Amazing Rainforest Hike in Puerto Rico

This summer my extended family ventured to Puerto Rico for the first time. In Puerto Rico, we enjoyed beautiful beaches, delicious local cuisine, the history and culture of Old San Juan, and hiking in the rainforest. Today I’m excited to share about our rainforest excursion.

El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico

El Yunque is the only tropical rainforest in the United States’ National Forest System. There are several corridors into the forest. We chose to go to La Mina Recreation Area (via 191 North). Timed reservations are required. You can make reservations up to one month in advance through the recreation.gov website. A limited number of additional reservations are offered online 24 hours in advance. Only one reservation is needed per vehicle. The fee was only $2.00 when we went.

Hiking in El Yunque

My brother expertly maneuvered our rental van up the steep, windy road until we found Juan Diego Creek trailhead. We took the short (0.125 miles) trail to a waterfall and pool on Juan Diego Creek. This was my first hike in a rainforest so I could have spent the entire day looking at the spectacular variety of plant life. However, because this area has limited on street parking, the time limit is thirty minutes.

You don’t see plants like this in Arkansas!
beautiful pool and waterfall

Bano Grande

Our next stop was Bano Grande, this man-made pool was built in the late 1930’s by the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC). Swimming is no longer allowed, but we enjoyed a nice stroll around the pool.

Mt. Britton Tower

Last, our group climbed up the spiral staircase to the top of Mt. Britton Tower and enjoyed the inspiring views. ‘Constructed of stone, the tower was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1937-38, becoming the tallest of the Civilian Conservation Corp towers with stone masonry.  On a clear day the tower’s observation deck offers a panoramic view of the forest, the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea and the eastern coastal plain.’ – US Forest Service

Mt. Britton Tower looks like a castle in the clouds
Climbing the tower stairs
Ocean views in the distance

According to to Discover Puerto Rico’s website, El Yunque is a sacred place in Puerto Rican culture. I’m grateful my family and I got to spend time in such a special place.

Visitor Center

There is a visitor center called El Portal de El Yunque. It’s open 9am-5pm daily. The cost is $8 per adult and children under 15 are free. National Passes are accepted. We didn’t go to the visitor center and now I really wish we would have so that we could have seen the endangered Puerto Rican Parrot. You can find out more information on the park’s website.

Our Stay at Greers Ferry Lake – Arkansas

Today I want to share about a recent trip we took to Juniper Tree Lodge overlooking Greers Ferry Lake in Central Arkansas. This was our first time in the area, and we were amazed by the views and hospitality.

The lodge includes three bedrooms and a roomy yet cozy indoor living area as well as an expansive outdoor living space with inspiring views of the lake.

We arrived on a rainy weekend, so we were thankful for amenities like a large covered deck, nice firepit, indoor and outdoor fireplace, and the 7 x 14 swim spa.

One of my favorite design elements was the accessibility of a full bathroom onto the deck which allowed our kids to easily go from the spa to shower without getting the entire living room wet. So smart! I should have taken more pictures of the inside spaces because they were beautifully done, however I couldn’t take my eyes off the sunset views.

Before visiting the Lodge, I was a little nervous about the location because I have young kids (I’m cautious by nature). The website mentioned that the home is perched 600 ft above Greers Ferry lake on the bluffs. We talked about the importance of always sticking with adults and we didn’t venture off the deck area without holding hands.

restaurants in greers ferry and heber springs, arkansas

We didn’t have to go out to many restaurants because the kitchen was fully stocked with everything we needed to make meals plus the home is furnished with both a gas grill and a charcoal grill. We shopped for groceries at Harps in nearby Heber Springs, Arkansas.

We drove to Las Playitas Greers Ferry for Mexican Food which we enjoyed. I made the somewhat embarrassing mistake of ordering a margarita. I didn’t realize that Greers Ferry is located in a dry county and doesn’t serve alcohol. Oops!

During our stay we ate lunch in Heber Springs at Hilda’s Home Cooking which serves ‘authentic Southern food made entirely from scratch.’ In an attempt to eat healthy, I ordered a salad and soup combination which was very flavorful, but I’m still regretting not ordering the banana pudding when I had the chance.

Nearby Hikes and attractions

If you love nature, there are many things to do in Heber Springs, Arkansas. We enjoyed a visit to Bridal Veil Falls. The hike to the viewing deck is short and easy, we just had to watch the kids because it was a little slippery on trails from recent rainfall. According to park signage, the waterfalls are also known as Cornelius Falls after the former landowner.

Besides Greers Ferry lake and these spectacular waterfalls, this area is also home to the Little Red River, a premier-class trout stream. The Lodge’s website lists several additional attractions including the marina and fishing guides.

Greers Ferry is located approximately three hours from our home in Fayetteville, Arkansas making this an easy trip for our family. We took a wonderful detour on our way with a stop at Petit Jean State Park which I wrote about here

Hiking Arkansas -Petit Jean State Park Lodge and Waterfall Hike

The first thing I noticed when arrived at Petit Jean State Park was the breathtaking view over Cedar Creek Canyon. An adorable couple asked if we wanted our family picture taken and shared how this is the spot they got in engaged and travel back to year after year on their anniversary. It’s a special place!

mather lodge petit jean

I was also instantly charmed by Mather Lodge which was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s.

