When you picture Queensland, chances are you’re conjuring up images of white sandy beaches, palm trees, and turquoise waters. You’re not wrong, but with over 1,000 protected areas across the state, Queensland is bursting with soul-nourishing national parks, waiting to be explored. While the Daintree National Park and Lamington National Park are incredible and definitely should be on your bucket list, we decided to highlight Queensland’s under-the-radar national parks offering a treasure trove of hidden gems, you probably have never heard of. Here are 15 to explore the next time you’re itching for a hike.
Tucked among the sprawling plains of Central Queensland, Blackdown Tableland National Park is a relatively undiscovered sanctuary. Despite its obvious beauty, hikers will find sloping sandstone escarpments, echoing gorges, and plunging rock pools. The walking trails are well-marked but have different grades of difficulty, so it’s best to check before you hike. This national park is also home to First Nations rock art. Keep an eye out for it on the Mimosa Creek Cultural Trail and learn the stories of the Ghungalu People.
Sitting just 5km off the coast of Queensland’s capital, St Helena Island is perfect for day-trippers looking for a relaxed trip, and unexpected insight into its previous identity as a high-security prison. From 1867 until 1932 St Helena Island adopted the role of high-security prison and farm, where inmates helped plant crops, took on trades and constructed buildings, the ruins of which can still be seen today. Although, today, you can explore short walking tracks, which weave in between historic sites. Find a mix of vine forests, landscaped gardens, and olive trees. The wetlands scattered around the island are known for attracting migratory wading birds, so look up.
If you’ve heard of Hervey Bay, then you’re already halfway there. Mount Walsh National Park is an 80-minute drive south-west of Bundaberg and Hervey Bay. It’s a beacon for season adventurers, but don’t let that deter you from carving out your own path on this incredible piece of land. The park is characterised by imposing granite rock formations, creeks that drop into rockpools and Mount Walsh itself protruding from the bedrock. For experienced hikers, the 4,622m Mount Walsh Summit takes four hours to ascend and offers views from the peak across the countryside. Meanwhile, the grade four Rockpool Walk winds through hoop pine forest before following the creek sprinkled with rockpools.
Cairns and Great Barrier Reef
If you’re up for the challenge, why not climb to the ‘top of Queensland?’ Yes, you can actually do that. The summit hike of Mount Walsh is sure to get your legs pushing and your heart pumping. Perched 1,622 metres above sea level, Mount Bartle Frere in Wooroonooran National Park is Queensland’s highest peak. It’s a six to eight-hour trip, but the views from the top stretch across the Wet Tropics Rainforest to the postcard-worthy coast. Along the way, stop at a tumbling waterfall.
Southern Queensland Country
Just over a three-hour drive from Brisbane is Bunya Mountains National Park where you will find an alpine escape, ideal for families, or romantic getaways. Walk between towering bunya pines, which was once a ceremonial gathering place for a significant Aboriginal festival called the Bonye Bonye Festival. There are over 100 cabins and cottages for rent, ranging from studios to multi-bedroom chalets, perfect for families and couples. The walking trails are fairly easy, including waterfall circuits. The more intense hikes are on the mountainside. Keep an eye out for the large population of wallabies that call this place home.
Looking for an outback adventure? Wind through the arid savannah terrain and explore Porcupine Gorge National Park. It’s just over an hour’s drive from Hughenden but feels a world away. Literally. The waters of Porcupine are outlined by rich vegetation that lines the gorge, leaving a spectacular display of orange and yellow that make up the outback plains. Take in the vast canyon on a scenic flight with Fox Helicopters, hike to a lookout, or wander the depths of the gorge. There are three marked walking tracks to follow.
The Whitsundays is famous for its white sandy beaches but beyond Whitehaven Beach are leafy rainforest canopies, secret beaches, and sparkling views across the Whitsunday Islands and Great Barrier Reef. You will find it all in Conway National Park. Lining the peninsula beyond the hustle and bustle of Airlie Beach, Conway National Park packs a punch with waterfalls and swimming holes, uncrowded beaches, stunning lookouts and a network of hiking and mountain biking trails. Somedays, you won’t see another soul. The national park is also home to six rare and threatened species like the endangered Proserpine Rock Wallaby, so respect the area, but feel free to roam and explore. Join a guided mountain bike tour.
