The prospects of wurtzite phase single-drift-region (SDR), flat and single-low-high-low (SLHL) type GaN IMPATT devices as terahertz sources are studied through a simulation experiment. The study indicates that GaN IMPATT diodes are capable of generating high RF power (at least 2.5 W) at around 1.45 THz with high efficiency (17-20%). The superior electronic properties of GaN make this a promising candidate for IMPATT operation in the THz regime, unapproachable by conventional Si, GaAs and InP based IMPATT diodes. The effect of parasitic series resistance on the THz performance of the device is further simulated. It is interesting to note that the presence of a charge bump in a flatly doped SDR structure reduces the value of parasitic series resistance by 22%. The effects of photo- illumination on the devices are also investigated using a modified double iterative simulation technique. Under photo-illumination (i) the negative conductance and (ii) the negative resistance of the devices (both flat and SLHL) decrease, while the frequency of operation and the device quality factor shift upwards. However, the upward shift in operating frequency is found to be more (∼16 GHz) in the case of the SLHL SDR IMPATT device. The study indicates that GaN IMPATT is a promising opto-sensitive high power THz source. © 2007 IOP Publishing Ltd.