We have always wanted to do the Reef Bay coastal walk, but for some reason never got around to it. Maybe it was because we heard it was a very hard trail that involved holding onto ropes on the descent down to the beach and then a rock scramble! Well, we did the trail last week, which is also called the Parrot Bay Trail, and we lived to talk about it. Yes, it does involve some ropes at the beginning and a rock scramble, but if you are in decent shape it is definitely very doable and incredibly worth it. Check out this video to see the beauty and solitude that awaits you if you do this trail!
The trail is only steep at the very beginning and is a short distance. Once you get to the beach, the trail is very flat and you are walking on the beach until you get to a section of beautiful red rocks you need to scramble over to get to the next beach. There isn’t much shade so wear plenty of sunscreen and bring lots of water.
The Reef Bay Coastal Walk provides an alternative route to the historic Reef Bay Sugar Mill, the petroglyphs and the Reef Bay Estate House, normaly reached via either the Reef Bay or Lameshur Bay Trails. By taking short trails, walking along the beach and scrambling around small headlands, you can cover the entire perimeter of Reef Bay. The distance between the Reef Bay Sugar Mill Ruins and Parrot Bay on the western end of Reef Bay is about 1.2 miles.
For exact details on how to reach the trail head and do the walk, make sure you get a copy of St. John Off The Beaten Track (we have a copy at St. John Escape.) So if you have a zest for adventure (and good balance!) we highly recommend this trail. You will see a side of St. John you have never seen before.
For an afternoon spent exploring one of the best preserved plantation ruins on the island, find your way to Annaberg Sugar Plantation. Annaberg Plantation was a leading producer of sugar, molasses, and rum back in the 1800’s. When you visit Annaberg, go and see the ruins but stay for the views. The views are nothing short of breathtaking at the Plantation. Check out this video to see for yourself!
The Windmill at Annaberg is the main focal point at the ruins and the largest windmill in the Virgin Islands. Built between 1810 and 1830, the windmill could produce between 300 and 500 gallons of juice within an hour. Slaves were used at the plantation to pass the sugarcane through rollers which then made the juice that was caught below and stored until ready for processing. When there was no wind, a horse mill was used to continue making the sugar. These remains can still be seen at the plantation today. There were 16 slave cabins found which have since deteriorated. Today there are informative plaques describing their location.
Looking out from Annaberg, you can see Leinster Bay, the Sir Frances Drake Channel and a few of the British Virgin Islands. The plantation is also within walking distance of Waterlemon Cay which is a perfect spot for snorkeling.
Travel Tip created by Leslie and Peter in association with Vacation Soup
The Francis Bay trail is an excellent short hike (about 30 minutes round trip) that starts from the parking area before you start down the road to Francis Beach. The trail starts right behind a scenic old stone building. It wanders about half a mile, through the forest, past some ruins, around a salt pond, then leads to Francis Bay beach. Watch this video to experience the diverse flora and fauna along this beautiful trail.
The trail is built and maintained by Friends of Virgin Islands National Park, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting our National Park. A large portion of this trail is ADA and eco friendly. Almost half of the trail is built as a raised platform to protect the ecosystem of the local salt pond. Here you’ll find many native species of birds and ducks. It is also common to see lots of land crabs, hermit crabs, iguanas, deer, mongoose and, of course, donkeys. The pond is of the best bird watching spots on the island. Expect to see lots of Maho trees and Mangroves towards the pond.
Right after you start the trail there are some interesting ruins.
We usually suggest that our guests go out on a sunset sail during their vacation on St. John. St John has some amazing sunsets, and even though you get an amazing view from the terrace of St. John Escape, there is nothing quite like being out on the water to experience the sunset. On a recent visit we decided to go out with Beach Charters VI for their sunset sail featuring a performance by the very talented Erin Hart. It was a delightful evening and we were treated to a beautiful sunset and great music. Sit back with us and relax aboard this beautiful catamaran as the sun goes down.
Cinnamon Bay is one of our favorite beaches on St. John. If you haven’t been for awhile, watch this video of our recent visit to see for yourself what an amazing beach it is!
