Reef Bay Trail St. John Hiking Guide

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by Kristin Young | Updated On: September 23, 2020 | Hike

The Reef Bay Trail St John is a beautiful hike in the Virgin Islands National Park, located on the Virgin Islands. This trail consists of a 7 km long strenuous trek that opens up to the sea front.

However, it is well worth the effort. You can witness huge and ancient trees; perhaps the oldest on the island, come across petroglyphs dating back thousands of years and gawk at stunning scenery along the way. You may also see a beautiful waterfall, especially right after it rains. It is in fact called the petroglyph trail because the hikers can see the reef bay trail petroglyphs easily while walking along it.

  • Difficulty: An intermediate to moderately difficult trek, Reef Bay Trail is downhill all the way to the beach and completely uphill the way back.
  • Distance: 7 km long, nearly 3 miles ONE way.
  • Cost: The activity cost is Zero. You might have to invest some money into buying trek supplies such as mosquito repellent, hats, water bottles and snacks, other hiking essentials if applicable.
  • Hours: The hike takes 2-4 hours on an average. It will take longer depending on your physical ability, time spent on looking at petroglyphs, taking rest breaks etc.
  • Tour or DIY: Can easily be a DIY hike. No special documents, permissions, planning etc. required but if you want a tour, the park will be able to arrange Rangers and itineraries.
  • Best time to go: The morning hours are the best so that one can go out and back before the afternoon sun begins to get too warm.


You can get to the start point of the St. John reef bay trail by getting to St. John. You can fly or cruise to another nearby island, but the only way to get to St. John is by ferry or boat. There are three ways to get to the Reef Bay Trail, by rental car(Get a Jeep! You’ll need it!), by taxi(make sure to have a phone number to get a ride back), or by National Park Service guided tour.

cars parked along the road at the entrance to the reef bay trail on St. John

Be aware, parking in extremely limited at the entrance to the trail and all spaces are usually full by 10am or earlier.


Reef Bay Trail sign at entrance
Reef Bay Trail map from NPS displayed at trailhead

The hike is scenic and amazing. Along the way there are many things to see, the most important being the petroglyphs dating from Pre-Columbian era and made by the Taino from 1000 years ago. The ruins are of historical importance and the Poster-boys of this trek.

Walking alongside the oldest trees on the island, one can spot the ruins of an old sugar mill, stone walls and enclosures for grazing and many other structures. The park boasts of St. John waterfalls too along the trail, but they are prominent in the rainy season whereas only like a trickle in the dry season.

stairs leading down from road to Reef Bay Trail on St. John, USVI

Along the way, you can see a lot of flora and fauna. The most notable are the abundant Hermit Crabs!

reef bay trail through the vegetation

The St. John reef bay trail ends at the beach. The incline is obvious – one starts at 200 meters above sea level and ends at the sea, so the hike is all downhill while going out and totally uphill while coming back. The steepest and most difficult part while coming back is the last bit so keep some ammo saved for the last.

people standing on the beach at the end of the reef bay trail on St. John, USVI

Petroglyph Trail & Waterfalls

Reef Bay Trail petroglyphs are really the highlight of this hike. They hold immense historical importance. They are located around a reflection pool, at the base of a waterfall, a little off the trail. One can take a small detour and go see. The symbols are understood to be for water.  These symbols are totems called “Zemis”, used by the natives.

petroglyphs in the rock just above a pool of water

The waterfall itself is a beautiful one. The water cascades down a huge cliff, about 40 feet high. But the volume of the water depends on whether it has rained in the last couple of days. If it has not, it might just be a sparse trickle.

Plantation Ruins

sugar mill plantation ruins on the reef bay trail

The trail has a sugar plantation and sugar mill ruins site. In fact, the trail itself is originally a donkey path on which the goods for the sugar industry were transported. The equipment is still there in the mill.


The trail lies in the borders of the Virgin Islands National Park and strict rules within park premises do not allow hotels and lodges to be built but there are great options in the neighborhood like the Estate Lindholm and Caneel Bay resort. Out of these, Caneel Bay Resort is a 4 – star property.

Estate Lindholm

Caneel Bay Beach Resort


It is a safe trek and you will not need a lot to be fine on the hike.

  • Coat yourself with mosquito repellent before you start.
  • Wear proper, closed-toe shoes as the walk is not very smooth. Avoid flip flops.
  • There are signages along the trek, keep an eye out.
  • The Reef Bay trail St. John trek is difficult, to be honest.
  • The descent from the start point is quite steep. This can be adverse on bad knees or knees operated on, etc. Be careful and mindful.
  • The hike is shady, there is direct sun only in patches. But still, wear your sunscreen.
  • If you don’t want to do the entire go out and get back (which is strenuous) you can take other options given by the park as well. The park arranges for a ferry pickup at the beach too – you can walk down to the beach and then get a ferry back to the park. Or, you can also take a private charter to the Reef Bay, swim to the land and then trek for 30 minutes. For either of the plans, you will need to talk with the National Park Help desk and arrange for the preferred plans.

The St. John reef bay trail is an amazing experience for the experienced trekker and a novel one for the amateur. You can add this to your itinerary when visiting the Virgin Island National Park or create a Virgin Islands trip around this hike. There are multiple options available for varied hiking needs and hence the trek becomes accessible and doable for all levels of hikers.

Hi!  We’re Kristin & Andrew, lovers of everything tropical.  We spend as much time as possible searching for the best beaches, snorkeling, hiking, and fun in the sun!