Growing up in the Blue Ridge Mountains, I love to hike. When I moved to St. Thomas, all I initially considered was that I would be surrounded by ocean. I totally forgot to consider that all these tiny islands are mountains and I could get my hike on pretty much any time. I’ve done a handful of hikes so far, but my favorite has been the Reef Bay Trail on St. John.
The ferry ride from Red Hook in St. Thomas to St. John was a whopping $6, and from there I took a taxi to the top of the Reef Bay Trail, which was $9. I hitch hiked my way back down to Cruz Bay when I was finished, so it was a very inexpensive endeavor.
The trail is about three miles down to Reef Bay, which is a beautiful part of the ocean, so I hiked in comfy shorts and a bathing suit. The trail is rife with hundreds of years of history and has a lot of ruins of old buildings along the way. The trail actually leads to the Old Reef Bay Mill, which was a sugar cane mill in the 1800s and 1900s. It was impressive in its day and was actually the last operating sugar mill on the island, so much of the old structures are completely intact.
The mill is pretty huge, and the best part is it’s open, so you can explore the inside. There are also a bunch of informational signs about the place and about what went on in each room of the mill, which is really cool. Walking through it, I felt so small; all of the rooms are gigantic. Surprisingly, there are a lot of remnants of the old machinery and boiling vats and other metal essentials for processing the sugar cane which is abundant on the island.
There is also a side trail on the way to the mill to see The Great House, which is where the plantation house was. The side hike was pretty short but extremely steep, but the view is totally worth it. Unlike the mill, the house is boarded up to try and prevent visitors from going inside, probably because of the decayed structure of the house. It was overgrown with greenery and flowers and was absolutely beautiful.
I found a way to sneak inside (how could I not?) and safety was fairly questionable- the floor was just so old. There were also lots of bats and wasps and other critters who I couldn’t see but made sure to make noises as I roamed from room to room. Outside of the Great House, there are also ruins of the servants quarters and slave houses in the “town” where the workers lived. These are obviously less impressive, as they were smaller structures, but they are still eerily beautiful.
If the Great House and the Old Mill weren’t enough, Reef Bay Trail has other side trails, including some to see petroglyphs, which are mysterious markings on rocks near the only waterfall on the island. The waterfall was pretty pitiful, especially compared to what’s back home, but it was indeed there. The symbols were scattered around the base of rocks and it was kinda fun to try and find them. Although the symbols weren’t as prominent as I imagined them to be, the markings were quite beautiful. As far as I know, the meaning behind these symbols remains unknown, although that didn’t stop St. John from making one of its marking the official symbol of the island.
The only bummer about the trail is that it’s pretty much a straight shot downhill to get the ruins, which means it’s all uphill heading back. It’s also very hot, but there are animals everywhere! Lots of deers, but even more crabs. These babies were along almost every step of the trail.
The path is extremely well marked for solo hikers, but the National Park Service does offer guided hikes, which I’m sure provides much more information on the wildlife and the history of the mill and its impact on the island chain and on the Dutch, who owned a lot of the islands during the time. Since 80% of St. John is National Park, the Reef Bay Trail also connects to bigger trails for those who want to hike all day or want to camp. Lameshur trail leads for a couple more miles along the edge of the island, which passes Salt Pond and leads to Europa Bay.