Hike El Toro Trail to the Highest Point in the Rain Forest

1/15 The El Yunque National Park site states that El Toro trail is still closed (has been for 3 years). It is not maintained, so the trail is deterioratedleast for this review from 2009. From a comment posted 1/15, it is still passable but REALLY muddy.

At the peak of El Toro

The north side of El Yunque National Forest has a number of well-marked and maintained trails to keep you busy. With just a quick ride up Road 191, you will have about 8 trails to choose from. Some of these are very popular and can be crowded at times. But, for the more adventurous hiker, there are a few more trails the north side of the forest has to offer. If you love a view from a peak, but dislike the radio towers at the top of El Yunque, head over to El Toro trail.

El Toro trail is more remote than the rest of the trails and it is very infrequently used. The trail head is on Road 186 at KM 10.8 or so. Road 186 is just down the road from our place and a few miles west of Road 191. Even the drive to the trail head on Road 186 is a nice — you will pass a few nice rivers with waterfalls and great views.

Ray and I have hiked all the trails in El Yunque National Forest on the north side except El Toro and Trade Winds. So when we had some guests (Denis and Sue) at Coqui’s Hideaway who were avid hikers, we convinced them to go with us, and we all headed to El Toro trail for the day.

The Trail

El Toro trail is described in the National Forest literature as being unmaintained, muddy, steep and strenuous, and, when we started on the trail, there were a few fallen trees we had to go over, under or around. Given our first couple minutes on the trail, we thought we were going to be in for a long, hard day! But luckily, most of the trail was clear and decently maintained. We all decided it was “doable” by your average hiker.

El Toro trail

The trail is 2.2 miles to the peak, and they have trail markers along the way telling you how much longer until to get there. The trail starts at an altitude of 2132 feet and the peak is at 3533 feet above sea level. The trail was mostly packed dirt, with gravel in spots.

It is a nice hike through the woods. It goes through 3 different types of forest as you walk — starting with the tabonuco forest, then the sierra palms area, and finally, closer to the peak, the cloud forest with its stunted trees and shrubs.

The first 1½ miles the trail was fine, a nice easy path. The next ½ mile was muddy — really muddy! And we went during a week without much rain! I bet during rainy season, much of the trail must get to be an unusable, muddy mess! The last ¼ miles is steep and strenuous. Sue was concerned with the green, slippery rocks, but we all made it fine. We all thought that most of the 1300-foot gain in altitude on this trail took place in that last ¼ mile. I don’t know if that’s true, but it sure felt like it!

The Peak

Though the woods were nice, this is really a hike to El Toro peak — the highest point in the El Yunque National Forest. We had great views from the peak — mostly of the back of El Yunque, the north and east coasts, and the towns in the NE part of Puerto Rico ( Ceiba, Naguabo, Juncos, Las Piedras, &Humacao). We ate our picnic lunch up there and enjoyed watching the clouds roll by. Though it was sunny for us, we could see it raining in other places off in the distance.

The Details

El Toro trail

If you are going to do this trail, I would wear long pants and hiking shoes that you won’t mind getting muddy (really muddy). If you have a long sleeve shirt, wear it because along parts of the trail there was (what we call) "biting grass". That’s grass that easily cuts your skin if you brush against it.

A walking pole is good to have, too. Denis and Sue had them and they came in handy on some of the slippery parts. We also used them to measure how deep the mud was before stepping!

We were walking at a decent clip, but had to slow down to be careful to avoid the mud traps, and it took us about 2 hours each way. We did this trail as an in and out. With some planning and car jockeying (and a lot of stamina), you can continue on Trade Winds trail (another 3.9 miles) which ends at the top of Road 191.

Bring water, lunch and a cell phone (just in case). There are no facilities, nor rangers, on this trail. Stay on the trail and hike with others! This is a very infrequently used trail.

This trail is not used that often and it is in a remote location in El Yunque. You will be parking, and leaving your car unattended, for hours during this hike. Don’t leave anything of value (hidden or visible) in your car. You might even consider leaving the car unlocked. We’ve not heard of any recent smash and grab thefts in this area, but better safe than sorry.

Like the rest of El Yunque National Forest, there is no charge to hike on this trail.

There’s no way to "close" this trail. There is no gate or anything like that. However, we would recommend that you plan you day so that you get finished with the trail before sunset.

Remember to pack out all of your trash!

Allow 2–3 hours each way.

Turn onto RT 186 from RT 3 (there is a yummy restaurant “El Verde” at this corner). Continue on RT 186 up to Km 10.8 trailhead. Or if coming from SJ area, you could take Route 3 and turn onto Road 956 up. Where it joins with 957 at a T/Y, go to the left to continue on RT 956. Take it to the end, where it will T with RT 186.Turn right onto RT 186. Continue on Road 186 to KM 10.8. There’s a small gravel parking area and a Welcome to El Yunque National Forest sign. The trail head is clearly marked with a sign, too.

