Hike to Jungle Rivers & Waterfalls on La Coca Trail
For reasons that I can’t figure out, of the trails right along Road 191 in El Yunque National Forest, La Coca Trail is seemingly unknown. It is as if someone found out how beautiful it is and decided to keep it a secret! We invested some time and effort in hiking this trail, and were handsomely rewarded with rivers, waterfalls and swimming pools galore!
Not for the Faint of Heart
I will say this right off the bat — this trail is not well-maintained and it is a bit difficult, so it is NOT for the average El Yunque visitor. But if you are a hiker, or someone who is prepared for this experience, and have a sense of adventure, I felt this was a not-to-be-missed trail.
La Coca Trail is just past La Coca Falls as you are driving up Road 191. The trail head is located at about KM 8.6 on the left (eastern) side of the road. There is a small parking lot there and a trail map.
Note — There is a trail map at the trail head. STUDY it. La Coca Trail is not on the trail map you get from the ranger’s station and the trail itself is not well-marked. We took a picture of the trail map with our digital camera so we could refer to it during the hike when we had to make a decision. But here is a tip we noticed— when you get to a river, cross it and the trail continues on the other side (this is not real obvious when you are there). There is an end-of-trail marker at the third (and final) river. Click the map to the left for a bigger map in a new window.
About the Trail
This trail starts at an elevation of 1476 feet and descends to 820 feet. It is an in and out. The length of the trail is 1.6 to 1.8 miles (depending on what source you’re reading) each way.
When you take a look at these numbers you’ll quickly realize that this is a downhill trail on the way in. Which means is an uphill trail on the way out — after your hot and tired. The last 0.4 KM almost killed me!
Our Recent Trek on La Coca Trail
We started out at about 1pm on a Saturday. I was actually surprised to see another car in the parking lot, as this trail is hardly ever used. We had "done" this trail a few years ago, but at that time, it was only open up to the first river crossing. Now the whole trail is open. I am glad we went again and got to do the whole thing. It is really a pretty trail.
This trail is rated as "difficult" — and I would agree with that. The first ½ mile down is slippery rock. Then a river crossing. The next ½ mile is downhill in slippery mud to another river crossing. The last part is mixed mud and rocks, until you get to the end at a third river. For the river crossings you have to either go across on slippery river rock or through the water. The water is only ankle- knee deep at the crossing points. When you finish these challenges, you turn around and do them again, but this time going up the mountain!
But don’t think I am complaining — this trail is beautiful! It is probably the most "jungle-like" of all of the trails I have seen in El Yunque. We saw large areas of wild heliconias, wild gingers, bananas, and huge philodendrons. The river crossings are great — beautiful river pools to play in and waterfalls to enjoy. And I heard and saw more birds and different plant life than I have seen on most trails in the rain forest. And the sound of the river along various parts of the trail, with distant views of waterfalls … It was just a stunning trail in all aspects! Well worth the time and effort.
We took our time and explored and played in each of the rivers. It took us about 4 hours from start to finish. Hiking the trail in and out takes a minimum of 3 hours for the physically fit, but plan on more time so you can play (and cool off) in the rivers. I mentioned earlier that the trail is not maintained very well — there were times it looked more like a riverbed then a trail. Sometimes it was a little difficult to decide which way to go. But we managed fine.
For a shorter walk, but still being able to enjoy a quiet trail to the river and waterfall, just go to the first river (it is about ½ mile each way). When you get to the first river crossing, head up stream to get to the waterfall. This is still a difficult hike, but worth it as you will probably have it all to yourself.
The El Yunque National Forest posts the following Safety Awareness Notices
- To avoid becoming lost DO NOT leave the trails.
- We recommend caution when swimming or wading in Forest streams. River rocks are extremely slippery and may cause a bad fall.
- Due to periodic rain at mountain peaks, and especially after persistent rain fall, flash floods can occur.
I agree with all of these points, so I would NEVER suggest anyone go off the trail … but we did. At around half way through, we heard and saw glimpses of waterfalls in the distance, off the trail. We made our way carefully down and were rewarded with some great waterfalls with natural pools for swimming.
Tips, Notes & Other Important Things
- Bring water — lots! I’d suggest at least 1 liter/person. We only had ½ liter for each of us, and it was not enough.
- You need to wear at least sneakers with good traction or hiking shoes for this trail — no flip flops!
- If you have long hiking pants and a long sleeve shirt, wear them. The trail is not maintained very well, you will be muddy and brushing against plant life. I did notice some Stinging Nettle along this trail (Ortiga Brava and Urera braccifera).
- Be careful of what trees you grab for support — some have thorns!
- Bring water shoes if you want to play in the rivers (or be prepared to get your hiking shoes wet), because the underwater rocks are sharp.
- Bring a swim suit — either change at the rivers or wear it underneath (but that would be really HOT!). I didn’t bring mine, as I am not usually a river swimmer, but it was hot and the trail is very private, so I went in au natural. The water is VERY cold (about 60 degrees!) but refreshing.
- The gates across Road 191 close at 6pm, so make sure you leave enough time to get back to your car before 5:45pm to get out of the forest before the gates are locked.
Like the rest of El Yunque National Forest, there is no charge to hike on this trail.
Open daily 7:30 a.m.-6 p.m . Ranger stations are open 9-5. The gates close at 6pm.
Remember to pack out all of your trash!
Allow 3–4 hours total.
Drive up Road 191 on the north side of El Yunque until you pass La Coca Falls just the right of the road. Continue driving and start looking at kilometer markers. The trail head is on the left hand side around KM 8.6. There’s a small parking lot at the trail head. The trail head is marked with a sign.
Use this map to locate places mentioned in this article. You can click on a placemark to view the GPS coordinates for that place.