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Where To Swim In Cairns

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Gabby Boucher
Updated Fri 10 Feb 2023

If you’re wondering where to swim in Cairns, there are lots of safe pools, gorges, and waterfalls that are perfect for escaping the heat. Even though there are lots of great places for swimming in Cairns, you should also be aware of where not to swim in Cairns! Saltwater crocodiles and marine stingers make the ocean around Cairns dangerous, so it is important to do some research and learn where you can and can’t swim. 

Cairns is known as the Gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. This tropical tourist city in northern Queensland is the best place to base yourself for a snorkeling or scuba diving adventure in the reef. It’s also a great base for exploring the Daintree Rainforest and the Atherton Tablelands. Because of its hot, tropical climate, knowing where to swim in Cairns is essential for staying cool!

girl sitting near a waterfall

Can You Swim In Cairns?

Yes! There are lots of amazing places to swim in Cairns, but you may want to avoid the ocean as there are saltwater crocodiles and marine stingers in the area. Stinger Season runs from November to May. During this time, the oceans around Cairns become populated with marine stingers, also known as jellyfish. You can take certain precautions to protect yourself from stingers, such as wearing a stinger suit and only swimming in safe areas. 

Some beaches have nets in place so you can swim with a reduced risk of jellyfish. However, some small jellyfish like Irukandji can squeeze through the nets, so always wear a stinger suit or just avoid the ocean during Stinger Season. Saltwater crocodiles are more popular a bit further north than Cairns in remote areas like Cape Tribulation. But there is always a risk of these creatures lurking around, so just be aware. 

snorkeling on the great barrier reef

Where To Swim In Cairns

If you’re wondering where to swim in Cairns safely, there are actually so many options! Though you should avoid the ocean around Cairns during stinger season, there are lots of natural freshwater swimming holes and man-made pools where you can escape the Queensland heat

From the local swimming pool known as the Cairns Esplanade Lagoon, to the majestic waterfalls of the Atherton Tablelands, to lakes, gorges, and more, here are the best places to swim in Cairns. 

Cairns Esplanade Lagoon 

The Cairns Esplanade Lagoon is an iconic part of the city center. If you’re looking for places to swim in Cairns that don’t require much travel from the city, this is the place to go. This man-made swimming pool covers over 4,800 square meters and has plenty of facilities like BBQs, showers, and lockers. There are lifeguards on duty and even sandy areas so you can feel like you’re at the beach!

two girls standing in a public swimming pool

Tobruk Memorial Pool

Just 2km outside the city center of Cairns is Tobruk Memorial Pool. This is another one of the best places to swim in Cairns where you will be safe from jellyfish and other wildlife. You can walk, bike, or drive there from your hotel in Cairns! At Tobruk Memorial Pool you can find three outdoor pools of different sizes. There is plenty of shade, great facilities, and even a toddler splash pool if you’re visiting Cairns with kids

Crystal Cascades

Another one of the most beautiful places to swim in Cairns is Crystal Cascades. This series of swimming holes and waterfalls have pure, fresh water where you can swim and relax without the risk of marine stingers. Crystal Cascades is 10km from Cairns, so you can drive yourself or take a taxi. There is a short hike required to reach the waterfalls, but it’s part of the adventure!

Josephine Falls 

Travelers wondering where to swim in Cairns should include Josephine Falls in their itinerary. This multi-tiered waterfall is fed by rain that falls from the highest peak in Queensland: Bartle Frere. Josephine Falls is a relatively small waterfall, but there is a wide swimming hole at the base where you can float around and listen to the serene sounds of nature. This swimming spot is located just over an hour south of Cairns. 

people floating in a natural rock pool

Babinda Boulders

A gorgeous swimming spot surrounded by rainforest, Babinda Boulders is a top Cairns attraction. Babinda Boulders is named for the large granite boulders that are scattered throughout Babinda Creek. You can find this peaceful freshwater swimming spot about one hour south of Cairns.

An easy way to visit Babinda Boulders is on a Waterfall Wanderers Day Tour from Cairns! You can see the best of the rainforest with a knowledgeable local guide. 

