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El Yunque National Forest Things to Do: 27 reviews and 70 photos
Mt. Britton tower
We still had a lot of time after hiking the Big Tree/La Mina trails so we decided to drive to the end of the access road and do one more hike to the Mt. Britton tower. This trail is almost entirely vertical so you should be in decent shape to do it. Follow the signs to the trail head and park there, you have to take a right off the main road and continue driving to get to where it starts.
The Mt. Britton trail isn't as well marked as the more popular trails but it's easy enough to figure out, once at the top of the tower you have a spectacular view over the park. The Mount Britton trail is 0.8 miles (1.3 km) in length, estimated at 40 minutes one-way, difficulty level is challenging.
The Mt. Britton tower, named for botanist Nathaniel Britton, was built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. From the top of the tower you can see out to the Atlantic, the Caribbean and off in the distance you can see San Juan.
The La Mina trail is the continuation of the Big Tree Trail or you can hike it down and then back up if your time is short in El Yunque. The trail is .7 miles (1.2 km) and estimated to take 30 to 45 minutes one way, rated as challenging although I thought Big Tree required more exertion. La Mina was the prettier of the two trails, it follows the water as it flows down to the falls. At the falls, you can take a dip in the cold water so bring a bathing suit. Try to do this or Big Tree first, as the day progresses the ship tours and daytrip buses start arriving and it becomes crowded and not at all tranquil. We were followed by a giggling group of American college students, once they were in the water at La Mina falls there was no way to get decent pictures so we were glad we beat them down by 20 minutes.
Big Tree Trail
The Big Tree Trail is one of the two most popular hikes in El Yunque, it's .7 miles in length (1.4km) and the estimated time to hike it is 40 minutes with a moderate level of difficulty, all of the trails we hiked including this one were paved. The Big Tree trail leads to the La Mina waterfall and from there you can hike the La Mina trail back up or you can do that in reverse and hike down La Mina and then back up Big Tree. After doing it, I'm still not sure which is the better route, Big Tree left me winded even going down to the falls as it's more of an up and down trail, whereas La Mina seemed like it was all descent going down. If you do the two trails in combination, you will be about 1 mile (1.8km) from where you park, we had to walk along the road to get back to our car. From La Mina you are going downhill, from Big Tree uphill. So I think it's kind of a toss up as to which is the route that requires more exertion.
If you only have time to hike one, I'd suggest La Mina, it was the more scenic of the two routes as it follows the water down to the waterfall.
El Yunque National Forest, located about an hour southeast of San Juan, is the only tropical rain forest in the U.S. National Forest System. The forest’s 28,000 acres is home to 240 species of trees, 150 types of ferns and you may see tropical flowers depending on when you visit. You may come across tiny tree frogs, the rare Puerto Rican parrot or Puerto Rican boa although sightings are rare.
You can start at the El Portal Rain Forest Center or if you know where you are going you can drive and park at any of the trail heads and save the $4 fee for the visitor center. You can print off the information for each of the different trails from their website which lists the length of the trail, the level of difficulty and estimated time to complete. We found the time estimates to be a bit inflated but the level of difficulty accurate.
Although we didn't see a drop of rain, this is a rainforest and if you come during the rainy season, you may want to come prepared for a shower or two. The three trails we hiked were all paved and there were rain shelters dotted along the trails.
La Coca Falls
After leaving the visitors center on the main road through the park, you pass by La Coca Falls. You can pull off the road and take a picture, no hiking required.
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