Use this map to locate places mentioned in this article. You can click on a placemark to view the GPS coordinates for that place.

PuertoRicoDayTrips.com assumes no responsibility regarding your safety when participating in the activities described in this article. Please use common sense! If your mother or that little voice in your head tells you that you are about to do something stupid … then don't do it! Read more about Safety →

Comments & Discussion Leave a Comment »

There are 12 comments on this article. Add to the Discussion »

I have to say I love your blog! I'm getting so many ideas for my upcoming trip! What are your thoughts on doing the El Toro hike in August 2010? Do you think it will be too muddy? Also, it will just be two of us, do you think that is dangersous?

Comment by Natalie on 24 Jul 2010

Thanks for the kind words about our web site. We're happy that you're finding it to be useful in planning your trip to Puerto Rico. It's hard to predict how muddy the trail to El Toro will be in the coming weeks. But, if I had to guess, I'd say it will be muddy. So far, this July we've had 25.7" of rain (yup ... over 2 feet!) up here where we live at the edge of El Yunque. I think there's been more in the rain forest proper. I can't comment on if I think it will be dangerous for just the 2 of you to go alone. That's something only you can decide. Read this to understand where I'm coming from ... http://www.puertoricodaytrips.com/safety/ As on any hike, I would be prepared with food, water, trail map, a GPS, cell phone (though coverage may be questionable) and I would make sure that someone (hotel or family back home) knows where you are going and what time they should expect to hear back from you ... just in case. If something happened to one of you, could the other one carry or somehow get the injured person back to your car? You need to consider all possible outcomes.

Comment by Ray on 25 Jul 2010

Thank you Ray for your quick response! I think we will play it by ear and take into account the current weather when we get there. Appreciate all of your help, this is such a wonderful resource on visiting PR, I'm so glad I found it!

Comment by Natalie on 03 Aug 2010

Allan and I got a late start (12 noon) and didn't make the whole distance to the top. Three hours each way is not unrealistic. At the halfway point there is a nice rest spot with comfortable seating protected from the rain and clearly marked. We turned back there. The trail head was easy to find and had a closed for repair sign when we were there. There were a few trees over the trail people found ways around. We met two people coming down who did get to the peak and they said it was definitely worth it. Their shoes and pants legs up to the knees were muddy. Definitely gets more muddy past the halfway mark we were told. Have a change of clothes in your car and bag to store muddy items in. This hike is definitely on the less traveled side of the park. The major tourist area is along the east entrance which we did on an earlier visit. The forest was quite thick, we heard birds taking flight but couldn't see them. I was looking for orchids but saw none. We saw lots of bromeliads but they were not flowing in mid-February.

Comment by Ralph on 01 Mar 2012

Did this hike on June 23, 2012 and the base of the trail had a sign which indicated it was closed for repairs. Having just spent 1 1/2 hours getting there, we were bad citizens and ignored the sign much to the consternation of our two kids (8 and 11). It turns out there were no repairs being done, and I couldn't see any need for repairs either. We definitely debated whether or not to do it (since none of us really wanted to pay a fine or do jail time :-) ). However, we finally broke down and walked around the sign and we were glad we did. If you're in shape, you can do this in well under two hours, even with our kids we made it up in 1:40 (down in 1:25). We did it during a very dry period, but there were still some very muddy spots and definitely slippery up near the top. Beautiful views from the top when the clouds cleared - you're definitely at cloud level up there. I definitely second the recommendation to prepare for (or at least watch out for) the razor/biting grass - it's nasty stuff that I still have some leftover reminders of. Definitely a fun hike and definitely empty of the usual crowds - we so no one.

Comment by Rob on 20 Jul 2012

Heading there in a few weeks - any updates on closures and conditions? We are strong hikers, but don't want to hike where we're not allowed to - fines and jail don't appeal to us either :) ! We would really like to summit, though! Would appreciate any feedback or suggestions! Thanks!

Comment by Jen on 18 Mar 2013

I just called El Yunque and they said those trails are still closed due to some landslides/unsafe trail areas. She said people are not authorized to be on them. I don't think there are any fines/jail time associated with failure to comply with the signs, and I am pretty sure no one is patrolling them to catch people.

Comment by Gwenn on 22 Mar 2013

Thank you, Gwenn! We really want to summit, but I'm afraid the Trade Winds trail is a bit long for our son - his max so far has been a little over 7 miles in one day. Hmmm....

