Reef Bay Trail, St. John Overview
The Reef Bay Trail in Virgin Islands National Park connects some of the park’s most popular and beautiful sites including several spectacular ruin sites, ancient petroglyphs, a waterfall, and a stunning beach. The first mile or so of the trail is quite steep as it descends into the jungle but eventually levels out winding its way through ruins and marvelous tropical foliage headed toward its terminus at Reef Bay.
Length: 4.4 miles
Time Needed: 3-4 hours
We explored the the trail after Hurricane Maria and cover what it looks like now in this post.
In this post we’ll cover everything you need to know about Reef Bay Trail:
- Reef Bay Tips & Things to Know
- Best time to visit Reef Bay Trail
- Getting to Reef Bay Trail
- Reef Bay Trail Hike
- Reef Bay Trail Petroglyphs
- Exploring the Reef Bay Ruins
- Reef Bay Trail post-hurricane Maria
- Photos of Reef Bay Trail
Things to Know Before Visiting Reef Bay Ruins
Pack food and water for the hike, you’ll need it.
- TRAIL FUEL: Reef Bay is one of the toughest trails on the island with some very steep parts. Make sure to pack more water than you think you’ll need if you plan on hiking all the way to the bay. We recommend packing some snacks (or a picnic lunch) as well.
Closed-toed sandals or hiking boots are your friend.
- FOOTWEAR: We recommend wearing hiking shoes/boots if you plan on hiking to the popular overlook featured above. While a fair section of the trail is through sand, much of it is not and could cause problems for folks wearing flip flops.
Please, Wear Sunscreen.
- SUNSCREEN: Many sunscreens have been outlawed in the Virgin Islands due to reef-damaging ingredients. Goes without saying but we’ll say it anyway – wear sunscreen! The Caribbean is unforgiving on unprotected skin. We’ve made that mistake enough times to make lathering up a top priority. We highly recommend this one (which is reef-safe).
Depending on the time of year/day you might want to pack insect repellent.
- BUG SPRAY: We didn’t have any trouble with mosquitoes but some people do so you may want to be prepared with sunscreen. We recommend this eco-friendly, DEET free insect repellent we’ve been using for years.
Where to Stay
Visiting Virgin Islands National Park? If you haven’t decided where to stay (yet) check out our helpful guide on visiting Virgin Islands National Park for tips. Don’t have time? Here’s our favorite place to stay on St John.
Due to the long term closure of Caneel Bay (the only resort in the park destroyed by the 2017 hurricanes) and the ensuing battle with the park service over the future management of the property, the closest hotels & resorts are back in Cruz Bay.
Best Time to Visit Reef Bay Trail
The best time to hike the Reef Bay Trail is in the morning. Morning time in the Virgin Islands is quieter with less folks out and about. We recommend you get up a little early and start the hike in the morning as it takes several hours to hike the whole way.
Getting to Reef Bay Trailhead
The Reef Bay Trailhead is located at the top of Highway 10, 15 minutes from Cruz Bay. Parking near the trailhead is scarce with just a small roadside gravel pullout to accommodate vehicles. The trailhead itself isn’t particularly well-marked from the road so make sure to keep an eye out for pedestrian crossing signs.
Exploring the Reef Bay Petroglyphs
If you’re up for a short addition to your hike, add an extra .4 miles RT and explore some petroglyphs and (if it’s rained recently) a beautiful waterfall. 1.6miles from the trailhead (and .8 miles from Reef Bay Sugar Factory) on the right is a turnoff for the Petroglyph Trail. The Petroglyph Trail is short and flat ending at a pool of water where you’ll find the petroglyphs.
NOTE: When we hiked this portion the pool was nearly empty and the waterfall non-existent. This area is dependent on rainfall so be aware that the waterfall & pool may or may not be there.
Exploring the Reef Bay Trail Ruins
There are several ruin sites along the Reef Bay Trail, some more expansive than others so be sure to keep your eyes peeled (they’re hard to miss). Make sure to be gentle around the ruins and obey the signage directing which ruins can be explored up close and which should be observed from a distance.
