Take a Long Rain Forest Hike on Trade Winds Trail
3/13 Note: This trail is officially closed.
The north side of El Yunque National Forest in Rio Grande has a number of marked trails. Some of them are well-used (for example, by 10am La Mina Trail is loaded with tourists going down to La Mina Waterfall) and some of them are less frequently used and allow you a more natural experience (for example, El Yunque Trail to EL Yunque peak).
Then there are some other trails that are more difficult, very rarely traveled, and are for more experienced hikers. Two of those lead up to El Toro peak (El Toro Trail and Trade Winds Trail). Another leads from the north side of El Yunque over to the south side at the end of Río Sabana. On these three trail trails, you may not see another person all day! So to me, that’s where one can enjoy the rain forest at its best.
Trade Winds Trail is the longest marked trail in the El Yunque National Forest system. It is rarely used and not maintained as well as the other trails. It isn’t even on the map they hand out at the visitors center! Ray and I usually like to hike these lesser-used trails (especially ones we haven’t done before) with someone else, just in case some problem arises. So when my brother and sister-in-law came to PR for a recent visit, I suggested that we hike this trail and they agreed to do it.
There is not too much information out there about this trail. So before starting out, I spoke with a ranger to get the scoop about what we setting off to do. He told us it was a long trail and we should bring supplies, like food and water, for the day. We were prepared for both of these factors. And when he said a Boy Scout troop had just walked the trail, I said "If a Boy Scout can do it, we can too!" Of course my brother was quick to point out that we are all 30-35 years older than those kids. Strangely, he did not tell us it was closed, so off we went.
To get started, you have to drive all the way up Road 191 to the locked gate at about KM 13.3. Park along the side of the road in the marked "parking area". Be careful not to block the road because official vehicles need to go through that gate throughout the day. To get to the trail head, walk up Road 191 until about KM 13.5 (you will see the trail head sign). The hike to the peak is 4.6 miles each way. This does not take into account the walk from the trail head to where you parked the car (which at the end of the day seemed like it was miles instead of just ¼ KM!).
The Hike to the Peak
The trail is packed dirt with lots of uneven rocks (many were very slippery). You have to watch your step all the time. But it was lovely. There where beautiful views along the way and many pretty plants. I believe we spotted about 5 or 6 different types of wild orchids throughout the day. The trail head is at about 2427 feet and the peak is at 3533 feet. That’s a gain in altitude of about 1100 feet over 4.6 miles — the trail is a gradual climb. I don’t remember feeling like it was steep in many spots. I thought this was a very pretty trail, I liked it much better than El Toro trail.
It took us about 3.5 hours to reach the peak of El Toro (though we did make a few stops along the way). We ate our lunch at the top and enjoyed the views. The views from the peak are beautiful. There are no cell towers or buildings, like at El Yunque peak. Just nature and a great refreshing breeze. We rested a bit up there and then headed back. We made it down in 2.5 hrs. Our total time from getting out of the car in the morning and getting back in the car in the afternoon was 6½ hours.
Observations & Suggestions
This trail is infrequently maintained. During our trip, we had a few twisted ankles (luckily none serious), but if you have comfortable hiking boots with ankle support, that might help. There was one point where a landslide had taken out the trail, so that was a bit "difficult" to shimmy across this large void, and a few other older slides, where makeshift ledges and paths got you around them.
A number of large fallen trees blocked the trail, so you had to either go over or under them. There was some mud, but it was not as muddy as El Toro trail! And there were grassy areas that had a type of grass that easily cut your skin. My suggestion is to wear lightweight long pants and, if you have it, a lightweight long sleeve shirt. But even with all that said, we really enjoyed ourselves on this trail!
When we were all done, we decided it was moderate difficulty trail-wise. But the slippery rocks, obstacles, and the length made it on the more difficult side. But if we and the Boy Scouts did it, then maybe you can too!
Some people confuse EL Toro Trail and Trade Winds Trail and assume they are just one long trail. Actually, they are 2 separate trails that meet at El Toro peak. You can do them together by going up one and continuing down the other, but you need to have someone move your car from the one end to the other because El Toro trail head is on Road 186.
If you want to hike from the north side of El Yunque to the south side, you can pick up the Rio Sabana Trail along the Trade Winds Trail. It’s a long hike, but it does get you to the "other side" of El Yunque.
Bring a cell phone (in case of emergency), plenty of water/snacks and lunch. There are no facilities, nor rangers, on this trail.
No matter which way you do in (in/out or a straight through to El Toro Trail) remember that the gate at KM 8 on Road 191 gets locked at 6pm. You need to be back before that, or your car (and you!) will be stuck there for the night.
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! Hike safely- it is at your own risk.
Allow 3–4 hours each way.
Drive as far up Road 191 on the north side of El Yunque as you can. Park on the side of the road. Walk up hill beyond the gate for about ¼ kilometer. The trail head is marked with a sign on your right.
Use this map to locate places mentioned in this article. You can click on a placemark to view the GPS coordinates for that place.