11 Best Sights in St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands

Reef Bay Trail

Fodor's choice

This is one of the most interesting hikes on St. John, but it's only for the physically fit as the 2-mile return climb, rising 900 feet from sea level back to the trailhead, is a real workout. Along the way, one short side trail to the west takes you to a small pool where indigenous inhabitants carved petroglyphs into the rock. Another short side trail to the east leads to the plantation's greathouse, a gutted but mostly intact structure with vestiges of its former beauty. Down at sea level, walk around the sugar factory ruins. The beach here makes a great place to cool off before hiking back up. Difficult.

Virgin Islands National Park

Fodor's choice

Covering more than two-thirds of St. John, Virgin Islands National Park preserves the island's natural environments and is a must if you're interested in bird-watching, snorkeling, camping, history, or just strolling in beautiful environs. At Francis Bay there's a boardwalk through the mangroves, where birds may be plentiful; Trunk Bay boasts an underwater snorkel trail while Salt Pond Bay offers pleasant snorkeling too; Cinnamon Bay's campground offers bare sites, eco-tents, and cottages; and you can explore plantation history at Annaberg Sugar Mill and Catherineberg Estate ruins.

There are more than 20 trails on the north and south shores, with guided hikes along the most popular routes. A full-day trip to Reef Bay is a highlight; it's an easy hike through lush and dry forest, past the ruins of an old plantation, and to a sugar factory adjacent to the beach. It can be a bit arduous for young kids, however. The nonprofit Friends of the Virgin Islands National Park runs a $75 per person ranger-guided tour to Reef Bay that includes a safari bus ride to the trailhead and a boat ride back to the visitor center. The schedule changes from season to season; call for times and to make reservations, which are essential. To pick up a useful guide to St. John's hiking trails, see various large maps of the island, and find out about current Park Service programs—including guided walks and cultural demonstrations—stop by the park visitor center at the western tip of the park in Cruz Bay on North Shore Road.

Bordeaux Mountain

St. John's highest peak rises to 1,277 feet. Route 10 passes near enough to the top to offer breathtaking vistas. Don't stray into the road here—cars whiz by at a good clip along this section. Instead, drive nearly to the end of the dirt road that heads off to Picture Point and the trailhead of the hike downhill to Lameshur. Get a trail map from the park service before you start. It's a relatively easy 2 miles (3 km) down, but the hike back up is strenuous due to the steep incline.

Rte. 10, Bordeaux, 00831, U.S. Virgin Islands

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Catherineberg Ruins

At this fine example of an 18th-century sugar and rum factory, there's a storage vault beneath the windmill. Across the road, look for the round mill, which was later used to hold water. In the 1733 slave revolt Catherineberg served as headquarters for the Amina warriors, a tribe of Africans that had been captured into slavery.

Catherineberg Rd., St. John, 00831, U.S. Virgin Islands

Francis Bay Beach

Because there's little shade, this beach gets toasty in the afternoon, when the sun comes around to the west, but the rest of the day it's a delightful stretch of white sand. The only facilities are a few picnic tables tucked among the trees and a portable restroom, but folks come here to watch the birds that live in the swampy area behind the beach. There's also a boardwalk here for bird-watching. In addition, the park offers weekly bird-watching hikes; sign up at the visitor center in Cruz Bay. To get here, turn left at the Annaberg intersection. Amenities: parking; toilets. Best for: snorkeling; swimming; walking.

Hawksnest Beach

Seagrapes and waving palm trees line this narrow beach, and there are portable toilets, cooking grills, and a covered shed for picnicking. It's the closest drivable beach to Cruz Bay, so it's often crowded with locals and visitors. A patchy reef just offshore means snorkeling is an easy swim away, but the best underwater views are reserved for ambitious snorkelers who head farther to the east along the bay's fringes. Watch out for boat traffic: although a channel of buoys marks where dinghies or other small vessels can come up onto the sand to drop off or pick up passengers, the occasional boater strays into the swim area. Amenities: parking; toilets. Best for: snorkeling; swimming.

Lameshur Bay Beach

This seagrape-fringed beach is toward the end of a partially paved, rut-strewn road (don't attempt it without a four-wheel-drive vehicle) on the southeast coast. The reward for your bumpy drive is good snorkeling and a chance to spy on some pelicans. The beach has a couple of picnic tables, rusting barbecue grills, and a portable restroom. The ruins of the old plantation are a five-minute walk down the road past the beach. The area has good hiking trails, including a trek (nearly 2 miles [3 km]) up Bordeaux Mountain before an easy walk to Yawzi Point. Amenities: parking; toilets. Best for: snorkeling; swimming; walking.

Maho Bay Beach

This gorgeous strip of sand sits right along the North Shore Road. It's a popular place, particularly on weekends, when locals come out in droves to party at the picnic tables on the south end of the beach. The snorkeling along the rocky edges is good, but the center is mostly sea grass. If you're lucky, you'll cross paths with turtles. There are portable toilets at the end of the beach. Across the beach is Maho Crossroads, with food trucks, a bar, and a couple of shops. Amenities: food and drink; parking; toilets. Best for: snorkeling; swimming.

Peace Hill

It's worth stopping here, just past the Hawksnest Bay overlook, for great views of St. John, St. Thomas, and the BVI. On the flat promontory is an old sugar mill.

Off Hwy. 20, Estate Denis Bay, 00831, U.S. Virgin Islands

Salt Pond Bay Beach

If you're adventurous, this rocky beach on the scenic southeastern coast—next to rugged Drunk Bay—is worth exploring. It's a short hike down a hill from the parking lot, and the only facilities are a portable toilet and a few picnic tables scattered about. Tide pools are filled with all sorts of marine creatures, and the snorkeling is good, particularly along the bay's edges. A short walk takes you to a pond where salt crystals collect around the edges. Hike farther uphill past cactus gardens to Ram Head for see-forever views. Leave nothing valuable in your car, as thefts are common. Amenities: parking; toilets. Best for: snorkeling; swimming; walking.

V.I. National Park Visitors Center

To pick up a useful guide to St. John's hiking trails, see various large maps of the island, and find out about current park service programs, including guided walks and cultural demonstrations, stop by the visitor center.