Are there tropical rainforests in the United States? Well, sort of. If one thinks of the Territory of Puerto Rico as being a part of the United States, then yes. Go to that tropical Caribbean island, and one will find El Yunque National Forest - the only tropical rainforest in the United States National Forest. Visiting the country's only rainforests is only one of the many reasons to visit Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico has many other attractions, including the oldest European-era buildings in the United States. San Juan in Puerto Rico is the oldest European settlement in American territory. It easily predates Plymouth or Jamestown. Puerto Pico is a rewarding destination that many forget to visit.
El Yunque National Forest - The Only USA Tropical Rainforest
El Yunque National Forest covers over 28,000 acres (43 mi2 or 113 km2) and is also the largest block of public land in Puerto Rico. While El Yunque is one of the smallest American national forests, it is one of the most biologically diverse. The first is found on the slopes of the Sierra de Luquillo mountains and
- Size: 43 mi2 or 113 km2
- Highest Point: 3,464 feet or 1,065 meters
- Location: Sierra de Luquillo Mountains, Puerto Rico
Wander around the forest, and the ample annual rainfall gives it a jungle-like feel. See a forest characterized by lush foliage, rivers, waterfalls, crags, and humidity. The plants and animals that call the forest home are also from tropical rainforests.
- Rainfall: Over 20 Feet In Some Areas
The El Yunque National Forest also has only one designated wilderness area called the El Toro Wilderness. That makes it the only tropical rainforest that's in the country's National Wilderness Preservation System.
The El Yunque Forest Is Sacred To The Indigenous Taino People
El Yunque forest is also regarded as a sacred place in Puerto Rican culture. One can also find unique Taino petroglyphs made long ago by the original inhabitants of the island. There is no evidence of prehistoric settlement of the mountain - perhaps because it was sacred.
- Sacred: El Yunque Was Sacred To The Original Inhabitants
It has been said that Mt El Yunque was also the seat of the chief god Yucahu (a bit like Mount Olympus in Greek mythology). It is believed the Taino word "Yuke," meaning "white earth," is a reference to the white clouds that hug the forests of the mountain.
Climate Of El Yunque Forest
With a tropical rainforest climate, El Yunque does not have a distinct wet or dry season. It rains year-round, and the daylight hours remain fairly constant all through the year. It is warm all through the year, and the lowest temperature drop is below 50 °F (10 °C).
- Average Summer Temperatures: 80 °F (26 °C) High and 68 °F (20 °C) Low
- Average Winter Temperatures: 72 °F (22 °C) High and 58 °F (15 °C) Low
With these temperatures, plants can grow all year long.
The area is excessively wet due to a process called geographic lift - which leads to excess rainfall at around 240 inches or 6.1 meters per year.
Visiting The El Yunque National Forest
If one would like to visit the El Yunque National Forest, one needs to reserve entry tickets online (there are still Covid-related restrictions in place as of the time of writing - August 2022). They can't be reserved with the NPS or the Forest Service. Instead, they need to be reserved with recreation.gov. The tickets are timed and are available 30 days in advance of the entry date.
The tickets are free, but there is also a $2.00 reservation fee (it's also non-refundable).
- Entry Fee: $0.00 ($2.00 Reservation Fee)
There are a number of hiking trails in El Yunque forest to explore the national forest. When feeling hot and sweaty, just cool off in the natural pools beneath the waterfalls. Activities in the forest include hiking, picnicking, wildlife viewing, and interpretive programs. There is also a visitor center on-site. The forest is small, but there are still plenty of trails that provide a fully immersive experience.