It’s hard to describe St. John, USVI as anything other than paradise. This place is truly the last of its kind with more than 60% of the island protected in its original state. Natural. Untouched. Pristine. And absolutely beautiful. So of course, the best things to do in St. John are to soak up the gorgeous surroundings of the tropical forests, secluded beaches, and crystal blue waters.
And believe me, although I live on nearby St. Thomas, most of our weekends are spent exploring the untouched vastness of St. John. There’s so much to see and do in St. John that it’s taken us months to even scratch the surface.
So below, I’ve shared what we’ve learned so far about what to do in St. John. Let’s dive into my favorite things to do in St. John!
Table of Contents
- 21 Best Things to Do in St. John
- Virgin Islands National Park
- Reef Bay Trail
- Maho Bay Beach
- Lime Out VI
- Catherineberg Sugar Plantation Ruins
- Cruz Bay
- Trunk Bay
- Hurricane Hole
- Scuba Diving
- Salt Pond Beach and Ram Head Trail
- Windmill Bar
- Annaberg Sugar Plantation Ruins
- The British Virgin Islands
- Peace Hill Windmill
- Coral Bay
- Reef Bay Sugar Mill Ruins
- North Shore Beaches
- Hiking Trails
- Day Charter or a Sunset Cruise
- St. Thomas
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21 Best Things to Do in St. John
Virgin Islands National Park
Hiking trails, historic sites, and beautiful beaches
While covering more than 60% of St. John and the surrounding waters, the natural beauty and peculiar history of the island are well preserved within the boundaries of the Virgin Islands National Park.
The sights are magical. Turquoise waters lap gorgeous beaches. Old forest roads descend into secluded bays. Scenic overlooks reveal faraway corners of the Caribbean. And historic ruins tell the forgotten stories of the Danish West Indies. This National Park has it all.
You’ll want to spend most of your time on St. John within the park in some capacity. Whether that be snorkeling the coral reefs, swimming with sea turtles, hiking mountain trails, reveling at windmill ruins, or just soaking up the sun at one of the stunning beaches!
Get planning now with our guide to Virgin Islands National Park.
Reef Bay Trail
Discover an ancient history, ruins, and a secluded beach along this epic hiking trail
If you only have time to do one of the scenic trails on St. John, this ought to be your choice. The Reef Bay Trail offers everything you’d want in a St. John adventure: historic sites, ancient relics, a secluded beach, a challenging climb, and an in-depth look into the island’s ecosystem.
You’ll start your descent at the trailhead along Center Line Road, reachable via a rental car or taxi from Cruz Bay. As the trail winds through an old forest road, you’ll pass by multiple sugar mill ruins, an alternative trail to ancient petroglyphs, and some of the tallest trees in the Caribbean before reaching Reef Bay Beach. This hike is moderate to strenuous so plan at least half a day to fully enjoy everything it has to offer!
🗺️ Plan Your Hike: This handy adventure travel map of the Virgin Islands National Park from National Geographic is a must for anyone planning to spend time on the hiking trails and stunning beaches of the park.
Maho Bay Beach
Enjoy the sun and snorkel with sea turtles at this pristine beach
Maho Bay is one of the best St. John beaches for good reason. It’s absolutely breathtaking while featuring many amenities most other beaches on St. John fail to offer. Water sport rentals, food trucks, and tiki bars line the street where beachgoers and wild donkeys coexist. It’s quite a sight to see.
Across the street is the sugar-white sand beach with stunning views of the green forested hills, the British Virgin Islands, and glimmery turquoise waters. Be sure to pack along snorkel gear as this beach is a remarkable spot to swim with sea turtles. In fact, most boat charters departing St. Thomas or St. John make a special stop at Maho Bay for the chance of swimming with the popular marine reptile.
🇻🇮 Explore More of The USVI: Check out my list of the best places you should visit in the Virgin Islands!
Lime Out VI
Motor up to a floating taco stand
For a unique dining experience, consider visiting Lime Out VI in the middle of Coral Harbor. This floating taco stand slings up craft tacos to patrons who’ve arrived by boat. Upon arrival, you’ll swim to one of “the tables” where your group will be served cold rum drinks and delectable tacos via a floaty system. The tacos are surprisingly delicious considering what it must take to make the entire operation possible.
🍹 Getting a Seat at Lime Out: Day charters and tour boats certainly take priority to the seating at Lime Out, so the best way to visit the floating taco stand is via boat. In fact, to deter dangerous ventures, Lime Out will not serve you if you swim from shore.