Cinnamon Bay, at about 1 mile, is the National Park’s longest beach. There is good snorkeling around Cinnamon Bay Cay, a short swim from shore. The clear waters will tempt you to spend your time swimming and snorkeling, while the beautiful turquoise water and sugar white sand will call you to spread your beach blanket and relax. Don’t forget to check out the hiking trail through the Cinnamon Bay Plantation ruins just across from the beach parking area (see a previous blog post)
Welcome to Trunk Bay, widely considered one of the most pristine, best-preserved beaches in the Caribbean. It has perfect blue water, and features a 225-yard long underwater snorkeling trail and .3 miles of a soft white sand beach to walk on. Trunk Bay is commonly considered one of the best beaches in the world and is certainly one of the most popular on St. John. In fact, in 2013 Travel + Leisure ranked this beach as one of the “Best Beaches on Earth.” Watch this video to see why a visit to Trunk Bay is a must on your visit to St. John!
On your way from Cruz Bay stop at the Trunk Bay overlook to take photos that will make all your friends back home jealous.
Trunk Bay is often mobbed, since it is the most popular stop for organized day trips from St. Thomas and the cruise ships. To avoid the crowds come early or late, but do come–this is what Caribbean beach dreams are made of.
One of the shortest and easiest hikes on St. John (about 100 yards) is the Peace Hill trail. The short hike up the trail from the parking area takes you up to the aptly named Peace Hill. At the top of the grassy knoll is a wonderful early plantation windmill ruin. Peace Hill looks over Hawksnest Bay to the West and Denis Bay and Trunk Bay to the East. From the top you can also see Cinnamon, Great Thatch, Tortola and Jost van Dyke. The views are worth the walk … so don’t miss this one! Watch this video to see the views for yourself and make sure to visit Peace Hill on your next trip.
Sometimes called St. John’s “secret beach,” Gibney is a little secluded beach that can be hard to plan a day around because there is only parking for a handful of cars. If you’re lucky enough to get a parking spot, enjoy a quiet day on a picturesque beach with gorgeous views across the bay to Hawksnest and Caneel. Watch this video to see the beauty of Gibney beach for yourself!
Gibney Beach takes its name from the Gibney family that established a home in the 1950s on the land behind the beach at the southern side of Hawksnest Bay.
Located about a 1/4 mi east of Hawksnest Bay’s parking area. Visitors can access this beach via the Oppenheimer Beach iron gate. Parking is very limited – and you should not block the gate-access! From here you’ll walk down to Oppenheimer Beach and follow the shoreline to your left as you face the water. Take care not to disturb the privacy of the Gibney family or their guests. About 100 yards down the beach you’ll find a wonderful white sand beach.
Like many of St John’s beaches, entry is shallow with moderate waves! Sandy bottom extends out 20 – 30 yards! Due to the September, 2017 hurricanes, Irma and Maria, many of the majestic coconut palms that once lined this beach are gone. But the survivors are making a comeback – and it won’t be long before the iconic shadow of a palm tree extends across this beach again!
Cinnamon Bay is the National Park’s longest beach. This great beach offers snorkeling, swimming, and a long, wide beach. . There is good snorkeling around Cinnamon Bay Cay, a short swim from shore. The clear waters will tempt you to spend your time swimming and snorkeling, while the beach will call you to spread your beach blanket and relax. Across from the beach and campground entrance/parking area is a hiking trail through the Cinnamon Bay Plantation ruins. Check out this video to see what a visit to Cinnamon Bay has in store for you.
Hurricane Irma destroyed the small archeological museum. This is what remains.
Here’s another view of the picture perfect beach. Plan to stay a while!
Hawksnest Beach is a favorite beach for both St. John locals and visitors alike, and a 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 beach you can drive to from Cruz Bay and the parking lot is close to the beach. Here’s a video of what it’s like to walk along Hawksnest Beach.
Hawksnest Beach also offers the closest reef to shore, coming right up to the sand. The snorkeling is easy and there is some great elk horn coral here. You do need to pay attention to how close you get the reef with your body and fins because the water gets pretty shallow in spots. It is best to snorkel Hawksnest when the bay is calm and there are no north shore swells.