Snorkeling

Framed by the green hillsides of St. John to the left and the right, the crystal clear blue water of Francis Bay stretches away from the white sand beach as the hangs in a blue sky smeared with puffy white clouds.
Enter the blue waters of Virgin Islands National Park and discover the beautiful coral reefs, seagrass beds, and mangrove shorelines that surround St. John.

Photo courtesy of Parnicza/NPS

Enjoy the Beautiful Waters of Virgin Islands National Park

 

Where's the Best Snorkeling?

Over 40% of Virgin Islands National Park is underwater. Mangrove shorelines, seagrass beds, fringing and patch reefs offer an ample and diverse array of snorkeling opportunities. However, defining the "best" is highly subjective, based on factors such as individual snorkeling/swimming abilities, water and wind conditions and the marine life particular to a given site. This guide describes a variety of potential snorkeling areas so that you can determine what's best for your own interests and expertise. It highlights areas easily accessed by road or trail and is not intended to be a comprehensive guide to all St. John snorkeling spots.

The park map on our brochure highlights areas with good snorkeling in pink. You can pick up a copy at our visitor center or at the kiosk just outside, next to the playground.

Please Use Reef Safe Sunscreen! Please remember to look at ingredient lists to make sure reef-damaging substances (such as oxybenzone, octocrylene, octinoxate, butylparaben, and 4-methylbenzylidine camphor, all of which have been shown to cause coral bleaching even at low levels) aren't included. There are no regulations that govern what sunscreen producers can print on their bottles, so just because the label might include the words "reef safe", your sunscreen may still include these harmful substances.

Be sure to check our What's That Fish Pages or download our Fish Guide and Things to Avoid in the Water before you head to the beach.
 

Beaches Within Virgin Islands National Park

 
The white sand and crystal clear water of Salomon Bay are pictured under a blue sky streaked with soft white clouds.

Photo courtesy Parnicza/NPS

Salomon/Honeymoon Bay, two white-sand beaches, can be accessed by a short hike from the Virgin Islands National Park sign off North Shore Road, Caneel Bay or by boat. A narrow reef follows the shoreline east of Honeymoon to Caneel Bay. In the clear water off the rocky point in between the two beaches, you will find several species of coral (brain, lettuce leaf, elkhorn, mustard hill, and pillar corals). Many colonies of finger coral can be found on the fringing reef west of Salomon. These reef areas provide shelter for a wide variety of colorful fish and other marine creatures.

 
Beneath a clear blue sky, the calm, crystal clear water of Hawksnest Bay stretches off to the horizon with Turtle Point and the British Virgin Islands in the distance

Photo courtesy of Parnicza/NPS

Hawksnest Bay offers three fingers of coral reefs that jut out directly from the shoreline. It is not advisable to snorkel directly over the reef but rather stick to the perimeter of the reefs.The shallow water directly above the reef is dangerous for snorkelers, especially when sea conditions are less than ideal. The Elkhorn corals that dominate these reefs are a federally protected species and are extremely fragile. Snorkeling around the fingers you will see many juvenile fish and other reef creatures in and among the branches of the Elkhorn corals.
 
Beneath a blue sky dotted with white clouds, the beautiful blue waters of Trunk Bay extend from the beach's white sandy shoreline with Trunk Cay's three iconic peaks jutting out of the ocean just offshore of the beach.
Photo courtesy of Parnicza/NPS
Trunk Bay is the most famous beach in Virgin Islands National Park, often listed among the most beautiful beaches in the world. Trunk Bay is the only beach on St. John with an amenity fee, which is $5 per entrant. These amenities include showers, foot rinses, food and beverage concessions, snorkel rentals, and more. Trunk Bay is also home to the Underwater Snorkel Trial, a great place for beginners and anyone who wants to learn about marine life by reading the plaques along the trail. The trail follows the west side of Trunk Bay Cay for about 300 feet before making a U-turn back to the beach. The coral and fish are well represented here. The reef continues beyond to the cay's northern tip, however, the farther out you go, the rougher the water tends to be.
 
The glassy clear water of Cinnamon Bay are pictured from the white sandy shoreline as Cinnamon Cay, Whistling Cay, and Mary's Point appear to float on the horizon beneath a clear, blue sky.

Photo courtesy of Parnicza/NPS

Cinnamon Bay is the longest beach on St. John, offering ample space for visitors to spread out. The small cay in the middle of the bay offer shelter to fish, crabs and other invertebrates and perhaps a lobster or two. Snappers and other fish often inhabit the nooks and crannies of the cay's steep slopes and deeper waters on the east, north and west sides. A few small pillar coral colonies adorn the northwest corner. The shallow sandy areas on the south side of the cay provide safe resting spots before returning to the beach. The remains of the Danish Warehouse at the end of the sidewalk to the beach or the oldest colonial ruins on St. John.
 
A green sea turtle, with its mottled brown and green shell, swims through the crystal clear water of Virgin Islands National Park above the tan sandy bottom, dotted with leaves of green seagrass, as a sharksucker clings to the turtle's underside.

