Now that we are living in Puerto Rico, we get the opportunity to visit El Yunque National Forest fairly frequently (mostly when we have guests). There are quite a number of good, well-maintained hiking trails in El Yunque National Park, and they don’t require a travel guide or a rainforest tour guide. This post is about best hiking trail we’ve experienced so far, a 3-4 hour hike to a breathtaking view at the peak of the forest.
Hiking El Yunque Trail is longer than the La Mina Waterfalls trail, but is absent of all of the tourists. On a weekend day at the height of tourist season (Nov-Feb) you will pass very few people and mostly have the forest to yourself. The trail has a difficulty rating of moderate to challenging, and is nearly five miles round trip, rising in elevation almost 1500 feet along the way.
It can take 3-4 hours to hike this trail, depending on your speed and fitness level. Expect it to be steep, muddy or in need of repair in some areas and pay attention to the instructions below. For some reason, this trail isn’t marked well in places. It’s also good to be aware of cross-trails, mile markers and where you parked. It’s easy to end up returning on a different trail than you started on, making for a long hike on the road back to your car.
Bring water and a snack to enjoy at the top of the trail. You will want to linger and enjoy the cool breeze and impressive view completely to the ocean. Take note of birds, insects, snails and listen to the coqui frogs along the way.
There are other fantastic hiking trails in El Yunque National Park, which are less accessible to people not familiar with the area. I recommend hiring a private guide to visit those trails.
3 Levels of Rain Forest
This trail takes you up through many forest levels, starting the Palo Colorado Forest to the Palma Sierra and finally the Dwarf Forest—my personal favorite. The Palo Colorado exists at over 2,000 feet above sea level and takes its name from the Palo Colorado tree. Next you pass through Palm Sierra forest, with steeper slopes and tall palm trees (the Sierra Palm, of course). Near the top of El Yunque, you reach the cloud or dwarf forest, filled with densely packed stands of stunted trees, mosses and shrubs. You can feel the cooler, moist air and see lots of miniature ferns.
This trail crosses several streams and you will hear them trickling along the way. You will see lots of beautiful plant life, large snails, and some insects. There aren’t many larger animals to see, so don’t expect monkeys or other large mammals.
Starting the Hiking Trail
There are several places to start this hiking trail. An easy and scenic place to start is at the El Yunque Trail head, on Road 191 at Kilometer 12.2. The trail head sits across from the Palo Alto Information Center and has a parking lot for your car. You won’t be following this trail the whole way to the top (although you can). Follow the instructions below for tips. Some of the cross sections are not marked, so it’s good to take note.
The Best Trail Path
Walk up the concrete steps and visit the old Bano Grande pool. This man made pool was originally an old bathhouse. It is now grown over, full of algae and blocked from public access, but a great spot for photographs.
Next, continue your walk down the steps and head left, where you will see the Caimitillo trail. Follow it 300 feet or so until it meets up with El Yunque Trail where you turn left again.
Continue hiking along this trail. You will see another rain shelter and a fork (unmarked). Follow the trail that heads UP and continue your journey.
When you have been hiking for about 10-15 minutes, you will pass another crossing. This time, with Bano De Oro trail. Again, head straight up (we are hiking to the top!) and you see a few additional rain shelters. When you arrive at the shelter with the fireplace, you have met up with the Mount Britton Spur trail. Take the trail UP and RIGHT to continue on your rainforest hike.
After a little while longer, you will notice the landscape changing, as you enter the higher elevation of the dwarf forest. There will be another junction with the Las Picachos Trail. The El Yunque trail continues left, but I highly suggest taking a few minutes on Las Picachos trail as there are some great views to see. After taking photos of the scenery, just return the way you came and follow the trail to the right.
You will come to a clearing in the forest and you will reach my favorite part of the hike. It LOOKS like you reached the top, but the trail actually continues on. However, this part is the most breathtaking view on the whole hike!
VERY, very carefully climb out on the rock to the right. The wind will blow and you will see all the way out the ocean and look down on the forest canopy. It’s an incredible sight to see!
Afterwards, the hike continues – and gets a little strange. Continue on the El Yunque trail past some lovely mosses and ferns until you come to a road. This is Road 10 and is a maintenance road for the forest workers. Turn left on the road and pass by the building and any parked cars. Walk up and continue to the left until you reach the stone Observation Tower.
You made it!
When I did this hike, I was a little disappointed at this point. The trash cans were overflowing and I found the graffiti-covered “church” inside the Observation Tower a little creepy.
There are antennae blocking the view and it’s kind of a let-down after seeing the view below. This is a good spot to take a seat and enjoy a snack before heading back down. Please clean up when you are finished!
You can now follow the El Yunque trail back the way you came – or take an alternate route by following Road 10 down to the Mount Britton Spur trail. If you choose this route, don’t miss La Roca trail along the way on your right, hidden behind one of the stations. It’s a little hidden, but worth the stop. There’s a little stone wall to climb over, and then all of a sudden you are perched on a rock overlooking a cliff edge. Be careful here as there is no safety net!
When you reach the Mount Britton Spur trail, you have the choice to go up the Mount Britton Tower (check it out!).
Continue along Mount Britton Spur until you connect to the El Yunque trail again (remember the rain shelter with the fireplace?). Turn RIGHT and follow the path until you reach the Bano De Oro trail again. Turn RIGHT and you will reach Road 191. Follow the road LEFT until you find your way back to the Palo Colorado information Center.
So that’s it – the best hiking trail in El Yunque National Rain Forest. It’s a great way to see a large amount of the rainforest in not a lot of time.
What to Wear
You will be climbing some steep areas and trail sections that are not well maintained. Wear shoes that offer good support and traction. Temperatures can be very hot in summer months, but expect cooler air in the upper elevations (70’s F.)
- This is usually a very empty trail. You may feel like you are the only one there.
- This trail is moderate to challenging in difficulty
- Bring water and a snack
- Plan for 3-4 hours of hiking
- 5 miles round trip
Visiting El Yunque National Park is free, unless you visit the El Portal Visitor’s Center, which will cost you $3 per person.
Open daily 7:30 am to 6:00 pm. Closed on Christmas day.
Take Route 3 to Rio Grande. Once you reach Rio Grande, take Route 955 to Road 191. Continue on Road 191 until you see the El Yunque Trail head, located at Kilometer 12.2. It’s directly across from the Palo Alto Information Center. Park in one of the parking lots for the center or along the roadside if it’s full.
El Yunque Peak: (18.310433, -65.791436)
El Yunque Trail: (18.301547, -65.784858)
Phone: 787 888-1880