Saint John Virgin Islands Beaches
The well-traveled philanthropist, conservation advocate, and founder of the Virgin Islands National Park, Laurance Rockefeller, in an address to the Senate Subcommittee on Territories and Insular Affairs declared that St. John Virgin Islands had “the most superb beaches and views” and was “the most beautiful island in the Caribbean.”
Moreover, prestigious travel magazines such as National Geographic, Caribbean Travel and Life, and Islands have all at one time or another declared the beaches of St. John USVI to be among the best in the world. This view is shared by beach connoisseurs and travel professionals the world over.
I would go one step further. I would say that, without a doubt, St. John US Virgin Islands beaches ARE the best beaches in the world.
St. John Beaches: The Best Beaches in the World
What is it exactly about St. John, Virgin Island beaches that make them so special?
St. John beaches are located on the island of St. John, in the US Virgin Islands, one of the loveliest, friendliest and most beautiful places in the world.
The climate is tropical, but moderated by the ever-present trade winds. Moreover, St. John is an American Paradise, a territory of the U.S.A.
St. John Sand
Sand is an integral part of any beach. The sand that carpets the beaches on St. John, Virgin Islands is especially soft, powdery and sensual.
St. John sand comes from the Coral Reef and, as such, is finer than terrestrial sand that comes from the weathering of rocks.
Here on St. John in the Virgin Islands, the Caribbean Sea is warm and inviting, even in the winter. And because there are no rivers, large tides or strong currents, the water is clear and clean. The water is not murky, you can see right to the bottom.
The sea surrounding St. John is also extremely colorful. It’s a veritable feast for the eyes. There are varying shades of turquoise where the water lies over a sandy bottom, darker blues where the sea is deeper, greenish tints where below lies beds of sea grass and hints of reds and oranges over shallow coral reefs.
Proximity of the Coral Reef
Almost all the beaches have nearby reefs fringing the sides of the bays that embrace them and around the protecting headlands on both sides of the bays. These near shore reefs are shallow enough for excellent snorkeling in an especially friendly and unthreatening environment.
From just about any beach on St. John, one can enjoy a panorama of islands whose emerald green mountainsides rise from the clear blue Caribbean in the near distance, as well as a myriad of smaller cays, rocks and bays. This view is far superior to the limited view of the sea and the horizon beyond found at most other beaches in the world.
St. John beaches are found within relatively small bays, surrounded by green hills and bordered by shade-providing, tropical vegetation such as coconut palms, sea grapes and beach mahos. This contrasts favorably with beaches that lie on a long straight coastline, and which are set against a low-lying, commercially-developed or uninteresting background.
Furthermore, the protection provided the headlands that form the many bays helps keep the water within calm and inviting.
More Than One or Two
In addition to all this, St. John boasts, not one or two perfect beaches, but beach after beach, one around each point or headland from Lind Point to Mary Point and beyond. There’s Salomon, Honeymoon, the beaches of Caneel Bay, Hawksnest, Gibney, Denis, Jumbie, Trunk, Cinnamon, Maho, Little Maho and Francis Bay as well as the beautiful beaches on other parts of the island such as Leinster, Salt Pond Bay, Lameshur, Ditleff, and as well as dozens more “off the beaten track” beaches.
Virgin Islands National Park
Because most of the island is protected by the Virgin Islands National Park, the beaches on St. John are not overly developed and you can almost always find a way to get away from it all and enjoy nature in its pristine state.
Not an Exaggeration
These are just some of the reasons why the statement, made so often by those in the know that “St. John has the best beaches in the world!” is far from an exaggeration. It can be taken at face value; it’s just plain the way it is.
A beach is a landform along the coast of an ocean, sea, lake, or river. It usually consists of loose particles, which are often composed of rock, such as sand, gravel, shingle, pebbles, or cobblestones. The particles comprising a beach are occasionally biological in origin, such as mollusk shells or coralline algae.
Some beaches have man-made infrastructure, such as lifeguard posts, changing rooms, and showers. They may also have hospitality venues (such as resorts, camps, hotels, and restaurants) nearby. Wild beaches, also known as undeveloped or undiscovered beaches, are not developed in this manner. Wild beaches can be valued for their untouched beauty and preserved nature.
Beaches typically occur in areas along the coast where wave or current action deposits and reworks sediments.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
A beach is a landform along the shoreline of an ocean, sea, lake, or river. It usually consists of loose particles, which are often composed of rock, such as sand, gravel, shingle, pebbles, or cobblestones. The particles comprising the beach are occasionally biological in origin, such as mollusk shells or coralline algae.
Wild beaches are beaches that do not have lifeguards or trappings of modernity nearby, such as resorts, camps, and hotels. They are sometimes called undeclared, undeveloped, or undiscovered beaches. Wild beaches can be valued for their untouched beauty and preserved nature. They are most commonly found in less developed areas including, for example, parts of Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia, but they are also found in developed nations such as Australia and New Zealand.
Beaches typically occur in areas along the coast where wave or current action deposits and reworks sediments. Although the seashore is most commonly associated with the word beach, beaches are found by lakes and alongside large rivers. Beach may refer to: small systems where rock material moves onshore, offshore, or alongshore by the forces of waves and currents; or geological units of considerable size. The former are described in detail below; the larger geological units are discussed elsewhere under bars.
There are several conspicuous parts to a beach that relate to the processes that form and shape it. The part mostly above water (depending upon tide), and more or less actively influenced by the waves at some point in the tide, is termed the beach berm. The berm is the deposit of material comprising the active shoreline. The berm has a crest (top) and a face — the latter being the slope leading down towards the water from the crest. At the very bottom of the face, there may be a trough, and further seaward one or more long shore bars: slightly raised, underwater embankments formed where the waves first start to break.
The sand deposit may extend well inland from the berm crest, where there may be evidence of one or more older crests (the storm beach) resulting from very large storm waves and beyond the influence of the normal waves. At some point the influence of the waves (even storm waves) on the material comprising the beach stops, and if the particles are small enough (sand size or smaller), winds shape the feature. Where wind is the force distributing the grains inland, the deposit behind the beach becomes a dune.
These geomorphic features compose what is called the beach profile. The beach profile changes seasonally due to the change in wave energy experienced during summer and winter months. In temperate areas where summer is characterized by calmer seas and longer periods between breaking wave crests, the beach profile is higher in summer. The gentle wave action during this season tends to transport sediment up the beach towards the berm where it is deposited and remains while the water recedes. Onshore winds carry it further inland forming and enhancing dunes.
Conversely, the beach profile is lower in the storm season (winter in temperate areas) due to the increased wave energy, and the shorter periods between breaking wave crests. Higher energy waves breaking in quick succession tend to mobilize sediment from the shallows, keeping it in suspension where it is prone to be carried along the beach by longshore currents, or carried out to sea to form longshore bars, especially if the longshore current meets an outflow from a river or flooding stream. The removal of sediment from the beach berm and dune thus decreases the beach profile.
In tropical areas, the storm season tends to be during the summer months, with calmer weather commonly associated with the winter season. If storms coincide with unusually high tides, or with a freak wave event such as a tidal surge or tsunami which causes significant coastal flooding, substantial quantities of material may be eroded from the coastal plain or dunes behind the berm by receding water. This flow may alter the shape of the coastline, enlarge the mouths of rivers and create new deltas at the mouths of streams that formerly were not powerful enough to overcome longshore movement of sediment.
The line between beach and dune is difficult to define in the field. Over any significant period of time, sediment is always being exchanged between them. The drift line (the high point of material deposited by waves) is one potential demarcation. This would be the point at which significant wind movement of sand could occur, since the normal waves do not wet the sand beyond this area. However, the drift line is likely to move inland under assault by storm waves.
Along the north shore of St. John are some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, characterized by their crystal-clear waters, fine coral sand, calm indented bays, palm tree lined shorelines and easily accessible snorkeling reefs. Traveling from west to east, Salomon Beach is the first of these Park beaches and the closest to the main town of Cruz Bay.
There is no road to Salomon Beach. To get there you’ll need to walk, swim or arrive by boat. The most common way to arrive is via the Lind Point Trail that begins just across from the National Park Visitors Center. Other alternatives would be the Caneel Hill Spur Trail or to access the beach via a trail leading from the Caneel Bay Resort.
There are two beaches on Salomon Bay, separated by a rocky point of land. The furthest west (closer to Cruz Bay) is known as Salomon Beach. The eastern Beach (closer to Caneel Bay) is known as Honeymoon Beach.
Salomon Bay, named after Jannis and Isack Salomon, brothers who came to the Danish West Indies from the island of Statia. In the early 1700s, they took up the property along what is now Salomon Bay and began the production of cotton.
Salomon Bay was once St. John’s de facto clothing optional beach. Strict enforcement of the territories anti-nudity laws by federal National Park Rangers has discouraged the practice and Salomon is no longer considered a nude beach.
There are no facilities at Salomon Beach. This fact, in addition to the relative difficulty of arrival, makes Salomon less visited and more private than its neighbor to the east, Honeymoon Beach.
From both Salomon Bay and Honeymoon Bays you can see most of the islands that define Pillsbury Sound. Looking from the west to the east you will see St. Thomas, Thatch, Grass, Mingo, Lovango, Ramgoat and Henley Cays and Jost Van Dyke, one of the British Virgin Islands. (The word “cay is pronounced “key” in the Virgin Islands.)
