One of our early forays into the National Parks was actually to Saint John in the Virgin Islands. Most people who are trying to visit all the National Parks don’t pick this one up until much later. But it worked out that this was one of the parks that got us hooked on visiting them.
Saint John (not Johns, just John) is part of the US. Over 80% of the island is National Park land and it can only be accessed by boat. The closest airport is located on Saint Thomas (which is also a United States territory). Get a taxi from the airport to one of two ports and there will be shuttle options to Saint John. Technically, you can rent a jeep from the airport in Saint Thomas but it’s not worth the hassle of arrange for permission to take it off the island. Instead, plan to rent a jeep in Saint John. There are plenty of rental spots all within walking distance from the boat dock.
A few pricy hotels have properties in Saint John but your best bet is either a local hotel or an Air BnB rental. If air conditioning matters to you, pay careful attention to whether the property has it. Many places don’t have full house AC and some don’t have even room AC in the master. Even in the summer, the temperatures stay pretty moderate on the island but you’ll probably want AC to sleep.
There are plenty of hikes in Saint John but be warned that they are often steep. We’ll recommend two classics. But your best bet for activity is going to be snorkeling. You can bring your own gear or pick it up in rental shops on the island. Many homes have fins and/or masks for users. So check your rental carefully before you worry about spending money on rentals.
Day One: Arrive in Saint Thomas. Ferry to Saint John. Pick up your rental car. Check out Salomon Beach for sunset (image in header). This beach requires a short (1/4 mile hike) and you can then either hike over to Honeymoon Bay or can snorkel your way over there. Honeymoon & Salomon are popular beaches for cruise ships and other excursions during the 10-4 window of the day. Arrive early or late, though, and you’ll have plenty of quiet in a beautiful spot.
Day Two: Head out early to Trunk Bay. This classic snorkeling location has an underwater trail where you can learn about different species of coral and get used to your snorkeling gear. Take an afternoon nap along the beach or back at your rental. Then head out to Drunk Bay or Ram Head for a sunset hike. Drunk Bay is along the eastern shore of the park and is pretty rugged. It’s one of the only beaches on the island where swimming is not recommended. It’s really beautiful, though, and if you are hankering for a swim or snorkel, you can do so at Saltpond Bay, which you’ll pass on your way out, and then on your way back.
Day Three: We recommend an island hopping tour by Bad Kitty Catamaran tours. It’s an all day affair and although it’s pricy, you’ll get to see many of the best spots in the nearby British Virgin Islands, including the Baths and the Soggy Dollar Bar. On our tour, we snorkeled near the Indians. Pack something for motion sickness if you are sensitive.
Day Four: By now, there’s a decent chance you’re sunburned. So take to the trails for a break. One of the more popular hikes in the park is the Reef Bay trail, where you can also visit the Petrogylphs. The National Park service offers a guided hike of Reef Bay where you hike down in a group and then take a boat shuttle back to the park visitor center in Cruz Bay. This is a great option for individuals who are less fit or for those with small children. But if you’re like us, you’d rather just be on your own and have some quiet time on the trail. You can park right at the top of Reef Bay, hike down to the beach, have a snack and some water, and then turn around to hike back up ~1200 feet. The hike is 2.2 miles each way. It’s easy going on the way down but definitely a tough climb back up. For an afternoon, jaunt try, snorkeling in Francis or Maho Bay. This is our favorite place for spotting sea turtles.
Day Five: For the stronger swimmers and snorkelers, the snorkel around Watermelon Cay is a must-do. There’s a short (and flat) hike out to the put-in on the Leinster Bay Trail. Try to check water conditions and go when the water is relatively calm to make the snorkel a bit easier. Personally, I get a bit nervous with snorkeling and found this quite psychologically challenging. But the coral around Watermelon Cay is among the best there is left on the island.
Day Six: Hike out to Brown Bay. This is an off-the-beaten path beach but is one of Kelly’s favorites. Last time we visited, there was a good bit of sea grass in the water, making it a less visually pleasing than the other often-crowded beaches. But we’ve seen lots of wildlife here, including turtles, sea stars, and rays. As a quiet spot, it’s a great place to spend your last morning. After your morning snorkel, pack up and head back to St. Thomas and then home. You’ll get home late but you’ll have filled your six days with amazing tropical views and adventures.
Conservation Tip: The ingredients in most sunscreen cause damage to the coral. This is tricky because the sun can cause significant damage to you if you’re not wearing sunscreen. To minimize impact, research your sunscreen brands and wear rash guard and other clothing for protection.