Comment by Jen on 22 Mar 2013

My wife and I hiked to the summit of El Toro during the first week of January 2015 and I just wanted to leave an update on the site for others thinking of doing the same thing. First, thank you so much for this site. It was a great resource when we stayed around Rio Grande. I'm so glad I found it! The El Toro trail was one of our favorite trips in PR and I highly recommend it. The whole hike took us just around 4 hours. During most of our hike up, it rained (or poured) on us but it was a lot of fun. As others have said, be prepared for the mud. The first half of the trail was great but after we passed the halfway point sign, it got reallllllllly muddy. The mud was often up to our knees and there were many places you could do nothing but just jump in. The trail was nothing but mud from the halfway point all the way till we got to the last point where the trail ascends steeply on the rocks. The top was beautiful (covered in clouds!) and we were glad we'd brought another shirt stuffed in a plastic bag in our backpacks as it was pretty cold at the top being soaked and in the wind. The hike down was slow going for the first half since it was really slippery with all the mud. Besides a few slips, we felt the trail was safe. We didn't see any trail maintenance going on (you have to jump over ~7 trees here and there) but thought that the main reason the trail was closed was due to the fact that it's so muddy and they didn't want anyone slipping and hurting themselves. If you're relatively fit and don't mind getting muddy / cut up a little from the grass and are ok with walking a closed trail, go for it! Just be careful, don't slip, let someone know where you're going, and pack some extra clothes/food/water. :) One other awesome adventure we had on the way up was finding a beautiful waterfall with a large swimming hole at the bottom. Stop at the second bridge/river driving up 186 from Rio Grande about 1.7 miles past the El Yunque sign (Just near here: 18.319639, -65.824373) and hike up and over the rocks on the left hand side of the bridge. You can't see the swimming area from the road but it's beautiful! We went twice during our stay and never saw anyone go up there even though several people stopped to take pictures at the bridge. Highly recommended! It's plenty deep and long enough to swim around and enjoy the water. Thanks again for the post!

Comment by Josh on 13 Jan 2015

Thanks for the update! The waterfall you found was this one: http://www.puertoricodaytrips.com/rio-espiritu-santo-waterfall/ I have since heard there are some petroglyphs somewhere in that pool. We have to go back and check. Also just minutes away by car, down river are some really nice, easily accessed petroglyphs: http://www.puertoricodaytrips.com/cara-del-indio/

Comment by Gwenn on 14 Jan 2015

A friend and I hiked the El Toro trail to the summit in the first week of February, 2015. I'm in complete agreement with Josh and our hikes were very similar, except for the rain. We had mostly clear skies for a picnic at the peak, and could see the Atlantic and the Caribbean Sea. The first part of the trail is closed with concrete pillars. If you follow the old road to the right for a few dozen feet, you'll see a little trail to cut through to the main trail. This will drop you into the middle of a very low canopy of branches, take off your backpack and practice how small you can make yourself. My advice is to wear pants and long sleeves (I have hilarious cuts up and down my arms from the razor grass), and tie your shoes tight enough that they can't be pulled off your feet. I also strongly recommend wool socks. Take a cellphone (just in case), plenty of water, snacks, a change of clothes and a good sense of humor. It's important that you not try and avoid the mud puddles! Walking around the mud puddles degrades the trail by making the mud puddles bigger. And you're best off jumping right into the first mud puddle anyway, as you're not going to be able to avoid them all! It's a more relaxing experience once you accept that you'll get really muddy.

Comment by Noel on 14 Feb 2015

My wife and I were in El Yunque in August. We first were going to attempt Tradewinds. We got to the trailhead but it was very overgrown and we didn't have long pants, so we decided to try El Toro instead. El Toro was a great hike! The trailhead was easy to find. There is still a Closed for Repair sign at the entrance. Right at the beginning there are a number of branches you have to crawl under. But then it opens up and the trail is in pretty good condition. There were only a few fallen trees to climb over, and the grass is pretty overgrown at times. The mud showed up in the 2nd half of the trail, but since the ares is experiencing a drought it wasn't nearly as bad as previously commentors experienced. It was never more than a couple of inches deep, and it never came above our boots. We arrived at the peak and it was raining and completely socked in, but within 5 minutes all the clouds blew through and there were great views of the area. It's a shame they don't open the trail because it really doesn't need a lot of work to bring it back, just a few downed trees and some overgrown grass. We didn't see another person the entire hike. It took us 3 hours total with a 20 minutes break at the peak.

Comment by Jonathan on 14 Aug 2015

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Other Puerto Rico Resources …

Coqui's Hideaway Rainforest Villa in Rio Grande Located in the Foothills of El Yunque
San Juan Bus Map - learn about public transportation in the San Juan metro area