re so inclined. The charming town of Yungaburra is only a short drive and is full of whimsical shops, cafes and restaurants. Every fourth Saturday of the month vendors congregate at Bruce Jones Market Park in the centre of town peddling locally made food, handicrafts, timber and more.

Cost: $6.85 per person per night
Where: Near Yungaburra, Atherton Tablelands

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