The northernmost town on the east coast of Australia, Cooktown is a relaxed tropical outpost that is surprisingly modern and prosperous. It’s also a surprisingly dog-friendly destination to visit with your dog, whether on a short trip from Cairns or a longer journey up to the Tip of Australia. Find out more about visiting Cooktown in Queensland with a dog.
Dog-Friendly Sightseeing in Cooktown
While visiting Cooktown, I didn’t spot a single Dogs Prohibited sign around town, although naturally dogs are not allowed in the usual spots, such as inside restaurants and children’s playgrounds. There’s a long list of dog-friendly sightseeing options in Cooktown…
1. Stroll Along the Historic Waterfront
Cooktown is named after Captain James Cook, who spent seven weeks repairing his ship where the town was later established, after running aground on a reef on his voyage along Australia’s East Coast. The town stretches along the edge of the Endeavour River, which he named after his ship.
It’s easy to spend a couple of hours walking along the waterfront, plus along the main street of the town, with its historic buildings dating back to the 1870s gold rush. As well as the statue of James Cook, two spots I recommend you visiting are the Reconciliation Rocks Precinct and Milbi Wall. Both explore the important Aboriginal heritage of the area.
2. Head up Grassy Hill
For a beautiful view over the town, river, the surrounding hills and Coral Sea, head up Grassy Hill. The hill is also home to the town’s historic lighthouse, which has luckily been preserved, and was also formerly home to an important radar station.
There’s a road leading to the top, but as it’s quite steep and windy, it isn’t recommended for vehicles over 7m. Alternatively, you can also walk to the top (see information on the Scenic Rim Walking Trail below), just like the lighthouse keeper’s kids did every day after school.
3. Walk Around the Botanic Gardens
Cooktown is home to a beautiful garden, that is one of Queensland’s oldest regional botanic gardens. First established in 1878, the Cooktown Botanic Gardens were abandoned for much of the 20th-century, but were luckily rescued and are once again lush and a must to visit.
Around the gardens are lots of signs about the different plant specifies, plus interesting historical aspects. Plants that date back to the original gardens as well as many of the plants collected by the botanists Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander on Cook’s voyage are signposted.
There’s roughly a half kilometre paved loop walk around the gardens. There’s a fence to keep out feral animals, specifically pigs, but pet dogs are allowed to join you.
4. Visit Finch Bay
Not far past the Botanic Gardens is Finch Bay, a beautiful beach fronting onto the Coral Sea. There’s an 800m-long walking trail that leads from the back of the botanic gardens to the bay (part of the Scenic Rim Walking Trail, see more below), or else continue on the unsealed road past the garden entrance.
The beach is best visited at low tide, when there’s a wide expanse of sandy flat, peppered with crab holes. I imagine that most of the beach disappears at high tide. Just remember that it’s a must to keep out of the water, including your dog, as crocodiles are found in the area.
5. Swim at Isabella Falls
One of the safe swimming spots around Cooktown, other than the town and caravan park swimming pools, is Isabella Falls. These pretty falls are a 30-minute drive out of town along a fully sealed road, not far past the turn off to Hope Vale.
The first sign that you’ve arrived at the falls is the causeway across the creek. There’s more parking across the far side of the shallow creek, that should be passable by most cars, as well a few spots just before the causeway.
Paddle in the shallow water at the top, then descend the rough track down to the sandy beach at the bottom of the falls. The water isn’t that deep and not too cold, perfect for a paddle by humans and dogs alike.
Another dog-friendly waterfall in the region is Wujal Wujal Falls, close to the northern end of the Bloomfield Track and just over an hours drive south of Cooktown along a sealed road. It’s certainly worthwhile stopping if driving along the Track, or making the detour from Cooktown, but there’s strictly no swimming as this waterfall.
6. View the Coloured Sands at Elim Beach
Another popular dog-friendly spot to visit close to Cooktown is Elim Beach with its coloured sands.