Catherineberg Sugar Plantation Ruins
Explore a picturesque historic site
Scattered throughout St. John, and the Virgin Islands more broadly, are various ruins of old sugar plantations. Many of the structures date back to the 1700s when the Virgin Islands were a Danish territory with some remaining operational well into the 20th century after the US acquired the islands. One of the most impressive is the Catherineberg Estate Ruins.
Despite decades of weathering and countless hurricanes, the windmill tower and horse mill are among the most well-preserved structures on St. John.
Take your first step onto the tropical paradise of St. John
As you step off the ferry docks onto St. John you’ll be welcomed by the friendly faces and vibrant atmosphere of the island’s largest and most lively community: Cruz Bay. Not only is this your gateway into the Virgin Islands National Park via land or sea, but it’s also your best bet for some fantastic food and cold rum drinks at a beach bar.
Our recommendation? After stopping at the Virgin Islands National Park visitor center, start your St. John adventure on a Safari taxi to a popular north shore beach like Trunk Bay, Cinnamon Bay, or Maho Bay. Or, begin a trek along the Lind Point Trail to reach Honeymoon Beach – all within a brisk walking distance of Cruz Bay.
After a day of hiking and beaching, head back into town for a local craft beer at Tap Room, dinner at The Longboard, and happy hour at The Beach Bar before hopping aboard the ferry back to Red Hook.
Snorkel pristine coral reefs along an underwater trail
You can easily snorkel in any bay and off any beach in the Virgin Islands and expect to see something. But I must say, some bays are much better than others. And quite possibly, Trunk Bay might be the best.
With a dedicated coral reef trail, underwater plaques guide snorkelers from point to point while providing insight into the tropical fish and other sea life you might see along the way. It’s a great way to interact with marine life, colorful fish, and other rare species that call the Caribbean home! Oh, and the beach is insanely gorgeous, as well.
🤿 Travel Snorkel Gear: I always recommend traveling to the USVIs with your own set of snorkel gear. It literally opens up an entirely new world and set of fun to any beach day!
Kayak or paddleboard the turquoise waters near Coral Bay
Hurricane Hole is a small bay on the east end of St. John near Coral Bay. The name is derived from its calm waters and enhanced protection for sailboats from the hurricanes that often pass through the Caribbean.
Offshoots from the bay include Princess Bay and Whitesand Bay, where mangroves line the waterways serving as an ideal spot for paddling, bird watching, and snorkeling. We recommend renting paddling equipment and a guide from Crabby’s Watersports in Coral Bay to enjoy the beautiful scenery the bay has to offer!
🛶 More Paddling Adventures on St. John: Although it’s not Hurricane Hole, this nighttime kayaking adventure near Cruz Bay is a can’t miss!
Discover the underwater scenery of St. John
Although a small island, the underwater opportunities surrounding St. John are seemingly endless. If you’re a certified scuba diver, Busy Bee Charters brings experienced divers to the coral reefs on the east end of the island. In Cruz Bay, Low Key Watersports is your go-to shop for all things scuba diving. They visit popular dive sites like Cow & Calf Rock, Ledges of Little St. James, and Carval Rock.
🛥️ Or Visit Me! Although I’m on St. Thomas, I’m the Captain at Red Hook Dive Center – a short ferry ride from St. John. Come book a trip and be sure to let me know you read my article before coming!
Salt Pond Beach and Ram Head Trail
Visit a quiet beach after embarking on a challenging hike to a stunning view
Set aside an entire day, beginning at sunrise, to fully enjoy this unique hike and beach combo. Ram Head Trail is amongst the best hiking trails in the Virgin Islands and should be done when temperatures are coolest given the lack of shade along the trail. Ideally, you’ll get out there before dawn as you’ll witness the most unbelievable Caribbean sunrise from the Ram Head peak.
After your hike, you’ll pass by Salt Pond Bay, a quiet beach with crystal blue water and ample snorkeling opportunities. Very few people make it out this far on St. John so enjoy the peace, quiet, and tranquility as you explore the entire area.
🎒 What to Pack: Plenty of water, reef-safe sunscreen, snacks, and lunch as there are no facilities at this beach. Don’t forget good shoes, a bathing suit, snorkel gear, and this convenient, packable beach blanket!
