Francis Bay Trail

Home » Trails » Francis Bay Trail

Last updated: April 8th, 2023

The Francis Bay Trail begins at the parking area at the end of the paved section of Mary Creek Road. The trail passes the ruins of an the old Mary Point Estate House, rises up a hill to a lookout over the Francis Bay Pond, and leads to the north end of the beach.

Just before you reach the beach, the trail turns left, runs along the edge of the salt pond, and emerges at the road near the main entrance to the beach at Francis Bay.

This is one of the easiest trails in the park being only a little more than a quarter mile in length and with only one gentle hill to climb.

Hikers on the Francis Bay Trail can enjoy two excellent bird-watching stations. There is one on the hillside and one on the shore of the salt pond.

Spur trails access historic ruins, and a handicap-accessible boardwalk runs along the salt pond.

Francis Bay Trail
Francis Bay Trail Map

Francis Bay Trail Ruins

The stone boiling house and chimney at the trailhead were constructed by George Francis in 1874 and served as one of the last sugar factories built on St. John.

The two dates, 1874 and 1911, inscribed on the structure refer to the original completion and subsequent restoration of the building, which is now used as a National Park Service storage facility.

Behind the structure are old stone walls and other ruins dating back to the subsistence farming days on St. John.

Mary Point Greathouse
Mary Point Great House

The remains of the Mary Point Great House that lie near the beginning of the trail were last used as the Creque family summer home. It was apparently built over an old plantation estate house shown on both the 1780 survey of St. John and the Oxholm map of St. John published in 1800. The cornice and other architectural details indicate a reconstruction in the early 19th century.

The house at one time had a wooden frame second story and the gallery was covered by a section of roof extending from the main building. A tile-covered gallery floor, surrounded by a concrete railing, remains in fairly good condition.

Unlike the traditional detached kitchens of the old Virgin Islands, the cookhouse for this residence was attached to the estate house. This kitchen contained five ovens, which were placed under a stone hood leading to a chimney.

Stairs behind the cookhouse lead to another gallery above. Behind the gallery is a freshwater well, and to the west are the remains of another small structure.

Warning: The structure is unstable. For your safety, do not walk within the ruins.

A semi-improved trail in the area of the great house leads through the former estate of Franz Claasen, one of the first men of African ancestry to own property on St. John.

Along the trail, you’ll find the remains of old graves, a stone cistern, a house foundation, and slave cabins.


Francis Bay Trail Pond

After passing the great house ruins, the trail begins a moderate climb up a small hill, at the top of which are two benches overlooking the salt pond.

pond overlook
Pond overlook

Francis Bay is also a favorite spot for bird watchers. There are three comfortable places to observe the birds. One is at the pond overlook along the walking trail at the top of the hill.

The second is from the wooden bench on the part of the trail that runs along the edge of the pond. The third is from the boardwalk that extends out into the pond. Bring binoculars to fully enjoy these popular bird-watching spots. It’s probably also a good idea to have insect repellent handy, just in case the mosquitoes are active during your visit.

The Francis Bay Trail accesses two excellent viewing stations where you can relax and comfortably observe life on and around a typical St. John salt pond.

The boardwalk, which leads around the western side of the pond, takes you to a short pier extending out onto the pond. The pier ends in a fenced deck from which these photos were taken.

The best time to observe the activity on the salt pond is during the early morning or late afternoon. As these are the times that often bring out the resident bug population, arriving armed with some insect repellent might make good sense.

Another excellent view of the salt pond can be found from the benches located on the upper part of the trail. The elevated handicap-accessible boardwalk was constructed in 2009 through the efforts of the Friends of the Virgin Islands National Park.


The 650-foot environmentally friendly boardwalk runs along the pond and includes a wooden pier that extends into the pond offering a comfortable bird-watching area.

Leave a Comment