The two-and-a-half hour journey from the South Shore Road to the Reef Bay Sugar Mill and the warm water of Reef Bay should be at the top of any visitor’s list. Whether you take the National Park Service’s guided walk, or hoof it yourself, the hike is one of the island’s best activities.
This video via YouTube was produced by Andrew Burnett, a big fan of the island.
Should I Take the Reef Bay Hike on My Own?
A word of caution, though. If you wouldn’t walk up the 400+ steps of Notre Dame, don’t think about taking the Reef Bay hike on your own. While it’s all downhill at the start, there’s always the return trip. Taking the Park Service tour means your guide is a Park Ranger and you get a boat ride back to Cruz Bay, along the south shore of the island. (Lots of villa gawking to be done on the way.) One veteran hiker added in a comment on TripAdvisor, “Hang out near the boat pilot and ask questions the whole way and you’ll learn a lot.”
If you hoof it yourself, going down is OK, it’s climbing back up that’s the killer for anyone who’s not in great shape and used to uphill hikes. At the very least, pack a couple liters of water with you.
What Will I See on the Reef Bay Hike?
Civilizations lived on St. John long before the Europeans arrived to the region, as evidenced by the petroglyphs, or rock carvings left by the Taino people. Their carvings are found on the hiking trail and the ranger will point them out. These people were all but driven into extinction by Europeans in the 17th century seeking new territories as colonial properties.
Ranger-led hikes on Mondays and Thursdays take visitors down the three-mile path through tropical forests to the sugar mill. Reservations are required and there are fees for taxi transportation to the trail head and boat return to the Visitor Center.
- Info on Reef Bay Trail Hike here