“Let’s take the 6.30am car barge to St. John so that we can get to the Reef Bay Trail.”
“Uh…so that means we have to wake up at 5am?”
I dragged myself out of bed at 5am, the sun wasn’t even out yet when we started our drive to Red Hook. We actually were able to take the 6.15am car barge. While I was pretty exhausted, I have to say that it was a good choice to leave so early in the morning. Less than half an hour later we were on St. John with full sunlight upon us. There were hardly any cars on the road, making the trip out to the trail much easier as we didn’t need to worry about anyone behind us or coming around the incredibly sharp turns.
We arrived at the trail after a couple wrong turns and potentially facing another incorrect one, until we found the sign for the Reef Bay Trail. There are guided ranger tours that explain the various wildlife in the forest and take visitors back to Cruz Bay after arriving at the beach at the end, but it started much later, and we were two women on a mission. It’s a hard climb back up, but it was definitely worth going a lot earlier. Even at 8am it was already very humid and hot. On top of that I was wearing my jeans and sneakers, good for hiking, bad for 86 degree hiking. That being said, I was glad that I was wearing sneakers as the trail was very rocky and slippery. The entire hike back and forth is something like 6 miles. I was glad that we packed a large bottle of water and two smaller bottles of water along with some snacks. It took us around 2 hours to walk down (taking pictures of course) and 1 hours speed walking back. The climb back up the same way we came was a bit brutal, but the hike itself was gorgeous.
One of the things that really makes the Reef Bay Trail beautiful, aside from all the flora, is the various ruins dotted throughout the trail. Partway through the trail we saw a long abandoned sugar mill that the forest had begun reclaiming. All that was left were the stone rubble of what once was probably a large sugar mill. These buildings couldn’t have been older than century, but nature took the land back as she so often does. It won’t be too long until the ruins are completely absorbed into the forest.
The marks that stay are the ones left much earlier than those that built on the land. Rather, the pre-Columbian natives of the islands, known as Taino, used nature to make their mark. Down the trail, about halfway through the trail, is a freshwater pool with petroglyphs carved in the rocks right above the pool of water. The pool is incredibly still and reflects the petroglyphs beautifully. It was an excellent place to relax, drink some water, watch dragonflies and partake in some snacks. The stillness of the water combined with the constant motion of the dragonflies was captivating. Plus the break helped rest our weary feet.
We were halfway done with the trail, and for almost the entire hike, I was struck by how quiet the forest was. I was expecting more of a rain forest where I would be hearing various bird calls or maybe even monkeys, but the forest was still. Most of what I heard were lizards scurrying away from my feet and hermit crabs scrambling over the dead leaves on the forest floor. As we moved closer to the beach, the amount of hermit crabs increased dramatically. So much so that the sound of them crunching over the leaves almost overwhelmed the sound of the ocean. And we figured out where they were heading as well. The end of the trail led to an old Sugar Mill with old reservoirs and other items that collected fresh water. The area was literally covered in hermit crabs, and it makes sense. It’s one of the few places that have fresh water. The sugar mill itself, unlike the one in the forest, was still in tact and retained much of its former shape. We could see the various cogs and wheels that kept the mill running. And of course see where the made the rum. It’s interesting how many plantations and mills were abandoned in the area considering that rum is still a major export of the islands.
The end of the trail rewarded all of our sweaty work with a beautiful beach. At the time we went, it was completely empty. I was tempted to simply jump in with all of my clothes on, but remembered that I had to walk back. There’s nothing worse than walking in the humidity with wet clothing. Instead I dipped my feet in the refreshingly cool water and enjoyed the view. I’ve always loved the smell of the ocean and to smell it and feel the breeze on my face brought a smile to my face. The waters were an amazing turquoise and when looking out at the horizon, it was hard to know where the ocean ended and the sky began.
If you plan on going to the Reef Bay Trail, here are some tips:
- Stay hydrated. It’s a long hike and it’s very hot and humid on the islands
- Wear sneakers or hiking shoes. The trails are rocky and, if wet, very slippery.
- Bring snacks. Again, since it’s a 3 mile hike one way, you’ll definitely want to load up on some sugar and protein.
- The hike back up is rough. Be sure to take breaks if you get light-headed.
- STAY HYDRATED