Inside the Lodge we enjoyed lunch. The vaulted log ceilings and expansive views of the canyon made it a memorable experience.

petit jean waterfall

After lunch we put on our hiking boots and started down Cedar Falls Trail. The trailhead was conveniently located right behind the Lodge.

This hike is 2 miles round trip and is rated as Moderate, Strenuous. This is a popular and well-rated hike on AllTrails.com where I enjoyed reading fellow hikers comments such as, ‘well worth the effort’ and ‘You’ll get your heart rate going coming back up, but it’s well worth the hike’.

In the pictures that follow I hope I captured some of the beauty we saw along the trail as well as the terrain.

The trail was pretty steep, but our daughters were able to hike it on their own with some handholding in spots and lots of encouragement.

Cedar Falls is worth the effort. According to the park’s website the falls measures 95-feet making it one of the ‘tallest continuously flowing waterfalls in the state.’ We hiked in April after recent rain storms so the water flow was spectacular.

We enjoyed a snack at the waterfall before heading back up towards the Lodge.

things to do at petit jean state park

On this trip we only staid for half of a day, but after seeing all that Petit Jean has to offer from swimming pools to unique hiking trails, we are hoping to go back again soon. Additional attractions include fishing, kayaking, and pedal boating at Lake Bailey. You’ll also find picnic areas, playgrounds, pavilions, tennis courts, and a basketball court. If you are interested in history, Petit Jean State Park is a certified Trail of Tears National Historic Trail Site.

Petite Jean State Park is located in Morrilton, Arkansas which is a 2.5 hour drive from our home in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Accommodations include the Lodge, cabins and camping options including Rent-A-Yurts.

You can find more information about Petit Jean State Park on their website at https://www.arkansasstateparks.com/parks/petit-jean-state-park.

We love Arkansas State Parks! Here are several more posts about the Arkansas State Parks we’ve visited so far.

Introverts Guide to Estes Park, Colorado

I’ve been on a search for a better vacation destination for our family than Estes Park, Colorado. Guess what!? I haven’t discovered one yet. The reason why is because Estes Park combines the beauty of the natural world with a lot of family-friendly entertainment options.

I found a fun article, The Vacation You Should Take, Based on Your Introverted Myers-Briggs Type. I believe there is something in Estes Park for every personality type or mood that you are in. Here are some ideas for my fellow introverts:

The article says that ‘INTJ: Go on a reading retreat at a secluded cabin’. If this is you, Estes Park is perfect because there are a lot of cabins like ours to rent in Estes Park. One of my favorite things to do on vacation is sit by our fireplace and get lost in a good book. I stock up on books when I’m in town at Macdonald Bookshop and Cliffhanger Used Books. Check out my Book Lovers Guide to Estes Park.

For the personality type INTP, the article suggests you ‘Attend your favorite convention, like Comic-Con.’ I used to work at a convention center, so I know there is a convention for every hobby. Some of the hobby conventions held in Estes Park include the Craft Spirits Festival, Bigfoot Days, and Wool Market which are held at Estes Park Events Complex. There is also a large Scottish-Irish Highlands Festival at the Estes Park Fairgrounds.

INFP types should ‘Connect with nature, like going on a quiet forest retreat’. Estes Park is located next to Rocky Mountain National Park. There are countless opportunities to connect with nature in the park. However, because this is such a popular tourist destination, you’ll benefit from venturing to the park during off-peak seasons such as winter and spring. If you go during summer months, avoid holiday weekends, get up early, and go hiking further than most fellow hikers (over 3 miles). One of my favorite spots to connect with nature is the Calypso Cascades in the Wild Basin.

The article says ISFP types should ‘Take a trip to the beach’. Based on the articles description (‘love spending time with a few favorite friends and hobbies’ + ‘often like to be creative and to explore new places’), this is the personality type I most relate to. One of the things I struggle most with Estes Park is that I feel like I’m going to run out of new places to explore if we keep going back every year. That’s why I often come up with ‘food adventures’ on our trip. For example we went to all the Asian restaurants in town to figure out which we liked most. We also did a Cinnamon Roll Showdown and searched for Estes Park’s best bowl of chili.

Finally, INFJ types should ‘Have “creative space” at an Airbnb in a new town.’ For these types I recommend going on a relaxing stroll along Estes Park Riverwalk. First stop at Kind Coffee whose mission is to ‘Promote the sustainability of our environment through the sales of certified organic and fairly traded coffees’. Next step into one of the town’s numerous art galleries. This summer I’m excited to check out Joy House, ‘a store made up of gifts that are all made by friends with special needs or disabilities.’ You might also enjoy spending time in Rocky Mountain National Park sketching or photographing the incredible mountain landscape and wild animals like elk or moose that frequent the area. For tips check out local photographer Erik Stensland’s new book, ‘The Photographers Guide to RMNP’.