St. John Virgin Islands Trails: The Francis Bay Trail Revisited

The Friends of the Virgin Islands National Park have just completed their project of a handicap accessible boardwalk running along the salt pond at Francis Bay. It’s really a great thing, not just for the handicapped, but also for the general public and the environment.

Now people in wheelchairs can have the opportunity to go “off road” on St. John, to experience the mangrove forest and salt pond environment and to be able to engage in bird watching, safely and comfortably.

The boardwalk, which runs above ground eases the problem that often plagued this particular section of the trail, which was that after strong rains the trail would become flooded and  muddy. The elevation of the boardwalk is also sound environmentally as it allows wildlife to be able to pass underneath naturally, unrestricted by the trail.

An early morning trail walk
Wanting to check out the new project, I took a walk on the trail early in the morning. I parked the car near the stone building at the intersection of the Leinster Bay Road and the Maho Bay Campground access road and began my walk.

The Francis Bay Trail is probably the easiest trail  walk on St. John. It’s only a little more than a quarter mile long, there’s only one small hill to climb and the trail itself is in excellent condition, cleared and smoothed.

At the top of the trail’s only hill are two benches where you can sit and observe the activity in the salt pond below. There’s also a great view of the St. John coast and the islands and cays looking to the west. The trail descends from there to the beach at Francis Bay. Here you’ll come across some tall tamarind trees and the footing for what must have been a dock sometime ago. You can access the beach from here or continue along the trail which now runs through the mangrove forest right alongside the Francis Bay Salt Pond.

After about twenty yards or so you’ll come across a wooden bench strategically placed to observe the pond. Continuing along the trail you come to the new boardwalk, which runs from there to where the trail exits near the Francis Bay Beach. The boardwalk includes a bench  and a pier that juts out into the pond from where you can have an excellent view of the birds and ducks and crabs that frequent this environment.

So if you suffer from a handicap that limits your ability to walk, if you like bird watching, if you want to experience a salt pond or would just like to see some of the off the beaten track areas of St. John with a minimum of exertion, this is the trail for you.

An old residence on the trail
an old residence on the trail

Benches on hilltop overlooking the pond
benches on hilltop overlooking the pond

a nicely cleared mostly level trail
a nicely cleared mostly level trail

Francis Bay Beach
Francis Bay Beach

Bench overlooking the Francis Bay Salt Pond
bench overlooking the Francis Bay Salt Pond

Handicap access boardwalk
handicap access boardwalk

Handicap access bench
handicap access bench

handicap access pier
handicap access pier

doves at pond
doves at pond
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