A cooler retreat on the highlands behind Cairns, the Atherton Tablelands are under 90 minutes away from Cairns, but a world away from the coastal city. Offering a more relaxed taste of Queensland country life, the area is rich in mining history and these days has a thriving agricultural industry, growing crops ranging from coffee and tea to avocado and strawberries. Plus it’s home to some wonderful dog-friendly attractions…
Dog-Friendly Sightseeing on the Atherton Tablelands
The Atherton Tablelands has many excellent dog-friendly attractions, making it worthwhile to spend a few days in the area, rather than just visit the region on a day trip from Cairns.
Check out these dog-friendly options…
1. Visit the Historic Village Herberton
One of the best attractions on the Atherton Tablelands, for both two-legged and four-legged visitors alike, is the Historic Village Herberton. Located just outside the historic tin mining village of Herberton, the Historic Village is the largest privately owned historic village in Australia, with a collection of over 60 buildings.
Highlights include the stately Elderslie House, previously home to the founder of Herberton, and the Tin Pinnikin Pub. But the other big highlight is the extensive collection of memorabilia housed in the buildings, from classic cars and carriages to sewing machines to bottles.
It’s a fascinating place and deserves at least a full day to appreciate. If you’d like to return, tickets are valid for up to three days. Dogs on a leash are welcome, including inside buildings. Dogs are also welcome to join you at the tearooms and on the weekly steam train rides, held each Sunday for a small additional fee.
2. Explore the Local Mining History
The Historic Village Herberton isn’t the only museum in the region that permits well-behaved dogs inside. Your ticket from the Historic Village also entitles you to free entry to the dog-friendly Herberton Mining Museum (otherwise entry by a donation). The largely indoor museum has displays on mining, local history and an impressive rock collection. There’s also the Great Northern Mine Walk that departs from the museum.
Alternatively, in Mareeba stop at the Mareeba Heritage Museum. As well as the themed displays inside the information centre, there’s also a replica village that has been built on the grounds, showcasing the history of Mareeba and the surrounding area.
Just be warned that entry is only during the information centre hours, and it closed quite early on weekends at the time of our visit, meaning we missed out. Previous visitors state that dogs are allowed throughout the museum.
3. Climb up to Emerald Creek Falls
While many waterfalls in Northern Queensland are located in national parks, with dogs not allowed to visit, one of the best dog-friendly waterfalls in the region is Emerald Creek Falls.
The falls are located in the Dinden West Forest Reserve, about 16km outside of Mareeba. Note that the final 6km stretch of road is unsealed and can be corrugated, although it wasn’t too bad on the day we visited, as long as you drove slowly.
Two walking tracks are available, starting along the same track. The shorter option is the 1.6km return walk to the bottom of the falls. The granite boulders at the end can be quite slippery, and this track should not be attempted during or after wet weather. The steeper and longer but otherwise easier option is the 1.9km return walk to the lookout above the falls.
The pool at the bottom of the falls is a popular swimming spot, but for children and dogs, it’s safer to swim at the creek lower down, where the water is shallower and the current isn’t as strong. There’s a creek access path signposted close to the start of the walking track. Dogs are required to be kept on a leash.
4. Visit Zillie Falls
Another dog-friendly waterfall in the region is Zillie Falls, located close to the village of Millaa Millaa. While the Millaa Milla Falls and Ellinjaa Falls along the same loop drive have no dog signs, there’s no such sign at Zillie Falls.
The top of the falls are not far from the carpark, but for a properly view, head to the bottom of the falls. Unfortunately, the short track is quite rocky, muddy and slippery! I’m not sure if it was worth it for the view.
Your dog will probably handle the track better than yourself, but make sure you have a spare towel to clean their muddy paws back at your car.
5. Walk Through Wongabel State Forest
Prior to being cleared for agriculture, much of the Atherton Tablelands was covered in Mabi forest. This now endangered dense vine forest is named after the indigenous word for the Lumholtz Tree Kangaroo, found in the forests.
The largest remnant of Mabi forest is found around the famous Curtain Fig, which is in a national park, but another remnant is located at the Wongabel State Forest, where leashed dogs are permitted.
Head south of Atherton along the Kennedy Highway, where a carpark just off the highway is the start of two walking tracks. The shorter 750m walk, the Forest Walk, loops through a beautiful stand of Mabi forest, while the longer 2.5km return Heritage Walk also passes through hoop pine plantations.
We walked the shorter Forest Walk and may have spotted a Tree Kangaroo crossing the track, or perhaps just a small wallaby. Our stroll was also accompanied by a beautiful chorus of bird calls.
