Cape York is one of the destinations that 4WD enthusiasts love to visit. Not only is it located on one of the most secluded parts of Queensland, but it also hosts a number of challenging but totally worth it 4WD tracks. Thus, the trip will be very worthwhile especially for those who hail from far away cities like Sydney or Melbourne.
Aside from off-road driving, there are a lot of other activities that you can do in Cape York. You can also visit other attractions like the Great Barrier Reef, the Daintree River, the Tip of Australia, and a number of waterfalls and creeks. There are also a lot of walking trails that you’ll want to explore.
We can feel that you’re starting to get interested now. So, here are the 4WD tracks that you should explore in Cape York:
- CREB Track
- Palmer River Goldfields
- Cape Melville National Park
- Frenchmans Track
- The Old Telegraph Track
- Starcke Coast
- Oyala Thumotang National Park
- Lakefield (Rinyirru) National Park
- Ussher Point
- World War II Trek
So before you continue, If your new to 4WD and offroading or are not sure what equipment to take out with you on your adventures, make sure to check out the Off Road Aussies Essential 4×4 Equipment List where I have taken the time to review and recommend the equipment I use. If you kit yourself out correctly you will be able to tackle everything that your new adventures will throw at you.
Location: 1,806 km northwest of Brisbane
Track Length: 137 km
Track Time: 1-2 days
Terrain: Clay or mud
CREB Track is one of the most difficult tracks in Queensland, if not in Australia. The tropical drive with steep climbs is what people expect in Victoria’s High Country. Some people even say that the track, although short, is not easy to forget because of the thrill that it gives. Its location just south of Cooktown often makes it the first track that Cape York visitors take. Thus, beginners and experts alike are baptised through fire after they complete this challenging track.
The track hides its true colours at the beginning of the track. It is relatively easy but gains in intensity quickly once you reach the McDowall Range. You will have to carefully climb the steep and slippery track made mostly of clay. In addition, a small error in judgement on these parts of the track can lead to dire consequences.
If you’re planning to head to this track, you should have a 4WD vehicle with low-range gearing, decent ground clearance, and appropriate 4WD tyres. You should not also ride on heavily loaded vehicles as the track has muddy parts where you can get bogged down. Another thing that you should do before you head out is to check whether the CREB track is open for visitors. Drivers who will not heed the warning of the Douglas Shire Council will have to pay for their own rescue in the event that they require assistance (and we bet that many will). You should also travel in a group as recovery can be quite tricky because of the lack of solid structures in some areas.
You can find more information about CREB Track on your review here.
Palmer River Goldfields
Location: 2,120 km northwest of Brisbane
Track Length: 171 km
Track Time: 2 days
Terrain: Gravel or Rocky
The Palmer River Goldfields is ideal for those who want to leave behind the tropical jungles and savanna plains of most of Cape York’s most popular destinations. The Great Dividing Range, where the former is located, is a dusty highland that houses one of the most challenging 4WD tracks in Cape York – Old Coach Road.
The area around Palmer River was once the largest and most productive alluvial goldfield in Australia. So, as you drive through the track, you will encounter a number of mining camps and batteries that are also breathtaking. Most of these establishments have long been abandoned and the relics are located all throughout the area. These sites, the rough track, and unique views make the Palmer River Goldfields one of the most unique and thrilling adventures in Cape York.
The Palmer River Goldfields region was once the largest and highest-yielding alluvial goldfield in Australia, and so along the journey travellers will encounter numerous mining camps and batteries at which to marvel. These relics, combined with its rough tracks and unique environs, make the Palmer River Goldfields one of Cape York’s most potent adventures.
The track ascends steeply above and over the range where you will drive through varying angles of ascents and descents. Add that to the track’s rocky terrain, unnerving washouts, and badly rutted sections then an accident such as a rollover is very likely. So, be careful while you’re traversing this track.
A spotter is also essential as there are some sections and obstacles on the track where they will help greatly. You should also bring recovery gear like winches and diff locks to make sure that your vehicle will not be damaged when you attempt to recover it.
You can find more information about Palmer River Goldfields here.
Cape Melville National Park
Location: 2,145 km northwest of Brisbane
Track Length: 233 km
Track Time: 4 days or more
The tracks in this part of Cape York only caters to the most skilled and prepared 4WD enthusiasts. Much like CREB Track, the track from Cooktown until Starcke Station is relatively benign as it passes through pastoral land and densely vegetated rainforests. However, after this point, the challenge begins. The tracks reveal bulldust, washouts, ruts, potholes, and stone shelves that are littered along the following track. So, you should take it slowly as the track is very rough up until the end.