There is a popular but untrue rumor concerning how Lovango Cay got its name. According to the story, there was once a brothel on the island and sailors would “love and go.”
Actually the names Mingo and Lovango (and Congo which is behind Lovango and cannot be seen from Salomon Bay) were named after sections of Africa from which slaves were brought to the islands. The three small cays in the middle of the channel between St. John and Lovango, Henley Ram Goat and Rata Cays collectively are called the Durloe Cays after Pieter Durloe the founder of the Klein Caneel Bay Plantation (today called Caneel Bay).
Henley Cay was once known as Women’s Cay because during the slave revolt of 1733, surviving white women and children were placed there to await rescue and transportation to St. Thomas. The surviving white men made Durloe’s plantation at Caneel Bay their stronghold, which they succeeded in defending against the rebels.
In the 1940s and 1950s, Henley, Ramgoat and Rata Cays (The Durloe Cays) were owned by Roger Humphrey, the Marine commandant of the Virgin Islands during World War II. He built the concrete storehouse whose ruins are presently found on Henley Cay.
In 1947 Humprey’s son, a navy pilot, flew his aircraft over Henley Cay. He apparently was executing some air acrobatics, which he miscalculated, flew too low, crashed into the cay and died. This was the first time a plane had crashed anywhere near St. John. The wreckage of the plane can still be seen on top of the island.
After his son’s death Humphrey lost interest in further development of Henley and rarely returned there. In 1948, he rented Henley Cay to Robert and Nancy Gibney, the parents of the present owners of Gibney Beach, who lived there for about three years before building their permanent home at Hawksnest.
Humphrey sold the cay to Rockefeller and Rockefeller turned it over to the VINP when he sold Caneel, but there were people living there into the 60s. In the early to mid 60s the house was taken down except for the foundation and the cistern.
Some of the finest snorkeling on the north shore can be found in the area of the fringing reef that lies around the point separating Salomon and Honeymoon Bays on the northeast corner of Salomon beach.
Most of the reef lies in calm, shallow water with some sections even rising above the surface at times of extreme low tides. Thus, snorkelers should make an extra effort to avoid situations where the water is too shallow for them.
The condition of the reef is good, although there has been some damage to the coral caused by irresponsible boating, careless snorkelers, and by natural phenomena, such as heavy ground seas and hurricanes.
The coral reef community here is colorful and diverse. The fish are plentiful and there is a great deal to see. This is the best-protected and most easily accessible shallow water snorkel in St. John, and it can be thoroughly enjoyed by snorkelers of all experience levels.
Snorkeling in the center of the bay between the fringing reefs can also be a worthwhile experience. Snorkel in areas protected by swim buoys to minimize danger from boat traffic in the area.
The sea bottom between the reefs is sand and coral rubble. You will have to look more carefully to find interesting activity, but there really is a great deal of life here. The hills and holes on the sea floor are formed by eels, worms, shrimp, clams and crabs that make their homes on this underwater beach.
Meanwhile, you may notice several different varieties of fish swimming about, which are constantly on the lookout for these tasty bottom dwellers.
Snorkeling over the sandy bottom is also a good way for beginners to get practice before attempting to snorkel over reef where there is a possibility of danger to both the snorkeler and to the reef from accidental contact.
Honeymoon and Salomon Beaches exist within the same bay and are separated only by a small rocky point of land. They both contain the magnificent qualities common to all the beaches of St. John’s north shore, but they differ from the other beaches primarily in how you get there. You can go by boat, but almost everyone arrives by trail.
Walking along these forest paths gives you the chance to experience the beauty and tranquility of the unspoiled interior of St. John. Although the hike is relatively easy, there is enough of a physical challenge to make your arrival at the beach, followed by a cooling dip in the crystal-clear Caribbean, a sensuous and welcome reward.
Like Salomon there is no road to Honeymoon. You need to walk a trail or go by boat.
Both beaches can be reached three ways: from the National Park Visitor Center in Cruz Bay, from the Caneel Hill Spur Trail and from the Caneel Bay Resort.
Most visitors to Honeymoon Beach choose the relatively east Caneel Bay Resort option.
From the National Park Visitor Center in Cruz Bay
From the National Park Visitor Center in Cruz Bay: a two block walk from the Cruz Bay ferry terminal and find the head of the Lind Point Trail across the street from the public restrooms. It is an easy, one mile walk along the Lind Point Trail to Honeymoon Beach. Salomon Beach is the first two trails on the left, and Honeymoon Beach is the third trail to the left.
From the Caneel Hill Spur Trail
From the Caneel Hill Spur Trail at the top of Route 20 (The North Shore Road) just above the Cruz Bay Overlook on the North Shore Road, park in one of the four parking lots and take this trail north and downhill to reach Honeymoon Bay for an 11 minute fairly steep walk.
Salomon Beach has no facilities such as lifeguards, showers or bathrooms.
From the Caneel Bay Resort
Take a taxi or park in their parking area.
Please note that there is a $20.00 parking fee at the Caneel Bay Resort, which can be used towards purchases at the resorts’ restaurants and gift shop.
Bring your parking voucher to get validated if you book a kayak tour or purchase food, beverages or something from Caneel Bay’s Gift Shop
It is an easy 8 minutes along a paved path through the main area of the resort and then a gravel road along the coast to Honeymoon Beach.
Honeymoon Beach has flush restrooms, foot showers, hammocks, shaded areas, and a Water Sports Center – The Hut at Honeymoon Beach. The Hut rents watersports equipment individually or as an all-inclusive Day Pass for $49 per person: Lounge Chair, Snorkel Gear, Kayak, Stand Up Paddleboard, Float and Locker with Lock.
Honeymoon Beach is a favorite destination of day charter boats, which often arrive in late morning and depart by mid afternoon.
Honeymoon offers the possibility of shade beneath the large maho tree near the center of the beach or under one of the low-lying seagrapes.
From both Salomon Bay and Honeymoon Beach you can see most of the islands that define Pillsbury Sound. Looking from the west to the east you will see St. Thomas, Thatch, Grass, Mingo, Lovango, Ramgoat and Henley Cays and Jost Van Dyke, one of the British Virgin Islands. (The word “cay is pronounced “key” in the Virgin Islands.)
The best snorkeling is over the excellent coral reef described in the Salomon Bay section, which lies off the rocky point on the west side of Honeymoon Beach.
The reef on the point on eastern end of the beach between Caneel Bay and Honeymoon Beach, is smaller than the western reef, but also also offers excellent snorkeling with the advantage of being easier to access.
Why Caneel Bay?
Caneel Bay is a good choice if you would like to combine a day at the beach with lunch at the Caneel Bay Resort. Take a swim, a snorkel or just relax. When you get hungry, you can enjoy a well-prepared meal at one of the hotel’s seaside restaurants, the Caneel Beach Terrace or the more informal, Beach Terrace Bar.
Starting from Mongoose Junction, go east 1.2 miles on Route 20. Turn left on the road leading into the Caneel Bay Resort. Park in the parking lot and take a leisurely walk down the exquisitely landscaped path to the beach. Please note that there is a $20.00 parking fee at the Caneel Bay Resort, which can be used towards purchases at the resort’s restaurants and gift shop.
Be sure to take a stroll through the historic ruins of the estate’s old sugar works, which have been tastefully planted and partially restored.
The Caneel Bay resort provides public access to Caneel and Honeymoon Beaches only. Access to the other beaches on the property such as Turtle Bay and Caneel Hawksnest and the use of the beach chairs, kayaks, sunfish and paddle boats are reserved for registered guests of the hotel.
Caneel Hawknest Beach
Facilities for day guests include coffee shop, restaurants, restrooms and gift shop.
Snorkel around the rocks on either side of the bay or explore the sand and grassy center of the bay just off the beach, where you can often find starfish, sea turtles and stingrays.
Hawksnest Beach is a St. John locals’ favorite and the preferred beach for families with children. The reason for this is that Hawksnest is not only one of the most beautiful beaches on St. John, it is also the most convenient. It’s the closest north shore beach that you can drive to from Cruz Bay and the parking lot is close to the beach, so there’s no need for a long walk carrying your beach accoutrements. In the late afternoon, many native St. Johnians come to Hawksnest to “take a soak” after work.
Starting from Mongoose Junction, go 1.8 miles east on route 20. Park in the Hawksnest parking lot.
Hawksnest Beach provides ample parking, although on some weekend afternoons, especially when a birthday party or a popular holiday brings more people out, it may be somewhat tight.
There are pit toilets, but no running water, thus no showers, sinks or flush toilets.
Between the parking area and the beach is a shady wooded area. There are two pavilions (covered decks with tables) that are often used for family parties, get-togethers and meetings. These are available on a first come first serve basis after obtaining permission from the National Park (776-6201). Uncovered picnic tables and barbecue grills are also available.
Hawksnest faces east and is lit by the St. John morning sun, so if you enjoy a refreshing swim in the early morning light, Hawksnest is an ideal destination. Conversely, Hawksnest gets shade earlier in the afternoon than other beaches, a plus to some, a minus to others; it’s your choice.
European settlers named the bay, Högsnest. The Geographic Dictionary of the Virgin Islands, written shortly after the United States took control of the territory, explains that this name is probably “compounded from the Danish Hög, meaning Hawk, with Dutch or English Nest.” The term “hawk” either referred to the American kestrel, the little hawk that inhabits the island, or to the hawksbill turtle, which used to nest on the sandy shore.
