When the Tough Get Going...

Parque Nacional La Muralla

Oct 1, 1998
Outside Magazine

From the nearby town of La Unión, La Muralla's steep, pine-covered slopes can look something like Montana; it's just that the white, fluffy stuff covering the summits isn't snow, but low-lying clouds. The near-constant misting action on high has bestowed upon this 42,000-acre park some of the thickest cloud forest in the Americas: mossy, high-altitude tropical woodlands that shelter such creatures as the shy quetzal—worshiped by the ancient Maya and modern birders alike—and even a few tapir and jaguars. Tucked in the northwestern corner of the state of Olancho, La Muralla was officially designated a national park in 1992, serving as the model for a system that now includes 18 such preserves nationwide. It's still eastern Honduras's most accessible and best-developed park, with latrine-outfitted campsites, well-marked trails, and a state-of-the-art visitor center that wouldn't be out of place in Yellowstone (but feels a little so here).
To get to La Muralla from La Unión, hitch an eight-mile ride on the pickup that leaves daily around 8:00 a.m. from the office of the Parks and Forestry Department (abbreviated as Cohdefor) a few blocks east of the town square. (You can also hire a guide here for about five dollars a day.) Or walk for three hours up the dirt road marked El Díctamo/La Muralla. Pitch a tent on the visitor center lawn and share supper with one of the three rangers who live here on rotation and always seem ready for company. Or hike up to one of two campsites off the 2.3-mile El Pizote trail, which loops behind the visitor center; you'll find the best site beside the river on the nearby Monte Escondido trail. Either way, make sure to venture out early the next morning to maximize your wildlife-spotting opportunities.

Flocks of squawking parrots and emerald toucans hang out near El Pizote's benches. But for a full-day tromp through nearly untouched cloud forest, try the six-mile, four-hour climb up the Monte Escondido, which splits off to the east, descends steeply to cross the river, and then heads up to a ridgetop. Towering oak, mahogany, and aguacatillo (wild avocado) trees form a canopy overhead, their branches draped with ferns, flowering vines, and bromeliads. Getting wet—a combination of sweat and mist—is unavoidable. Step off the trail onto forest floor so spongy with saturated organic matter that you almost bounce. Disturb one of the ubiquitous spider monkeys in the area, though, and he's likely to chase you, ripping off seeds, leaves, and branches as he runs across the canopy, pelting you with uncannily good aim.
At the summit of Montana La Muralla (6,516 feet), you'll enter a stand dominated by giant palms. Lofty redwoods these eight-footers are not, but they have survived unchanged since prehistoric times. Rest awhile beneath their venerable fronds and contemplate how this mountaintop has escaped alteration by any but natural forces. And gather your strength: There are many projectiles to dodge before you sleep.