Stoney Creek Falls

Another beautiful freshwater swimming spot that is relatively close to the city is Stoney Creek Falls. Just a 20 minute drive outside the Cairns CBD will bring you to this small waterfall and natural swimming hole. With clear, fresh water that descends to about 2 metres deep, this is the perfect swimming hole for escaping the Queensland heat. 

Behana Gorge

One of the most breathtaking places to swim in Cairns is Behana Gorge. Suitable for the entire family, this area of natural beauty has a few different waterfalls, swimming holes, and walking trails. It takes about 30 minutes to drive from Cairns to Behana Gorge, and you can spend the entire day swimming, hiking, and adventuring. 

Millaa Millaa Falls 

Located about 1 hour and 40 minutes away from Cairns, Millaa Millaa Falls makes for a fun day trip from the city. This gorgeous plunge waterfall is one of the most photographed waterfalls in Australia! You can drive to Millaa Millaa Falls along the Waterfall Circuit, a popular road trip route from Cairns that heads into the Atherton Tablelands.

There is plenty of parking at the falls, as well as a grassy picnic area and of course, a massive swimming hole at the base of the waterfall! Join a Northern Experience Eco tour from Cairns to visit Millaa Millaa Falls and other highlights of the area with a knowledgeable local guide. 

Millaa Millaa Falls Cairns

Ellinjaa Falls

Ellinjaa Falls is another incredible waterfall along the Waterfall Circuit drive from Cairns. Possibly one of the coolest waterfalls near Cairns, the water at Ellinjaa Falls tumbles over layers of lava columns that remain from the ancient volcanic activity in the area. It’s a truly beautiful place for a swim and a photoshoot!

Zillie Falls 

Also located on the Waterfall Circuit, Zillie Falls is also a wonderful place for a swim on a hot day in Cairns. Before you head into the refreshing water, stop at the viewing platform to take in the views of this tall and powerful waterfall. This lush area in the Atherton Tablelands is one of the best day trips from Cairns, particularly on hot, humid summer days!

person standing near a waterfall

Windin Falls

For an epic adventure and a more remote swimming location near Cairns, visit Windin Falls. This majestic and secluded waterfall is only reachable via a challenging and muddy 1.5 hour hike. But once you arrive at Windin Falls, the freshwater swimming hole and panoramic rainforest views will make all the effort worth it!

Lake Eacham

Another picturesque place to swim in Cairns is Lake Eacham. Located in a former volcanic crater, the calm blue waters of Lake Eacham are the perfect place for swimming, canoeing, and kayaking. Complete with picnic areas and walking tracks, this is a great place to bring the whole family.

You can reach Lake Eacham in just over an hour from Cairns. Or join an Uncle Brian’s Day Trip from Cairns and combine a trip to the lake with other waterfalls and swimming spots in the area. 

Great Barrier Reef

Though the Great Barrier Reef is in the ocean, you can still safely snorkel and scuba dive here year-round. Most Great Barrier Reef tours from Cairns are run by knowledgeable local guides who know which areas of the reef are safe for tourists. Every reef tour that involves swimming in the ocean also provides stinger suits so you can explore the underwater world with protection!

As long as you book with a reputable local tour company that knows its way around the area and provides high-quality, full-body lycra suits, the Great Barrier Reef is one of the best places to swim in Cairns!

people getting ready to scuba dive

Where Not To Swim In Cairns

The only place you can’t go swimming in Cairns is the ocean during the stinger season! From November to May when the waters are filled with jellyfish, avoid swimming in the ocean. There is a chance you won’t get stung, but it’s not worth the risk! And even outside stinger season, there is a chance you may encounter a saltwater crocodile in the ocean. So just steer clear of the ocean in Cairns!

You can swim in the ocean during stinger season if there is a swimming net in place, and it’s still a good idea to wear a lycra stinger suit for protection. Popular, patrolled beaches in the Cairns area that have swimming nets include Ellis Beach, Palm Cove Beach, Clifton Beach, Trinity Beach, Bramston Beach, Etty Bay, Mission Beach, Pallarenda Beach,  Forrest Beach, Balgal Beach, Picnic Bay, Holloways Beach, and a few more. 

aerial view of Ellis Beach

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