U.S. National Forest Campground Guide

El Yunque National Forest

Puerto Rico

Custom Search
Click here to transmit an email to the authors with corrections or updates. Please include your name and telephone number for the authors so they may communicate with you if there are questions. If you wish to speak with the authors by telephone, call 520-432-5783.

. . . Thank you . . .

Forest Information

Visit Date: 12/10/2014

The El Yunque National Forest (NF), comprised of 28,000 acres, is on the east side of Puerto Rico. It is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean on the north side and Caribbean Sea on the south. Located about 45 minutes southeast of San Juan, it is the largest natural attraction in Puerto Rico. Established in 1867 by the Spanish Crown, El Yunque was made a "forest reserve" in 1903 by President Roosevelt and a "national forest" in 1907. Receiving over 200 inches of rainfall each year, El Yunque is also the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. National Forest inventory of public lands. There are no developed campgrounds in the forest, but several designated disbursed campsites are available. Having commonwealth status, a passport is not required for U.S. citizens. A drivers license with picture will do just fine. However, these rules could change; confirm with the U.S. State Department's Passport Office.

The El Yunque's 28,000 acres contain some 240 species of trees and plants and 50 bird species. Among the tree species there are the stunning Silk Cotton Tree, towering Puerto Rico Royal palm, ancient Fern tree and useful Bread Fruit trees. Lizards, including a variety of loud, tiny Coqui frogs (endemic to Puerto Rico), are most often the wildlife seen in the Forest. The real treat is to catch a glimpse of the rare Puerto Rican Parrot. Considered one of the ten most endangered species of birds in the world, near one-third of the El Yunque NF has been set-aside as a protected habitat for this special bird.

There is one road, Route 191, into El Yunque NF and this is also the only way out. A major landslide closed Rt 191 at about the 13 kilometer marker so there is no through route or access to the southern end of the forest except from Rio Blanco off Rt. 31. At the north end of El Yunque NF is a premier visitor center - El Portal Rain Forest Center (fee charged). It has three pavilions loaded with informative displays. The "Understanding the Forest" movie is a must see. A small cafe offers a limited menu to visitors with outdoor seating among the tropical vegetation. Another "must-do" is the Nature Trail adjacent to the Forest Center.

Tent-only camping is permitted year round in seven designated campsites, four in "Campsites Near Parking" and three in "Campsites to Hike-Backpack." Click here for a Forest Service brochure and map explaining the rules and displaying the camping areas. Overall, the authors refer to these campsites as designated dispersed camping. Camping at any one of them is free, BUT a permit is required, arrangements for which must be made two weeks in advance. The authors attempted to personally visit each of the four campsites in the "Campsites Near Parking." Three of the four campsites were located and are described below.. It seems that most if not all of the campsites visited were primarily maintained by campers following the "Leave-No-Trace" principle.

Perhaps the biggest draw of El Yunque NF is the hiking. There are about a dozen maintained trails but the most popular might be La Mina and Big Tree. Each of these trails takes about two-hours, round-trip, and meet at the very popular La Mina Falls. For a longer, more challenging hike there is El Yunque Trail. About a four-hour round-trip, this hike takes one past stands of sierra palm and pale Colorado trees and through a dwarf forest at Mount Britton. The highlight of this trail is the panoramic views. On a clear day, hikers can see all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. Want views but not the hike? There is the Yokahu Tower. A required stop for tour buses and any visitor to the forest, Yokahu Tower can be crowded. Patience is rewarded by panoramic 360 degree views. Again, Click here for the El Yunque brochure displaying more information about sights to see and do.

One of the great features of Puerto Rico is the wonderful temperatures all year round. The highest temperatures are from July through October for an average of around 86F with the lows, probably in December and January, for an average of around 73F. The authors were all over the island for about 3 weeks during December; the temperatures could not have been much lower than 72 degrees. Of course, being a tropical island, humidity will be higher. It is said, humidity is pretty steady year round, ranging from 74 to 81 percent.

There are two explanations for this Forest's name. One harkens on the time of the Spanish while the other comes from the native people, Tainos. The Spanish saw the towering El Yunque Peak as an anvil so gave it that name. The Tainos named the peak after a spirit who protected that island from disaster in times of storm. These dueling explanations illustrate the diversity of the El Yunque NF.

El Yunque NF is one of the smaller forests in the Forest Service but its unique features make it a very special. For many, getting to El Yunque NF is a challenge and the cost may be a deterrent but it is well-worth the effort. Visitors will find one of the many day trips from the Forest, such as a visit to Old San Juan and the San Juan National Historic Site Paseo del Morro (a huge fort built by the Spanish) a great experience. And then walking the colorful, narrow streets of Old San Juan is sooo much fun especially when you get lost. A day on Luquillo Beach just north of the Forest should be a great time for the whole family. As one can imagine, water sports are a big deal all around the Island - surfing, snorkeling, wind surfing, sailing, etc. Visits to places farther afield like Rincon, or nearby island of Vieques, are a good way to discover Puerto Rico that is more than the lush vegetation of the Forest Service's only rain forest, El Yunque NF. All these activities in and around El Yunque NF make it a memorable destination recreation place.

NOTE: two excellent references about Puerto Rico are:
- Frommer's [Portable] "Puerto Rico"
- Fodor's "Puerto Rico"

Km* Campsite Name GPS Coordinates
12.6 Molindero N18 17.757, W65 47.328
12.3 La Lomita Not found
11.9 Dos Quebradas N18 17.972, W65 47.096
11.4 El Pabellon N18 18.096, W65 47.006
*Km = kilometer

NOTES: - Click on campground name for picture of it - Elevation varies from 1900 ft. to 2200 ft. - All campsites are under maintained - Potable water/toilets not available at any campsite. Try Palo Colorado Info. Center at N18 18.079, W65 47.096 for potable water and toilet. (Return to Top) ADDRESSES

El Yunque National Forest HC-01, Box 13490 Rio Grande, PR 00745-9625 787-888-1880

Fred and Suzi Dow