Jamaica Hiking: Cockpit Country – Burnt Hill Nature Trail

Active Caribbean Travel hikes Jamaica's Cockpit Country - Burnt Hill Nature Trail

Burnt Hill Nature Trail – Trail Info & Local Hiking Guides

Overview of Jamaica’s Burnt Hill Nature Trail hiking experience:

  • Time required: 3-5 hours one way
  • Degree of Difficulty: 4 out of 10
  • Elevation: Just over 1,903 feet (580m) at the highest point, with an end-to-end elevation change of 975 feet (300m), as the trail-head is around 912 feet (278m) above sea level.  That said, the actual change in elevation on this hike is just over 6,600 feet (2,000m), as the trail is extremely hilly.
  • Distance: A hair under 10 miles (16km) one way
  • Guide Required: Recommended – The trail-heads are not marked and a local guide will keep you on the right trail as well as tell you about the local flora and history of the area.

Cockpit Country is located east/south-east of Montego Bay. The end points of the Burnt Hill Nature trail are towns on the outskirts of Cockpit Country, namely Clark’s Town and Albert Town. The trail can be walked in either direction – For our hike, we started at Clark’s Town, which is a shorter drive from the coast and it results in a slightly more challenging up-hill hike on it’s way to Albert Town.

If you look at a topological map of Jamaica’s Cockpit Country, you’ll realize that the area is made up of dozens of asymmetrical rolling hills – An amazing terrain known as karst topography, the geological formations in this region make for a true wilderness experience. Visualize cutting up an egg carton, then randomly placing the pieces, cone side up, on the ground and you’ll have Cockpit Country! Located centrally in Jamaica’s interior, a little north-west from the centre of the island, Cockpit Country covers a vast area of approximately 500 square miles (1,300 sq km).

Active Caribbean Travel hikes Jamaica's Cockpit Country - Burnt Hill Nature Trail

We met our guides at the Clark’s Town Police Station before driving to the trail-head, a short distance away on the edge of town. We got on the trail just before 8am, so the air was relatively cool and the grass was still covered with the morning’s dew. As the hike progressed, it warmed up nicely, settling at a comfortable temperature in the mid 70s (20s celsius). The ground became increasingly hot and dry, allowing my wet feet (from the dew) to dry fairly quickly. Thanks to the mostly shaded trail, it was never too-too hot the entire hike – A nice change from profusely sweating and over-heating that I’ve experienced on other hikes in the Caribbean!

Active Caribbean Travel hikes Jamaica's Cockpit Country - Burnt Hill Nature Trail

The Burnt Hill Nature Trail is actually an abandoned single lane road, built in the 1950s by Canada. The Engineers did an amazing job as the road always seemed fairly level, albeit with what seemed like slight inclines and descents. This was not consistent with my Trail App’s reported elevation changes of over 6,600 feet (2,000m). The road was built into the sides of the mountains, so the track took several twists and turns as it snaked it’s way through Cockpit Country. There were clear dual paths to walk on, although from the tall grass growing on the sides and between the tracks, you can tell that this road hasn’t seen regular car traffic in years.

Active Caribbean Travel hikes Jamaica's Cockpit Country - Burnt Hill Nature Trail

Our knowledgeable guide casually dispensed interesting commentary, telling us about the history of the area as well as providing information on some of the local plants we encountered. I’m always fascinated by the many medicinal properties and beauty that nature provides. He showed us a giant snail, showed us a plant that helps with stomach problems, and informed us that the fruit from an inviting looking orange tree we encountered, was actually extremely bitter. We learned that common birds in the area included Flycatchers, Thrushes, Orioles and Cuckoos.

We were also told about how the region got it’s name from early Spanish explorers. The story goes, that after their officers, comfortably positioned on the high ground, watched battles wage below them in the gullies and valleys, that the spectacle reminded them of watching cock fights, in ‘the pit’, back in Spain – Hence the name ‘Cockpit Country’.

Active Caribbean Travel hikes Jamaica's Cockpit Country - Burnt Hill Nature Trail

While the trail didn’t provide us with any great scenes of the Caribbean Sea or a birds-eye view of the island as a whole, the remote wilderness of the area, with it’s numerous peaks and valleys, supplied us special sights of it’s own. One of the highlights was peering across and down into a valley known as Barbecue Bottom. Even though we were a little late to witness the morning mist in the gorge, the view was still quite breathtaking. FYI – In Jamaica, flat areas of land are called “barbecues”, because coffee beans and other crops are laid out on screens to be dried by the sun.

