Hiking – The Johnny Horn Trail (St. John)
Ahoy mates! And welcome aboard! Looking for a challenging yet rewarding hike? I’ve got the perfect suggestion: The Johnny Horn Trail. Located on St. John, the 3.1-mile out-and-back trail begins at the east end of the Waterlemon Bay beach – a great place to snorkel and swim once you finish hiking. Take plenty of water and bug spray for your journey as there is little shade.
Although not recommended for beginners, the Johnny Horn Trail is one of my favorites as it ascends a mountain ridge consisting of a dry upland forest that connects the North Shore to Coral Bay. Nature lovers will appreciate the smattering of deer, hermit crabs, lizards, goats, and donkeys roaming about the landscape. But it’s the views that impress everyone.
There are four spur trails off the main route. The first (starting from Waterlemon Bay) provides access to the best place to cross the channel should you wish to snorkel either before or after your hike. The second spur leads to the remains of an old Danish Guardhouse, while the third spur trail takes you to the ruins at Windy Hill. The fourth spur, another favorite if you have time, drops you into Brown Bay, a quiet, cozy waterfront teeming with stingrays, barracudas, and needlefish. The trails have become rather overgrown, so watch your step and pay attention not to wander off the trails unintentionally. Also, know your stamina limits as each spur trail adds extra time to the 2+ hour strenuous up-and-back hike.
So who was Johnny Horn anyways?
Johan Horn was second in command to Governor Gardelin in St. Thomas and Commandant around the time of the slave rebellion in 1773. He worked for the Danish West India and Guinea Company on St. Thomas as Chief Bookkeeper and Chief Merchant.
He was described by Engliishman John Charles, a former actor turned planter on St. John, as such:
He had a grimace for a face, lies for eyes, noes for a nose, arse cheeks for face cheeks, fears for ears, whips for lips, dung for a tongue, and to all who knew him it seems strange that he has but one horn for a name.
Which makes me wonder how such an unlikable character got a trail named after him? But history is funny like that.
What Can I See From the Spur Trails?
Funny you should ask. The guardhouse off the first spur trail was built to deter slaves from swimming across the channel to freedom. Once equipped with cannons and manned by 16 soldiers, the ruins provide an excellent view of two critical passages: the Fungi Passage between Whistling Cay and Mary Point and the Narrows, which separates Great Thatch and St. John.
As you proceed up the Johnny Horn Trail, you’ll come to several areas that provide excellent views to the north. Eventually, you’ll come to a fork in the trail. The spur to the left guides you to the ruins of Windy Hill, a former estate located about 200 yards from the fork in the trail. (The trail to the right is the continuation of the Johnny Horn Trail.)
Often described by hikers as a place with “incredible views,” the ruins are all that remain of a once vast property owned by Judge H. Berg, the vice-governor of the Danish West Indies, that included an extensive library at Windy Hill and small houses that employees of Berg built when establishing the village of Johnny Horn.
About a half mile from the Windy Hill spur, you’ll come to another intersection. Continue straight to stay on the Johnny Horn trail or head left to enjoy the Brown Bay Trail, which is 0.8 miles to the beach, a delightful place to enjoy a picnic lunch or a bit of swimming.
The End is in Sight
If you continue straight along the Johnny Horn Trail, the path will eventually descend and cross a gut. Once you pass the gut, the trail swings steeply upward towards a dirt road. At this point, there are views of Coral Bay and Coral Harbor. This road descends rapidly and leads to the Moravian Church which is near Skinny Legs, a great place to grab a rum punch and rest your legs for the return trip – unless you parked a car nearby to avoid the return hike or plan to hail a taxi to take you back to Waterlemon Bay.
All are options worth considering, especially if you’re not used to the unrelenting heat or you haven’t quite developed strong hiking legs. Always be safe, not sorry, and don’t push yourself to extremes. Of course, this hike can also be done in reverse by parking near the Moravian church or near the rifle range parking lot that gives you access to the Brown Bay Trail.
End Notes: Happy Trails Everyone! If you enjoyed this post, please share it with your friends and drop us a note about your own experiences on the Johnny Horn Trail. Then visit our website and book a fun, relaxing boat day with Stormy Pirates Charters – we’ll put the gang plank down and escort you in style.