Sunday, December 27, 2015

Day hike leads to secluded tropical beach

Above: Pillar coral in Salt Pond Bay. Below: Salt Pond Trail scrubland.
Photos courtesy of Virgin Islands NPS.
Map, Salt Pond Trail.
Day hikers can enjoy a quiet walk along a tropical beach on the Salt Pond Trail at Virgin Islands National Park.

St. John and the other Virgin Islands are well-known for their white sand beaches on the warm, Caribbean waters. Among the easiest beaches at the national park is Salt Pond Bay, which runs 0.5-miles round trip.

The beach is located on the southeast corner of St. John. From Coral Bay, take Route 107 south about four miles. At the parking area, head downhill on a gated roadbed through a cactus scrubland.

White sand beach
The desert-like landscape only sets up the impressive view once you reach the bottom –a crescent-shaped, white sand beach curving around turquoise water. Warm, gentle breezes come in off the sea.

Nicely quiet and secluded, the beach is a good romantic spot to picnic, hunt for seashells, or take a swim in the shallow sea with sea turtles.

The bay is popular with snorkelers – stingrays, hermit crabs in conch shells, and octopus all live in the bay’s waters – but you don’t need to go underwater to spot sea life; just head up to the shore or wade in a little and you’ll see a variety of fish that swim near the surface. Be careful if walking in the water, though, as there are rocks and coral scattered just beneath the surface.

Out in the middle of the bay, a reef rises above the surface. The reef consists of pillar and elk horn corals.

Side trips
As a tropical environment, the hike and beach will be hot and open to the sun. You’ll need to bring extra drinking water and sunscreen; there are no facilities or lifeguards.

A great side trip is the Drunk Bay Trail, which is the beach’s east end. It passes a salt pond, from which you can collect sea salt.

For the more adventurous, take the 2-mile round trip Ram Head Trail (also located at the beach’s south end), which climbs 200 feet up a cliffside for a great vista of the Caribbean Sea.

Learn more about national park day hiking trails in my Best Sights to See at America’s National Parks guidebook.