Once a separate town, urban sprawl has resulted in Gordonvale being subsumed into the suburban extremities of Cairns. Gordonvale was previously called Mulgrave and then Nelson. The name Gordonvale was settled on as a tribute to John Gordon, a pioneer in the district. Gordonvale lies approximately 23 km south of the Cairns central business district and is just east of the Gillies Range which leads to the Atherton Tableland. Gordonvale was located within the Shire of Mulgrave until its amalgamation with the City of Cairns in 1995. The City was subsequently merged into the larger Cairns Region in 2008.
A prominent natural landmark is Walshs Pyramid, which rises steeply to 922m.