Reef Bay Trail
Part 1
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15. Reef Bay Trail

Length: 2.2 miles. Time: 2 hours, each way. Difficulty: 2, descending; 3, ascending. Carry insect repellent and water.

Trailhead: The Reef Bay Trail begins 4.9 miles east of Cruz Bay on Centerline Road. A stone barrier on the side of the road marks the trail beginning. There is a small pull-off area on the opposite side of the road for a handful of cars.

The Reef Bay Trail is one of park's best hikes since it is representative of the island's vegetation. Longer than most, it is the trail on which the Park Service provides scheduled tours down the trail to Reef Bay.

Along the way, you'll pass the visible ruins of 4 old sugar estates and have the chance to see the famous petroglyphs.

On the park-run outings, a boat picks you up at Reef Bay for return to Cruz Bay , eliminating the return ascent.

Start the Reef Bay Trai by descending a flight of stone steps to reach the sign marking the trailhead. Most of the vegetation here is second- and third-growth, since most of the trees were cut down during plantation days to clear cane fields and to make charcoal.

However, the high, steep valley at the beginning was never completely cut, so you can get a sense of what the original subtropical forest was like. This upper stretch also gets more rainfall, so parts of the path can be quite slippery.

The Reef Bay Trail follows the course of the Reef Bay Gut; gut is the local name for a streambed. It is a microcosm of the entire island. Species you'll pass at the outset are the bay rum tree, whose oil-laden leaves were used to make bay rum cologne popular from the 1890s to the 1940s; the West Indian locust and the kapok tree.

The locust tree, once used for shipbuilding, fence posts and furniture, contains seeds with a strong-smelling yellow pulp that originally gave it the name of "stinkin toe." Actually, this pulp is quite edible and sweet tasting. The kapok (silkwood) tree's seed pods contain a fluffy cotton-like fiber that planters once used to stuff mattresses.

You'll pass several drainage gullies but watch for the pockets of shale; they can be icy-slick even when dry. These drainage gutters, centuries old, keep the trail in good condition. The Danes built the stone gutters to carry water across--not down--the road, preventing washouts, despite the steep terrain.

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