Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument Highpoint Trip Report

Date: April 23, 2006
Author: John Mitchler

General Description: A barren rock jutting 12 feet out of Coral Bay about 20 feet off the southern shore at Turner Point on the East End of Saint John island in the U.S. Virgin Islands, east of Puerto Rico in the Caribbean. Most easily reached by kayak or small dingy.

Distance: x miles one-way
Difficulty: Easy walk
Elevation gain: x feet
Summit elevation: xxx feet
Maps: xx (optional) USGS Quad, DeLorme p. xx, Trails Illustrated # xx.
Access/permits: Open / None required; $4 day-use Trunk Bay & Annaberg
Best months: Year-round; high season Dec-Apr; hurricanes Aug-Sept.
Visitor Centers: Cruz Bay, Saint John

Highpoint Description: Measured to be the highest of all the exposed rocks offshore, the rough lava rock is south-southeast of Turner Point and provides views of the coves and open water surrounding the higher land of Saint John Island.

It took significant map work by Dave Covill to determine that most likely area for a highpoint to exist was the East End of Saint John, and then it took field investigation by John Mitchler to physically locate a candidate highpoint rock.

Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument is entirely offshore, which meant the possibility that there would no highpoint at all exposed above water. Complicating the matter was the fact that Virgin Islands National Park covered much of the land of Saint John as well as the shore and offshore areas. Dave studied the monument's boundary map and noticed that the monument boundary came to shore for a stretch of land on the southern side of East End, at the eastern end of Saint John island. At this stretch (roughly defined as the east Hermitage and west of Limetree Cove) the monument exists up to the shore and the park exists onshore. The trick would be to find an exposed rock, offshore, along this stretch.

The topographic map shows a small white spot in Otter Bay, however, this turns out to be a graphical error, as no rocks are exposed there. Rocks are exposed on the west and south side of Turner Point; a 5 foot rock lies off the west arm of Water Creek (bay); a 9 foot rock lies close to land on the south-southwest tip of Turner Point; and 12 foot rocks are offshore far enough that a boat can go between them an the south-southeast tip of Turner Point. These 12 foot rocks are defined as the monument's highpoint. A visual inspection of the west shore of Round Bay did not reveal exposed rocks, and nothing of the magnitude found at Turner Point.

Finding the trailhead:

The highpoint rocks may be accessed by hiking south from highway 10, however, this will require nasty bushwhacking as well as a swim out to the rocks. The safest and most enjoyable means of reaching the highpoint is by small water craft, which can be rented on the west side of Hurricane Bay.

Either approach pales in comparison to the effort required to actually reach Saint John island. To do this, you'll need to fly to Saint Thomas island and take a ferry to from the east end of Saint Thomas (Red Hook) to the west end of Saint John (Cruz Bay), bringing along some form of transportation for the long drive along Centerline Road to the East End.

Author John rented a motorcycle in Havensight, along the east shore of Charolette Amalie where the cruise ships dock. Cars and bicylces can also be rented in this bustling port. From the junction of highways 30 and 38 on the east side of Saint Thomas Bay (east of Charolette Amalie and north of Havensight), cautiously proceed east on highway 32 for 11.6 miles to the ferry dock in Red Hook. From the dock, the national park headquarters can be seen across the narrow Vassup Bay.

The ferry ride takes xxx minutes, and escorts pedestrians and vehicles.

Zero your odometer on the ferry before you drive onto the new dock in Cruz Bay, Saint John. Pass through the parking lot going left at mile 0.1 to reach the street. At mile 0.3 stop, and continue on the street to a Texaco gas station at mile 0.4. Go one block and turn left onto highway 20 (North Shore Road) at mile 0.5. Follow the street left around the bay to the national park visitor center at mile 0.7. Park here to obtain maps and learn about the park.

Zero your odometer at the visitor center. Drive back to the Texaco station. Turn left and go uphill on highway 10 which is Centerline Road that traverses the island east-west. Continue east on highway 10, and at mile 3.0 pass by highway 104 which provides access to the southeast side of Saint John. At mile 4.7, pass the sign for Virgin Islands National Park. At mile 7.1, cautiously enjoy the view of the island's highest point at a bend in the road. At mile 7.7 pass the bay trail. At mile 8.2, stop at the left bend in the road and enjoy the view of western Saint John. The NP park highpoint is along the road to the south. Continue east on highway 10 and at mile 9.6 enjoy pass by highway 20 which provides access to the Cinnamon and Maho Bays on the north side of the island. At mile 12.8, reach highway 107 and go left (south) to reach the kayak rental, Crabby's, at mile 13.6. Park. Rent your kayak and grab a bite to eat nearby.

