Hike the El Yunque Trail to the Top of the Rain Forest

View from the peak of El Yunque

Update- Nov.30, 2017- El Yunque has NOT yet reopened after the hurricanes. It sustained a lot of damage to the trails and roads. It is being worked on and we will post when they have reopened.

On a clear day, the view from the top of El Yunque is breathtaking. Looking out over the lush green tree tops, past the towns, you see the blue water of the northern coastline and the easternmost tip of Puerto Rico. You know you are pretty high when the clouds come rolling up the sides of the mountain toward you. You feel the refreshing cool mist of the clouds on the wind cooling you off from your hike up the mountain. It is a real reward for your hard work!

Here is my usual route: The trip to the El Yunque peak takes you through different levels of the forest. You will notice the changes in the plant life as you walk along. You start in the Palo Colorado Forest that has many trees of different types (including the Colorado tree). As you go upward, about in the area where you pass the junction with Mount Britton Spur, you will be in the Palma Sierra area (lots of palm trees). Toward the top, you will notice short, shrubby moss covered plant life – the Dwarf Forest.

Along the way, you will be crossing many mountain streams, seeing beautiful plants and flowers like fern trees, bromileads, impatient and hibiscus flowers. Be careful – it is easy to mis-step as you are looking at all the beautiful plant life around you. You will also be hearing many different types of birds, insects and frogs (including the beloved Puerto Rican coqui!). Just don’t expect to see the Puerto Rican Parrot. There are only about 33 left in the wild and they are rarely seen.

There are a number of ways to start out your journey toward the Peak of El Yunque. Our favorite (and most scenic) way is to take the El Yunque Trail, which starts on Road 191 at KM 12, across from the Palo Colorado Information Center. From the information center, cross Road 191 and walk up the concrete steps. Go to the top of the steps and check out the Bano Grande pool. This pretty pool was developed as a natural swimming pool, but has been closed to the public for many years now. There are informational placards explaining the pool and its history. You can get some lovely pictures here, and the water cascading down the rocks sounds lovely.

When you are done checking out the pool, walk down a few steps and take the marked trail to the left. This is Caimitillo trail, but you will take it for only about 500 yards. Soon you will see the marked trail junction for the El Yunque trail on the left. Turn left and start your journey.

I think this first part of El Yunque trail is the hardest (or maybe it just seems like that because it is steep and you’re not yet warmed up). Shortly, you will come to a junction at a rain shelter. You want to continue straight up El Yunque trail (do not go right).

After a while, you will pass the junction point with Bano De Oro trail to the left. You want to continue straight up. You will pass about 2 more rain shelters. After a while, you will come to a T at a rain shelter with a fireplace – this is the junction with Mount Britton Spur trail.

Here you have to make a decision – taking the road up or going through the forest. If you are pressed for time, go to the left and take the Mount Britton Spur trail to Road 10, then turn right on Road 10 and follow it up to the peak. Taking the road is quicker, but not as pretty as going through the forest. I like going to the right and continuing along El Yunque trail.

I’m going assume that you decided to go to the right and continue on the El Yunque trail to the peak.

Following the El Yunque trail, you will eventually come to a junction with Las Picachos trail. El Yunque trail is UP to the left (the sign oddly does not point out the trail to the peak). If you have time, take the short Las Picachos trail – it is very short and the views are really nice toward the east shore. But it is an out and back. So after admiring the view, come back and continue on the El Yunque trail toward the peak. At this point, the trail gets a bit rough and less maintained. But I still think it is still very doable.

You will get to a point where you will think you are at the top because it is kind of flat and the wind is blowing and one can carefully go out onto the rock on the right for great views and pictures. But it is a rock on the edge of the world- be careful!

At this point, you are almost to the peak, but you still have some more upward climbing to do!

View from the peak of El Yunque

The El Yunque trail will eventually come to Road 10. When you get to the paved road, turn left and walk up the last really steep part to the top. Walk up the steps of the Observation Tower. Once you are on the top, you have made it to the peak!

