El Yunque Waterfall & Hiking Guide

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by Kristin Young | Updated On: September 22, 2021 | Puerto Rico

Located in the tropical Caribbean, Puerto Rico provides visitors with warm and beautiful weather, perfect for outdoor activities. One of the best places in the country to disconnect and soak up sweep views is El Yunque National Rainforest. It’s also a popular spot for anyone seeking out the impressive El Yunque waterfall hikes.

El Yunque is the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. System of National Forests. It’s found in northeastern Puerto Rico, on the slopes of the Sierra de Luquillo mountains. It was formerly known as the Caribbean National Forest, and in 2007, the name changed to ‘El Yunque’ after one of the island’s Native spirits.

This may be one of the smaller areas, encompassing only around 28,000 acres (113.32 km2), but it has one of the most biologically diverse rainforests around.

HOW TO GET TO EL YUNQUE

The rainforest can be explored from many different access points, but the main National Park Service area, including the El Yunque Visitor Center, is along 191, which can be accessed just a few miles East of Rio Grande. The drive to the Visitor Center will take about 40-45 minutes from Old San Juan.

El Yunque Road Map

Route 186, secondary road and Scenic Byway with National Park Service trails extends south out of Rio Grande. You’ll find fewer crowds along the route, but also poorer road conditions. There are some great hikes and waterfalls along the way though.

But, for a first timer who wants to see the major sights of El Yunque, start your adventure at the Visitor Center and explore along route 191 to see some of the best and most popular El Yunque trails.

**Post-hurricane Maria & Irma notice: Some of the trails remain closed until further notice. Check USDA El Yunque Rainforest for updates and alerts before visiting. 

KNOW BEFORE YOU GO

Driving: Puerto Rico driving rules are similar to any state in the U.S. You’ll drive on the right side of the road.  The winding mountain roads can be somewhat narrow, so use caution around turns. And, if you’re prone to car sickness, you may want to bring some medicine along just in case.

Parking: You’d need to park on the side of the road for most hiking trails and waterfalls. Be aware of the “No Parking” signs; don’t park in a restricted area – as tempting as it may be, you may get into some trouble like being fined by one of the park rangers. Some of the trailheads have very limited parking, so try to arrive as early as possible.

Opening Hours: The forest is open daily from 7:30 am to 6 pm, except for Christmas day. The El Portal Visitors’ Center opens from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. 

**The Visitor Center is currently closed due to hurricane damage, but is expected to reopen in late 2021. The National Park Service website references 8am-5:30 pm opening times as well as the times listed above. I believe that the shortened hours are due to the current limited access during the pandemic.

El Yunque Fees: There is no fee to enter the forest. Access to the Visitor Center will cost around $4 for adults, $2 for seniors, and is free for children under 15 years. Guided tours are also available at a cost. 

**Reservations are currently REQUIRED for the La Mina Recreation Area(Rt. 191) due to health and safety restrictions. Reservations must be made in advance on the Recreation.gov website, and the FEE is $2 per vehicle. Availability is limited and typically books up at least a week in advance. Additional tickets may be made available at 8am the day before. So, if you’ve missed the chance for tickets on your date, you can still try to get a last minute ticket- or visit one of the other areas within the park.

Climate: El Yunque gets over 200 inches of rain (508 cm) per year at high elevations. Given it’s a rainforest, it’s not a bad idea to pack a rain jacket or poncho in. Flash flooding is also common, so if hiking near waterfalls keep an eye on the weather.

Cell Phone Service: Cell Phone service is spotty at best within El Yunque, so plan ahead to be without any signal. The main roads are well marked, but offline maps may be beneficial. In addition to road maps, El Yunque National Forest is working to go paper free through the use of their app with offline maps of the trails. You can download the app from the app store, or find more information here.

EL YUNQUE PUERTO RICO DAY TOURS 

Video from the company that runs the 2nd and 3rd tours listed.

There are plenty of guided tours of the El Yunque Rainforest. Most options offer hotel pick-ups and drop-offs from the San Juan area.

