July 23, 2017

Hiking the Reef Bay Trail in Virgin Islands National Park

Reef Bay, St. John

Reef Bay, St. John

Hiking the Reef Bay Trail in Virgin Island National Park is the perfect way to familiarize yourself with the landscape, flora, and fauna of St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands. If you’re more adventurous, it’s a hike you can complete on your own. If the idea of hiking alone in a national park seems daunting, the National Park Service offers guided group walking tours of this popular trail.

Preparing for the Reef Bay Trail Hike

There’s a charge to join the hike, and it’s not cheap, I’ll admit. However, being able to explore a part of the island in the safety of a group makes the cost a relative bargain. If possible, opt to go on one of these guided hikes on your first day on St. John. You’ll quickly become acquainted with the island’s ecology and history, which lends context and richness to your subsequent island adventures.

The hike is mostly level and about three miles long. The trail takes walkers through dense tropical rainforest, so trail-appropriate footwear, raingear, and your camera are a must. You’ll learn about the history of the island and the influence of its earliest inhabitants, the Taino. You’ll also hear about the possession and occupation by the Dutch and the revolutions that ultimately upended the island’s economy and redirected the course of its history.

One highlight of the excursion is a stop at a small waterfall where historic evidence of the Taino are carved into bare rock. These petroglyphs are one of the island’s most precious artifacts and have become a recognizable icon of St. John.

Taino petroglyphs on St. John

Also featured on the hike: an abandoned sugar mill. During my visit, it was inhabited by a large number of bats hanging from the rafters by their feet, fast asleep. The old brick building is in disrepair, but you can still spot the large chunks of coral used to build it.

The old abandoned sugar mill on the Reef Bay Hike

After the Hike Ends

The guided portion of the Reef Bay Trail hike is one-way and it ends–appropriately–on the beach at Reef Bay.  A waiting boat brings hikers back to Cruz Bay, the island’s capital town. You can choose to snorkel out to the vessel, but if you’re not a strong swimmer, an inflatable will ferry you to the boat. Loading the vessel may take some time, so bide your time by digging your toes in the sand and absorbing everything you’ve seen and heard. Once back in Cruz Bay, enjoy some local dishes served from the various colorfully-named food stands.

Loading the Sadie Sea.

My Experience

The nearly three-hour hike set the tone for the rest of my time on the island. I grew increasingly adventurous as a result, eventually hitchhiking to the southern part of the island to go kayaking and snorkeling. That’s another story for another time…

Since then, each time I’ve visited a national park for more than a few hours, I always seek out a guided hike or walk first before tackling the landscape on my own.

Book your guided Reef Bay Trail hike online through the Friends of Virgin Islands National Park

Have you gone on any guided hikes or walks with the National Park Service? Which park was it and what was the most interesting thing you learned? What was your experience like?

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