The beach is located about 70km out of town, past the Hope Vale Aboriginal Community. At the time of my visit, the final stretch of the road was still unsealed, so we skipped visiting the beach despite the rave reviews we heard from others. However, as of late 2021 the entire road is now sealed. While naturally only 4WDs can drive onto the beach, it’s also possible to walk. Try and time your visit with low tide.
Elim Beach is dog-friendly, including the adjacent paid campground with basic facilities.
7. Stop at the Black Mountain Lookout
About 25km south of Cooktown is the Black Mountain National Park. While dogs are not allowed in national parks, and this national park has no access roads or trails, instead there’s a great dog-friendly view point alongside the highway.
Stop for awhile at the lookout and admire the unusual sight of a mountain made of granite boulders blackened with lichen, plus read about how it was formed and the Aboriginal legends about the peaks.
8. Relax in the Waterfront Precinct
At the end of the main street in Cooktown is the recently developed Waterfront Precinct. As well as a splash park for kids, there’s plenty of picnic tables, BBQs and drinking fountains, including bowls for dogs. It’s a beautiful spot to relax next to the river with your dog, perhaps cooking up a BBQ and enjoying a tropical sunset.
If you’re feeling a little more active, there’s also fishing platforms located along the river. Plus it’s not far from the Cooktown Wharf, another popular fishing spot in town.
Dog-Friendly Parks in Cooktown
There’s no specific off-leash dog parks in Cooktown. That’s because if you dig down into the Animal Management document on the Cook Shire Council website, dogs aren’t prohibited from any public places in the shire, as long as they are under the effective control of a person.
This means that dogs are allowed off-leash at all parks in the area, as long as they are under your control, responding to your voice commands or gestures. There’s also no fenced dog parks.
Dog-Friendly Beaches in Cooktown
Crocodiles are a real threat at beaches and waterways in the Cooktown area, so don’t allow your dogs to swim at any of the beaches in the area.
Dog-Friendly Walks in Cooktown
No matter where you are in Cooktown, part of the Scenic Rim Walking Trail is likely to be near you. This walking trail is more of a network, consisting of a mixture of paved footpaths, gravel paths and bush tracks, with a total length of around 12km. It connects most of the main tourist sites in and around the town.
All of the Scenic Rim Walking Trail is dog-friendly, except for the 3km section leading to the summit of Mount Cook, located within a national park. Two of the shorter sections you might like to consider are the walk from the Botanic Gardens to Finch Bay, a 1.7km return trip, or the walk up Grassy Hill, which is 1.9km one-way from the James Cook statue. Use common sense as to whether your dog needs to be on a leash.
Brochures are available the Visitor Information Centre at the Botanic Gardens.
Dog-Friendly Dining in Cooktown
There’s only a handful of cafes and restaurants in Cooktown, but most venues in this relaxed town with outdoor seating should be dog-friendly.
The cafe at the Cooktown Botanic Gardens was highly recommended to me, both for lunch or just to enjoy coffee and cake. There’s plenty of outdoor seating and a water bowl for dogs, but unfortunately we arrived after the kitchen closed at 2pm.
Another dog-friendly option is the Cooktown Hotel, also known as the Top Pub.
Dog-Friendly Accommodation in Cooktown
Three out of the four caravan parks within Cooktown are pet-friendly on at least caravan and camping sites.
We choose to stay at the Cooktown Caravan Park on the southern side of town. It has a lovely camp kitchen and swimming pool, plus plenty of grass in the tent area, although some other sites can be dusty. The family cabin in the park, which sleeps up to seven, may be pet-friendly with prior approval.
Keeping Your Dog Safe Around Cooktown
Be wary of crocodiles on all beaches and waterways around Cooktown. It’s best to not allow your dog to approach or enter the water, ideally keeping them on leash at beaches. One of the few known safe swimming spots, that is also dog-friendly, is Isabella Falls.