Tours typically include a visit to one of the popular El Yunque waterfalls. Full-day tours are usually booked as combo tours, including a kayak tour or beach trip outside the park. Take a look at these popular tours below.

El Yunque Rainforest Half-Day Tour from San Juan

Tour covers Rt. 191, La Mina Recreation Area.

What better way to see El Yunque Rainforest than on a phenomenal tour from San Juan? On your trip, you’ll visit the famous La Coca Waterfall, enjoy incredible panoramic views from the Yukaho Tower, and learn about the local fauna and flora who call this sub-tropical rainforest home. 

Your exciting tour also includes round-trip transportation from San Juan, a professional guide, and all park entrance fees.  

Check prices and availability for this tour here. 

El Yunque Rainforest Guided Hiking & Waterfall Tour

Tour covers the Southern side of the forest rather than the main National Park Service areas.

This full-day guided El Yunque waterfall tour takes you to more off-the-beaten-path waterfalls around the forest and is full of excitement and adventure. It won’t be a tour through the main side of the rainforest, so if you’re wanting to hike the Nation Park Service trails, you may want to look at the first option.

Once you’ve arrived at Ceiba, you’ll begin a 25-30-minute hike and short river trek. As you enter the forest, you’ll begin your off-the-beaten-path adventure. Climbing over rocks and through the lush jungle until you reach pristine natural pools and majestic waterfalls. 

This tour will lead you to a super cool rope swing and, if you’re brave enough, a cliff jump. You’ll be able to spend time enjoying the scenery before you proceed to the next stop. There, you’ll find an impressive natural waterslide and other pools. Your tour will be led by a certified guide who will share information about the forest as you go along.

Book your guided hike and waterfall tour here.

Combo Tour: El Yunque Off the Beaten Path and Bio Bay Kayaking 

Tour covers lesser known areas of the park.

Embark on an adventurous excursion exploring two incredible natural wonders. These are hiking in the El Yunque Rainforest, and exploring the island’s famed Bioluminescent Bay on a kayak.

Start your day off with an early hike in El Yunque, enjoying spectacular mountain views and an optional waterfall swim to rejuvenate and cool off. In the evening, you’ll continue your tour with a kayaking trip to the magical bay consisting of bioluminescence in the water. This special bay features a unique variety of plankton that glow when the water is disturbed. 

Your tour includes park fees, a professional guide, and a round-trip back to your hotel. 

Check out availability and prices for this combo tour here. 

BEST EL YUNQUE WATERFALLS

El Yunque Waterfall Map
Click the map for additional information in Google Maps

There are plenty of El Yunque National Forest waterfalls to check out, some more off the beaten path than others. There are three famous falls, reasonably accessible as you travel from the main road on the PR 191, La Mina Waterfall, Juan Diego Falls, and La Coca Falls.

One of the most popular things to do is hike to the waterfalls in El Yunque. So, let’s take a look at some of the best waterfalls in Puerto Rico’s rainforest. 

La Mina Waterfall 

**Post-hurricane Maria & Irma notice: La Mina Trail is currently closed and expected to reopen in late 2021.

La Mina Waterfall, El Yunque Puerto Rico
  • Location:  Rt. 191
  • Hike Required:  3/4 mile

Cascada la Mina (La Mina Falls), is one of the most popular waterfalls in the El Yunque forest.These phenomenal falls drop over 35 feet into a natural swimming pool, reaching up to 65 degrees°F (18°C), ideal for dipping in and cooling off.

To reach the falls via trail, it’s necessary to cross the river over a couple of bridges that offer scenic views of various cascades and pools.

The trail is well-maintained, and it’s a relatively short hike to the cascading falls and pools below. 

La Coca Falls

La Coca Falls in El Yunque Puerto Rico
  • Location:  Rt. 191
  • Hike Required:  None; Adjacent to Road

The spectacular La Coca Falls stands at an elevation of 1,476 feet (450 meters) above sea level, and drops 85 feet (26 meters) onto large rock formations at the bottom. Because of its unique rock surface that appears smooth, La Coca Falls is a favorite spot to capture on film – definitely insta worthy.