Cairns and Great Barrier Reef
If Queensland had a celebrity national park, Mount Hypipamee would be it. This special slice of land has other parks green with envy thanks to an impressive crater that plunges 58 metres into the ground. At the bottom of the volcanic pipe lies a 70m deep lake, coated by an eye-catching lime green blanket of native waterweed. The crater is thought to have formed after a massive gas explosion ruptured through a crack in the earth’s surface and looks as if nature dropped a huge bowling ball into molten rock. The best vantage point to take in this geological wonder is from the viewing platform on the Crater Track walk.
Girringun National Park sits in the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area, and as you can imagine, it’s a heavy hitter when it comes to plunging waterfalls. Apart from being home to the highest single-drop waterfall, Wallaman Falls, this sparkling forest also has two superb swimming holes: Attie Creek Falls and Cardwell Spa Pools. Although, the main attraction is to watch the water fall and then dissipate into mist at the bottom of the 268m Wallaman Falls. The dramatic Blencoe Falls in the upper section of the national park is just as remarkable with two levels of a waterfall cascading down the gorge.
Explore one of the most ecologically diverse pockets of rainforest in Australia, with both tropical and sub-tropical species flourishing under the canopy. Sneak around waiting for a platypus to pop its head up from the surface of Broken River, or marvel at the Araluen Waterfall and the Wheel of Fire Cascades in the Finch Hatton Gorge section of Eungella National Park—both popular with locals. Eungella National Park is a must-visit for wildlife spotters and bird watchers.
For history buffs, the little-known Kroombit Tops National Park is the final resting place of the American Liberator WWII bomber, Beautiful Betsy, which vanished over Queensland in 1945 during a flight from Darwin to Brisbane. The wreckage lay undiscovered for 49 years until a park ranger stumbled on it in 1994 where it remains as a monument to the servicemen onboard who passed away. Kroombit Tops National Park is also home to the critically endangered Kroombit Tinkerfrog of which there are thought to be less than 150 in existence.
Main Range National Park is just a 90-minute’ drive from Brisbane, and lies within the World Heritage Gondwana Rainforest. While many national parks boast outstanding walking tracks, Main Range National Park takes the cake thanks to the luxe Scenic Rim Trail experience. The six-day all-inclusive guided trek winds through the Scenic Rim and parts of Main Range National Park stopping overnight at a number of Spicer’s lodges and cabin accommodations including Spicers Hidden Vale and Spicers Peak Lodge. For those wanting to tackle just a section of the trail, shorter walks are available and reward you with sweeping views of the Gondwana Rainforest.
Cairns and Great Barrier Reef
Created more than 400 million years, the extraordinary limestone rock formations and caves of Chillagoe-Mungana Caves National Park hold important natural and cultural significance. Ranger-guided tours inside the caves will take you deep into the magnificent hanging stalactites, stalagmites and flowstones that have formed due to dissolving limestone. The national park is also home to Aboriginal rock art galleries that can be accessed on various walking trails. The site was visited by Hollywood heartthrob Zac Efron during the filming of Netflix series, Down to Earth with Zac Efron.
Take a drive over the hinterland range of the Sunshine Coast to find an effervescent swimming hole the locals have been keeping secret for years. Booloumba Creek in the Conondale National Park takes natural colour palettes to a whole new level as the freshwater creek blends bright turquoise with deep emerald. There are a number of camping spots throughout the national park (permit required) and a network of walking trails, of which the Booloumba Falls walk leads to a cascading waterfall and swimming spot.
If you’re serious about mountain biking, enter the Paluma Push, an action-packed event with the thrill of mountain bike racing with a vibrant festival atmosphere. If you’re not, don’t worry, there are several hiking trails through the rainforest leading you to streams and waterfalls. Take some time to explore this national park by staying overnight at Hidden Valley Cabins. The traditional owners of the Paluma Ranges are the Nywaigi Aboriginal People and the Indigenous name for the area is Munan Gumburu, meaning ‘misty mountain’, an appropriate name given the area is often blanketed in a soft cloud of mist.
Read more stories from The Latch and subscribe to our email newsletter.