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St John trails: Cinnamon Bay Trail

St. John Virgin Islands Trails: Cinnamon Bay Trail

Excerpted from St. John Off The Beaten Track 2006 Gerald Singer
cinnamon bay trail map
Cinnamon Bay Trail Map

In the plantation days there was a road that ran along the north shore of St. John between Brown Bay and what is now called Cinnamon Bay. To reach Cruz Bay from the north shore bays, such as Cinnamon, Trunk, Hawksnest, Denis and Caneel, it was necessary to first go up the mountain to Centerline Road (called Konge Vey at that time) and then head west from there.

Most of these mountain routes were no more than horse or donkey trails. They generally followed the natural drainage guts in the mountain valleys. In areas where no trails had been cleared, the gut itself served as the path. The trail at Cinnamon Bay follows one of these Danish roads, which in the old days provided Cinnamon Bay with access to Konge Vey.

The Cinnamon Bay Trail connects Cinnamon Bay with Centerline Road. It begins about 100 feet east of the entrance to the Cinnamon Bay Campground on the North Shore Road just past the ruins, which are visible on the side of the road. This trail is 1.2 miles long and ascends steeply, gaining about 700 feet in altitude.

From The Trailhead to the America Hill Spur
The beginning of the trail is the most difficult part, so don't be discouraged by the steepness and lack of shade. There is a conveniently placed flat rock near the top of the first steep ascent on the right side of the trail that can provide comfortable seating for two and may be a welcome rest stop.

The trail soon levels off and crosses a gut. At this point, you will find yourself in a relatively cool and shady forest. From here on, the ascent will be easier and shadier.

st. john hiking trails: america hill estate house
Unmarked Steel Post

America Hill Spur Trail
The America Hill Trail begins about 50 yards past the first gut crossing, marked by a steel post and leads to the ruins of the Estate House at America Hill. These ruins can be seen from Maho Bay, on the hill to the west.

The trail to the estate house runs uphill and switches back five times before you reach the mountain plateau upon which the greathouse ruins lie.

Do not climb on or go too close to the ruins as they are unstable.

 

 

st. john hiking trails: america hill estate house
America Hill
Great House
St John Trails: America Hill
America Hill Great House
view from the sea

America Hill Estate House
The America Hill Estate House is an excellent example of late nineteenth century Virgin Island architecture. Much attention was obviously given to an aesthetically pleasing design as well as to functionality, the limitations of the building site, and the availability of materials and labor.

In the early 1900s, America Hill served as a guesthouse where travelers could rent rooms. One of the last tenants was rumored to be Rafael Leónides Trujillo, former dictator of the Dominican Republic.

Some older St. Johnians say that the estate house was also used as a headquarters for rumrunners during the prohibition days.

 

st. john hiking trails: america hill estate house
America Hill
Great House

As was the custom in those days, the cookhouse, or kitchen, was built as a separate structure. The remains of the cookhouse are to the right of the main building. The date 1934 is inscribed on the cooking bench. To the left of the estate house ruins are the remnants of a cistern and a well.

St John Trails: America Hill
View to the west

Thanks to the efforts of freinds of the Park trail volunteers the view from the estate house is once again spectacular, particularly if looking to the west.

 

From the America Hill Spur to Centerline Road
Continue up along the Cinnamon Bay Trail, keeping the gut on your right. The forest is shady and cool with light filtering through the trees. The hillside is covered with bay rum trees, and the fragrance of their aromatic leaves permeates the forest.

When you come to a fork in the trail, bear right. The other path soon ends in the bush.

Terraces
During the sugar plantation days, most of this area was cleared and terraced by an enslaved labor force. The remains of these stone terraces are visible on the hillside above the trail.

Swales
Strategically placed along the trail are lines of rocks crossing at an angle. These serve to divert the flow of water across the trail and prevent erosion that would result from water flowing freely down the length of the trail. Some of these rudimentary culverts exist from the Danish days. This innovative management of the water run off have kept many of the old Danish roads in fairly good condition.

Charcoal
You will start to see a great deal of wild anthuriums growing near the trail. Off to the left, or upper side of the trail, try and find a fairly well preserved terrace retained by a wall of dry stacked stones. In this area are the remains of a large hole where the earth appears to be black in places. This was once a charcoal pit.

patricks west indian delight
Patrick's West Indian Delight

Charcoal was an important industry during St. John's subsistence farming days. It served not only as the principle source of fuel for cooking, but also was sold for cash in St. Thomas. Charcoal was prepared by digging a large hole, then filling it with wood stacked in a triangle-like fashion. The wood was then layered with green grass, leaves and dirt. It was set on fire and left to burn for a week or two. This resulted in the production of St. John's fine charcoal, which is still made today, although the only person I know who still sells it is Patrick from Patrick’s West Indian Delight across from the Post Office.

Big Trees
After a series of switchbacks to gain elevation, the trail again crosses a gut. In this area you may find hog plum fruit when they are in season. The problem is that the hog plums are invariably too high to pick off the tree. Worms, birds and insects are usually quicker than hikers to find the ripe fruit that falls to the ground.

After another series of switchbacks, you will come to an area of tall beautiful trees, such as West Indian locust, kapok and genip.

Top of the trail
The path turns to the right and then continues upward through the forest emerging from the bush at Centerline Road. From here, you can turn around and make the easier downhill hike back to Cinnamon. Other alternatives to return to the campground are the Maria Hope Trail to the east or the Cathrineberg Road to the west.

A Brief History of Cinnamon Bay