Exploring the Reef Bay Sugar Mill Ruins
The best-preserved and most beautiful of the Reef Bay Ruins is the last ones on the trail, The Reef Bay Sugar Factory. The sugar factory is really cool to explore and walk through. Hikers should be weary of a massive bees nest that exists within one of the buildings. Interpretive signs tell the history of the mill.
From the sugar factory to the ocean is a short walk. We took a dip in the ocean and spent some time lounging on the beach before making the hike back up the trail to the parking area. Reef Bay itself is like much of the rest of the park featuring stunning blue waters, coral, and white sand beaches.
Reef Bay Trail Ruins After Hurricane Maria
Hurricane Maria had a devastating impact on the Caribbean islands, especially St. John, home to Virgin Islands National Park. Many of the photos of the park you’ll find feature locations that have been totally changed since the hurricane hit the island in 2017.
With that being said, the Reef Bay Ruins ruins are still very much in tact and stunningly beautiful – well worth the trip!
*all of our photos of the park feature it in its current condition, post-2017 hurricane Maria damage
Nearby Reef Bay Ruins
There are many amazing spots near the Reef Bay Ruins including: Francis Bay, Trunk Bay, Maho Bay, America Hill Ruins, Cinnamon Bay.
Experience Virgin Islands National Park in 8K
VIRGIN ISLANDS 8K is a visually stunning journey through one of the most beautiful national parks in the world, Virgin Islands. Journey with More Than Just Parks as we explore this tropical paradise located on the outskirts of the Caribbean Sea.
Swim with sea turtles, explore ancient jungle ruins, relax on white sand beaches, and soak in the island beauty. This is Virgin Islands National Park.
Getting to Virgin Islands National Park
Closest Airport: STT – Cyril E. King Airport (distance – 13 miles from Cruz Bay)
The fastest way to get to Virgin Islands National Park is by plane, flying into St. Thomas’s Cyril E. King Airport Airport. Cyril E King Airport on the neighboring island of St Thomas (also part of the US Virgin Islands so no passport required for Americans) is the closest (and most affordable) place to fly into to get to Virgin Islands National Park.
Rental Car: St Thomas (Hertz, Enterprise, Budget, Dollar, more)
Ferry to St. John
Ferry: After flying in to St. Thomas you’ll need to catch a ferry over to St. John. This can be done in one of two places currently: Charlotte Amalie, or Red Hook (furthest from the airport but closest to St John). The cost per adult to ride the ferry is $20 each way.
Best Time to Visit Virgin Islands National Park
The best season to visit Virgin Islands National Park is Winter when temperatures are still warm and both humidity and crowds are down.
Winter is also known as the rainy season but rain typically comes and goes quickly in the Virgin Islands. This is a great time of year to visit as well as winter marks the end of Hurricane season.
Who doesn’t dream of tropical islands during the dead of winter? Can’t just be me…
I would recommend visiting anytime between December through April.
Driving in Virgin Islands National Park
Virgin Islands National Park has no official park shuttle to get around the park. To get around the park visitors will need to bring their own mode of transportation.
Currently a car is the best mode of transport in the park and can tourists not from the island should find a rental car from St Thomas and take the ferry to St John.
Alternatively, there are a few taxi services that operate on the island, mostly open air “safari-style” vehicles. Many of these taxis run on a fairly regular basis from Cruz Bay to many of the top tourist spots on St. John.
Helpful Related Articles
Virgin Islands National Park Guide: Epic Guide to Virgin Islands National Park
Things to Do Virgin Islands: 12 Amazing Things to Do in Virgin Islands National Park
Virgin Islands Facts: 10 Interesting Facts About Virgin Islands National Park
Virgin Islands Seasons: Spring | Summer | Fall | Winter
Virgin Islands Locations Worth Exploring:
Trunk Bay, Maho Bay, America Hill Ruins, Honeymoon Beach, Waterlemon Cay, Reef Bay Trail, Francis Bay, Annaberg Ruins, Whistling Cay, Catherineberg Ruins, Ram Head, Caneel Hill Trail
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