Little Hawksnest is a beautiful and almost forgotten stretch of white sandy beach just to the west of Hawksnest Beach. If you want to get away from the crowd to enjoy a little privacy and serenity, Little Hawksnest is an easy two-minute rock scramble to the west or left, if facing the sea.
Snorkeling Hawksnest Bay
It is best to snorkel Hawksnest on days when the bay is calm and there are no north swells to churn up the water and diminish visibility.
The reef that begins just a few yards off the center of the beach is the most popular snorkel at Hawksnest. Snorkel around the perimeter or over the top of the reef where there is sufficient depth. Here you will find many large and healthy examples of the elegant orange elkhorn coral that looks more like a small tree than the colony of animals it actually is.
Hawksnest Bay is home to an abundance of fish and sea creatures, which seem content to observe you observe them. Have fun!
To the right facing the water, there is a formation of black rocks that separates Hawksnest Beach from Gibney Beach. Snorkeling around these rocks is an excellent way for beginning snorkelers to practice and gain confidence in a safe, shallow and non-threatening environment while still being able to observe colorful fish, corals and sea creatures. Look for schools of small fish such as grunt, fry and goatfish. Watch the parrotfish grazing the algae and the spunky damselfish defend its territory against all intruders regardless of size.
Gibney & Oppenheimer Beaches
There is nothing formal about Gibney Beach. There is no sign, no parking lot and no facilities. It used to be a private beach with no public land access, and although this has recently changed, the beach still retains much of that “private” feeling.
Gibney Beach is 0.3 mile east of Hawksnest Beach or 2.1 miles east of Mongoose Junction on Route 20. The entrance to the beach is through the third driveway on your left after passing Hawksnest Beach. Limited parking is available in places where you can pull your vehicle completely off the road.
Enter the driveway through the door in the iron gate and walk down the driveway to the shore. The renovated structure at the bottom of the driveway on the right is the former Oppenheimer home, which is now a community center.
The area in front of the community center is sometimes referred to as Oppenheimer Beach, while the longer and wider southwestern part is known as Gibney Beach. They are both geographically the same beach, with names that have been changing and evolving over time.
Remember that on St. John, as well as in the rest of the US Virgin Islands the area from the sea to the line of first vegetation is public domain. Behind the line of first vegetation, though, may be private property, as is the property behind Gibney Beach, which belongs to the Gibney family.
Gibney Beach has served as the location for numerous commercials and magazine articles as well as several major motion pictures, including “The Four Seasons” and “Columbus.”
The Beaches of Hawksnest Bay
There are four beaches on Hawksnest Bay. Caneel Hawksnest formerly known as Sheep Dock, which is part of the Caneel Bay Resort, Hawksnest, the National Park beach, replete with parking facilities, picnic tables, barbecues, covered pavilions, changing areas, and bathrooms, Little Hawksnest, which lies just west of Hawksnest and Gibney Beach at the eastern end of the bay.
Gibney Beach is 0.3 mile east of Hawksnest Bay or 2.1 miles east of Mongoose junction on Route 20. You will enter via the second driveway on your left after passing Hawksnest Beach. Limited parking is available in places where you can pull your vehicle completely off the road. Enter the driveway through the door in the iron gate and walk down the driveway to the shore.
Gibney Beach Snorkeling
Gibney Beach SnorkelingSnorkeling is best from the Oppenheimer section of the beach. The entry into the water is on soft sand and the snorkel is suitable for beginners.
Right off the Community Center (the old Oppenheimer house) is a shallow reef, which occasionally breaks through the surface of the water. Much of this reef was negatively impacted when a heavy rain occurred during the excavation for the Myrah Keating Smith Clinic. Tons of earth were washed down into Hawksnest Bay and the resulting turbidity damaged much of the coral in the bay. Today the reefs are coming back to life and you will see some colorful elkhorn and boulder coral, along with fire coral and other examples of reef life. Schools of small fish such as, goatfish, grunt and tang can commonly be seen in the area.
A narrow fringing reef runs along the eastern coastline. Close to the beach is a section of beautiful brain coral. The reef here is colorful and there is an abundance of small and medium size fish. Look for parrotfish, angelfish, squirrelfish, trunkfish and trumpetfish. Also, observe the predators such as yellowtail snapper and blue runners prowling the reef edges on the lookout for fry and other small prey.
More experienced snorkelers can continue along this eastern coast to the point and around to Perkins Cay and Denis Bay. Along the way is a small beach where you can stop and rest. Just before you come to this pocket beach you may see the remains of a sunken sailboat. As you progress northward along the coast you will encounter scattered areas of colorful coral, sponges, fish and other marine life in depths of about six to ten feet. Snorkeling here is best in the summer when there are no ground seas to churn up the water.
Hawksnest Bay has several fine beaches. From west to east they are: Caneel Hawksnest, Little Hawksnest, Public Hawksnest and Gibney and Oppenheimer Beaches. But on the eastern side of Hawksnest Bay about 100 yards north of Gibney Beach there is a small sandy beach that except for its size shares almost all of the wonderful characteristics of St. John’s world renowned north shore beaches.
Mermaid’s Chair has the same soft coral sand, but tidal conditions will determine how much beach you actually have. The soft sand extends into the water making it easy entry into the water. There’s shade it the mornings, beautiful views and and nice snorkeling along the coast in both directions. Just to the south are the remains of an old sunken boat that once belonged to the son of the original owners of the lumberyard, when it actually was a lumberyard. It wrecked when the mooring failed during a windy night.
In the early 1970s, there were several tents occupied by hippies on the ridge of the headland who frequented this very private and out-of-the-way little beach. The hillside was once referred to as “scunt hill” by some island residents unsympathetic to the hippie way of life.
This tiny beach is accessible by boat, by kayak or by a moderate swim or snorkel from the Oppenheimer side of Gibney Beach, although at one time there was a rugged trail through thick bush leading to a section of the rock cliff behind the beach where a rope was placed to facilitate the decent and ascent of the rocks.
Why Denis Bay
Denis Bay is quiet and secluded, but you will need to be adventurous just to get there, arriving by sea or via a rugged trail though the forest.
Getting There (Denis Bay Trail)
Look for the narrow path that begins near the bottom of the Peace Hill Trail. The path descends to a secluded section of beach on the western extreme of the bay. The little island just offshore is Perkins Cay.
Denis Bay is now part of the Virgin Islands National Park, but the structures and some of the land behind the beach have been leased to private interests. Please confine your visit to the area between the sea and the line of first vegetation.
The bay is well protected by extensive fringing reefs. From the sea, there is an open channel leading to the center of the beach where there used to be a dock.
When the seas are calm, there is decent snorkeling around the reef especially on its seaward side and around Perkins Cay.
Snorkeling about ten yards offshore of the east side of the remains of the old dock, you can see the coral encrusted fluke of a very large and very old anchor protruding from the sand.
Heading east on the North Shore Road 2.5 miles from Mongoose Junction or 0.2 miles from Peace Hill, is the small parking area on the right side of the road for Jumbie Bay. Cross the road and walk east about twenty yards to the rustic wooden stairs on your left. At the bottom of the stairs is a short trail leading to the beach.
Jumbie Bay is the only beach on St. John with an African name, coming from the word djambe, and referring to a malevolent supernatural being, similar to the duppy of Jamaica and the zombie of Haiti.
Jumbie Bay is situated in such a way that it cannot readily be seen from passing vehicles on Route 20 or from boats sailing to and from Cruz Bay. Years ago, when there was only a donkey trail on the north shore, Jumbie was even more remote and private than it is today and was reputedly the venue for lovers enjoying private liaisons. Because of this, it was nicknamed Honeymoon Beach. (At that time, Salomon and Honeymoon Beaches did not have separate names, the entire bay being called Salomon.)
Want More Privacy and a Bit of Shade?
Put your beach blanket down in one of the little coves of sand that extend inland under the small seagrape trees for filtered sunlight and enhanced privacy.
The shoreline at the center of the beach is dominated by a smooth cement-like material called beach rock. Nonetheless, you can still get into the water in soft sand on either side of the rock.
Jumbie Bay is more exposed to the trade winds than most of the neighboring north shore beaches and the water can get choppy on windy days. On the positive side, the breeze can be refreshing and the rough water can lend a certain drama and intensity to the beach.
From the beach at Jumbie Bay you can see Trunk Bay and the islands of Jost Van Dyke, Green Cay, Whistling Cay, Trunk Cay and Great Thatch.
There are no facilities at this beach other than garbage cans made available and emptied by the Virgin Islands National Park Service.
“Trunk Bay is the most beautiful beach in the world. I beg your pardon, Magens Bay in St. Thomas, but there can only be one first. I’ll make you, first minus one. Trunk Bay has sands white and sparkling, water crystal clear, little fish peeking at your toes,gently rolling swells or mightily pounding surf, all surrounded by coconut palms gracefully waving a welcome. There are also old ruins, if you are nostalgic, sun as hot as you like it, and an under-sea trail for snorkeling and sightseeing. Again our thanks to Rockefeller, who bought our most valuable beach and gave it to the National Park. What an insight into the future! This was once private property with a ‘No Trespassing” sign. Today it belongs to all people for their enjoyment and use.
From “Me and My Beloved Virgin” by Guy Benjamin
Because it’s just so especially beautiful!