Key points along the route:
0.0   Crabby's kayak rental
0.1   open water of Coral Harbor
0.5   Harbor Point (southern tip of Fortsberg hill)
1.1   national monument boundary (half way across Hurrican Hole)
1.7   Turner Point
1.9   12 foot exposed rocks away from shore on the southeast tip of Turner Point

The route:

From the shore at Crabby's kayak rental along highway 107 on the west side of Coral Harbor, paddle east past small, moored craft until you reach the relatively protected open water of Coral Harbor. Paddle more to the starboard (right - southeast) on a bearing that takes you to past Harbor Point which is the southern tip of a small pennisula of land that is topped by a 426 foot hill named Fortsberg.

After passing this land, paddle across the southern opening of Hurricane Hole. The right (east) side of this bay is the national monument and the land is the national park. The shore separates the monument (water) from the park (land). To reach the highest point of the monument, paddle across the open water that separates Hurricane Hole to the port (on your left (north)) and Coral Bay to the starboard (on your right (south)). Cross into the monument half way across this water.

Paddle on an east-southeast bearing to the tip of Turner Point, which is the southern terminous of a small pennisula jutting to the south from East End into the Coral Bay. As you approach Turner Point, look for rocks that appear above water line, near the shore. If the shore represents the boundary of the national park, then rocks appearing out of the water should be part of the national monument.

Paddle past Turner Point, taking care not to get too close to the shore and being swept up in the commotion of land versus sea. As you pass the southern tip of this point of land, you will begin to see the expanse of Round Bay ahead of you and to the port (left). Additionally, you will see a set of rough, black rocks that are set 20 feet offshore. These seastacks represent the likely highest point of the monument.

The motion of the ocean creates swells that crash against the rock. Position your craft so that you can observe the wave action. If it is too rough, abandon your quest. If the swells are calm, paddle your tandem-kayak along side the rock and jump ashore during the height of a swell. Your partner will retreat from the rock while you climb to the top, and then paddle back to retreive you during another swell. This maneuver will require you to wear shoes that grip the rock and that cover the ankles. The landing will be rough and it is likely your ankles will come to know the lava. The climb to the top is not slippery, but on a rough surface. Take care. Author John took to the rock on the east side, approaching from the south. Partner Kathy backed off 20 feet to watch the climb and then easily paddle the kayak to the rock for retrieval. Kathy had minimal paddling experience yet was able to perform this maneuver in calm seas.

About the park:

Camping and services:

Virgin Islands National Park - Cruz Bay, St. John; (340) 776-6201;

Saint Thomas

Motorcycles & Scooters - Biz Rentals, (340) 774-5840, Havensight, Saint Thomas

Ferry - departs Havensight ($7) or Red Hook ($3) for Cruz Bay

Public Bus - small, crowded, open air "safari trucks" for $1

Taxi Service - [Note that when you ask them to take you to Crown Mountain, the highest point of the Virgin Islands, they will take you to a popular mountain café along the ridge top of Crown; for the true highest point you'll need to take a rented vehicle or specifically show your taxi the map.]

Jeeps - about $60 daily

Services - Charolette Amalie has full services, including an enjoyable nightlife. Other towns on Saint Thomas have limited services.

Saint John

Kayak & Dinghy - Crabby's, along the west shore of Coral Harbor, south of the junction of highways 107 and 108 (south of the small town of Coral Bay) at the East End of Saint John

Food - several casual spots along highway 107 near Crabby's, including an open air bar

Camping - Cinnamon Bay has bare sites ($25), furnished tents ($60-80), and screened cottages (up to $70-135); (800) 539-9998;

High season is December through April, with most places enjoying full occupancy. August and September are lowest prices and highest chance for hurricanes.

Alternative Lodging - Maho Bay tent cottages ($70-115) and upscale Concoria Eco-tents; (800) 392-9004;

Resorts - Caneel Bay and Westin Saint John, among others

Hotels and Guesthouses - Numerous but especially on western end;,,

Cruz Bay is regarded has having a more casual and wilder nightlife than Saint Thomas.