Guide to the Best St. John Snorkeling Spots

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by Kristin Young | Updated On: September 23, 2020 | Snorkel

St. John is quite possibly one of the best places in the world for people who love to snorkel and hike.  There are TONS of incredibly gorgeous beaches with fantastic snorkeling, so we will narrow it down so you can make the most of your trip.

Before you even venture out to explore the beaches, stop in to the Cruz Bay Visitor Center run by the National Park Service.  The rangers are a wealth of knowledge on the latest sea life sightings.  They tipped us off about an octopus nest at Maho Bay.

The best snorkeling beaches are scattered along the north shore of St. John, and several will require a short hike to reach.  Depending on your preference, you can explore the iconic Trunk Bay snorkeling trail, or venture a bit further out and explore Waterlemon Cay.  St. John has something for everyone.

Maho Beach with text overlay of Best Snorkeling Beaches St. John USVI

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The most important thing to remember with visiting St. John is that these beaches are popular and parking is extremely limited.  Although the travel time from Cruz Bay past all of the north shore beaches to Leinster Bay will only take about a half hour, spending the day beach hopping can get difficult with many beaches having very limited parking.

ST JOHN SNORKELING MAP

Trunk Bay, St. John from overlook above the beach

TRUNK BAY

This beach just has to be on your bucketlist, for obvious reasons! It’s the most famous and photographed beach in the Virgin Islands, so be sure not to miss it. Trunk Bay snorkeling is quite possibly the most popular activity on St. John due to the fact that the St. John snorkel trail is located just off the shore. Although recent hurricanes have done a decent bit of damage to the coral, there’s still plenty to see underwater. Plus, with it’s ease of access, Trunk Bay is a great jumping off point to start your Virgin Islands snorkeling adventures.

Don’t miss a stop at the Trunk Bay Overlook to grab that perfect shot of the beach.  

Trail along Leinster Bay to Watermelon Cay

WATERLEMON CAY & LEINSTER BAY

  • Entry: Beach
  • Experience: Beginner to Advanced
  • Access:  Approx. 1 mile hike to the beach, and 200 yard swim to the cay
  • Facilities: None- bring plenty of water
  • Look Out For: Strong Current on the outside of Waterlemon Cay.  Be aware before you venture out too far.

We absolutely love Waterlemon Cay.  It’s a bit more work to get to the snorkeling, but you will be rewarded for your efforts with some of the brightest fish and coral on the island.  Getting to Waterlemon will require a 1 mile hike on the Leinster Trail from the parking lot near the Anaberg Plantation Ruins, so don’t plan to drag all of your beach gear along.

The parking is also limited here, so plan to arrive by mid-morning or risk not being able to find a spot.

Palm Trees over Maho Beach in St John Virgin Islands

MAHO BEACH, ST JOHN

Maho Bay snorkeling is quite diverse with sea grass and possibly turtles to the center, as well as tons of fish along the rocky east side. There’s not a lot of sand, so the beach can get crowded.  But with a beach bar and rentals available just across the road, it’s a fun atmosphere.  The shallow calm water is also an ideal place for beginners to get comfortable.

When we were there in January of 2020, an octopus had a nest that could be seen just a bit off the shore.

  • Entry: Beach
  • Experience: Beginner
  • Access: Parking across the street.
  • Facilities: Restrooms, Beach Bar
  • Look Out For:  Turtles- they are the big draw for Maho Beach

Maho Bay snorkeling is quite diverse with sea grass and possibly turtles to the center, as well as tons of fish along the rocky east side. There’s not a lot of sand, so the beach can get crowded.  But with a beach bar and rentals available just across the road, it’s a fun atmosphere.  The shallow calm water is also an ideal place for beginners to get comfortable.

When we were there in January of 2020, an octopus had a nest that could be seen just a bit off the shore.

Francis Bay and Francis Beach from overlook

FRANCIS BAY, ST JOHN

  • Entry: Beach
  • Experience: Beginner to Advanced
  • Access: Parking along the dirt road near the beach
  • Facilities: Restrooms & Picnic Tables

Just up the beach from Maho Bay, Francis Bay has the same calm shallow water that is ideal for spending a day snorkeling. Less visited than other beaches, you may find a bit of seclusion from the crowds that you won’t get at places like Trunk Bay.  If you’re lucky, you might even see a ray or even a shark.

Francis Bay is often listed by locals as one of their favorite St. John beaches for both the lack of crowds and the great snorkeling.

Two beach chairs on Cinnamon Bay in St John, Virgin Islands

CINNAMON BAY, ST JOHN

  • Entry: Beach
  • Experience: Beginner
  • Access: Free Parking on site
  • Facilities: Restrooms, Snorkel Gear Rentals, Watersports Rentals, Snack Bar, Beach Shop, and even Cottages
  • Look Out For:  Underwater wreckage of a small prop plane

We love Cinnamon because not only does it have some great snorkeling, but there’s also plenty of other watersports and rentals available.  The water is shallow, and there is a nice reef just a short swim from the shore.  Especially for families, Cinnamon Beach is a great place to spend an entire day.

Check out the wreckage from a small plane just about 15 feet out from shore.  

OVERALL

You can’t go wrong with just any of these snorkel spots.  Truthfully, St. John has so much to offer and love that you’ll probably start planning a return trip.  Make sure to check out all of the amazing hikes on St. John as well!

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Hi!  We’re Kristin & Andrew, lovers of everything tropical.  We spend as much time as possible searching for the best beaches, snorkeling, hiking, and fun in the sun!