The Observation Tower at the peak looks like an old church inside (with a Cross engraved in the stone) and a castle from the top with parapets. It makes a neat picture! One drawback is there are a number of communication towers along the peak, so your view to the west is marred by antennae. But on the plus side, you get really good cell phone reception up there!

On the way down, I like walking down Road 10 a little bit. Look for the marker for La Roca trail to the right (behind one of the communication stations). This short trail is not well-maintained, and there’s a small rock wall that you have to climb, but if you are daring enough to walk out on this rock that hangs over the edge of the world … wow! … the view is great, but not really safe!

Continue down Road 10 until you get to the Mount Britton Spur trail. If you want, at this point you can go up to the Mount Britton tower – it is a really quick stop. Then continue on the Mount Britton Spur trail, which will take you back to the El Yunque trail (by that fireplace you passed on the way up). Then take the El Yunque trail down (to the right) toward Road 191. Here you’ll be walking down the way you came up at the beginning of your trek. When you get to the junction with the Bano De Oro trail, turn right and follow that trail back to Road 191. Once you emerge onto the paved road, turn left and walk down Road 191 a short way to the Palo Colorado information center.

That is a well rounded trip to the peak of El Yunque!

The El Yunque trail has a difficulty rating of moderate to challenging. It has some parts that are more difficult than others, but really not that bad. If you follow my suggested route, you’ll cover almost 5 miles round-trip, with a rise in elevation of almost 1500 feet. The round-trip takes about 3 to 4 hours, all depending on your fitness level and how much you want to admire the scenery. The trail is steep and muddy in some areas. There are a few rain shelters along the first half of the hike, the second half might have one (I can’t recall at the moment).

I like to try to get to the peak before noon so you have a better chance of getting a clear, panoramic view. We have found that the clouds start rolling-in in the afternoon and they block the view, which is a bummer after hiking all that way!

Bring a snack (or lunch) and something to drink – you will need something during this hike to keep your energy up. We like taking our lunch up and eating it at the peak – there is no restaurant anywhere in the world with this view!

Parking for El Yunque trail is available in two paved parking lots adjacent to the Palo Colorado Visitors center and at designated areas along the road.

If you’re really pressed for time and you really just want to get to the peak, you can forget about the trails and just walk up, and back down, Road 10. This way is quicker, but much less scenic. If you want to do this, you can drive up Road 191 until it ends, and then park in designated areas along the road. Then you can either

  1. walk up Rd 191 and turn right onto Road 10 and walk all the way up. It is about 1.6 miles to the top on a steep and sunny road.
  2. turn right on Road 9938 and park at Mount Britton trail head, hike that up to Road 10, then continue on Road 10 to the peak. You will be walking about 1 mile up a pretty steep (and sunny) road.

It is important to remember where you parked – and plan your trip so you end up back at that spot, or you could be in for a longer walk than expected! The Forest Rangers can help you with that – stop at the Palo Colorado Visitor Center and talk with them.

Details

There is no cost to hike in the El Yunque National Forest.

El Yunque National Forest is open 7:30am until 6:00pm 7 days/week, year-round . Ranger stations are open 9:00am until 5:00pm. The gates close at 6:00pm.

The round trip from the Palo Colorado information center to the peak of El Yunque takes about 3 to 4 hours.

You can call 787-888-1810 or 787-888-1880 for more info.

You can visit the El Yunque National Forest web site for more information.

There are signs pointing to the rain forest. If coming from SJ, You can either take the first right off of RT 3 (right after RT 66 ends) onto RT 186, then a left onto RT 966 and take that until it T’s with RT 191. Turn right. Or from Rt 3. You will see a small sign for RT 191 (and the rain forest). Turn right there, or if you miss that, turn at the corner intersection with Route 955. Follow Route 955 to Road 191. Turn onto Road 191 (there’s another sign for the rain forest here) and you’re there!

The drive from the San Juan area to the El Yunque National Forest takes about 45 minutes.

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 19 comments on this article. Add to the Discussion »

That is not an official page...nothing new in El Yunque is open. Still only open 988 (Angelito trail), 966, 186 and 191 up to La Coca falls.