6. Spot a Platypus
For another wildlife spotting opportunity, I recommend heading to the village of Yungaburra. The creek that runs past the town is home to platypuses and there’s a good chance of spotting one if you visit early or late in the day.
Just after arriving in the village and crossing the creek on the road from Atherton, there’s a Platypus Viewing Platform on your right hand side. Sit or stand behind the wooden fencing, peering through the gap, and try to spot a platypus down below. We were delighted to almost immediately spot a platypus at the Viewing Platform, despite not arriving until 9am on a winter’s morning.
If you’re not similarly successful, you can also walk along the Peterson’s Creek Walking Track, that starts on the other side of the creek, for more spotting opportunities. The Suspension Bridge along the Walking Track close to the end of Penda Street is another popular place to spot the shy creatures, but we didn’t have any luck at this location.
7. Head to The Crystal Caves
Aa great wet weather experience that’s still dog-friendly (and great for kids!) are The Crystal Caves on the main street of Atherton. The man-made caves house an extensive collection of crystals and fossils, that you can explore at your leisure, and even touch. There’s also the option to do a crack a geode experience.
Open seven days a week, I didn’t visit The Crystal Caves myself, but have seen reviews from other visitors saying that well-behaved dogs are allowed to accompany you.
Dog-Friendly Walks on the Atherton Tablelands
There’s no shortage of dog-friendly walking trails available on the Atherton Tablelands, including the walking tracks at Emerald Creek Falls, Zillie Falls, Wongabel State Forest and Peterson’s Creek, as mentioned above.
Another longer dog-friendly option that I didn’t have a chance to hike are the tracks up Yabi Mountain and Mt Baldy, behind the town of Atherton. Passing through the Herberton Range State Forest and Baldy Mountain Forest Reserve, you can choose to walk up just one peak or else complete the full 8.4km Baldy-Yabi Circuit Walk. A difficult walk recommended for experienced bushwalkers, leashed dogs are permitted.
Dog-Friendly Swimming on the Atherton Tablelands
If you’re looking for somewhere to cool down on a warm day with your pup, I recommend heading to Emerald Creek Falls. Skip hiking all the way up to the falls (where the pool at the bottom is deep and fast flowing), but follow the “Creek Access” sign close to the start of the track, leading down to a sandy beach. We spotted one dog enjoying the refreshing water on the day we visited! There’s also more waterholes close to the carpark.
Dog-Friendly Parks on the Atherton Tablelands
Both Atherton and Mareeba are home to fenced off-leash dog parks. We didn’t check out the Mareeba Dog Park, but were quite impressed with the Atherton Dog Park.
Located near the Chinese Temple, the park was fully fenced, had plenty of shade, water bowls and seats. There’s even a collection of tennis racquets and a tennis ball dispenser (if not empty) – great for playing with your pup!
Dog-Friendly Dining on the Atherton Tablelands
Nearly 80% of Australia’s coffee is grown around Mareeba, and a visit to one of the coffee plantations makes for an interesting stop. At Jaques Coffee Plantation your dog may not be able to join you on a tour, but dogs are welcome at the outdoor tables at the cafe.
It’s a very popular lunch spot with locals and visitors alike, plus don’t miss sampling a cup of their coffee. Just check the opening times in advance – at the moment it’s only from Friday to Sunday.
At the other end of the Atherton Tablelands it’s dairying country, and I recommend visiting Mungalli Creek Dairy. The biodynamic dairy specialises in quark, plus is famous for their cheesecakes. Dogs are welcome to join you at the tables in the garden – I particularly recommend the cheese platters!
For more dog-friendly cafes, take a stroll around Yungaburra. This historic village is very charming and is home to a number of cafes with outdoor tables. According to a listing in the local newspaper, dog-friendly dining options include Coffee & Clay, Quincan Cottage Café, Whistle Stop Café and Our Place.
Dog-Friendly Accommodation on the Atherton Tablelands
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The majority of caravan parks and a variety of campground on the Atherton Tablelands are pet-friendly, although it always pays to check in advance, including any rules.
We stayed at the Walkamin Caravan Park, centrally located in between Mareeba and Atherton. A very friendly caravan park that has a huge camp kitchen with a fire place as its centre, the park is very pet-friendly – it even has a washing machine specifically for pet bedding. Note that only caravans and campervans are allowed – no tents are permitted.
If you’re after a pet-friendly motel, check out the Curtain Fig Motel in Yungaburra. Well-behaved pets are welcome in their rooms for a small additional cost per night. The motel is also just a short walk from the dog-friendly Yungaburra Hotel and the Platypus Viewing Platform.