The La Coca Falls is the easiest to see because it’s location is right off the PR-191 main road, around 4.9 miles (8 km) from the park’s entrance. There is a small parking lot just up from the falls. 

Note: There is no swimming allowed, and the rocks are very slippery. 

Juan Diego Creek

Waterfalls in Juan Diego Creek, El Yunque Puerto Rico
  • Location:  Rt. 191
  • Hike Required:  1/4 mile

Just up from La Coca Falls, past Yokahu Tower is the Juan Diego Creek trail and waterfalls. The short path leads to several natural pools that are great for swimming in and relaxing amidst the jungle. 

The Juan Diego Creek is actually a set of cascades that follows the river into the rainforest. The trailhead sign is visible from the PR 191 main road, with limited parking. 

Rio Espiritu Santo

  • Location:  Rt. 186
  • Hike Required:  None; Adjacent to Road

This hidden waterfall is located just off Route 186.  Near the bridge that crosses the river, there’s a small parking area where you can view the waterfalls, and even climb the rocks to take a dip in the natural pools.  

This is the best easily accessible waterfall along route 186, but if you take your time, there will be plenty of other small waterfalls and natural pools to swim in.  And the best part is that you’ll have them nearly to yourself.  But, be aware that road conditions on Route 186 aren’t the best.  So, drive carefully.

Las Paylas Natural Water Slides

Las Paylas Natural Water Slides El Yunque (1)
  • Location:  Rt. 983
  • Hike Required:  None; Adjacent to Road

Not part of El Yunque National Park proper, these natural waterslides and pools are located on private property at the edge of the park.  It’s a great spot for a bit of fun and excitement after a day of hiking.  

To ready the water slides, you’ll need to pay $5 to park on private property.  The owner will direct you toward the path to the slides.  It’s not nearly as busy at the waterfalls on Rt. 191, but don’t expect this place to be off the beaten path.  It’s a popular spot for small tour groups to stop.

EL YUNQUE HIKING TRAILS 

Although it’s possible to hop in the car or do a quick drive-by tour, the only way to fully appreciate El Yunque’s true majesty is to park and hike. It won’t take long to become completely enveloped by the lush foliage and surrounds.

lower trails at la mina recreation area for an el yunque national forest hike
Map of Lower Trails at La Mina Recreation Area

El Yunque is one of the most ecologically significant areas in Puerto Rico, offering tons of options for hiking trails. There are over 24 miles of trails, varying in difficulty. Let’s take a look at some of the best trails for an El Yunque rainforest hike. 

board for the upper trails hiking el yunque national forest
Map of Upper Trails at La Mina Recreation Area

Make sure to download the National Park Service App for offline hiking maps, and check out the Route 191 trail map HERE, and Route 186 trail map HERE. I can’t stress enough how fantastic the app is. Not only is it offline which is so important, but it has detailed maps of each trail. Don’t wait, just go download it!

Note: Other trails worth mentioning; Angelito Trail, Big Tree Trail, Los Picachos Trail, and the Baño de Oro Trail. 

El Yunque Trail

view of the mountains from the top of El Yunque Hiking Trail
  • Distance: 2.6 miles (4.2 km) 
  • Difficulty: Challenging
  • Trail Type: Out and Back

One of the best trails in Puerto Rico is the 2.6 mile El Yunque Trail to the El Yunque Peak. At the top, you’ll find sweeping views of the beautifully green-hued rainforest.  

The trail takes you to the highest points in the forest with an elevation of 630 – 1050 meters, to the El Yunque Peak. You can access the path through the Caimitillo or Mt. Britton Spur trail. 

The trail starts at the Palo Colorado Information Center and from there, you’ll ascend through sierra palms before reaching the picturesque, misty Cloud Forest. On the way, you’ll come to notice the variations in trees as the elevation changes. 

The trail path consists of asphalt, gravel, and stone – and after rain, it can become muddy. It’s best to wear a comfortable pair of boots with a good grip. 

