Scenic Drives Through Tropical North QLD

Driving yourself is the perfect way to explore the Cairns region as you can pull over for a swim, a rest or to take a photograph . You can explore the region at your own pace and go wherever your heart desires. Plan out your ideal itinerary and take a lovely day trip or choose to a longer drive and stay overnight at a campsite. If you have a 4 Wheel Drive you can enjoy a completely different experience and see the places people in normal cars just can't go. Jump in the car and travel from lush rainforest to eucalypt forest and then to golden beaches and through charming towns stopping off along the way to enjoy the treats of the countryside. Start planning your scenic drive through the Cairns region. Have a look at the map of all the tropical drives you can take around Cairns. There's 14 all up and they are all great in their own way.

Scenic Drives around Cairns

Great Tropical Drive - Route 1

Great Tropical Drive MapThe Great Tropical Drive is an amazing way to experience Tropical North Queensland. The entire route takes around 12 days and travels over 2079 kilometres from Cairns to Townsville.

This self drive route will take you through some of Australia's most beautiful and best known attractions.

Over the 12 days you'll get to journey past the Great Barrier Reef, go through the sleepy town of Port Douglas, explore the Daintree Rainforest, and make your way through Cooktown, Mareeba, Charters Towers and finally arrive in Townsville.

Along the way you'll meet interesting local characters, eat some excellent local produce, pass through quaint townships, rolling fields and some of the most beautiful scenery you'll ever see. It's a circuit trip and it will take you back to Cairns.

Total Distance: 2079km
Duration: 12 Days
Map of Drive Route

Great Green Way - Trail 2

view of Cairns tropical coast on scenic driveThe Great Green Way Trail helps you make your way from Cairns to Townsville.

It helps you discover the World Heritage Listed Wet Tropics Rainforest region and all the wonderful National Parks that belong to the Wet Tropics. You can get out and take a bushwalk through one of these National Parks for an even better up-close view.

You'll go past the Great Barrier Reef, look out past the islands, pass through wetlands and enjoy some of Queensland's well known country hospitality. It's a total of 457km which would usually take around 5 hours however you can also spend the whole day or longer travelling the distance.

Total Distance: 457km
Duration: 5 hrs

Daintree Explorer - Trail 3

The Daintree Explorer trail takes you through some rugged landscape and helps you get off the beaten track. It's a circuit track that takes 392km and takes you from Mossman, up the Bloomfield Track and to Cooktown and down back to Mossman.

You'll travel past some of the oldest rainforest in the world and discover some of Australia's history of the North Queensland Gold Rush and the legacy of Captain James Cook. Beware where you hop out for a rest as you might come eye to eye with a croc!

Total Distance: 392km

Cooktown - Trail 4 (279km)

view of rainforest on scenic driveThe Cooktown Trail is a fantastic way to explore this interesting and northernmost town on the east coast of Australia.Cooktown is where James Cook beached the Endeavour in 1770 when he had to stop for repairs.

From Cooktown head to Lakefield National Park and then travel onto Laura where it you can discover the ancient Aboriginal culture and then make your way back to Cooktown.

Total Distance: 279km

Reef to Rainforest - Trail 5

port douglas coastal highwayStart your journey in Cairns and wind your way through one of the most enchanting ocean drives in the world. Drive from Cairns to Port Douglas with the reef on one side and the lush, tropical rainforest on the other.

After Port Douglas drive to Yungabarra and up to Rex Range where you can spend a few days bushwalking and tasting local delights.

It's a circuit trip of 261km and it will take you back to Cairns.

Total Distance: 261km
Duration: 3 Days

Waterfalls Trail - Trail 6

The Waterfalls Trail is a great day trip as it takes you from the city centre of Cairns and climbs through the coastal ranges, past the sweeping sugar cane fields and up to the Cairns Highlands. From this aspect you can view out over Cairns, Great Barrier Reef and local farms it's a great way to get a good perspective of the area.

Total Distance: 326km

Chillagoe - Trail 7

The Chillagoe Trail is one of those trails that's easier if you do it in a 4WD however you can do it in a normal car as well. Start in Mareeba and travel from green rainforest to Savannah. View the underground caves of Chillagoe and explore the Undara lava tubes.

Total Distance: 559km

Georgetown - Trail 8

The Georgetown Trail takes you from the Cairns Highlands town of Ravenshoe and to the the base of the Great Dividing Range where you'll come across the McBride Volcanic Province. Here you can visit the Undara lava tubes, extint volcanoes, gemfields and hot springs.

Total Distance: 489km

Canecutter Way - Trail 9

Explore the green sugarcane fields of North Queensland on the Canecutter Way Trail. It's only a short circuit trail which begins at the charming town of Innisfail and through the rural town of Silkwood and back to Innisfail.  The whole trip should only take a few hours but it's worth a view into the rural towns which helped colonise North Queensland.

Total Distance: 162km

Tully to Mission Beach - Trail 10

The Tully to Mission Beach Trail is a great day out to explore the natural wonders of North Queensland. The trail will take you on a circuit from Tully past rainforest, to Mission Beach and back to Tully. Make sure you hop out of the car and take in all the wonderful sights and scenes along the way. If you keep your eye peeled you might even come across a Cassowary.

Total Distance: 218km

Hinchinbrook - Trail 11

Ingham is a North Queensland town known for its friendly country people and rural township. This is where you'll start your journey through some of the most varied sights North Queensland has to offer - rainforest, beaches, rivers, valleys, volcanoes, wetlands, sugarcane fields, reef, coastal views and Australia's highest single drop waterfall, Wallaman Falls. You can do this circuit trail in 1 day however it might take you a little longer to really enjoy all the different sights and sounds.

Total Distance: 462km

Paluma - Trail 12 

Those in the know recommend that the Paluma Trail take two days as you make your way from Townsville along the Great Green Way trail and past an amazing array of contrasting coastal and land scenes to the town of Paluma. Visit Lake Paluma which is surrounded by World Heritage Rainforest and have a swim in this stunning water. There's lots of places to stay overnight and then make your way back to Townsville the next day.

Total Distance: 279km
Duration: 1-2 days.

Western Heritage - Trail 13

The Western Heritage Trails starts you off in Townsville and takes you to the historic gold mining town of Charters Towers. This buzzing rural community is located amongst the outback and wetlands. Take trip to Bluff Downs a famous fossil site and then wind your way past mountain ranges and interesting rock formations before you find yourself back in Townsville. This trail will excite history buffs and anyone interested to know more about this heritage rich region.

Total Distance: 674km

Liquid Gold - Trail 14

Liquid Gold is another trail that will excite those interested to learn more about the regions varied history from the ghost stories of Ravenswood, World War 2 sites, the Brandon Historic Precinct and the Gudjuda Indigenous Cultural Centre. You can visit all of these sites as you make your way through national park and rolling sugar cane fields.

Total Distance: 350km