Self-drive Atherton Tablelands Waterfall Circuit

Self-drive Atherton Tablelands Waterfall Circuit Image | East Coast Tours Australia

The Atherton Tablelands, renowned for its abundant rainforests and mystical waterfalls, is a lush section of the vast Great Dividing Range. Teeming with rich, towering forests and countless swimming spots, the Atherton Tablelands is an unmissable bucket-list item to tick off while you’re in Gimuy (Cairns). And the best part is, the Tablelands are best explored at your own pace on a self-guided journey! 

With your rental car and fellow adventurers in tow, explore magical destinations off the beaten track as you reach fairy-like waterfalls and rock pools. Whether you want to see it all or slow it down amongst nature, follow our flexible, DIY itinerary to perfect your adventure!

Note: if you are travelling North to reach Cairns from the Whitsundays, reverse this itinerary to do the waterfall circuit along the way.

Map of the waterfall circuit on the East Coast

Your Atherton Waterfall Itinerary

Leg 1: Cairns – Lake Barrine

Travel time: 1 hr 

Venture into the Atherton Tablelands and notice the fresh air on the wide, open Gilles Highway! Reach Lake Barrine nestled in Crater Lakes National Park, where dazzling, clear waters surrounded by thriving rainforest await. Choose to embark on a light, 15-minute boardwalk trek into the rainforest, take a dip in the lake or mosey up to the Lake Barrine Teahouse for an award-winning cuppa!

Couple driving in Cairns, looking at a map

Leg 2: Lake Barrine – Millaa Millaa Falls

Travel time: 35 mins

Millaa Millaa Falls

The unmissable and renowned heart of the Atherton Tablelands Waterfall Circuit, Millaa Millaa Falls will take your breath away as you descend into her majestic cascades. Surrounded by vivid palms and dense rainforest, keep your eyes out for tall gums, broad ferns and vibrant flowers. Take the plunge into the 18.3m freshwater pool, grab a quintessential snap, and soak in this natural wonderland's bubbling sounds, sights, and smells. The hardest part will be to tear yourself away from this tropical paradise!

Optional stops along the way

  • Yungaburra Village

Duck into the charming Yungaburra Village to wander the country-style markets, explore the quaint town with the Old Town Loop Walk or spot native wildlife on the biodiverse Peterson Creek Wildlife and Botanical Walk.

  • Tutamonlin (Malanda Falls)

Explore this special site, a part of the North Johnstone River and adorned with native flora and wonderous fauna. Learn about the rich Indigenous history of Tutamonlin (Malanda Falls) on the tulip oak walk, where signs written and designed by local Ngadjon-Jii peoples will illuminate both present and past cultures and lifestyles. 

Milla Milla Falls, Atherton Tablelands

Leg 3: Millaa Millaa Falls – Zillie Falls

Travel time: 8 mins 

Journey even further off the beaten path as you head out to the grandiose Zillie Falls, a dreamy, rainforest waterfall. Just a short walk from the carpark, wander down and check the stunning falls trimmed with lush rainforest at the viewing platform. For the adventurous traveller, carefully descend in search of the dazzling rock pools. And, don’t forget to keep your eyes open for flying foxes, as a colony is known to live near the Zillie Falls picnic area! 

Hands on steering wheel, driving through Cairns

Leg 4: Zillie Falls – Ellinjaa Falls

Travel time: 2 mins

The final waterfall on the quintessential Waterfall Circuit is the mystical Ellinjaa Falls. Zip just down Theresa Creek Road to the Ellinjaa Falls carpark. From here, a 20-minute walk will take you to the rushing, esoteric rapids. Dappled sunlight creates misty rainbows at this wonderous natural site, as you take a dip in the cool, secluded lagoon beneath these grand falls. A sunset-lit drive back to your accommodation awaits, as you enjoy the scenery and peaceful feelings following a day of nature’s bliss!

Woman standing amongst rainforest in a waterfall pool

Extend your Waterfall Circuit experience…

Still dreaming of chasing even more waterfalls? Well, you’re in luck, as the Atherton Tablelands is jam-packed with hidden gems and pretty much countless falls. Seriously, we’re not sure if you could ever see them all. Extend your self-drive Atherton adventures with these exquisite stops as you venture further South through thriving rainforest ecosystems!

  • Mungali Falls

Follow the Palmerston Highway from Ellinjaa Falls for 15 minutes until you reach the dreamy Mungali Falls. As the highest falls in the Atherton Tablelands,  this is a true sight to behold. View the falls from the first viewing platform, or venture out on a 45-minute walk to the highest viewing platform. Please note that Mungali Falls is actually privately owned, and permission is required to head to the second viewing platform before you visit.

  • Nandroya Falls

Access Nandroya Falls through the Henrietta Campground which has a car park. Allow two hours for the return journey to the falls, on a trail that is narrow with tropical vegetation on both sides, and crosses over many creeks and pools. You will actually see three falls on this walk; Silver Falls, and the two tiers on Nandroya. Arrive at the ultimate Nandroya Falls and be amazed at the 50m-tall falls cascading to a deep blue pool. Indeed, a hidden heaven, Nandroya Falls is well worth the trek.

  • Tchupalla Falls

Access to this pristine waterfall is by the Tchupalla Falls car park, just a 15-minute drive down from the Mungalli Falls car park. Then, a light stroll down to the cascades will take you through tropical rainforest and towering trees. Luminous waters and gushing flows await you at this multi-tiered waterfall. Lay back, relax and indulge in nature’s finest at this biodiverse ecosystem tucked far away from life’s busyness!

Windie Falls, two girls sitting in a rock pool

Looking for the perfect accommodation or more things to do in Atherton and Cairns during your adventures?

Check out our guide to the best things to do for backpackers in Cairns to complete your journey through this tropical heaven!

Or, live chat with one of our travel agents to secure you a worry-free experience through far-north Queensland! 

East Coast Tours acknowledges all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Traditional Owners of Country and recognises their continuing connection to land, sea, culture and community. We pay our respects to Elders past and present and extend that respect to all First Nations peoples.

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