Grenada‘s Grand Etang National Park and Forest Reserve is one of the best and most popular places to explore the island’s rain forest hiking trails. Located only 8 miles from the center of St. George’s, Grand Etang offers a series of scenic hikes, a good variety of birds and the always hungry mona monkeys seeking a handout.
The drive to the park is a steep one, reaching an elevation of about 1,900 feet on the Main Interior Road. The park visitor center is a half-mile beyond the park boundary. Look there for several small displays about the forest, wildlife, forestry and natural history. With luck, you may find maps of the hiking trails.
Grand Etang (“large pond” in French) is named after a small lake that’s actually an old volcanic crater. Sections of the park are more than 2,000 feet above sea level, high enough to cause decompression sickness (the bends) in someone who scuba dives and goes hiking here the same day.
Don’t head off to the trails as soon as you arrive. Look for the area where booths selling snacks, drinks and souvenirs. Wherever you find food, the mona monkey are likely to be present. The monkey is far easier to photograph around the booths than in the rain forest. The monkeys, accustomed to people, are usually eager for handouts and allow people to approach closely. Even so, a small telephoto is needed to take good portraits. The mona monkey was brought from western Africa aboard slave ships. It mainly feeds on fruit but sometime eats insects and leaves. The monkeys seem to become scarcer due to the increased illegal hunting of them, even in the national park. Some hunters kill the mothers and fathers and then sell the babies as pets.
Grand Etang is the center of Grenada’s hiking. Most trails are well marked and easy to follow, although it’s always more enjoyable to have a guide who can share the local folklore. The hikes last from 15 minutes to 3 hours.
Depending on how recently and how much it has rained, the trails can be muddy; not a place for brand new sneakers. This rain forest receives up to 160 inches of precipitation annually, and clouds often obscure the park’s mountain peaks. Bring a light rain jacket just in case. If you don’t, you may discover how refreshing a light sprinkle can be.
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Behind the park headquarters is the Morne LaBaye Trail, a 15-minute interpretive walk with excellent examples of Grenada’s rich foliage. It’s the perfect introduction to the park. One plant to look for is the endemic Grand Etang fern, found nowhere else in the world. The plant has a distinctive spore pattern under the fronds.
The Morne LaBaye Trail provides access to the longer Grand Etang Shoreline Trail, a 1.5-hour loop around Grand Etang Lake, an extinct volcano. An easy walk, the shoreline path may be muddy after recent rains. To enjoy a good view of the caldera, make the 3-hour hike to the 2,373-foot summit of Mount Qua Qua.
As the hikes demonstrate, Grand Etang National Park’s vegetation is extremely diverse. It includes cloud forests, montane thickets, palm brakes, and elfin woodland in addition to rain forest. The park also is known for its tall mahogany and gommier trees. Besides mona monkeys, rain forest residents include such animals as the armadillo, broad-winged hawk (locally called “gree-gree”), Antillean crested hummingbird (the “little doctor bird”) and the Antillean tanager (called “the soursop”).
For serious birding, bring binoculars. Long pants are not essential for hiking as long as you stay on the path and avoid encounters with Grand Etang’s razor grass, a climbing grass with extremely sharp edges.