Photo courtesy of Caroline Rogers/NPS

Maho Bay is the place to go for sea turtles. The seagrass beds in the middle stretches of this shallow bay provide habitat for the green sea turtles that are seen more frequently in the early morning or late afternoon. There's coral and fish along the western (left if facing water) waters of this long beach, they are more abundant the closer you get to the point between Maho and Cinnamon. To the north east, the rocks and reef supports abundant fish populations, including angel fish. If you are lucky you may see octopus in the coral crevices. Both Maho and Francis Bay can get stirred up reducing visibility when there is a north swell but in general are less affected by winter swells than elsewhere on the North Shore.
 
The white sand beach of Francis Bay is pictured its cool blue waters play host to a magnificent rainbow that stretches out over the green hillsides of Mary's Point and Whistling Cay.

Photo courtesy of Parnicza/NPS

Francis Bay is ideal for beginners, with its calm waters stretching from the west end of the beach all the way to Little Maho Beach. You will find schools of juvenile fish and small coral heads. Francis is usually a good place to view sea turtles, pelicans and large predator fish chasing schools of smaller fish "fry." Along the northwest shoreline to the tip of Mary Point you will find gorgonians, tube sponges and patches of colonial anemones in about 10 feet of water. Beyond the point at the beginning of Fungi Passage, scattered hard corals appear in deeper water. Located behind the beach, the Francis Bay Boardwalk offers some of the best birding opportunities in the park!
 
The blue waters of Leinster Bay and Mary's Creek are pictured from above with St. John's rolling green hills stretching into the distance and a blue sky with puffy white clouds.

Photo courtesy of Parnicza/NPS

Leinster Bay and Waterlemon Cay are accessed by the Leinster Bay Trail. A 10-minute walk from Annaberg Parking lot brings you to a narrow stretch of sand where entry is gained to a shallow reef of coral heads sitting on a sandy bottom that is habitat for all kinds of fish and other creatures. Swim a little farther out to find a steep drop off, where Blue Chromis, sea turtles and gorgonians are seen. A 10-minutes hike farther down the trail brings you to the main beach of Leinster Bay. From here snorkel over the seagrass bed or hug the eastern shore to snorkel out to the Cay but beware of the long-spine urchins and rocks as you enter the water. You will find a variety of fish, corals and gorgonians and more encircling the cay. A strong current runs on the Tortola (north) side of the cay so it is best if you stay on the southern side. Remember stand only in sand!
 
A view from the beach at Brown Bay reveals the blue waters of Virgin Islands National Park lapping up against the white sand beach with hills of St. John and the British Virgin islands in the background.

Photo courtesy of Parnicza/NPS

Brown Bay is accessible by trail or boat, (no anchoring though). For a longer hike take the trail from Leinster Bay heading east along North Shore, continue past the Johnny Horn Trail intersection. For a shorter hike take the Brown Bay Trail off East End Road. After your hike you will enjoy a swim in this remote Bay. It has a narrow beach with very little slope and the water here is shallow, in the middle of the bay is an extensive shallow seagrass bed, home to conch and other invertebrates. To the east there are gorgonians and to the west, towards Leinster Bay, at the fringing reef you may find the rare staghorn corals, waving and plenty of fish.
 
The calm, crystal clear water of Salt Pond Bay laps up against the white sand beach as the green rolling hills of St. John stretch off into the distance below blue skies and puffy white clouds.

Photo by Parnicza/NPS

Salt Pond Bay is about a ½ mile hike in from the parking area but worth the trip. It offers a long white sand beach and snorkeling along the rocky shorelines. Green sea turtles and southern stingrays inhabit the seagrass beds below the mooring field. Behind the southeastern shoreline, there is a trail to the actual salt pond.

Depending on the time of year, you may find sea salt forming on the edges of the pond. It is another good spot for bird viewing. Should you be interested in a longer hike, the Ram Head trail offers extensive views and is well worth the effort.
 
The ruins of a Danish sugar mill stand at the west end of Little Lameshur Bay Beach as its blue waters stretch off into the distance with the rolling green hills of Yawzi Point in the background.

Photo courtesy of Parnicza/NPS

Great and Little Lameshur bays are located about five miles from Coral Bay. Four-wheel drive is recommended, because the access road is rocky. If you are renting a car, check with your rental company before driving on the access road, as many car rentals prohibit driving on this road. There are two beaches: the first is rocky Great Lameshur, and the second is sandy Little Lameshur. Both offer good snorkeling, especially at the tip of Yawzi point, the spit of land that separates the two bays. You will find numerous fish and other creatures hidden in the rocky coral shorelines.
 
Haulover Bay's crystal clear waters stretch off to the left as the rolling green hills of Virgin Islands National Park are seen in the distance.

Photo courtesy of Parnicza/NPS

North and South Haulover bays are unique as there two bays: one bay on the north shore and one on the south. Both are pebble beaches with little sand. There is some parking along the road. For the south side, just walk across the street. The rocky shoreline transitions into boulders and coral as you head out either side of the bay. You will find a wide variety of fish and other creatures in these areas.

To reach the north shore follow the short trail on the north side of the road.

Other ways to help protect coral reefs.

Last updated: June 6, 2022

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1300 Cruz Bay Creek
St. John , VI 00830

Phone:

340 776-6201 x238
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