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Hiking the Reef Bay Trail in St. John

Hiking the Reef Bay Trail in St. John

St. John is a lush green island full of hiking opportunities for active travelers. With only one full day in St. John and lots of activities on my list, I did a lot of research to beforehand to figure out which hike I wanted to do.

I landed on Reef Bay trail, which is one of the most popular hiking trails on the island. From what I read, it seemed like this trail had the most to see in a relatively short distance, including rainforest, petroglyphs, waterfall, sugar mill ruins, and a rocky beach.

Below is what you need to know to have the best experience on your Reef Bay Trail Hike.

Don’t go hungry – Hiking the Reef Bay trail round trip will take you between 2.5 – 4 hours, depending on your pace and how long you rest at the beach at the bottom of the trail. Make sure you eat beforehand and bring lots of water along. Pickles in Paradise is a cute little deli not far from the trailhead, and one of the only restaurants open for brunch on Sundays. Stop here for a meal to fuel up for your trip, and grab some snacks to go.

Easy on the way down, harder on the way up – The trailhead begins off of Highway 10 (Centerline) road, just west of where meets Centerline Bordeaux Mountain road. There is a tiny lot with space for about 3-4 cars. Once full, people just park on the side of the road. Try to get a spot in the lot if you can – the road side parking seems relatively dangerous.

The very start of the trail is pretty steep – you’ll be walking down rocky stairs and paths for at least 20 minutes through the rainforest. That being said, the hike down is pretty easy as long as you’re wearing tennis shoes and watching where you step. In total, it took us about an hour to make our way from trailhead to the Reef Bay Beach. The hour included time to take the side path to the petroglyphs.

Your hike back will probably take longer, as you have the pleasure of hiking up the steep incline. Save most of your water for the hike back since it’s more difficult. As long as you’re in average physical shape, you’ll be fine. It took me about an hour to make the ascent since we went straight up and didn’t stop to look at anything.

Soak up the shade – The trail is mostly shaded by the lush rainforest, so you won’t need a ton of sunscreen. Lucky for me, as I was burnt to a crisp by the time I made it to St. John. There are a ton of cool trees if you keep your eyes up and read the marked signs, including lime trees and trees covered with tiny little spikes.

Bring bug spray – Definitely spray down with bug spray before you enter the trail. On the trail itself, I didn’t notice any mosquitos, and they usually love me. The problem is the “no see um” gnats near the bottom of the trail as you get close to the beach. You can feel these suckers biting you, but they are so small you can barely see them. Make sure you’re equipped with spray to fight them off.

Take the side path to petroglyphs – This will add about 25 minutes to your trip, but it’s worth it. The petroglyphs are these little rock art carvings made by the indigenous people 100 years ago. It’s cool that you can walk right up to these carvings and touch them. You’ll see them reflected in a small natural pool below.

You probably won’t see the waterfall – The petroglyphs are located at the base of the tallest waterfall on St. John. I was hoping to see it, but wasn’t that lucky. The waterfall is only active after intense rains – otherwise it’s just a dry rock wall. If you’re set on seeing the waterfall, you’ll have to plan your hike carefully around the rain. Good luck!

Watch out for crabs – As you make your way closer to the beach, you might start to get the feeling that you’re being watched by 1000 little beady eyes….Okay, you won’t feel these little creatures watching you, but you WILL hear them if you keep your ears pricked. What may sound like little rocks moving on the path is probably a hermit crab.

Don’t be freaked out! These crabs are definitely more scared of you. They vary in size from a small rock to about the size of your first. I honestly think they are kind of cute – plus we had them in kindergarten so it reminds of childhood. Watch where you step and don’t crunch of these little guys trying to cross the path.

Explore the sugar mill ruins – Near the base of the trail by the beach, there are remnants of a sugar factory that produced sugar and rum over the years. When slave labor was outlawed, it was attempted to revive the factory with steam power. This means the ruins are more recent and mostly intact, so you can get a feel for what the factory actually looked like in its operating days. You can explore the interior, as well – just be careful and look out for bats, crabs, and beehives.

Rest up at the beach – Once you’ve made it to base of the trail, spend some time relaxing at the pretty beach (just beware of the gnats as I mentioned earlier). The beach is pretty sandy and the water if calm enough for swimming if you need to cool off. Or, just enjoy the view of the hills to west until you’re ready to begin your ascent.

You can also organize guided tours of Reef Bay Trail with National Park Rangers, who will guide you down the trail to the beach and take you back to your car via boat. While I highly recommend doing it on your own so you can move at your own pace and enjoy the solace, the guided tour may be a good option for those who are less physically fit or older and don’t want to make the return trip.

Happy hiking!

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