Hams Bluff Trail -- 200'

Hams Bluff Lighthouse - St. Croix


At the far northwestern corner of St. Croix, largest of the U.S. Virgin Islands, the rocky headland known as Hams Bluff rises 380-feet directly from the waters of the Caribbean Sea. To the east the terrain is even more spectacular, where the near-vertical slopes of the Maroon Ridge rise more the twice that high above the waves. The azure blue of the sea stretching out to the horizon...the lush greens of the tropical forests blanketing the steep ridges...it's a place where both the peace and wonder of nature surrounds you. Only a single man-made structure can be seen within the immediate surroundings of Hams Bluff, and that structure lies directly atop it...the Hams Bluff Lighthouse. The lighthouse is just over a century old, being built between 1913-1915 by the Directorate of the Danish Lighthouse Service. The United States acquired the light station (which included two keeper residences near the base of the bluff) when it bought the Virgin Islands from Denmark in 1917. Keepers manned the light until 1975 at which point it was automated. Twenty years later it was decommissioned and abandoned, with a simple truss-style beacon forthwith assuming its duties. The tropical climate and exposed location atop the bluff has quickly taken its toll on the old light. Once painted bright white with a black cupola, the lighthouse is now the color of the rust quickly consuming its steel tower. I appreciate the little lights tenacity...hopefully it survives until someone gives it the TLC it deserves.

Getting to the trailhead is definitely more of an adventure than the hike itself. The only way to reach the trail is by way of a sometimes muddy and deeply rutted road along Hams Bay. This road diverges from Highway 63 approximately 6km north of Frederiksted on St. Croix. I've heard some report that, despite its roughness, even cars should make it ok. Perhaps...but I honestly wouldn't risk it in anything with less than 6-inches of clearance. At the end of the road is a parking area alongside an old National Guard Facility, which based on appearances is rarely used. To the left side of the facility is a metal fence at the upper end of which there is a gap where the trail begins. When we visited a bright blue pallet, marked "Lighthouse Hike Starts Here" was also located at the trailhead. From this point it's only 4/10-mile to the lighthouse, but there's some climbing to do along the way. After crossing a short concrete bridge the trail immediately attacks the hillside. The grade isn't crazy, but it is rather challenging...especially if you're climbing it under an 85-degree tropical sun. With a couple minor exceptions the thick brush and trees surround you all the way to the top, limiting views. At just over the halfway point the trail enters a pair of long switchbacks for the final climb to the top. A utility line and an overgrown concrete structure are then passed by shortly after which the trail emerges atop the windswept open bluff right alongside the lighthouse.

The lighthouse might be a bit of a disappointment have you not done your research ahead of time. The tower is stained with rust and diminutive. The door is open, however, so if you are comfortable climbing a couple flights of steep, rusty steps you can look inside the old lantern room...and the view beyond. Luckily, this same view can be seen from the base of the light as the crest of the bluff is only covered in short grasses. To the north and west the Caribbean Sea stretches away to the horizon. To the east, though, that's where the money is. Maroon Ridge rises like a green wall, towering 900-feet above Maroon Hole. Waves crash against jagged cliffs hundreds of feet below. In the distance are even more towering hills line the stunning north coast of the island. If you're like us, it'll be a hard place to leave. The trail does appear to continue east from the lighthouse, seemingly headed for the high ridge nearby. I wasn't able to verify this anywhere, however, so don't take my word for it that it's a trail worth continuing onward along. After soaking in all the tropical beauty you can stand, simply retrace your steps back down the 4/10-mile whence you came.

This is a stunning hike. I don't have a lot to compare to in the Caribbean, of course, but the length of the trail and the conditions and terrain encountered make this a hike pretty much anyone can enjoy. It's certainly been a while since I've received such an amazing visual payoff for so little effort. The condition of the lighthouse is worrying, honestly. If no efforts are made, I doubt it will survive another 20-years of neglect. I read that there has been interest recently in preserving and restoring the light but, as of this writing, there's no real indication if or when this will happen. If for any other reason this is the best excuse to go visit now. So now it is, with great pleasure, I can invite you along with me on one of my few hikes in the tropics...that of the hike to Hams Bluff Lighthouse. As always, I hope you ENJOY!!


Trailhead GPS Coordinates:   17.768801, -64.874708

Route Type: Out-and-back      Difficulty: EASY (Petzoldt Rating: 1.86 )      Hike Length: 0.8 miles      Hike Duration: 1:45      Trailhead Temp: 85'F      Trail Traffic: NONE!!      Min. Elevation: 50'      Max. Elevation: 380'      Total Vertical Gain: 330'      Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 413' (ascent only)

Trails Used (blaze color): Hams Bluff Trail (unblazed)


3-26-2021