Trunk Bay has the most modern and convenient facilities and receives the most visitors of any beach on St. John. It is a breathtakingly beautiful beach, with perfect soft white powdery sand extending into the sea. The beach is bordered coconut palms, seagrapes and beach mahos and the lush tropical vegetation extends into the flat valley floor where the Trunk Bay facilities are located. The turquoise and blue water is crystal-clear and the panoramic view from the beach picture-perfect.
The beach is over a quarter-mile long with a spit of sand that juts out in the direction of Trunk Cay giving the bay a heart-shaped appearance.
Trunk Bay is three miles from Mongoose Junction heading east on Route 20. Park in the parking lot and stop at the small building that leads to the beach to pay your entrance fee applicable between 7:30 AM and 4:30 PM. The fees are $4.00 for adults and children younger than 16 enter free. Annual passes are available at $10.00 for an individual and $15.00 for a family. Golden Age and Golden Access National Park Passports are accepted.
The Geographic Dictionary of the Virgin Islands speculates that the name Trunk Bay “may be from either Trunkscildpatt (the giant leatherback turtle) or Trunkfish.” My choice would be that of the impressive leatherback, which can be as much as nine feet long and weigh over 2,000 pounds.
United States Postal Service Trunk Bay Stamp
“St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands May 16, 2008 — a new stamp in the Scenic American Landscapes series that features a photograph of Trunk Bay, St. John, was dedicated today in a first day of issue stamp ceremony at the U.S. Virgin Islands National Park….
“The stamp is a beautiful rendition of Trunk Bay,” said Priscilla M. Maney, District Manager/Executive-in-Charge of the U.S. Postal Service, Caribbean District. “St. John is known world-wide for its beautiful beaches and abundant plant life. The 94-cent, St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands international letter rate stamp fully captures its natural wonder. Now millions can enjoy the picturesque beauty of the U.S. Virgin Islands as this stamp carries letters and packages to destinations near and far,” said Maney.
Showers, bathrooms and changing areas are available between 7:30 AM and 4:30 PM.
Also available are public telephones, picnic tables, barbecue grills and a covered pavilion. (To reserve the covered pavilion for a private event, call the National Park at 776-6201.)
A gift shop provides just about everything you might need while at the beach, such as sun screen, towels, insect repellent, hats, tee-shirts, bathing suits, film, batteries, books, post cards and souvenirs. Lockers, snorkel equipment, flotation devices and beach chairs are available for rent. The gift shop is open from 9:00 AM to 3:30 PM. Rental equipment must be returned by 3:00 PM.
The snack bar is open between 9:00 AM and 4:30 PM.
The organization, Friends of the Park, operate a kiosk staffed by volunteers where you can by books and other park related material. It has been described by one Park Ranger as “a miniature Visitors Center.”
The Amerindian inhabitants of St. John, known as the Tainos, established a village at Trunk Bay around 700 AD, which lasted until about 900 AD, when they apparently left in a hurry, evidenced by the archeological find of abandoned cooking pots still filled with food.
In colonial times, Trunk Bay was operated as a sugar estate and prospered until shortly after the emancipation of the slaves, when the entire island underwent a period of economic decline.
In the late 1920s Paul Boulon Sr. used to visit St. John from his home in Puerto Rico. While there he often spent time at the Fishing Club at Denis Bay, which is described by Desmond Holdbridge in his book Escape to the Tropics, written in 1937 as “a quaint institution, now non-existent, where no fishing was ever done.” It was during a Fishing Club get-together that he learned that Trunk Bay and 100 additional acres of land were for sale for $2500.
Paul and his wife, Erva bought the property and built a house on the hill overlooking the eastern end of the beach where they and their four children would spend their summer vacations there. One of the family’s favorite activities was to explore the bay and the little caves around Trunk Cay in their genuine “Old Town” canoe that they had specially sent down from Maine.
The house went unoccupied for several years around the time of World War II. In 1947, Mrs. Boulon and her son Paul returned to St. John, fixed up the house and opened a small hotel that attracted the more adventurous New York literati, journalists, psychoanalysts, theater people and even vacationing FBI agents.
The actors, Richard Widmark and Henry Fonda, and the nuclear scientist, J. Robert Oppenheimer, were frequent guests.
John Dos Pasos, whose books include, Manhattan Transfer, USA Trilogy, Adventures of a Young Man and Orient Express, met and wooed his wife at the Boulon’s guest house, on Trunk Bay, an appropriate venue for this famous author who once summed up his life’s works as “man’s struggle for life against the strangling institutions he himself creates.”
John Gunther, author of such works as Inside Europe, Inside Asia, Inside Latin America, Inside U.S.A., Inside Africa, Inside Russia, Inside Europe, Inside South America, and Inside Australia also vacationed with the Boulons at Trunk Bay. As there was no good road to Trunk Bay at the time, he arrived by sea and came ashore in a dinghy along with his entourage and his luggage. When the dinghy reached the beach, the Boulon’s hotel staff offloaded the luggage and helped the dinghy passengers ashore. Gunther insisted on personally carrying his briefcase, which contained the notes for his work Inside Africa. As he was exiting the craft, he fell into the water causing someone to remark that “Trunk Bay is now Inside Gunther.”
In 1958, The Boulons sold Trunk Bay to Laurance Rockefeller, with the exception of their houses and property on the hillside and small beach on the eastern headland of the bay. Rockefeller then donated this land and most of his other St. John holdings to the National Park. During the ten years that the Boulons operated their quaint pension at Trunk Bay, it was said there were rarely more than five or six people on the beach.
Trunk Bay has become a popular venue for couples seeking a romantic tropical location for their wedding vows.
Avoiding the Crowd
Trunk Bay receives as many as 1,000 visitors per day including locals, cruise ship passengers, party boats, and tourists from the island’s villas and hotels.
Nonetheless, you can still enjoy Trunk Bay in its pristine state as long as you can do without amenities such as life guards, snack bars, shops and showers. All you have to do is arrive early in the morning or late in the afternoon.
Trunk Bay is the home of the National Park’s underwater snorkeling trail. It begins just offshore of the spit of land that juts out toward Trunk Cay and is marked by buoys.
The trail consists of a series of underwater monuments with signs providing environmental information and identifying some of the flora and fauna common to the coral reef.
Fish survey volunteers report that on the average you should see (if not identify) 30 distinct species of fish in a half hour snorkel of the Trunk Bay Underwater Trail.
Trunk Bay Sunset
Trunk Bay Morning
Trunk Bay Overlook on a Clear Friday Afternoon
Trunk Bay Surf
Cinnamon is the place to go on St. John for beach activities and water sports. Besides the regular swimming, sunning, snorkeling and picnicking, Cinnamon offers windsurfing, kayaking, volleyball, and camping.
Cinnamon Bay is 3.9 miles east of Mongoose Junction on Route 20. Park in the parking lot and walk to the beach, which is about a quarter mile away over a flat and shady paved track.
There is a regular taxi bus service to Cruz Bay for those without vehicles.
Cinnamon Bay is operated as a campground and offers facilities designed to support the campers staying there. These facilities are also available to the public. They include a small general store carrying basic provisions, the T’ree Lizards restaurant, a snack bar, lockers, restrooms, changing rooms, showers, telephones, picnic tables and barbecue grills. An activities desk offers snorkel trips, SCUBA, snorkel and windsurfing lessons, day sails, cocktail cruises and National Park activities such as the Reef Bay Hike and the Water’s Edge Walk.
Entrances to the Cinnamon Bay Loop Trail and the Cinnamon Bay Trail are located across the road from the main parking lot.
At the end of the road to the beach on your left (west), you will find Cinnamon Bay Watersports where you can rent sea and surfing kayaks, beach floats, windsurfers and sailboats. Cinnamon Bay Watersports also offers windsurfing and sailing lessons.
On the east side of the track is an old historic Danish building, which houses the temporary archaeological museum in the western part of the building and the Beach Shop on the eastern side, which offers swimsuits, toys, souvenirs, snacks and drinks as well as snorkeling equipment and beach chair rentals.
The temporary museum features Taino and plantation day artifacts found at the Cinnamon Bay Archeological Dig. The excavation site is just east of the museum on the inland side of the dirt track.
The temporary museum features Taino and plantation day artifacts found at the Cinnamon Bay Archeological Dig. The excavation site is just east of the museum on the inland side of the dirt track.
SNORKELING CINNAMON BAY
Beginning snorkelers can explore the area around the rocks at the eastern end of the beach or between Cinnamon and Little Cinnamon Bay. The entrance into the water is easy and there are a fair amount of fish and sea creatures to be observed.
Going a little further out, there is very good snorkeling around Cinnamon Cay, the little island just offshore from the beach.
Cinnamon Bay offers the best windsurfing on St. John. The winds are relatively calm near shore, which is good for beginners. As you go offshore, however, more advanced windsurfers will find strong, steady winds, but without the waves that are usually associated with forceful wind conditions.
Cinnamon is the only beach on St. John where surfers and experienced boogie boarders can take advantage of the north swell that comes in the winter.
On Sundays, locals organize pick-up volleyball games beginning at about 11:00 A.M.
Want some seclusion? Try Little Cinnamon Bay.
When you get to the beach at Cinnamon Bay go left (west) and walk to the end of the sand where you will meet an iron gate set up to control entry by animals. Pass through the gate and pick up a narrow trail that leads through the bush along the shoreline and over a section of rocks, before emerging at the beach at Little Cinnamon.
The trail at the center of the beach leads to a National Park Service controlled house and is off limits to the public.