In order to complete the tracks safely, you need to engage low-range gearing for most of the drive through the Cape Melville National Park. Lowering the tyre pressure is also important as the tracks are dominated with soft sand especially along the beach drive to reach the Cape itself. Preparing the stuff that you need in order to be self-sufficient is necessary as the park does not have any facilities that cater to visitors for the entire trip. Remembering all these things can make your trip worthwhile and will enable you to maintain your focus on driving as the tracks are challenging on multiple fronts.
You can find more information about Cape Melville National Park here.
Location: 2,428 km northwest of Brisbane
Track Length: 179 km
Track Time: 1-2 days
Terrain: Clay, sand, or muddy
Frenchmans Track is memorable for both its scenic views and its difficulty. The track is a shortcut if you are coming from the Old Telegraph Road at Batavia Downs and want to head out to Lockhart River. Frenchmans Track passes through deep rainforest and low-lying heath and it will ultimately lead you to the coast. The scenery is not the only one that’s changing while you drive, the track’s terrain also changes from corrugated dirt to clay, sand or exposed rock. Due to the unpredictable terrain, it is considered by some 4WD enthusiasts as one of the most difficult tracks on Cape York.
While traversing the track, you will encounter the most famous obstacle in it, the Pascoe River crossing. This is the deepest river crossing in the region which terminates in a bare rock ascent that will demand good planning and careful planning to scale it up and get out unscathed. The other parts of the track can be heavily corrugated and often have large rutted sections or washouts that you’ll need to watch out for.
Aside from the top-notch track, you will also enjoy the views that you will encounter while travelling through it. You will pass by the lush rainforest of Kutini-Payamu (more commonly known as Iron Range National Park) and witness the staggering granite boulders of Black Mountain. While these things are impressive enough, you can also head to hidden beaches at the end of the tracks when you want to swim or surf.
You can find more information about Frenchmans Track here.
The Old Telegraph Track
Location: 2,596 km northwest of Brisbane
Track Length: 70 km
Track Time: 1-2 days
Terrain: Clay and mud
The Old Telegraph Track is the main road that leads travellers to the stretch of land that is often called “the Tip”. The track also has a long list of scenic highlights and obstacles that challenges your 4WD along the way. If you want to witness most of Cape York’s appeal in one drive, then you should head to this track. Due to these factors, the Old Telegraph Track is recognised by most 4WD enthusiasts as the one not to miss and it often delivers the challenge.
The reputation of the Old Telegraph Track is built largely on the water crossings that you can encounter in it. The most difficult of these river crossings are Palm Creek, Gunshot Creek, and Nolan’s Brook. All of them will test your four-wheel driving skills so much so that there are a number of spectators that are waiting eagerly for drivers to tackle the obstacles during peak season.
Due to the track’s difficulty and terrain, we recommend that you bring along traction aids, recovery gear, support vehicles, and the correct driving technique. These things are essential if you want to complete the track and leave your 4WD vehicle unharmed.
You can find more information about The Old Telegraph Track here.
Location: 2,143 km northwest of Brisbane
Track Length: 241 km
Track Time: 2-4 days
Terrain: Sand, dirt, and mud
This track is for those seeking an adventurous drive through sweeping beaches, thick rainforest, open savanna, and other terrains in the wildest side of Cape York. Ultimately, the track leads to Starcke River where you can see crocodiles (swimming on the river and beaches in this area is very risky!). The road from Cooktown to the Aboriginal community of Hope Vale is well-maintained and is covered with a mix of dirt and tar. In addition, the track improves greatly on the way to Eddie’s Camp at Ellm Beach where it is sealed with bitumen. The track runs through white silica dunes, mudflats, and tropical savanna. If you want to tackle a more challenging track, you can drive to the northern section of Cape Bedford.
Some parts of the track are also composed of soft sand but lowering your tyre pressure will ensure a smoother trip. The various hoops that you need to go through will pay off in the end as you will witness a spectacular view and feel a sense of wild freedom once you reach the Cape.
There are also other 4WD tracks that you can explore like Battle Camp Road. This track leads to Rinyirru (Lakefield) National Park and you will pass by causeways and deeper creeks with a few difficult dips.
You can find more information about Starcke Coast here.
