We have always wanted to do the Reef Bay coastal walk, but for some reason never got around to it. Maybe it was because we heard it was a very hard trail that involved holding onto ropes on the descent down to the beach and then a rock scramble! Well, we did the trail last week, which is also called the Parrot Bay Trail, and we lived to talk about it. Yes, it does involve some ropes at the beginning and a rock scramble, but if you are in decent shape it is definitely very doable and incredibly worth it. Check out this video to see the beauty and solitude that awaits you if you do this trail!
The trail is only steep at the very beginning and is a short distance. Once you get to the beach, the trail is very flat and you are walking on the beach until you get to a section of beautiful red rocks you need to scramble over to get to the next beach. There isn’t much shade so wear plenty of sunscreen and bring lots of water.
The Reef Bay Coastal Walk provides an alternative route to the historic Reef Bay Sugar Mill, the petroglyphs and the Reef Bay Estate House, normaly reached via either the Reef Bay or Lameshur Bay Trails. By taking short trails, walking along the beach and scrambling around small headlands, you can cover the entire perimeter of Reef Bay. The distance between the Reef Bay Sugar Mill Ruins and Parrot Bay on the western end of Reef Bay is about 1.2 miles.
For exact details on how to reach the trail head and do the walk, make sure you get a copy of St. John Off The Beaten Track (we have a copy at St. John Escape.) So if you have a zest for adventure (and good balance!) we highly recommend this trail. You will see a side of St. John you have never seen before.
The Francis Bay trail is an excellent short hike (about 30 minutes round trip) that starts from the parking area before you start down the road to Francis Beach. The trail starts right behind a scenic old stone building. It wanders about half a mile, through the forest, past some ruins, around a salt pond, then leads to Francis Bay beach. Watch this video to experience the diverse flora and fauna along this beautiful trail.
The trail is built and maintained by Friends of Virgin Islands National Park, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting our National Park. A large portion of this trail is ADA and eco friendly. Almost half of the trail is built as a raised platform to protect the ecosystem of the local salt pond. Here you’ll find many native species of birds and ducks. It is also common to see lots of land crabs, hermit crabs, iguanas, deer, mongoose and, of course, donkeys. The pond is of the best bird watching spots on the island. Expect to see lots of Maho trees and Mangroves towards the pond.
Right after you start the trail there are some interesting ruins.
There’s certainly no shortage of ruins on St John, and most of our favorite hikes include a ruin or two. One of our favorite ruins can be found by hiking the America Hill spur of the Cinnamon Bay trail. Not only are the ruins attractive, the views of the north shore of St John are stunning. Watch this video to see what you will experience on the great St. John hike.
The trail starts 100 yards past Cinnamon Bay’s entrance on North Shore Road. The trailhead is marked by a sign for “Cinnamon Bay Trail” (there’s another sign along the way for the America Hill spur). It’s adjacent to the Cinnamon Bay Ruins and there is a place for one or two cars to park or you can just park at the Cinnamon Bay beach lot. This is a great hike to take before heading to the beach at Cinnamon Bay.
The hike up is steep at first, and fairly exposed, but as you cross the gut it levels out a bit and becomes shadier & cooler. Once you reach the America Hill Spur, which is not very far up Cinnamon Bay Trail, it’s only about five more minutes to the ruins. The walls of the house are mostly intact, and you can see where the remains of the front steps were.
The ruins were once home to sugar cane plantations and bay rum distilleries, the most prosperous on island. Today, the remnants of the old rum factory are still prominent, and when you reach the top of your hike, you’ll be able to see the ruins and enjoy the stunning views over to Maho Bay, Francis Bay and Tortola. These unforgettable views, with the ruins and forests all around, make this hike one of our favorites and certainly worth the effort.
The Reef Bay Trail in the U.S. Virgin Islands National Park holds the secrets of St.John’s tropical forests, sugar mill ruins, and ancient petroglyphs. The two-mile trail explores the depths of the island, featuring a steep rocky terrain, 40 foot waterfall, and a freshwater pond near the trail’s end. When adventuring from your St. John Escape vacation home, pack a light lunch, plenty of water, and a swimsuit to take a dip.
Watch this video to see what this classic St. John hike is like:
You will find off road parking at the Reef Bay trailhead along Centerline Road about halfway between Cruz Bay and Coral Bay. The rocky trail descends steeply from 900 feet above sea level to the rocky beach at Reef Bay. Bring plenty of water, bug spray, and wear sturdy walking shoes.
