If you’re going to St. John it’s probably because you’re in search of those famed idyllic beaches and the good news is, they don’t disappoint! Most, if not all, of St. John’s famous beaches are located on its north shore starting in Cruz Bay and stretching all the way across the top of the island. Since St. John is part of the Virgin Islands National Park, the majority of the island (especially its shorelines) are protected so you won’t find many resorts or houses directly on any of its beaches.
Most people visiting St. John will stay in a vacation rental and drive to different beaches everyday. If you’re staying a week, you could hit up a different beach everyday and still not visit them all. A lot of people spend the week “beach hopping” (one beach in the morning and another one in the afternoon) so they can check all of them out and find their favorite.
Here’s a breakdown of St. John’s north shore beaches that included which ones I loved, which ones I didn’t, which ones have the best snorkeling, and which ones require a decent little hike.
The Best Beaches on St John
Salomon Bay: This is the first beach you’ll come to after leaving Cruz Bay, and it requires a little trek to get down to it. Once you come up the first big hill leaving Cruz Bay, you’ll come to a small parking area with a national parks sign. Park there and follow the trail down to either Salomon Bay or Honeymoon Beach. Because of the hike, Salomon isn’t usually very crowded. Honeymoon beach has good amenities and some boat excursions stop to snorkel the reef in front of Honeymoon beach so it’s often more crowded. If you’re looking for an easier hike to Salomon, start in Cruz Bay behind the National Parks Visitors Center and you’ll be hiking a bit farther but parallel to the shore the whole time (this saves you the exhausting hike back up to get to your car).
Hawksnest Beach: Hawksnest is the first wide-open beach you’ll come to on the north shore and that convenience makes it popular. It’s a beautiful wide-open beach but it’s pretty narrow and oftentimes crowded. There’s quite a bit of parking though so if you can find a spot it’s easy to stop, check it out, and see if you want to set up camp there for the day.
Gibney/Oppenheimer Beach: A little further down the road, but still on Hawksnest Bay is one of my favorite spots. You’ll recognize it by the white picket fence (where there’s a few parking spots and there’s also a few more spots just down the road in front of the iron gate). It’s a small beach and the parking situation isn’t the greatest but you’ll want to stop here because this is where the famous tire swing is! I couldn’t resist a photo op.
Jumbie Beach: The next beach you’ll come to is Jumbie. It’s marked with a sign and has about four parking spots across the road. There’s a short hike to the bottom where you’ll find a small beach that’s a little rocky in places. It’s not the best spot for swimming but what I love about this beach are the beautiful cacti growing everywhere.
Trunk Bay: St. John’s most famous beach (most visited and most photographed) doesn’t disappoint. There’s a $5 entrance fee but this beach has all of the amenities you could need including showers, restrooms, a snack bar, and gear rentals (snorkels and chairs). There’s an underwater snorkel trail and you’ll see some incredible coral and fish. Trunk can get crowded so go early in the morning or pick a day when there’s no cruise ships docked in St. Thomas, as it’s a popular excursion.
Cinnamon Bay: If you’re looking for a longer stretch of sand with all of the amenities, Cinnamon is hard to beat. It actually even has a campground. It’s easy to spend a whole day here as there’s plenty of parking, a full service restaurant, showers and changing rooms, gear rentals (including kayaks) and of course a beautiful beach.
Maho Bay: This is my favorite beach on St. John. It has an amazing overlook, you can park right next to the beach, the water is super calm, the snorkeling is pretty terrific, it’s a decent sized stretch of sand, and it has a pair of epic palm trees. This is definitely a beach to spend the day at.
Francis Bay: Francis is the last main beach on the north shore, which usually makes it a little less crowded. It also faces a different direction than all of the other north shore beaches so it often has less wind.
Leinster Bay: Leinster Bay and Waterlemon Cay are pretty much the end of the road when it comes to north shore beaches. To reach Leinster, you’ll park at the Annaberg Ruins (ah-mazing!) and take a flat but long trail along the water’s edge until you come to a tiny (and thin) stretch of sand. While Leinster isn’t the best beach on the north shore, the snorkeling is a favorite spot. Wade offshore and snorkel across to Waterlemon Cay. It’s only about 0.1 miles at the closest point (keep hiking past the sandy beach) and one of the best places on St. John to find starfish.
Best Snorkeling on St John
Besides beach bumming and making the rounds to the beach bars, snorkeling at Trunk Bay is my number one-don’t miss on St. John. I’m not going to lie to you and tell you it’s the best snorkeling in the Caribbean (it’s not), but the overlook and beach is GORGEOUS and the snorkeling is very accessible. Plus I’m a National Parks bucket-lister so I couldn’t pass it up. Since it’s part of the Virgin Islands National Park (it’s highly protected and kept in pristine condition), this means that a trip to Trunk Bay isn’t entirely unlike visiting the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone (a lot of rules and regulations, park fees, and swarms of tourists).
The National Coral Monument is the big draw (besides the pristine beach) and it’s what you’ll be snorkeling around. Trunk Bay actually has an underwater snorkeling trail that guides you along in the beginning and the underwater plaques contain info on the various species of fish and coral you’ll see as well as the local ecosystem. As part of your $5 entrance fee, you’ll get to use the facilities including restrooms, showers, a snack bar, and a gift shop where you can rent snorkel gear.
Here’s my two cents on snorkeling here: The markers were interesting to read but honestly the snorkeling didn’t get good until after the trail was over. I’m not sure what most people do but I snorkeled all the way around the little island (National Coral Monument). You have to go pretty far out before you’ll start seeing anything much. At first the coral seemed pretty brown, yellow, and orange but after awhile I started seeing some pretty amazing fish and purple fan coral.
Once you reach the end of the island, I would suggest turning back if you’re not a confident swimmer. While the interior side of the island is calm and sheltered, the backside is pretty windy and choppy (at least on the day I was there) and I think nervous swimmers might get kind of freaked out being so far away from the shore in such conditions (but check it out for yourself when you’re there).
Now the other side of the island (heading back to the beach) had some amazing coral formations. I call it “brain coral.” That’s a very technical term.
I’m not sure how long it took to snorkel around the little island but I’m a pretty strong swimmer and I was left feeling a little winded. Also, I wasn’t wearing fins. Dumb. If I’d had fins on, I don’t think it would’ve been a hard swim at all.
Overall, I’m not sure if Trunk really lived up to the hype for me, but then again I had just come back from snorkeling in Turks and Caicos (ah-mazing) and I’ve snorkeled quite a bit in Hawaii so it’s all perspective. I still think it’s a must do on St. John (definitely something everybody should see for themselves!) but the real gem here you guys is the beach!! Oh wow. St. John has some pretty amazing beaches, but it’s possible that this was my favorite. I’m sure it can get pretty crowded in the afternoons and I would definitely avoid going on days when there’s a cruise ship in port in St. Thomas.
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