Snorkeling Little Cinnamon
At Little Cinnamon, snorkelers may find the remains of an old light aircraft that crashed and sank years ago. The propeller, the engine and one of the wings are visible most of the year. The wreck is in shallow water and can be found by snorkeling out from the eastern portion of the beach between the old stone wall and the first set of coconut palms.
Why Maho Bay?
Maho Bay is generally the calmest beach on the North Shore. There’s lots of room to find a spot just to your liking with opportunities for shade or sun.
It’s a particularly beautiful bay with stately groves of coconut palms lining both sides of the road.
Parking can be found either alongside the beach in the area of the pavilion or in the parking area on the other end of the beach.
Because Maho Bay is calm and shallow, it’s a great place to bring the kids to get them used to the water or teach them how to swim or snorkel.
Because it’s so calm and the parking is so near the beach, Maho is a favorite destination for paddle boarders.
Maho Bay is located about 1.25 miles past Cinnamon Bay or 5.2 miles past Mongoose Junction going east on Route 20.
There is a Virgin Islands National Park pavilion on the extreme western portion of the beach. A permit must be obtained from the park in order to use this facility. This permit will also entitle you to use the bathrooms to the west of the pavilion, which are otherwise locked and not available to the general public. The park will explain the rules and conditions pertaining to the use of the pavilion. (Call the National Park at 776-6201.)
About Maho Bay
Maho Bay was named after the Hibiscus tilaceus or beach maho, a tree commonly found on the St. John shoreline and throughout the tropics. The beach Maho has a distinctive heart-shaped leaf and produces attractive yellow flowers that later turn purple. The small green fruit of the maho is not edible, but a bush tea can be made from the leaf.
Interestingly, Maho Bay, now a relatively narrow beach, was once one of the widest beaches in St. John. The “horse kids” of St. John took advantage of this characteristic, as well as the great length of the beach, to have horse races on the sand. The narrowing of the beach came as a result of the removal of sand by the government to construct Cruz Bay roads and the Julius Sprauve School. This was done at a time when the dynamics of sand production and sand loss were not yet understood.
In the summer, the genip tree by the side of the road produces some of the sweetest genips on St. John.
The waters off Maho Bay are calm and shallow. The sea bottom is a mixture of soft sand and seagrass, where you can observe the creatures that inhabit this important environment such as turtles, rays and conch.
The shoreline on the southern coast of the bay provides an interesting area to explore, as is the rocky shoreline and fringing reef on the north going out towards the Campground at Little Maho Bay, especially around the point that separates the two bays.
The 438-acre estate Maho Bay, belonged to Harvey Monroe Marsh, who passed it on to 11 of his heirs, each owning an equal share. The Virgin Islands National Park purchased three of these shares in the 1970s and in 2003, the Trust for Public Land, a not-for-profit conservationist organization bought one share.
From the Trust for Public Land Website
“The Trust for Public Land (TPL) signed a contract in September 2006 to purchase the majority of the 419-acre property, which was owned by 11 heirs of Harvey Monroe Marsh. The acquisition became final in 2007, giving TPL 6/11 interest in the property. While the property has not yet been subdivided, TPL now owns a total of seven interests, with the National Park Service owning an additional three. The 11th is being retained by one of the heirs. As part of the agreement, the heirs are also each retaining a six-acre lot, with the ability to build up to two homes.
TPL will retain 18 acres of the property, located away from the beach, and will sell the property for limited development unless funds can be raised privately to help repay a loan covering the cost of the purchase.”
Little Maho Bay
Little Maho, once the site of Maho Bay Camps has been sold to private interests. At the time of publishing, the new owner has closed off all land access to the beach, which now can only be accessed by sea.
There is also a pretty little pocket beach between Little Maho and Francis Bay; just a short swim or rock scramble to the north.
Francis Bay is a St. John beach that really invites you to settle down and stay a while. It’s an ideal beach for a picnic. The bay faces west, leeward of the trade winds and tends to be calmer than other north shore beaches.
During the week, there are not many visitors here, and because the beach is so big, it is almost always possible to find a nice private spot.
If you are coming from Cruz Bay via Route 20, proceed to Maho Bay where the road leaves the shoreline and turns inland towards the right. From here, continue about 1.5 miles where you will come to an intersection with the road that runs along the Leinster Bay shoreline. Turn left and go to the stone building, which will be on your right. You can park here and take the walking trail or continue straight to the end of the road where you can park near the beach.
If you are arriving from Cruz Bay via Centerline Road, turn left at the Colombo Yogurt stand. Go down the hill and turn right at the first intersection. This will take you to the Leinster Bay shoreline where you will turn left and proceed to either the parking area by the stone building and take the walking trail or directly to the parking area by the beach.
Portable toilets are located at the main parking area where there is also a dumpster for trash. Picnic tables and barbecues can be found nestled between the trees at the edge of the beach.
The Francis Bay Trail runs along the salt pond located just inland of the beach and is an excellent place for bird watching, especially early in the morning.
The rocky north coast on the right hand side of the beach offers excellent snorkeling, especially during the summer months when large schools of fry congregate close to shore. These small silvery fish travel in close proximity to one another in large schools that look like moving underwater shadows.
On the outskirts of these living clouds, in slightly deeper water, lurk predators, such as jacks, yellowtail snapper, Spanish mackerel and barracuda as well some respectfully-sized tarpon and pompano. Every now and then, one of these larger fish will enter to feed, moving quickly into the glittery mass. The fry are extremely sensitive to minute changes in water currents and can sense the approach of the hunters. In a burst of speed, they move away from the oncoming predators. Some are successful and some are eaten. Some breach the surface of the water, fly through the air and splash back into the sea. This splash, however, puts them into yet more danger. Waiting pelicans and brown boobies swoop down in the vicinity of the splash scooping up big mouthfuls of unlucky fry.
In the midst of all this activity, large schools of French grunts, oblivious to the drama around them, hover, almost motionless, over and around colorful live coral. Parrotfish and blue tang swim about grazing on algae. Little damselfish defend their self-proclaimed territories by darting menacingly at even large intruders.
A closer look will reveal all sorts of beautiful and mysterious sea creatures like small eels, feather duster and Christmas tree worms, brightly colored sponges and gracefully swaying gorgonians such as the colorful sea fan.
In the underwater grasslands just seaward of the reef, snorkelers are likely to come upon large green sea turtles often accompanied by stuck-on remora or bar jacks that follow along just inches above the turtle’s back. In this area one may also see southern stingrays, conch, trunkfish, and others.
Novices who feel more comfortable close to shore can have a rewarding snorkel around the rocks on the south side of the bay between Francis and little Maho or over the seagrass that lies in shallow water on the other end of the beach.
Leinster Bay includes two inner bays, Mary Creek on the west and Waterlemon Bay on the east. A small, tranquil sand beach can be found at Waterlemon Bay. Just offshore of the beach is a small island, Waterlemon Cay, (not Watermelon) providing what most visitors describe as the “best snorkeling on St. John.” This beach also makes an excellent cooling-off stop after a hike on the Leinster Bay, Johnny Horn or Brown Bay Trails. Another plus for Waterlemon Bay is that you can almost always count on the sea to be quiet and calm, even in the winter when the ground seas are up.
Leinster Bay was once called “Smith Bay.” The current name “Leinster Bay” was adopted by James Murphy, a St. Thomas merchant, slave trader and ship owner, who purchased Leinster Bay, and surrounding estates in 1796. The name Leinster came from the province in Ireland where his family came from.
In 1918, Luther K. Zabriskie offered the following description of Leinster Bay in his book, The United States Virgin Islands: “Smith Bay with its fine bathing beach cannot be easily forgotten. The bottom of the bay is of beautiful white sand spread like a carpet.”
There are pit toilets and a trash bin near the parking lot.
Because dueling was illegal in the Danish West Indies, those convinced of the necessity of settling disputes or defending their honor in this manner would travel to Tortola where the practice was legal. In 1800, however, the British Virgin Islands also prohibited dueling. Consequently, the remote and uninhabited island of Waterlemon Cay, far from the eyes of Danish or British authorities, became the new “field of honor.”
Snorkeling Waterlemon Cay
From the beach, you can access the fine snorkeling around Waterlemon Cay, the small island just offshore. (Many visitors name this as their favorite snorkel.)
Enter the water from the beach and snorkel to the island. The shoreline water is shallow, and the bottom is a mixture of sand and coral rubble. It is about a 0.2-mile snorkel to the fringing reef off Waterlemon Cay. Between the beach and the island you will snorkel over an environment of seagrass in about twenty feet of water where you can often see starfish, sea cucumbers, green turtles and stingrays.
To decrease the snorkeling distance to the island, follow the trail at the far end of the beach. Bear left at the first fork in the trail, which runs along the coastline. At the end of this trail, walk along the shore and choose a convenient place close to Waterlemon Cay to enter the water. The distance across the channel to the island is only about 0.1 mile. This entry is from the rocky shoreline to a rocky bottom. Be careful not to step on live coral or sea urchins.
From this entry point to the eastern part of Waterlemon Cay, you will snorkel over an area of seagrass and scattered reef. Closer to the island, the water becomes quite shallow. Here you will see schools of blue tang and some very large parrotfish. You can sometimes hear the parrotfish crunching their beak-like teeth along the surface of the rocks and dead coral. They do this to scrape off algae. Chunks of coral and algae pass through the parrotfish’s unique digestive system and are excreted as fine coral sand. Much of the sand on our beautiful beaches is produced in this manner.
