Cairns to Cooktown Road Trip: See 7 Best Stops

Cairns to Cooktown Road Trip
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Nothing compares to getting into a car and driving off into the distance, ideally without the car’s engine blowing up or a tire blowing out. The rural Cairns to Cooktown road trip takes four hours, whereas the more beautiful coastline road takes five hours.

The lush tropical foliage surrounding Cairns was quickly displaced as one travelled north along the inland road by large expanses of dry savannah grassland dotted with enormous termite mounds.

Cairns to Cooktown Transportation

The best way to visit Cooktown is to drive the inland road for about 3 hr 44 min (326.3 km) and to return along the coast road through Bloomfield, Cape Tribulation, and the Daintree River. You can drive the Captain Cook Highway, turning off before Mossman, to Mt Molloy, or through Kuranda and Mareeba.

Transportation Route And Timing

Transport MethodApproximate Time
Bus5 Hours
Drive4 Hours, 17 Minutes

Cairns to Cooktown Road Trip Itinerary, Stops, Places

Skyrail Rainforest Cableway

Distance From Cairns12.7 km
Travel Duration By Car15 Minutes

In Australia’s Wet Tropics of Queensland’s World Heritage Area, the 7.5 km (4.7 mi) long picturesque tourist cableway known as the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway runs above the Barron Gorge National Park. It runs between the Kuranda terminal in the Atherton Tableland and the Cairns Smithfield terminal. It has received more than 25 honours. 

The Wet Tropics Rainforest, which is older than the Amazon Rainforest and home to the oldest tropical rainforest in the world, is traversed by the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway. When it was finished in 1995, the gondola cableway was the longest in the world.

The six-person gondola cabins on the cableway soar meters above the treetops as it crosses the MacAlister Range between Smithfield and Kuranda. The journey lasts roughly 1.5 hours one way and 2.5 hours coming back.

Red Peak and Barron Falls are two rainforest stations that offer boardwalk exploration of the forest floor and instruction about the World Heritage site. At Red Peak, ranger-led tours are offered without charge. Red Peak has an educational exhibit called the Rainforest Discovery Zone.

Cairns To West Mary Camping ground

Distance From Cairns125 km
Travel Duration By Car1 Hour 40 Minutes

With cozy settings and an inviting atmosphere, the West Mary campground provides you and your family a place to unwind and escape stress. Enjoy putting your feet up and unwinding by the stream, with its luscious, fresh-from-the-mountains water, while being surrounded by the sounds of tranquillity and peace.

We provide an on-site restroom facility with hot showers, permit open fires, and welcome pets, all for a reasonable charge. The camp motto is Camp with common sense. You can preserve our lovely, joyful environment.

West Mary Camping ground To Bob’s Lookout

Distance From Cairns162 km
Travel Duration By Car2 Hour 3 Minutes

Between Carbine and Cooktown, on the Mulligan Highway, is Bob’s Lookout. You can pass some lovely locations on the trip to Cooktown in the north, but we waited to pause and take in the scenery until we were headed back. On a clear day, you can see for kilometres from Bob’s Lookout, which lies at the summit of the Desailly Range. We relished our lunch while viewing the distant mountains, the Savannah countryside, and the valley.

As you go south down the Mulligan Highway, it is marked, and there is space to pull off the road while towing a caravan. Bob’s Lookout may not have any amenities, but it is still worth a brief visit to snap a few pictures.

Bob’s Lookout To James Earl Lookout

Distance From Cairns240 km
Travel Duration By Car2 Hour 57 Minutes

South of Cooktown, on the Mulligan Highway, is James Earl Lookout. It’s a beautiful location for a coffee break and to enjoy the stunning view of the Byestown Ranges. There is a restroom and trash can available for your convenience, and there are several spots to park a caravan. With a fantastic view, free overnight camping is available at the James Earl Lookout.