Comment by Gwenn on 19 Feb 2018

El Yunque is now open with limited access, yay! https://www.facebook.com/El-Yunque-Puerto-Rico-251311608148 (check comments)

Comment by Karen on 19 Feb 2018

No- in EL Yunque, you must park in designated areas only. They are ticket happy there for parking violations. You need to decide where you want to start your hike to the peak. Most people start at the Palo Colardao area...so find parking near there. There are a number of peaks in El Yunque. El Yunque Peak is one, EL Toro is another. They are two separate hikes. EL Yunque Trail goes to El Yunque Peak, EL Toro Trail goes to El Toro Peak. La Coca waterfall is right on the road. If you are a decent hiker, La Coca is a good trail with more waterfalls, but it is a difficult trail. La MIna Falls is nice and the one most people go to either from Big Tree trail or La MIna trail. Juan Diego is a short trail to the Juan Diego Falls, but the trail is closed right now (5/17) for maintenance.

Comment by Gwenn on 04 Jun 2017

Hello! So if I understand you well, we can park the car "anyway" along the road to the peak ? Did you park your car at Palo Colorado Information Center to hike to the peak ? Does the name of the trail to get the peak of El yunque is "El toro trail" ? (I'm a little confusing) What are the waterfalls you would recommend to see in the park ? Thank you so much

Comment by mary on 04 Jun 2017

Thanks for this hiking guide! I printed it out along with the companion trail map and took it with us on our trip to El Yunque and followed it exactly. Great directions and Wonderful hike! I liked all the side stops. After we finished, we did a second brief hike to La Mina Falls, which was fun. Bring a bathing suit, it's a great way to cool off after the main hike. Total distance was 8 miles. Wear bug repellent as I did get bitten. Definitely try to arrive to the peak by noon. We got a late start, and got to the peak by 12:20, and the clouds were already rolling in.

Comment by Allison Wong on 29 May 2017

Glad you enjoyed it!

Comment by Gwenn on 23 Mar 2016

Wow! This was a fantastic write-up! Way more informative than anything else I've read. The main visitors center at the entrance is pretty useless ($4 and they won't even give you a map). The trailhead signs, however, look pretty new and very informative. I followed your suggested route and it is excellent: A minimum of backtracking and some early afternoon clouds made the Road 10 segment much more tolerable. Took me about 4hrs round trip, stopping for lunch and many photos on the way.

Comment by Alex on 23 Mar 2016

Of course you can hike in El Yunque on your own without a tour. For the more adventurous-Try the longer hikes or Juan Diego and keep trekking up. But if you want tour adventure in the forested area, check out Yunke zipline (or even the other zipline companies in the area as they all have afternoon tours) and some of the companies with just lines have a midmorning tour. You can also check out Carabali Park for ATV or horseback tours. The southside is less touristy/visited because you really need to plan ahead. Very few tours back there and they are usually early am tours. For a little more natural adventure on your own, try the Pailas waterslide in Luquillo or Las Tinajas in Ceiba.

Comment by Gwenn on 09 Aug 2015

Do you have any recommendations for how to do El Yunque "by yourself"? We'll be flying from Vieques to Ceiba on a Thursday morning, renting a car, and want to stop in El Yunque on our way to San Juan. Because of all the logistics, I don't know if I can find a tour that's compatible with this schedule - and we'd also love to do something on the more adventurous side! All of the adventure tours I've seen are full day excursions, or the half-day options aren't available on the specific day I'm looking for. Any suggestions or recommendations you have are greatly appreciated! (I've also read that the southern side of the rainforest is less busy/touristy than the northern side, so we'd love to explore that). Thank you!

