National Park AND beach: spring break on St Johns

Have questions?    Email Melanie Tucker, the head travel designer at Tough Love Travel!

I interviewed Bernie, a lifelong lover of national parks who recently found his perfect beach spot:   an island in the USVI (United States Virgin Islands) that’s more than 7000 acres of parkland!

Bernie, you’re an avid hiker! What’s the trail situation like on St Johns?
“Some trails took us past sugar cane plantations that dated to the early 18th century (like the Josie Gut Trail).  The ruins are only about 1/2 mile from the trailhead but you can proceed further through pastoral lands that end up at the sea. 

Another trail offered petroglyphs that dated back to the earliest island inhabitants


And there’s the famous Reef Bay Trail that’s pretty steep, but- really – none of the trails were too arduous because you’re not in Glacier National Park, after all.  These trails were pretty short.   The most important thing you need to remember is to take plenty of drinking water – the tropics get pretty hot!

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A special sunset hike is to Ram’s Head.  You drive to Salt Pond beach and take the Ram’s Head Trail out to the cliff. It’s a little rocky but pretty flat, and only 1 mile long.  If you time your trip right, you can do this under a full moon and see the sun set in the west at the same time that the moon is rising in the east… very cool!”

2 GOOD TIPS: 

  • Stop in the National Park office that’s in Cruise Bay to pick up a map and “pick” the ranger’s brain. 
  • Bring a flashlight or headlamp!

So you can also hike on the beach?  Tell me more….
“Down by Water Lemon Caye – which is my favorite spot! – you can hike .8 miles around the bay and snorkel out to Water Lemon Island (or ‘caye’).  It’s very scenic, with little sailboats bobbing in the bay, and the hike around the shore, though short, seems enough to deter many people.  The beach is a little rocky there too, but the snorkeling is the best.

Trump Bay is nice too, though very crowded.  Here you’ll find the famous underwater trail.22″

An underwater trail?  How does that work?
In Trump Bay, buoys mark a swimming trail from the sandy beach out to a small offshore island (see small buoys on left of photo).  At each buoy, you’ll find a small sign underwater, marking a certain plant or coral, as well as common fish that are likely to be swimming in the area.” 
IMPORTANT NOTE: Get to Trunk Bay before 10am or the parking lot’ll be full.

So how was the snorkeling overall?
“We saw parrot fish of all different colors, those little black and white striped jailbirds, and a small southern sting ray (the gray ones).  There were no sharks or octopus (that we saw) but, happily, no jellyfish either!”

So with all this national parkland, does St Johns still feel island-y?
“Sure!  Not only do you hear steel drums everywhere!  (from the airport to the ferry sidewalk, and spilling out of every bar)  

But here’s the view from our house!” 

So what were some highlights of the week?
#1 was driving the 4-wheel jeep around the island’s steep hills, on the left side of the road – what an adventure!  We learned pretty fast:  a Kia rental does NOT cut it on St Johns, losing traction on rough roads that we were trying to explore.

Bernie, how did you pick St Johns? 
“My wife found an incredible deal on flights through United – $235pp, roundtrip! So we jumped on it.
Also, the flight’s less than 4 hours from NC, and no passport is required since it’s a US territory”

And where did you stay? 
“At a house called Cocoa Reef that overlooks Fish Bay. 
It’s really well laid-out for families – since it’s built into the cliff, each or the 4 floors is small, creating different living spaces for different families or generations.
It was simple – no housekeeping or cook – but it’s pool was a real treat, especially because we were off the beach!”

Final logistic:  how do you get to St Johns?
“Flights arrive into St Thomas, from where you taxi to Red Hook on the east side to catch a ferry (no reservations required) to boat over to St Johns. There’s another ferry too, closer to the airport, but it’s longer and more expensive.” 
Ferry from Red Hook takes around 30 minutes and costs about $15pp.

Looking for a special vacation?  
I’ve got lots of unique ideas from places like St Johns and rare islands like Dominica, 
and even remote camps on common islands. 

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