James Earl Lookout To Annan Gorge

Distance From Cairns299 km
Travel Duration By Car3 Hour 27 Minutes

Tropical North Queensland’s Annan River (Yuku Baja-Muliku) National Park. One of the central river systems in the Cooktown region, the Annan River marks the park’s northern boundary. Anna River, close to Cooktown, is a gorge and swimming hole known as Little Annan Gorge. Swimming is safe at the top of the gorge because crocodiles cannot climb the waterfall. 

Annan Gorge To Black Mountain National Park

Distance From Cairns303 km
Travel Duration By Car3 Hour 30 Minutes

Kalkajaka National Park is another name for Black Mountain National Park. It is a 781-hectare (1,930-acre) protected area in the Queensland, Australia region of the Shire of Cook. Cooktown lies 25 miles to the southwest of the park. Under the terms of the 1992 Nature Conservation Act, it is controlled and safeguarded as a national park.

The pile of granite boulders, some of which are the size of houses, is the park’s most notable feature. There are several openings and tunnels inside the mountain because there isn’t any soil between the boulders and rocks. These rocks have a high heat capacity. The Mulligan Highway marks the western edge of the park.

Black Mountain National Park To Cooktown Caravan Park

Distance From Cairns325 km
Travel Duration By Car3 Hour 44 Minutes

The park is located amid 5 acres of undeveloped bushland at the foothills of Mount Cook’s. The grounds are shaded, and the park has various local animals. To make your stay enjoyable, the facility is privately owned and run. The cooking facilities are well maintained, the park is quite clean, and the swimming pool is inviting after a long day.


Is Cairns To Cooktown Road Sealed?

Ans: Cooktown’s Inland Road is completely sealed. From Cairns, travel Hwy 1, the Kennedy Highway, through the range and away from the ocean to Mareeba, where you turn north onto Hwy 81, the Mulligan Highway. To join Hwy 81 at Mt. Molloy from Port Douglas, travel Hwy 44 through Julatten.

Is Cooktown Worth A Visit?

Ans: The ideal starting or finishing point for your Cape York trip is Cooktown. You should plan for a minimum of three nights, while many people stay much longer due to the area’s rich history, must-see Aboriginal excursions, world-class fishing, and abundance of things to see and do.

Can You Drive To Cooktown In A Normal Car?

Ans: The ideal route to Cooktown is via the inland route, which takes around 4 hours to complete (324 km), and then via the coast route via Bloomfield, Cape Tribulation, and the Daintree River on the way back. You have two options for getting to Mt. Molloy: take the Captain Cook Highway and exit before Mossman or take Kuranda and Mareeba.

What Is Cooktown Known For?

Ans: Cooktown is appropriately famous for being the location of the first white “settlement” in Australia when Captain James Cook’s H.M. Barque Endeavour was beached on the banks of the Endeavour River after hitting the Great Barrier Reef off the coast north of Cape Tribulation.

Can You Swim In Cooktown?

Ans: Cooktown’s beaches are stunning, but tourists should be aware that several beaches on this list are best visited without swimming because crocodiles and stingrays are known to frequent the area. But that doesn’t mean these beaches aren’t ideal for beachcombing and exploration simply because you can’t swim there.

Last But Not Least

The road trip to Cooktown from Cairns takes four hours, whereas the more beautiful coastline road takes five hours. Cairns To Cooktown Transportation The best way to visit Cooktown is to drive the inland road for about 3 hr 44 min (326.3 km) and to return along the coast road through Bloomfield, Cape Tribulation, and the Daintree River. 

You can pass some lovely locations in Bob’s Lookout, but we waited to pause and take in the scenery until you headed back to Annan Gorge, one of the Cooktown region’s central river systems. Overall, You can have a wonderful experience on the journey from Cairns to Cooktown.

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Hi, I'm Md Abid Hasan. The owner & content editor of is a travel blog that covers road trips, day trips, and destinations guide.

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