Comment by Normon on 03 Aug 2015

¡Qué bonita! What an incredible view from the top, and easy to get there using these great directions. I copied them into my iPhone Notes App. As is always true, I love this website for Puerto Rico adventures! So much so, I talked to a couple from Caguas on the way down from the peak, and was advertising the site!!! Very informative stuff on Bio Bay and Cabo Rojo to name a couple. I have been coming to the island for work for 4 years and had always wanted to do this particular hike. I was alone but made many friends along the way. Perfect advice about aiming to arrive at the peak at noon. I even got pictures from all 3 Towers, of course starting from the top. One great part of your post is that you give several different ways to get up to the peak.

Comment by Jeff on 15 Nov 2014

This was on my list of things to do on my last trip, but I didn't get to do it based on circumstances, and the group I was traveling with. I have a cousin who lives in Puerto Rico, who was going to do it with me, but that didn't work out, either. I really don't think I had found this great write-up yet, cause I probably would have tried it on my own. Either way, I really hope to do it on my next trip. The details provided seem so complete and thorough, that it gives me the confidence to tackle it on my own. My favorite "view spot" in El Yungue is Mt. Britton Tower, especially when the clouds come to envelop you and cool you. Makes me wonder how that view and experience is, compared to the end of El Yunque Trail described in this write-up.

Comment by Josh on 25 Sep 2013

We wrote down and followed all of these directions and had a wonderful hike! Thanks so much for the accurate and informative article! We were warned by several people not to hike up without a tour group, but being avid hikers we felt that was unnecessary. Having read this article first, we were very confident in our decision and it definitely was the right one! This is a very well maintained park and there is no need for a guide unless you're totally unfamiliar with the outdoors or you want an informative talk along the way. (However, it looked like most tours only take you on the easy hikes to the waterfalls, anyway, and not to the peaks.) Even the "rough" part of the trail seemed pretty normal (at least for us,being used to hiking in the Appalachians), and only seems rough compared to the paved trail that precedes it. There were a lot of hikers, even on a Monday, on the lower trails, but not another soul near the El Yunque peak. Definitely go out on the rock overlook before you get to the peak- it is a gorgeous view! It could be very dangerous if you're not careful, but we loved it, and even though I'm afraid of heights, I could handle it. Definitely try to go as early as possible to avoid clouds. We didn't really have a view from El Yunque peak because of the cloudiness. However, at the other lookouts, when we waited a bit, the clouds blew out momentarily for beautiful views. We can't wait to go back and try some of the other peaks!

Comment by Leah B on 28 Oct 2012

I printed this article out and took it along with us as we hiked. It was much better than the trail maps they hand out. This hike was amazing. We took to the trails exactly as you suggested and it was great! I would highly recommend this hike if you are thinking of going to El Yunque. It was challenging, but not impossible for the average hiker. We had a picture perfect day (no rain at all) so we got lucky. As you suggested, we started early - around 10:00 AM and finished about 5 hours later. We did stop often to wander around in the water and explore the pools since we were in no hurry. We also brought a picnic lunch for the peak, which took up some more time. Thanks for your excellent directions! We totally enjoyed it!

Comment by Linda & Wayne on 30 Apr 2012

No. There is no way to drive up to the peak.

Comment by Ray on 03 Jan 2012

Great info, thanks so much. Headed there in June. Is there a place to maybe drop off older folks up at the peak and then drive back down and park and then hike back up to meet them?

Comment by Connie on 03 Jan 2012

Thanks for the kind words!

Comment by Ray on 02 Aug 2009

Very informative and nice recommendations. The best guide to El Yunque Forest trails. Thanks!

Comment by José M. on 01 Aug 2009

Thank you so much Gwenn! Few days ago we spent sometime in The Yunque Rainforest, we are glad to have found the instructions that you posted here, it was a valuable help, without them we couldn't enjoy as much as we did. We found The Angelito's Trail (mameye's river swimming pool) at route 988, Jose Diego Falls, and hike right up to the Yunque Peak and they are not just as beautiful as you describe it, are also a spot easy to found again thanks to your accurate instructions. Thanks a lot!!!! The water, the view was glorious!!!

Comment by Linda Irizarry on 17 Jul 2009

TREMENDO REPORTAJE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! FELICIDADES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Comment by Mercy Diaz on 03 Mar 2009

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