The National Park Service is currently not offering their guided hike option that included a return to Cruz Bay by boat. This means you will have to hike both down and back up the trail. The long steep, uphill walk back is far more difficult than the descent. This should not be a problem for those in good physical condition who may even enjoy the challenge. Make sure to pace yourself and bring plenty of water. It may also be a good idea to plan a picnic either at the petroglyphs or at the beach near the sugar factory. A cooling swim at Genti or Little Reef Bay is another pleasant way to prepare for the walk up the valley.
A hike through the tropical forests of St. John wouldn’t be complete without some beautiful water features. Along the Reef Bay trail you will sometimes find a stunning 40-foot waterfall, with a freshwater pool at the base. Whether or not you see the waterfall depends on how recently it has rained. Fresh water at the bottom provides a home for a shrimp, frogs, fish, hummingbirds, and dragonflies. This is a great spot to take a rest or have your lunch.
There are some historic elements along the Reef Bay Trail that will catch your attention. The sugar mill ruins along the Reef Bay Trail remind you of a different era on the island and carry a dark shadow of history. Another historic element is visible on the rocks surrounding the freshwater pool near the trail’s end. Here, you will see some mysterious carvings. Archaeologists believe that these carvings are in fact sacred symbols carved by Taino Indians over 1,000 years ago. These petroglyphs are a great historic treat at the end of a great hike.
Awaiting you at the bottom of the trail is lovely Reef Bay beach.
Ever wonder what you would see if you hiked the Ram Head trail? Well tag along as we take you on a photo and video journey to the summit of Ram Head, starting out at Salt Pond. We start off hiking along Salt Pond Bay and then head inland, walking across Blue Cobblestone beach, past amazing cactus fields, before reaching the summit of Ram Head. The reward for getting to the top is the amazing panoramic view. On the way back we will pass the actual Salt Pond that the beach is named after, before we get to Drunk Bay and see the rock statues. This is an amazing hike and one of our favorites. Enjoy the views!!
End your vacation with a finale so amazing it will bring you back to St. John—over and over again. Make sure to bring plenty of water and sun protection because the southeast end of St. John is hot!
Drive nearly four miles south of Coral Bay to Salt Pond, or you can even take the public bus which runs on a fairly reliable schedule between the Cruz Bay ferry dock and the parking lot of Salt Pond for only $1 per person each way. From the parking lot you walk on a wide, rocky trail through arid, scrub land to Salt Pond beach where there is excellent snorkeling and another great chance to swim with sea turtles.
Neighboring Ram Head point can be reached by a mile long trail beginning at the southern end of of the Salt Pond beach. The red rock strewn path, a favorite for full moon hikes, leads to a blue cobblestone beach before switch-backing up to the the 360 degree viewpoint.
As you stand 200 feet above the Caribbean Sea, with views of the sparkling waters below and the endless ocean stretching as far as the eye can see, you will be left humbled and awestruck–no matter how many times you take in the amazing sight.
Another quarter-mile trail from Saltpond beach leads to the pond where sea salt accumulates during the summer, hence the beach’s name. The trail continues past the salt pond to Drunk Bay where visitors often arrange the stones of the beach to create a reminder of their adventures on St. John.
There is more to St. John than just its world famous beaches. St. John is about two thirds national park thanks to generous donations from philanthropist and conservationist Laurence Rockefeller. Because of this there is limited commercial development which allows the island to preserve its delicate ecosystems. This makes St. John a go to destination for nature lovers and is a hikers paradise.
One of the most popular activities on St. John is hiking the trails in the Virgin Island National Park. There are over twenty trails, ranging in difficulty from beginner to advanced, meaning the island has the perfect hiking trail for you.
Not only do some of the trails offer amazing vistas, many connect to historical ruins such as sugar mills, plantations, and the petroglyphs which are the unofficial symbol of St. John as well as and the Caneel Bay Resort.
The hiking trails get you up close to St. Johns variety of flora and fauna. The many plants you will see include mango, bamboo, mahogany, cacti, and wild orchids. As far local wildlife, expect to see the much loved wild donkeys, iguanas, mongoose and deer.
In upcoming blog posts we will describe some of our favorite hikes and what you can expect to see along the route. Stay tuned!
Travel Tip created by Leslie and Peter in association with Vacation Soup