Big Tree Trail in El Yunque was my very first experience of the rainforest over 10 years ago and it’s still one of my favorite (relatively easy) hikes in El Yunque. The added bonus, like La Mina Trail, Big Tree Trail takes you to the cascading waters of La Mina Falls; one of the most popular spots in the rainforest.
Big Tree Trail: Quick Facts
- Trail starts at Km 10.4 on Road 191
- Parking available
- Trail is 0.8 miles long (one way) and should take on average about 45 minutes each way
- Rated as a ‘Moderate’ hike
- Trail starts at 1800 feet and ends at 1640 feet, which gives you a 160 ft drop in elevation, so it’s really not steep
- Several interpretative signs (in Spanish and English) along the trail
- A couple of small ‘rain’ shelters
- Trail ends at the 35ft La Mina Falls
So now you are ready to hit the trail. The trail has recently been repaved so you should find the surface relatively easy to walk on; just take care as even though the surface is grooved to help with traction it still can be a little slippery, especially after rain.
The gentle incline at the beginning takes you past several interpretative signs that explain about the ecosystem of El Yunque, explaining about the trees, plants, birds, lizards and other insects that make their home here. The information is really great and will help you understand how the forest developed and continues to thrive.
Along the way keep a look out for the local residents, it’s not guaranteed that you will actually see them, but you stand a great chance of hearing them.
El Yunque is also home to four species of fruit, insect and nectar eating bats as well as four species on non venomous snakes. Check the plant life for signs of life; those tiny holes, bumps and raw edges were made by something.
Listen and you might here one or more of the 20 species of birds that live in El Yunque and don’t forget the Coqui frog with its unmistakable Koo-kee call.
You will find some of the oldest trees in the forest along the Big Tree Trail, the Tabonuco trees have made their home here and some have been hanging around for some 200 years. You will also find the Magnolia Splendens that is unique to the Caribbean Rainforest.
Unfortunately El Yunque suffered some damage this year from the tropical storms and was hit hard when Hurricane Irene formed over the island. The Forest Services have done a great job in clearing the damage, but you will probably still see one or two downed trees.
As you continue along the trail, you will pass a couple of small shelters where you can take a break if you need to, or if you are unlucky enough to get caught in rain. The trail is not all downhill, as there is one short section that has about 70 steps that lead upwards, but unlike La Mina Trail, this section is relatively gentle.
As you start the final downhill section the sound of rushing water gets louder and louder until you reach the prize of the trail; La Mina Falls.
Here water pours over the 35ft falls into a small pool that is perfect for a swim (if you are feeling brave enough). Just make sure that you are already wearing your swimsuit (as there are no changing facilities) and that you are ready for the cooler (much cooler) water temperatures.
You can either access the falls using the steps just before the small bridge or cross the bridge and cross the rocks and boulders to the pool and falls. Whichever route you take, be careful as the rocks will be slippery.
Because La Mina Falls is extremely popular and the pool is not that large; if you REALLY want to enjoy the waterfall to its fullest, you need to get there EARLY.
Note there are no seats, so find a comfortable boulder and enjoy.
Once you are ready to leave the easiest option is to head back the way you came. You do have the option of taking the La Mina Trail, but the hike back to the Palo Colorado Information Center is steeper harder than the Big Tree Trail, plus, if you car is at the Big Tree Trail car park you (or someone) will need to walk back down about 1 mile along Rd 191 to retrieve your car.
Now if you still have energy, there are plenty of more trails in El Yunque to explore…
What: Big Tree Trail
Where: El Yunque Rain Forest
When: 7 Days a week. Gates open at 7:30am and close at 6pm. The ranger stations open from 9am – 5pm. Note: El Yunque is open all year round except for Christmas Day
More info: here