El Yunque keeps reservation system to manage summertime capacity
Traditionally, El Yunque has peak visitation in the summer, especially in July. The Forest Service will continue the advanced recreation system in Recreation.gov to manage forest capacity in the main recreation area along Road 191.
Managing crowds in the Forest is further challenged by the pandemic. Other public lands across the nation, are also experiencing record visitation while guidelines recommend reduced capacity to minimize crowding.
Even though the CDC and local public health guidelines have changed, the reservation system will continue in El Yunque. This system will help manage capacity for visitor safety and as ongoing construction in the Forest further reduces parking capacity, El Yunque managers said.
For decades, El Yunque has managed visitor capacity by limiting the number of vehicles allowed inside the Forest. Once parking areas were full, the main entrance gate near La Coca Falls was closed. This resulted in long lines of traffic and people being turned away. Additionally, problems with illegal parking blocked the road and created hazardous situations where emergency vehicles could not pass to provide assistance.
In July 2020, the Forest Service implemented a reservation system during the pandemic to manage visitor capacity while following health and safety guidelines for visitors and employees. El Yunque, at that time, was the only Puerto Rican attraction opened, and the Forest was able to provide some access to outdoor recreational experiences and opportunities to connect with nature.
Additionally, the Forest Service continues hurricane recovery projects which limit parking and capacity. While many trails and recreation sites are open, several areas are closed for repairs. Big Tree and La Mina trails that received the highest amounts of visitation, remained closed due to heavy hurricane damage. This closure has impacted El Yunque’s ability to receive normal visitation as the trails closure significantly reduces visitor capacity.
El Portal Visitor Center repairs are progressing and will be completed in December. The Forest Service will also facilitate an extensive Forest-wide road repair project starting this fall. The project will reduce parking availability and may require temporary road closures.
Construction may require staging of equipment or material in parking areas which further reduces capacity, forest officials said. The main recreation area currently has a 300-vehicle capacity allowing for approximately 1,000 people access to this area. El Yunque’s steep topography, narrow and winding roads, and very limited flat areas limits parking space..
On-line reservations through Recreation.gov are required for entering the main recreation area along Road 191. They can be booked 30 days in advance. Additional reservations are available 24 hours in advance to help accommodate last-minute visits. These reservations fill up quickly. Reservations are per vehicle and are $2 per ticket. Visitors with reservations should arrive between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m.