Active Caribbean Travel hikes Jamaica's Cockpit Country - Burnt Hill Nature Trail
a green parrot in flight

Several times along the trail, we heard a loud screeching from above us. Our helpful guide informed us that we were hearing the sounds from one of their local parrots. I’ve hiked a number of Caribbean islands and am always tried to catch a glimpse of the colourful birds, but they have always eluded me. Well, today was my lucky day – A little further on, our guide pointed out a fairly large gathering of the small green ‘Black Billed’ parrots in a tree and after they flew away, they swooped down over us, sort of dive bombing us with their screeching. It was a wonderful experience!

Active Caribbean Travel hikes Jamaica's Cockpit Country - Burnt Hill Nature Trail

Another highlight of the hike was walking down a particularly dry section of the trail, cut into the side of the mountain. We came across an area of fallen rock – This section of the trail was in total daylight, exposing rich red-orange colours of the mountain, somewhat similar to what you would see in the deserts of Arizona or Utah.

Active Caribbean Travel hikes Jamaica's Cockpit Country - Burnt Hill Nature Trail

After stopping at this picturesque location for a snack, we pushed on and completed the last third of the trail in about an hour or so. The hike ended when we suddenly popped out of the jungle into a small cluster of houses and fields. It had taken us just over three and a half hours to walk from Clark’s Town to Albert Town on this open trail. We got a ride back to Clark’s Town before heading back to the coastal town of Montego Bay.

Active Caribbean Travel hikes Jamaica's Cockpit Country - Burnt Hill Nature Trail

In summary, this was a fairly easy walk on a deceptively level and wide trail with solid footing through a densely forested area of Jamaica, aptly known for it’s rolling hills. While there weren’t great views of the ocean or island which you can typically get from hiking an isolated mountain peak, the beauty of this hike was in immersing yourself in the region’s lush green wilderness. Accompanied by singing birds and regular patches of warm sun, this was a fun and enjoyable hike! While transportation requirements include different drop-off and pick up locations, it’s not that hard to arrange.

Active Caribbean Travel hikes Jamaica's Cockpit Country - Burnt Hill Nature Trail

To Hike in Cockpit Country, these local Tour Operators will take good care of you (Click on a Tour Operator below for more details)

Cockpit Country Adventure Tours [SUST-ECO]

  • Burnt Hill Nature Walk – Cockpit Country (with optional Lunch for groups > 15 people)
    • 10 mile trail, taking 4-5 hours, explores Cockpit Country at a leisurely pace.  See the landscape, the array of medicinal and endemic plants and learn the folklore of the area from local guides (Ideal for 12 years and older).
  • Rock Spring Cave – Hiking and the Caving Combo (with optional Lunch for groups > 15 people)
    • All Day (8 hour) Excursion to the wide cavern cave that is well networked allowing cavers to do a loop trail through the facility. You see stalactites Stalagmites, bacon ram and other amazing white limestone formations architecturally carved into the underground. The cave facility allows the excursion to be upgraded from a medium impact experience to a high impact experience to accommodate the full range of adventure seekers. You get wet and messed up so a change of clothing is a requirement. You relax on the banks of the mouth river after the excursion to acclimatize.

Barrett Adventures  (From Negril only)

  • Accompong (Cockpit Country) Hiking Adventure (less than an hour actual hiking)

Sun Venture Tours Jamaica  (From Kingston only)

  • Cockpit Country Crossing 3 Hike
    • Duration: 5 Hours hike and 6-7 hours return drive
    • Degree of difficulty: 6/10
  • Special Interest Tours
    • Bird Watching Tours – Cockpit Forest
    • Scientific / Research Tours
      • Medicinal Plants & Fauna – The Jamaican ALPS (Cockpit Country)
        • Duration: 3 Hour hike and interpretative Tour of the limestone forest of the Cockpit Country
        • Degree of difficulty: 6.0/10
      • Custom Tours Available
        • Cockpit Country
        • Field Trips / Educational Tour (The “Learning Tree” Tour)
        • Health & Herbs – Cockpit Country Expedition (Annual Event)

Note: [SUST-ECO] signifies “Sustainable Eco-Tourism” as defined in our Sustainability page

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