The south and east sides of Waterlemon Cay are bordered by a shallow-water fringing reef. The reef on the west and north sides of the cay is deeper, descending to a depth of about twenty feet. The reef is teeming with fish and other sea creatures. There are several varieties of coral to be found here, all healthy and colorful and the sea fans and sea plumes found in the deeper parts of the reef will give you the impression of swimming about in an underwater forest.
Look for eels in holes in the reef and for octopus where you find opened seashells piled together.
There is often an offshore current around Waterlemon Cay, especially on the western side of the island, which will be stronger during new and full moons. If you are not a strong swimmer, keep this in mind. If you get into trouble, follow the current; go around the island and return on the other side.
Waterlemon Cay Snorkel Video
A video by Andrew Burnett takes you on a virtual tour of one of St. John’s best snorkels, around Waterlemon Cay on the east end of Leinster Bay
Why Brown Bay?
Brown Bay’s white sand beach is almost certain to be deserted as there is no vehicle access and the trail entrance is far from the more populated areas of the island. Also, Brown Bay is a poor anchorage for vessels coming by sea, so it is uncommon to see yachts at anchor here.
When you are out hiking the trails, Brown Bay Beach is a perfect place to cool off, relax, take a swim and explore the ruins. There are shady places to sit, and usually a cooling ocean breeze. This is a great spot to enjoy a picnic lunch in a natural and private setting where you can often enjoy having such an idyllic spot all to yourself.
Starting from the Coral Bay Moravian Church, go east about a mile on the East End Road (Route 10.) After you pass Estate Zootenvaal, you will cross a small concrete bridge. Turn left just after the bridge and park on the dirt road. Twenty yards up the road you will come to a fork. As Yogi Berra, the famous baseball player, once said, “When you get to the fork in the road, take it!” The right fork is the beginning of the Brown Bay Trail. It is a three-quarter mile hike to the beach.
Brown Bay can also be reached by taking the Brown Bay spur trail off the Johnny Horn Trail. The Johnny Horn Trail connects Waterlemon Cay and the Moravian Church in Coral Bay. The Brown Bay spur trail is not maintained and can be very unfriendly because of the abundance of thorny “catch and keep” bushes.
Brown Bay Ruins
Brown Bay has some of the most extensive ruins on the island of St. John. To explore them proceed to the western end of the beach and then make your way further along the shoreline until you see the beginning of the ruins.
Also, an abundance of flotsam washing up along the beach makes for excellent beachcombing.
Snorkeling Brown Bay
The bottom of the bay is sand and grass, offering an easy entry. It is quite shallow at first, but deepens gradually providing access to excellent snorkeling further out from the beach. The snorkeling here is best on calm days when the water is not churned up and murky.
The most colorful and interesting area to snorkel in Brown Bay is around the point on the eastern side of the bay where there is a relatively shallow fringing reef, which slopes down to a depth of about twenty feet. There are several beautiful specimens of hard corals near the top of the reef, and on the sloping hillside is a garden of gorgonians, such as sea fans, sea whips and sea plumes. You will often see larger fish here due to the proximity of the deep Sir Francis Drake Channel.
Haulover Bay (North Side)
Haulover Bay lies three miles past the Coral Bay Moravian Church going east on the East End Road (Route 10). Park on the right side of the road alongside the small sand and coral rubble beach.
Take the trail on the other (north) side of the road. It is an easy path over flat terrain about 100 yards long that goes past a salt pond to reach the coral rubble beach that lies on the south side of the Sir Francis Drake Channel that separates St. John from Tortola.
Haulover is a narrow, flat strip of land separating Coral Bay on the south from Sir Francis Drake Channel on the north. The name Haulover came about because it was often easier to just “haul” small boats over this stretch of land than to make the long sail around East End, notorious for strong currents, gusty winds and rough seas.
This snorkel is recommended for experienced snorkelers only. On most days, waves break along the shoreline and over the shallow reef, so try to choose a day when the sea is calm and the water is not churned up.
You can enter the water at the rock beach at the end of the trail. The water is shallow at first and the bottom is made up of small rocks and coral rubble. Watch out for black spiny sea urchins hiding here.
The reef rises up close to the surface near the shore and then slopes down to a depth of about thirty feet.
Several varieties of hard coral including star, brain, elkhorn, staghorn and pillar coral can be found here as well as gorgonians, such as sea fans, sea plumes and dead man’s fingers. Commonly seen fish on the reef are tang, snapper, grunts, parrotfish and angelfish.
Look under ledges and in holes to see lobsters, eels and small fish seeking protection in their little hiding places.
Green turtles, stingrays and conch can be seen over the grassy areas, which make up most of the central portion of the bay.
The north eastern end of Haulover Bay can be reached by following the shoreline east for a little less than a half a mile where you will find a small sand beach.
When entering the shallow water, take care to avoid sea urchins and living coral.
Snorkel out along the eastern coast toward the point. Close to the shore are patches of sand and grass with scattered coral heads. The grass environment attracts rays, green turtles, starfish and conch.
There is a small fringe forest of mangroves along the coast. Just past these mangroves, you will come to an underwater hillside garden of coral. This beautiful environment continues out and around the point. You will see many large, purple sea fans and other gorgonians as well as hard corals, such as star, elkhorn and brain coral. In some areas, exquisite corals and sponges of every color imaginable encrust the underwater rock faces. Fish, such as parrotfish, snappers, jacks, grunts and schools of blue tang, abound just about everywhere along the reef as do anemones, feather duster worms and sea cucumbers.
Hansen Bay (Vie’s Snack Shack)
Hansen Bay is located 3.7 miles east of the Moravian Church on Route 10. Vie’s Snack Shop is open Tuesday through Saturday 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Snacks include conch fritters, garlic chicken, johnny cakes, island style beef patty and home made pineapple and coconut tarts. Sodas, beer and other cold drinks are also available.
Vie’s is truly one of the few really local places left on St. John, not only in its cuisine, but in its friendly, fun, old-time Virgin Islands ambiance. A large boxwood tree emits a delightful aroma when the tree flowers late in the year. Ask Vie about other local flora such as tamarind and calabash trees.
And there’s always the animals, birds enjoying the bird feeder, chickens scurrying about, goats and perhaps you’ll see a cat or two at the Bush Cat Snack Shack.
The beautiful sand beach across the road from Vie’s is privately owned by Vie’s family, (the Sewers) and a small admission fee is charged.
Haulover Bay (South Side)
Haulover Bay lies three miles past the Coral Bay Moravian Church going east on the East End Road (Route 10). Park on the right side of the road and you will see the beach,which is just off the side of road.
Claim to Fame
This beautiful bay was featured in the movie Big Blue.
The southern part of Haulover Bay is calmer than its counterpart on the north, has an easier entry, and is more suitable for beginning and intermediate snorkelers.
Snorkel along the western shore toward the point and around the offshore rocks, called the blinders. Sea cucumbers are particularly plentiful here. Soft starfish, red sea urchins and bristle worms can be seen under the rocks in shallow areas.
Salt Pond Bay
Why Salt Pond Bay
Salt Pond Bay is a conveniently-located white sand beach for those residing in, or visiting the Coral Bay side of the island. It is also an excellent alternative for those seeking calm water on days when the surf is breaking on the north.
To reach Salt Pond Bay take route 107 heading south for 3.9 miles starting from the Moravian Church in Coral Bay. The quarter mile Salt Pond Bay Trail to the beach begins at the parking area.
Facilities include chemical toilets, picnic tables and barbecues. Ms. George usually can be found at the parking lot at the top of the trail with an array of welcome cold drinks and snacks.
Trails to Drunk Bay and Ram Head begin at the east end of the beach. The Drunk Bay Trail passes by the Salt Pond on the way to Drunk Bay.
There’s a beautiful reef located just about in the center of Salt Pond Bay, where two sets of rocks rise above the surface of the water.
Snorkeling out to the left side of the reef, you should find a vibrant pillar coral that always seems to be a big attraction for colorful little fish.
Be aware that it is a somewhat long snorkel to reach the reef and that the sea is often choppy at times causing waves to break over the rocks. For these reasons, this snorkel is recommended for experienced snorkelers only.
For some reason, the Salt Pond Bay snorkel always rewards me with something exciting. Among other cool stuff, I’ve seen moray eels, turtles, a nurse sharks and squid. You’ll also find plenty of reef fish, corals, sea fans and sponges.
Nurse sharks are sluggish, docile and generally harmless unless provoked. Because they have gills, they’re one of the few species of sharks that can lie motionless. They are usually encountered sleeping or resting on the sea floor or in caves.
Snorkeling out along the east side of the bay, you can reach the coral reefs that lie just north of the Blue Cobblestone Beach. This is a considerable distance also, so pace yourself, or to decrease the distance, take the Ram Head Trail to the beach and snorkel towards Salt Pond Bay.
Looking for a real “Off the Beaten Track” Beach?
Frustrated when trying to find parking at a North Shore National Park beach?
Are the waves breaking on the north making for difficult swimming or snorkeling?
If you don’t mind sacrificing a sand beach for a cobblestone and coral rubble beach, an ideal alternative might be Kiddel Bay on the South Shore located just west of salt Pond Bay.
Note: I’ve often seen the bay spelled, “Kiddle Bay” but I’m quite sure the correct spelling is “Kiddel.”