Oyala Thumotang National Park
Location: 2,357 km northwest of Brisbane
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Track Length: 298 km
Track Time: 4 days
Terrain: Clay and muddy
The Oyala Thumotang National Park is nestled between Cape York’s Coen and Archer Rivers which are rich in wildlife and host woodlands, swamps, and rainforests. The park starts at the signposted turnoff located 25 km north of Coen on the Peninsula Development Road. From the entrance and ranger station, you will drive for a good one to two hours with many dry or shallow creek crossings along the way.
You can explore two distinct parts of the park. One starts at the Archer Bend section heading west and can be accessed by a track that passes through the Coen River many times. The track then becomes dry and sandy as it passes through old cattle yards. However, it leads to a dead-end and will require you to retrace your steps much like in the eastern section of the park.
The track is mostly flat and runs through open woodland. You will also pass by numerous termite mounds along the roadside. Aside from these, you will also encounter lily-topped lagoons hidden near the rivers, creeks, and pocket of tropical rainforest.
You can find more information about Oyala Thumotang National Park here.
Lakefield (Rinyirru) National Park
Location: 2,069 km northwest of Brisbane
Track Length: 277 km
Track Time: 2 days or more
The Lakefield National Park is home to vast floodplains and wetlands that serves as the habitat for various bird and marine species. It may be teeming with life but the park is an idyllic 4WD destination.
From Cooktown, the bitumen ends near Endeavour River where it turns into a well-graded gravel road. The nearby Endeavour Falls Tourist Park is your last chance to gather supplies before heading to Musgrave Roadhouse and into the park itself. The track officially begins from the turnoff for Battle Camp Road where the road transitions from sealed to graded dirt.
While driving through the track, you will reach Old Laura Homestead where you should head north. Taking this road will lead you towards numerous campsites and New Laura. The area has a ranger station where mobile phones under Telstra can detect coverage.
The track then follows rivers like Laura and Normanby. Taking a right turn at the fork leading to Kalpowar will take you directly to Cape Melville. On the other hand, taking a left turn will enable you to follow the road along the Kennedy River. It also takes you into the centre of Lakefield National Park – a massive campsite with plenty of spaces for waterfront camping. This area is also near lily lagoons and the Hann Crossing that you can explore after setting up camp.
If you find the campground a tad too crowded, there are several bush campsites located off the track until the park’s border (east of Lotusbird Lodge). From this point, it will take a little bit more driving to head back onto Musgrave Roadhouse and exit the park on the Peninsula Developmental Road. However, you’ll need to drive carefully and watch out for bulldust patches.
You can find more information about Lakefield (Rinyirru) National Park here.
Location: 2,663 km northwest of Brisbane
Difficulty: Moderate to Hard
Track Length: 82 km
Track Time: 2 days or more
Terrain: Dirt and sand
Those who have been to Ussher Point are gobsmacked by the tight rainforest tracks, spectacular coastline, and very steep bauxite cliffs. The track’s starting point is not well-marked but it begins at Bamaga Road (14 km north of the Jardine River Ferry). The track is also very tight with overhung and overgrown vegetation all the way until you reach the coast. This track will surely make some dents or dings on your 4WD vehicle. In addition, you can also tackle the track by using a quad bike to make the journey more bearable and prevent damage to your 4WD vehicle.
When you complete the track, you can either continue onto Ussher Point or head south to Ussher Point South. The latter will let you drive through the beach; however, it will only be passable during low tides. There are also numerous creeks, fords, and mangrove forests in the middle of the beach track so beach driving through these areas is not recommended.
You can find more information about Ussher Point here.
World War II Trek
Location: 2,663 km northwest of Brisbane
Track Length: 106 km
Track Time: 1 day
Terrain: Dirt and sand
World War II Trek will take you on a journey along the northern parts of Cape York. It requires drivers to have good sand driving technique; however, the effort is worth it as it leads to several secluded spots and the remaining relics of the region’s role in World War II.
The track begins at Bamaga Road and will lead you to the southeastern section of the area where you will find crashed planes. If you head back into the town, right past the DC3 wreck, you could head south towards the monument located in Adidi St. Meanwhile, a short side trip on the north will lead you to the town of Seisia and the scenic wharf.
Another track that you can explore from Bramaga will lead you to Umagico and Inijinoo before taking you south onto Mutee Head. Just a few metres before the head, you’ll pass by another track on the left. This track will lead you to the Mutee Head South which demands high clearance and an engine with a lot of torque. The track is also composed of soft sand and it narrows down because of the trees. So, it is a good idea to probably fold your side mirrors flat! You will also pass by great campsites near the river and beach but you’ll need to take the proper precautions before tackling the sand.
You can find more information about World War II Trek here.