El Yunque National Rainforest is the only tropical rainforest in the US National Parks system. It is one of the smallest national forests yet one of the most biodiverse places on the planet. El Yunque has stunning rainforest hiking and plenty of scenic waterfalls to explore. This National Rainforest is only about 45 minutes outside of historic Old San Juan making it an easy day trip for anyone staying there. We recommend spending 1-2 days exploring the El Yunque National Rainforest. Here is our complete El Yunque National Rainforest Guide.
FYI: This post is based on a trip taken in early March. We took this trip with our 7 month old daughter. For more baby travel tips, see Top 10 Baby Travel Tips, How to Hike with a Baby and Flying with a Baby posts.
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Two Entrances to El Yunque National Rainforest
There are two separate entrances to El Yunque National Forest. The east entrance (PR 191 and 988) is the more popular entrance. PR 191/988 is where you will see the main attractions including all but one of the hiking trails we discuss below. The west entrance (Road 186) takes you on a very rough remote road, past several waterfalls, and to the El Toro trailhead. Our favorite activities were on the east side of the park. We recommend spending at least two days on the east side of the park prior to exploring the west side of the park. Read our full guide below for more details and use the maps in each section to help you navigate each enterance.
IMPORTANT: You Need Reservations to Enter El Yunque National Rainforest
Currently, you cannot enter El Yunque National Rainforest without a reservation. You can book these reservations 30 days in advance at recreation.gov. We recommend you set an alarm to get these tickets as soon as they become available. These tickets are not as competitive to get as some tickets for entering other National Parks like Zion National Park, Arches National Park or Rocky Mountain National Park, but we still recommend getting them as soon as possible otherwise you may be SOL. We encountered numerous people at the entrance to El Yunque who did not have reservations and could not get in. You also cannot give or sell your ticket to someone else needing one, even if you are not going, because the park rangers check IDs to make sure ticket names match your ID.
Tip: If possible, get morning entrance tickets because there will be less people in the park
In the morning, you will only encounter other people with morning entrance tickets whereas in the afternoon, twice the number of people can be in the park at that time. The mornings are a bit cooler and better for hiking as well.
East Entrance El Yunque PR 191
In this part of our El Yunque National Park Guide, we will outline attractions and trails from south to north. Use the map here for guidance of the East Entrance.
El Yunque National Rainforest Guide: Stop at La Coca Falls
At this brief stop, you can see a waterfall off the main road (191) as you enter the park from the east. Our daughter loved looking at this waterfall. She was memorized by the waterflow!
El Yunque National Rainforest Guide: Hike La Coca Trail
This hike is very serene, peaceful and pretty. We hiked this trail on a Saturday at 9am, and we were the only people on the trail.
3.2 Miles, 947 feet of elevation gain, out & back
Slippery but not Strenuous Conditions
Reviews we had read, and speaking with a park ranger we encountered, advised us that this hike was very strenuous due to steep, muddy and slippery conditions. We found the hike itself to not be very strenuous, but the rocks on the trail were indeed very slippery. The rocks on the trail will likely always be slippery as it is a rainforest, and it has always recently rained. The initial descent was more slippery and tedious than the climb back up.
Slick River Crossings
We had to turn around at about 0.6 miles (1.2 miles roundtrip) on this trail because there was a river we needed to cross. However, the rocks were too slippery to cross with a baby. Sam attempted to cross the river on his own but since he slipped 3 times without the baby, we deemed it too unsafe to cross with the baby. We would have attempted to do it on our own but would not advise planning to do it if you have a child strapped to you. Regardless of how far you go and the sometimes slippery conditions on the trail, this trail was a slice of rainforest heaven. We took this trail slower than usual and got to soak in even more of the rainforest magic it had to offer.
El Yunque National Rainforest Guide: Stop at Yokahu Tower
You can simply look out from the spot right next to the parking lot or climb up the Yokahu Tower to look out over the park from even higher up. Regardless of what you decide to do, it is certainly a pretty spot. This stop is short but pretty.
Note: La Mina Falls/Trail, near Yokahu Tower, is currently closed. It was set to reopen in 2021 but was still closed when we visited in 2022.
El Yunque National Rainforest Guide: El Yunque Trail to Los Picachos via El Camilito Trailhead
This hike takes you through the rainforest and into the clouds! This trail ends at a cement landing that you climb onto affording you panoramic views of the park. It is a steep climb to the top but 100% worth it. This trek was our favorite hike and overall activity we did in Puerto Rico. It was so peaceful, and our 7 month old daughter (at the time) babbled the entire hike.
About 5 Miles Roundtrip, 1,748 feet of elevation gain, out & back
Tip: Try to go on a more clear day or in the morning (less likely rain) to have better views without cloud coverage (sometimes you cannot see anything with full cloud coverage)
Along the trail, there are several small waterfalls and plenty of very pretty rainforest flora to keep this hike interesting. Also, despite having quite decent elevation gain, the elevation gain was well spread out and the hike did not feel overly strenuous.
Note: You can hike to Los Picachos overlook and El Yunque from the same base via the El Camilito Trailhead. See Map. During our visit, the El Yunque Peak was closed.