Park under the two huge tamarind trees and its just steps to the beach.
There are no facilities, but you can string up a hammock, bring a picnic and enjoy the fine snorkeling in the bay.
Rock scramblers can walk out to the point on the west coast from where there are spectacular views of the bay, the reef and the rocky cliffs of the southern coast.
The Salt Pond
There’s a beautiful salt pond just behind the beach that’s easy to explore. Great for birdwatchers; especially in the early morning. Look for Pintail ducks in the winter.
If you snorkel out to on the western shore of Kiddel Bay, you will come to a reef which extends out off the point. A series of rocks rises above the surface.
This area is extremely interesting. There are deep depressions, grooves and arches and tunnels full of colorful corals, and sponges where you will invariably see a vast array of tropical reef fishes. The arches and tunnels are about 15 – 20 feet deep and are usually full of small fish. It’s a great challenge for free divers who can swim through one or a series of tunnels depending on their skill. For less skilled snorkelers the rock lined coasts on both sides of the bay still offer plenty to see and to enjoy.
Another cool snorkel option is to continue the snorkel from Kiddel Bay to Grootpan Bay. Starting from Kiddel Bay, snorkel around the point, proceeding west along the rocky coastline to Grootpan Bay. Bring waterproof footwear with you and you can enjoy a nice walk back to Kiddel.
Grootpan Bay, like its neighbor Kiddel Bay, is a cobble beach that offers seclusion and calm water on winter days when the ground sea makes north shore beaches uncomfortable.
There’s some beautiful bright white pieces of coral to be found on the beach, excellent for use as soap dishes and paperweights.
Take route 107 south 4.2 miles from the Moravian Church in Coral Bay. Turn left on to the dirt road. Go 0.3 miles and turn right where the road forks. When the road forks again, a little past the first fork, turn right and go 0.2 miles to Grootpan Bay.
The salt pond behind the beach at Grootpan Bay is the largest on the island and salt can be harvested when weather conditions are right.
An exciting snorkel option is to snorkel from Kiddel Bay to Grootpan Bay. Starting from Kiddel Bay, snorkel around the point, proceeding west along the rocky coastline to Grootpan Bay. Bring waterproof footwear with you and you can enjoy a nice walk back to Kiddel.
Great Lameshur Bay
Great Lameshur is a large cobblestone beach guaranteed to have less visitors than its sandy neighbor to the west, Little Lameshur Bay.
At the end of Route 107 heading south, continue 0.6 miles on the dirt road. You can park near the big tamarind tree at the opening to the beach.
A fifteen minute rock scramble along the eastern shore will take you to Donkey Cove, an isolated cobblestone and sand beach which provides privacy, picnicking, swimming and snorkeling. It’s truly an idyllic spot and worth the extra effort it takes to get there.
Great Lameshur is the gateway to Beehive Cove and the Tektite Snorkel.
Like the beach at Salt Pond Bay, Lameshur is an excellent alternative to north shore beaches, especially on days when winter swells may make swimming and snorkeling on the north uncomfortable. Lameshur is further away and harder to drive to than Salt Pond, involving a difficult and steep section of road, but unlike Salt Pond, the beach is conveniently located right next to the parking area. Lameshur is also a perfect place to take a refreshing dip in the sea after exploring the nearby ruins or taking a hike on the Lameshur Bay or Bordeaux Mountain Trail.
At the end of Route 107 traveling south, continue one mile on the dirt road. You can park anywhere along the road in the vicinity of the beach.
Facilities are limited to picnic tables, barbecues and chemical toilets.
Beginners can snorkel around the rocks just off the beach. On calm days, the east side of the bay leading towards Europa offers more advanced snorkelers steep cliffs and canyons often teaming with fish. Lameshur Bay is also the gateway to the Yawzi Point, a favorite snorkel.
Most of the beach at Europa Bay is cobblestone and coral rubble, with the exception of a small sandy area at the extreme northern end. The sea bottom consists of patches of coral, small rocks, grass and algae.
The beach is cooled by onshore easterly trades and is usually quite deserted, and thus, makes for a great picnic spot, as well as a place to enjoy seclusion and natural beauty. The onshore breeze brings ashore flotsam from afar making Europe Bay an excellent venue for beachcombers.
Europa Bay can be reached by hiking the Lameshur Bay Trail.
Waves generally break over the shallow reef close to shore, but when the sea is flat you can enter the water to snorkel at the north end of the beach. The best snorkeling here (for experienced snorkelers only and only then on extremely calm days) is around the point to the south.
Reef Bay consists of three inner bays, Genti, at the end of the Reef Bay Trail, Little Reef Bay and Parrot Bay on the west. The best place for swimming in Reef Bay is at the eastern end of Little Reef Bay, near the rocks along the eastern shore (to your left if you’re looking out to sea).
The beach at Genti Bay is a good place to cool off after the long hike that you just took in order to get there. The beach is sandy, but the sea bottom consists of grass and patches of coral. Be careful getting into the water as small sea urchins may be hidden between rocks or pieces of coral.
Genti Bay is the easternmost bay within the greater Reef Bay, the other bays being Little Reef Bay and Parrot Bay. It lies at the end of the Reef Bay Trail near the remains of the old sugar mill.
Small picnic site and pit toilets.
Little Reef Bay
Little Reef Bay is the best swimming beach in Reef Bay. The beach here is soft coral sand. As you enter the water the sea bottom consists of sand and seagrass. The water is deeper and the bottom is sandier and more comfortable than the beaches at either Parrot Bay or Genti Bay. Another plus is the almost guaranteed privacy afforded by the remote location.
To get to Little Reef Bay, you’ll need to take the the spur trail from the bottom of the Reef Bay Trail or walk along the Reef Bay coast from Parrot Bay
The beach at Parrot Bay consists of soft white sand mixed with pieces of coral. There are scattered coral heads just offshore.
There is usually breaking surf; good for surfing, not so good for swimming or snorkeling, Except for the westernmost extreme of the beach, there is a solid line of reef about twenty yards offshore that creates a shallow lagoon between the ocean and the beach.
Take the South Shore Road (Route 104) to Fish Bay Road and continue to the intersection of Marina Drive and Reef Bay Road; bear left onto Reef Bay Road and go up the hill. Turn left at the top of the hill and proceed about a quarter mile further. Park across from the house with the new green metal roof. The path to the beach starts at the utility pole and heads steeply downhill to the valley floor. Follow the path to the beach.
Along the shoreline there are several patches of sand that jut into the vegetation providing a measure of privacy making Parrot Bay an ideal location for secluded sunbathing and picnicking.
Surfers and boogie boarders can take advantage of the breaking southeasterly swells in the summer months, when there are no ground seas providing surfable waves on the north. The surfing and boogie boarding area is on the western end of the beach. Be careful of scattered coral heads, which sometimes are quite near the surface. Ask the locals for specific surfing information.
Snorkeling or swimming here is advisable only on flat calm days.
Ditleff Beach is a small protected bay with a stretch of shoreline consisting of sand and broken up pieces of coral. Hurricane Marilyn brought back the sand that Hurricane Hugo took away, and a new layer of sand extends past the vegetation line. One can now relax in soft sand and still enjoy the shade produced by the maho and seagrape trees that line the beach.
If arriving by boat, Ditleff Beach lies on the eastern side of Rendezvous Bay, about half way to the Ditleff Point headland. Experienced snorkelers can access Ditleff Point by snorkeling from Klein Bay.
The land access to the beach is a story in itself. While the coastlines and beaches of the Virgin Islands are public domain, the question of land access has not been formalized.
Historically, land access to Ditleff beach goes back to the first inhabitants of St. John who had a settlement there some two thousand years ago, attested to by the finding of prehistoric artifacts uncovered in the area.
Poor whites and freed slaves lived here during colonial times. During subsistence farming days, a family lived in a house whose foundation still exists, lying just inland from the southern end of the beach.
After that Ditleff Beach was used primarily as access to the sea for fishing and the gathering of whelk and conch as well as recreationally for swimming, snorkeling, diving and fishing. Original trails were replaced by a bulldozed road, which, for many years, St. Johnians and visitors used as access to the coastlines.
As of the writing of this book, the Ditleff Point peninsula is owned by developers who have cut up the property into residential lots, some selling for as much as $4.5 million dollars for the raw land. The developers intend to construct a gate at the entrance to the peninsula and close off the traditional access to the beach.
This may not be allowed to happen. On St. Thomas, developers were fined for restricting the historical access to Linquist Beach. But conventional wisdom is that “money talks,” and what has traditionally been the domain of all Virgin Islanders, may very well be restricted to a select few. Enjoy it while you can.
A Coastal Walk
From the beach, it is possible to walk along the shore towards a dramatic rocky point. An extensive fringing reef protects the coast and beach from the action of southeasterly swells coming in from the Caribbean. This shallow reef also creates a series of small tide pools. You can often observe small fish and crustaceans within this miniature marine environment.
Further south along the coast there is a narrow shallow passage between the peninsula are some large offshore rock formations where small fish and marine creatures can be observed.
The sand and coral beach on the western side of Ditleff Point offers fine snorkeling for those of all levels of experience. The water near shore is shallow and deepens gradually, providing an easy entry over sand and seagrass.