La Mina Trail

  • Distance: 0.7 miles (1.1 km) 
  • Difficulty: Moderate to Challenging 
  • Trail Type: Out and Back

The La Mina trail, known as one of the best waterfall hikes in El Yunque, will take you along the course of the scenic La Mina River, which carves itself through the forest to the famous La Mina Falls in Puerto Rico. 

The hike will take you about 45 minutes to complete and descends for about 0.7 miles before reaching the exquisite falls cascading into a serene natural swimming pool. La Mina Trail and the Big Tree Trail both end at La Mina Falls, so consider taking the Big Tree Trail for a slightly easier hike.

Note: Consider coming early as the area may become congested with hikers. Also, be aware of weather conditions and flash floods. 

Mt. Britton Trail and Tower 

Mt Britton rainforest hiking trail in El Yunque National Forest Puerto Rico
  • Distance: 0.8 miles (1.3 km)
  • Difficulty: Moderate to Challenging
  • Trail Type: Out and Back

The Mt Britton trail is on a one-way loop road, and starts at the trailhead sign and ascends through the Sierra Palm Forest. You’ll cross through streams, pass over the Forest Service Road 10, and continue for an additional 500 feet. 

The trail will lead you upward through the Cloud Forest to the Mount Britton Tower, built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Alternatively, from here you can turn left and continue to El Yunque Peak. 

On a clear day, the stone tower’s observation deck offers a spectacular view of the forest, the Caribbean sea, and the beautiful coastline. 

Note: There is limited parking available along the road. Arrive early to get a spot.  

La Coca Trail 

  • Distance: 2 miles (3.2 km)
  • Difficulty: Challenging
  • Trail Type: Out and Back

Close to the La Coca Falls, the La Coca trail is considered a more challenging trail than the others. The trail starts at the La Coca Falls and will lead you over gravel paths and a couple of streams. It’s around a 1.5-hour hike one-way. 

If you plan on sightseeing and doing waterfall stops, it can take around 4-hours to complete a round trip. 

If you’re not keen on making the trail alone, we suggest booking a guided tour to enjoy the beautiful path near La Coca waterfall. 

Note: This trail has become known for people getting lost along the hike, the park service STRONGLY urges you to STAY ON THE TRAIL.

Juan Diego Creek Trail 

Juan Diego Creek in El Yunque Puerto Rico
  • Distance: 0.125 mile (0.2 km)
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trail Type: Out and Back

This area provides an easy walk to the waterfalls and natural swimming pools making it one of the best hikes in El Yunque for families. The trail is next to the creek, providing several pools along the way. 

Keep in mind, it can get a little crowded along the trail since most tour groups tend to stop here (so try to do this walk early). 

Caimitillo Trail 

footbridge over waterfalls on caimitillo trail in El Yunque
  • Distance: 0.4 miles (0.6 km)
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trail Type: Loop

Another beautiful trail El Yunque hike is the Caimitillo Trail. It’s a popular path because it’s short, picturesque, and includes a picnic area. Along the way, you’ll get to discover giant ferns and sierra palms. 

You should hike with care here, as the trail has some steep, concrete stairs followed by wooden steps and a rocky surface. The trek starts from the Sierra Palm Visitor Center on the PR 19. There is parking available adjacent to the center, at the trailhead.

Note: The trail joins with the El Yunque Trail for a short bit before looping back, so pay attention to the signage when the trails split or you will be headed on a long hike to the peak.

EL YUNQUE, PUERTO RICO WATERFALLS AND HIKES

This national treasure is the perfect destination for anyone looking to immerse themselves in nature. Grab a map and enjoy one of the many trails offered here. Bathe in natural pools and relax in panoramic surroundings and unspoiled beauty. 

To get the best experience out of your trip, many head out for a combo tour to snorkel in Puerto Rico at the beach and then find majestic falls in the forest. It’s without a doubt that the El Yunque National Forest adds something magical to your day of adventure on a Puerto Rico vacation. So, stock up on some sunblock and comfortable shoes, and off you go.

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Hi!  We’re Kristin & Andrew, lovers of everything tropical.  We spend as much time as possible searching for the best beaches, snorkeling, hiking, and fun in the sun!