Mount Britton Tower Trail
This trail takes you up to Mount Britton Tower that affords you panoramic views across the park. To access it, drive further up road 191 from the Vereda La Coca Trailhead (same road you access La Coca Falls)
1.6 Miles, 649 feet of elevation gain, out & back
The Mount Britton hike is along a well maintained trail and mostly paved with rocks. We advise wearing hiking boots for this trail though as it was a bit slick. The slickness was nothing our hiking boots could not handle but we saw people in regular shoes struggling (slipping all over the place).
Tip: Hike Mount Britton on a clear day and in the morning if able.
Try to go on a more clear day for better views from the top as cloud coverage can completely obstruct your views. The cloud cover can change in a matter of minutes and go from clear skies for miles to complete cloud cover (it did when we were there). Also, try hiking the trail earlier in the day for the best views/weather as it typically rains in the afternoon in the rainforest (per park ranger). There are also less people on this trail in the morning. We saw at least a dozen other people while hiking this trail on a Saturday late morning/early afternoon.
Stop at La Murella for Lunch
This roadside stand is located just prior to La Coca Falls. The food here is delicious and freshly prepared. It is quite overpriced, but you are paying for the convenience of warm Puerto Rican Food in the middle of a rainforest. This is the best food we have ever had at a National Park site. Typically the food at the National Parks does not match up to the views, but this time it did! Be sure to bring cash to pay for it!
East Entrance El Yunque PR 988
Hike the Angelito Trail
The Angelito trail takes you through the rainforest to a river where you can go swimming. The highlight, for Natalie, at this spot was the rope swing. She had fun attempting to master swinging into the river. On the trail, you’ll pass through some bamboo adding to the biodiversity you see through the park.
0.7 miles, 127 feet of elevation gain, out & back
Located on Road 988, Angelito Trail AllTrails
Tip: Go right after it rains or on a weekday to beat the crowds
We had this normally very busy spot almost completely to ourselves after a short downpour. Everyone else had cleared out due to the rain. Also, try to go here on a weekday as it gets packed on weekends.
Tip: Bring a compact umbrella into El Yunque in case it does rain
We almost always carry an umbrella with us when we hike (mainly because it can serve as quick sun protection for our baby when she is too young for sunscreen), and this definitely came in handy during this downpour.
West Entrance El Yunque Road 186
El Yunque National Rainforest Guide: Drive Road 186
This is a very peaceful and serene drive on the west side of the park. There are several pretty waterfalls along the road and plenty of rainforest flora to adore. In comparison to the east site, this area of the park is rarely visited. We only saw one other car while driving on the entirety of this road.
It is important to note that this is a VERY rough road. Park maps indicate it is a rough road and they are not kidding. We only recommend driving Road 186 if you have a 4 x 4 vehicle. We did not have a 4 x 4 vehicle and are lucky we did not damage our rental car. The potholes were filled with water so to access the best route to drive, Sam would get out of the car and use a stick to estimate the depth of each hole. It was a less than ideal situation. It took us almost 2 hours to drive less than 15 miles with the rough road conditions. Again, we do not recommend driving this unless you have a 4 x 4 high-clearance vehicle. We recommend visiting the east side of the park several times before you venture here.
Hike El Toro Trail
This hike is located in the west El Yunque National Forest, and you access it by driving Road 186 (at the end of this road). Based on reviews we read, it is very muddy, some people said they would not do it again and it took most people 5 hours to hike. We did not hike this trail because at the trailhead, located near the edge of the park, there was a pack of large, aggressive stray dogs. Based on the reviews we read, we did not think the hike was worth doing to potentially get bit and contract rabies.
Other El Yunque National Rainforest Observations
No Bug Bites
None of us got any bug bites while in El Yunque National Rainforest. Normally, Natalie gets eaten alive in Wisconsin so we figured the mosquitoes would be much worse in the rainforest but this was not the case. This was a real win.
Plenty of Shade
On the trails we hiked in El Yunque, there was plenty of shade on all of them. This made all the hiking much more comfortable and more fun to complete with a baby. See our How to Hike with a Baby post for more tips on hiking with your little one. You know you are getting older when you rate something more highly based on the amount of shade and lack of bugs. Seriously though, trails with no bugs and shade are the best.
Where to Stay when visiting El Yunque National Rainforest
Stay East of Old San Juan
We recommend staying at the The East Point P.R. Airbnb we stayed at in Ceiba (East of the Island) just south of Fjarado and about 30 minutes from the east entrance to El Yunque.
We loved this Airbnb for many reasons. For one, the patios at this Airbnb are amazing. The front patio has hammocks under a gorgeous tree and the back patio has stunning mountain views. The hosts at this Airbnb were so kind and helpful as well. Our daughter also loved the swimming pool which is shared by others at the complex, but we always had it completely to ourselves. When we visited, there was a reservation system in place to only have one family at the pool at a time. This Airbnb is not a resort and allows for a more local experience as the other people at the complex reside there.
Luquillo and Fjarado are also good areas to stay in while visiting the island. They are far enough away from the city yet close enough for a day trip to Old San Juan and with convenient access to El Yunque and some of the best beaches/beach hiking. See our 1 Week in Puerto Rico Itinerary for all our tips on spending more time in Puerto Rico. You may also consider staying in Old San Juan if you want a lively, city feel and taking a day trip to El Yunque from there.
We hope this guide helps you plan your trip to El Yunque National Rainforest. Anything you’d add to our guide? We’d love to hear your feedback and questions. Please leave us a comment!
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