Beginners can stay in the shallow, grassy area just offshore or snorkel along the fringing reefs located on either side of the beach. Much of the coral is in good condition and colorful. There are many small fish to observe around and under the coral heads. The grassy area just off the beach is a habitat for turtles, squid, rays and starfish. If you see piles of shells around the coral reef, look for an octopus in nearby holes or crevices.
Those willing to venture out a little further, can explore the undersea grasslands of Rendezvous Bay. There are acres of grasslands in the Ditleff Point and Rendezvous Bay areas found in about 15 feet of water. Although the basic environment does not change much, if you snorkel this area long enough, (about 10 – 15 minutes) you will begin to see the interesting animals that frequent the seagrass meadows. There are many green turtles here. The larger ones may be accompanied by remora who attach themselves to large sea creatures such as turtles or sharks.
Also commonly seen here are rays. The southern stingray is dark gray in color, and it is often accompanied by a jack, who swims just above the ray. There are also at least two large, impressive and graceful spotted eagle rays. They are black with white spots, have a defined head and a long thin tail. You may also find conch, starfish and squid. During the night, lobster and octopus come out of the reef and frequent the grasslands in search of food.
One of the most exciting snorkeling areas on St. John can be found on the seaward side of the fringing reef, south of the beach. Beginning about half way between the beach and the southern tip of the point are a series of incredibly beautiful ledges formed by the outcropping of the coral. The base of the reef is in about 15 feet of water. The ceiling of the ledge ranges from about three to six feet and extends laterally approximately the same distance. To appreciate this area, you must be able to dive down to the bottom and still have enough breath to explore under the ledge.
This is a unique and fascinating environment, combining the color and beauty of the various corals and sponges with an abundance of fish, eels, lobsters, octopus, shrimp, crabs, plume worms and other creatures which are attracted to the shelter of the ledge.
The rocky area at the end of the peninsula can be explored when the seas are calm and there is a minimum of surf breaking over the shallow reef. This extremely exciting area is only recommended for the experienced, confident and physically fit snorkeler.
Around and between the huge rocks are channels, arches, underwater canyons, chambers, tunnels and “painted” walls. As you will be in relatively open and unsheltered water, you will probably get to see bigger fish than those commonly found closer to shore.
Klein Bay is a cobblestone beach, where one can delight in the colorful polished stones and beautiful pieces of bleached white coral that make up the beach. and extend into the water along the shoreline for about twenty feet and up to a depth of about three feet. The bottom then changes to one of larger rocks and reef for about another twenty feet before becoming the sand and grass bottom which characterizes the majority of the bay.
Starting from the roundabout in Cruz Bay take Route 104 east 1.6 miles. When the road forks, bear right and continue following the south shore coastline. Make the first right turn onto the road which leads to Klein Bay. Make the second right turn and park at the end of the road, where a short path leads to the beach. Although the access road is private, no attempts have been made to restrict public access to the beach.
The name Klein Bay comes from the Dutch and German word klein meaning small.
Although the entrance into the water is a bit difficult, the swimming is good. Enter between the center and eastern portion of the beach. It is safe to walk on the pebble bottom. When that ends, swim or snorkel over the area of larger rocks to avoid the sea urchins.
There is good snorkeling along the rocks on both sides of the bay. The underwater grasslands may also hold pleasant surprises for patient snorkelers – look for conch, turtles and spotted eagle rays.
Monte Bay is a coral rubble beach with some patches of cobblestones and sand. It is not a good swimming or snorkeling beach. There is an onshore breeze causing the water to be choppy and churned up with occasional waves breaking over patches of reef. In addition, there are a good deal of sea urchins.
Every cloud has a silver lining, and the good side of all this is that the beach is seldom visited other than by residents of the Boatman Point development, and you will most likely be alone here. The onshore breeze is cooling and there are good places to just sit and enjoy the solitude.
The best thing about the this beach is that it’s a great place to find shells and pretty pieces of coral, which can have all sorts of uses; paperweights, ash trays, soap dishes and whatever else you can dream up.
Coming from the roundabout in Cruz Bay, go east 1.5 miles on route 104. Turn right at the top of Century Hill to Boatman Point Road. Go 0.3 miles and then turn left on to Monte Bay Road. Continue 0.3 miles to the end of the road. Park and walk down the wooden stairs to the rocky beach below.
The access to this beach is private property owned by the Boatman Point Owners Association. The Association has not actively been restricting access to the beach.
The beach at Hart Bay consists of a long strand of sand and coral rubble fringed by sea grape, beach maho and mangrove trees. There is often breaking surf and strong breezes. The water near shore is shallow with grass and algae growing over the sand.
Hart Bay Beach a great picnic beach. It is not crowded and it is usually cool and breezy. The view is spectacular, the sound of the surf, inspiring and the freshness of the air invigorating.
Take Route 104 east from the roundabout in Cruz Bay 1.1 miles. Turn right onto Chocolate Hole East Road.
There are two trails to Hart Bay, both are relatively easy walks and both go to the same beach although one leads to the southern and the other to the northern ends of Hart Bay. The trails are the property of the Chocolate Hole Owner’s Association. The association, however, is not presently restricting land access to the beach.
To pick up the trail to the southern end of the beach, drive a quarter mile from the intersection of Chocolate Hole East Road and Route 104 and then turn left onto Bovocoap Point Road. Drive about 0.3 miles to the intersection of Bovocoap Point Road and Hart Bay Overlook. Park on the side of the road at the Hart Bay Overlook. The trail goes behind the house named Poinciana and leads down to the beach.
To arrive at get to the northern extreme of the beach, take the first left turn on Tamarind Road which you will come to shortly after the intersection of Chocolate Hole East Road and the South Shore Road. Go 0.2 miles and then bear right on to Cactus Road and proceed 0.1 mile. The trail will be on your right and is marked by a sign reading “Hart Bay Trail”.
The path to the beach provides a pleasant walk through a typical dry forest environment passing by the edge of a picturesque salt pond, a beautiful location for bird watching in the early morning. From the pond, the track leads through the mangroves and ends at the beach.
Hart Bay is not an easy snorkeling environment and it is usually too rough for snorkeling at all. On the rare days that the bay is calm, however, intermediate and advanced snorkelers will find much of interest here. The water near the beach is shallow and there are sea urchins even in the grassy areas close to shore, so watch your step. It is best to get your gear on and snorkel over the shallow area rather that try to walk out to where it is deeper. Hart Bay is a high-energy bay exposed to the force of the easterly trades and you will encounter a great deal of old broken coral.
In the center of the bay are some rocks that rise up above the surface. Just north of these rocks is an area of coral ledges. Colorful small corals and encrusting sponges line the lower edge of the shelves. These shelves provide protection for small fish and other sea creatures, so there will be a lot to see under the ledges and around, and in, the holes, cracks and crevices of the reef.
Remember, only attempt this snorkel on a calm day and be careful of sea urchins when you enter and exit the water.
From the roundabout in Cruz Bay, go 1.1 miles east on route 104. Turn right on Chocolate Hole East Road. Drive to the end of the black top road and park by the beach.
Look for conch, turtles, rays and juvenile fish in the thick seagrass bed lying just offshore of the beach.
Snorkel the coastlines and look in holes, crevices and and under ledges in the reef and rocks
Photos taken on a snorkel along the eastern shoreline 09/07/2016
While Frank Bay doesn’t compare to the National Park beaches on the north there are certain advantages. It is the closest swimming beach to Cruz Bay and is within easy walking distance from town. It’s never crowded; you’ll will rarely find more than one or two people there. Be careful of sea urchins when entering the water and be aware of surf and waves caused by times of ground sea or when the wake of a ferry or other large vessel comes ashore.
Starting from the one way street that goes past Wharfside Village in Cruz Bay, turn right at the end of the road by the Catholic Church. Go about one quarter mile, bearing right until you get to the beach.
On the north side of the beach is the art gallery, Coconut Coast Studios; well worth a visit. On the south end, you can enjoy typical West Indian food at Patrick Moorhead’s small open air restaurant.
On the other side of the road there is a bench, which offers the easiest and most comfortable opportunity to observe the tranquil Frank Bay salt pond. This pond was adopted by the Audubon Society and is a wonderful place to see pin tail ducks, herons and a host of other birds.
Enjoy the spectacular view while sitting in the shade of a palm tree. You can see the islands of Little St. James, Great St. James, St. Thomas, Steven’s Cay, Thatch Cay, Hans Lolick, Grass Cay and Mingo Cay. Frank Bay is also an ideal place to come to watch the sunset.
This beach was the favorite of the famous opera singer, the late Ivan Jadan who frequented it almost daily playing with an octopus that lives in a hole in the reef.
Cruz Bay Beach, located right downtown, is a pretty sand beach fringed with coconut palms and seagrapes.
The beach is a wonderful place to sit and enjoy the scenery and the activity of the harbor. It is not, however, particularly good for swimming or water sports because of heavy commercial and pleasure boat traffic.
Get off the ferry and you’re there.
Cruz Bay is the main town in St. John. There are dumpsters and garbage cans, public bath rooms, and a dinghy dock for visiting sailors. In town are the government offices, police and fire stations, Post Office, National Park Visitor Center, library, museum, businesses, shops and restaurants.
St. John Off the Beaten Track App
SeeStJohn.com is by far the most comprehensive and complete guide to the island of St. John in the US Virgin Islands (USVI) found anywhere – end of story – Check us out and see St John for yourself!
Get in touch
St. John US Virgin Islands,
Sombrero Publishing Company
PO Box 1031
St. John,VI 00831