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El Toro Wilderness

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The headwaters of a jungle river flow brown with mud among palms and moss.
Library image #4318: The birth of the Espiritu Santo River – a river that was the site of much research in the past. A very early section.


The United States Congress designated the El Toro Wilderness (map) in 2005 and it now has a total of 10,244 acres. All of this wilderness is located in Puerto Rico and is managed by the Forest Service.


The El Toro Wilderness, named after the highest peak (3,524 feet) in the El Yunque National Forest, is the only tropical wilderness in the U.S. National Forest System (NFS). It is located 25 miles east of San Juan on the western side of the Luquillo Mountain Range. The El Toro Wilderness is the first designated wilderness in Puerto Rico and the first designated tropical wilderness in the NFS, which contributes to the national goal of a more diverse wilderness preservation system. The forest is also a Biosphere Reserve, an internationally (UNESCO) designated protected area managed to demonstrate the values of conservation. The El Yunque National Forest and the El Toro Wilderness are well recognized as unique locations. A rich variety of aquatic life is found in the area's many streams, which provide a valuable water source for thousands of Puerto Rican residents. The area features the largest number of native tree species (240) in the NFS, contains 50 varieties of orchids and more than 150 species of ferns, and is home to eight federally listed endangered plants and 30 sensitive plant species. The area is also rich in wildlife. It is occupied by 42 year-round species of birds and is of great importance to at least 35 neotropical migratory bird species including the Peregrine Falcon, Merlin and the Black-throated Blue Warbler, which has been designated as a management indicator species. The El Toro Wilderness provides habitat for the endangered Elfin Woods Warbler, the Puerto Rican Boa, the Desmarest's fig eating bat, five species of Coquis (small frogs), and the Puerto Rican Parrot. The Puerto Rican Parrot is the only native parrot on the island and was placed on the Federal Endangered Species list in 1968. One of the 10 most endangered birds in the world, the Puerto Rican Parrot once was abundant throughout the island, but now only approximately 40 wild birds remain. A parrot aviary was established in 1972 in the Caribbean National Forest where parrot eggs are hatched and fledged in captivity. From this population birds are selected and then prepared for the wild and subsequently released. For the past several years there have been annual "precision releases" of up to 7 parrots. The survival rate of these releases is about 45 to 50 percent. The area's spectacular wildlife, scenery and the grandeur of the tropical vegetation can be appreciated from peaks both within and outside the area. El Toro can be seen from many vistas around the island and by sailors traveling the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea as well as inhabitants of neighboring islands. The area features dense vegetation with a mixed evergreen forest ranging from three meters in height on the peaks to 30 meters at lower elevations. There are cultural and historical features within the area possibly containing artifacts and Taino Indian petroglyphs. Over 1.1 million visitors enjoy the El Yunque National Forest each year. Recreational opportunities in the wilderness area include hiking, birdwatching and primitive camping. Both hiking trails meet at El Toro Peak and originate on the East and West side of the wilderness area. The environment provides visitors with opportunities for a feeling of solitude and serenity, a spirit of challenge, adventure and a sense of self reliance.

Planning to Visit the El Toro Wilderness?

Leave No Trace

How to follow the seven standard Leave No Trace principles differs in different parts of the country (desert vs. Rocky Mountains). Click on any of the principles listed below to learn more about how they apply in the El Toro Wilderness.
  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly
  4. Leave What You Find
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
  6. Respect Wildlife
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors
For more information on Leave No Trace, Visit the Leave No Trace, Inc. website.

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