Earn your Beach with these 3 Hikes
Everyone loves to go to the beach on St. John, but there are a few magic spots for adventurous travelers to discover, by foot, that will complete the St. John experience. Here are 3 hikes graduating from active to challenging and all will unfold onto a beach straight out of Robinson Crusoe.
Know before you go… The island is hot, making any kind of physical exertion significantly more difficult. Proper hydration is the key to success. Be prepared. Know your limits.
Blue Cobblestone Beach (Ram’s Head): [1.0 mile to Ram’s Head from Salt Pond Beach]
Most beach-goers who visit the south shore’s bay-like Salt Pond Beach make their sandy morning nest within several hundred feet of the trail to the parking lot, which is certainly an idyllic spot, however, a nearby adventure awaits.
Walk all the way to the end of Salt Pond Beach, up into the wooded shoreline. Scramble along the rocky trail and around the edge of the sea for about 15 minutes until you drop down onto an unfrequented beach called Blue Cobblestone. You can stay and explore this beach, or continue to the far end of Blue Cobblestone and pick-up the trail to the spectacular Oregon Coast-like cliffs at windy Ram’s Head. The cliffs are filled with wild orchids, bromeliads, and barrel cacti. These cacti have tiny pepper shaped fruit that are edible and taste like Sweet-Tarts.
After enjoying the south shore winds splashing across your face atop Ram’s Head, head back down to Blue Cobblestone and get in the water with mask and snorkel. You will see incredible outcroppings of coral, and lively fish habitat. Spend the rest of your day here, or finish lounging back on the white sands at Salt Pond Beach.
L’Esperance to Little Lameshur: [5 miles, mostly downhill, to Little Lameshur Beach from Centerline Rd.]
This back country reach-the-beach tour is made for an aspiring Indiana Jones. Following an historic Danish road, this trail drops down through a range of terrain from narrow jungle paths running adjacent to largely dried-up stream beds (unless your hike follows a recent rainstorm) to sun-exposed loose rock and cactus-filled ridge line, past dozens of ruins of the earliest plantations on St. John and the island’s lone, sacred Baobob tree. For a prepared, fit adventurer, this is St. John trail mecca.
Nearing sea level, the trail will eventually come to a T, at which point you hang a left to connect to the end of the popular Reef Bay trail where it meets the old sugar mill. At the mill, do take a moment to tap your inner Chiropterologist and find bats hanging from the rafters. Linger for a moment then turn and head up the Reef Bay Trail for just a bit and take a hard right, back and up, for an additional 1.5 miles to Little Lameshur Beach. There is a noticeable shift in environment, from Rainforest to open, dry forest trail.
Little Lameshur Beach is difficult to get to by car, making it one of the island’s best kept secrets. The beach is calm and private; to hike there makes for an amazing adventure. This tour will take 3-4 hours of hiking (longer if you’re exploring ruins and seeking the Baobob tree). Trail runners will find their flow on some glorious sections of downhill and can make the journey in 2 hrs.
Pro Tip 1: To complete this mission, you will need two cars (leaving a drop car at Great Lameshur Beach for post-hike), OR to organize a pick-up. If you’re staying with me at House of Open Arms, I’m happy to do the pick-up.
Pro Tip 2: The L’Esperance trailhead is unmarked on the East side of Centerline Rd. between miles 4 & 5, less than a mile toward Cruz Bay from the well-marked Reef Bay trailhead.
Brown Bay (Johnny Horn Trail): [6-mile loop]
Loop hikes are hard to find on St. John, and always more pleasurable than an out-and-back in my book, especially when they open up onto a scarcely visited, gem of a beach.
This East End loop includes significant elevation anyway you shake it. While it may have arduous moments, the beach/snorkel reward is well worth it. Park your car at the base of Fortsberg Road. Head up Centerline Rd. (toward Cruz Bay) on foot to the Moravian Church, turn right and follow the road all the way up. The road will eventually turn into something more resembling a trail and then at the top, an actual trail will appear. Make a left and traverse the rocks climbing down into the valley across several streams. There is some great downhill running in here for trail-runners. Continue on to the split trail going to either Watermelon Bay or Brown Bay. Make a right towards Brown Bay. The gradual descent to the water will continue. Lizards everywhere.
Brown Bay will appear on your left and you’ll cut very briefly through the wooded rainforest to access. The far, left-hand side of Brown bay is magnificent, particularly on a calm day, revealing large coral heads and an abundance of wildlife under the sea. The sea fans appear in a kaleidoscope of color. A snorkel here can be a perfect 10. Take some time to hike around the left-hand side of the bay and explore the old ruins beneath the draping sea grapes near the point. I’ve always thought the island fairies live here.
When you’re done at the beach, get back on the trail by making a left from the beach and following the wide, rocky trail up and out to Centerline road. Turn right on Centerline and cross the foot bridge and walking by Hurricane Hole. You’ll climb up and down two hills before dropping down to the entrance of Fortsberg. You will be thrilled to see your car (pre-packed with an icy cooler) and finish your hike with a cold drink and exhausted happiness.
Pro Tip: Avid hikers/runners who are guests at A House of Open Arms can access this loop by simply walking out the front door and trotting down the road. HOA Villa guests also get to end this adventure by splashing into the pool.