Refill your rum punch at a unique cocktail bar
Every time we visit St. John, we make a point to visit the Windmill Bar after a day of hiking or beaching. The bar is set within Susannaberg Sugar Mill Ruins, a centuries-old plantation situated atop a mountain with remarkable views of St. Thomas and beyond. The vibrant atmosphere, live music, and colorful sunset are a perfect way to end your day of Caribbean adventure.
Annaberg Sugar Plantation Ruins
Step into a troubled past at these historic ruins
One of the most impressive things to do in St. John is to explore the ruins of the old Annaberg Sugar Plantation. A beneficiary of the African slave trade, the ruins are mind-boggling, yet disturbing, as you realize the breadth of sugar production that used to take place on its grounds.
From an old schoolhouse, boiling room, windmill, and slave quarters, you can spend quite some time hopping from structure to structure and reading the information plaques of the troubled history associated with the plantation.
The British Virgin Islands
Visit a different country on a day trip
One of the best things to do in St. John isn’t even on the island itself, but rather using the island as a launching point to an entirely different island nation: the British Virgin Islands. From almost all points of St. John, you’re a stone’s throw away from Tortola, Jost Van Dyke, and even Virgin Gorda – three of the four main islands of the BVIs.
The BVIs have their own unique culture, atmosphere, and vibrancy entirely different from the USVI’s. So if you get the chance to go, we recommend hopping aboard a water taxi on St. John and spending the day soaking up the sun and sipping painkillers until the sun sets at one of the many beach bars within the BVIs.
🇻🇬 Note on pandemic travel to the BVIs: the island nation took a hard-nosed approach to the pandemic and has not eased too many restrictions as of this writing (March 2022). So be sure to check what requirements and fees are necessary before planning your trip!
Peace Hill Windmill
Take a relatively easy hike to an old windmill and scenic view
After departing from Cruz Bay, one of your first stops along North Shore Road is the Peace Hill trail. The short hike brings visitors to a towering stone windmill and an absolutely gorgeous view overlooking St. John and nearby islands, Jost Van Dyke, Tortola, and St. Thomas. It’s a great way to spend an hour before venturing further into the beautiful scenery of Virgin Islands National Park.
👉Local Tip: Just after the Peace Hill trailhead you’ll notice another trail descending on your right. This will take you on a quick 5-minute hike down to Denis Bay, one of the most secluded beaches on St. John.
Ponder the art remnants of an ancient Caribbean culture
Hikers venturing the Reef Bay Trail will have the option of exploring one of the most unbelievable artifacts found in the Caribbean: the Petroglyphs of Reef Bay. A fascinating relic from an ancient past, archeologists believe the ancient stone markings stem from the Taino Tribe, the primary indigenous people from the Caribbean.
It’s unclear what the markings signify, but nonetheless, it’s fun to view them and ponder what was happening hundreds, if not thousands, of years ago in the exact location you’re standing.
Unwind in the sleepy beach town
The second-largest community on St. John is the sleepy island village of Coral Bay. The no-stop-light town is reminiscent of the Old Caribbean with a small handful of beach bars and markets primarily used by the salty sailors who call Coral Harbor their home.
For visitors, you’ll find boat charters departing daily to popular spots on the hard-to-reach East End of St. John. After your boat day, head to Skinny Legs for some food and a rum drink before driving to Hansen Bay Beach to watch the sunset over the bay.
Reef Bay Sugar Mill Ruins
Wander the halls of the last operational sugar mill in the Virgin Islands
As the popular Reef Bay Trail culminates its descent, you’ll pass by one of the coolest plantation ruins in all of the West Indies: the Reef Bay Sugar Mill. Combining the architecture of old-time mills with 20th-century machinery, the ruins are a sight to behold amidst the mountainous backdrop.
Visitors can explore room by room, with in-depth signage explaining the purpose of each sector within the structure. You’ll learn how rum was produced, sugar was processed, and molasses was utilized. It’s a fascinating look into the ways of life from a not-so-distant past.
North Shore Beaches
Take your pick of the most popular beaches on St. John, USVI
The previously mentioned Maho Bay Beach and Trunk Bay Beach aside, the north shore of St. John has a few more equally stunning, yet slightly less traveled beaches that are well worth your visit.
Among these are Cinnamon Bay, Hawksnest Beach, Jumbie Beach, Honeymoon Beach, Caneel Bay, and Francis Bay. Most have associated ruins, snorkeling opportunities, and of course, stunning views. You can access any of these along North Shore Road after departing Cruz Bay.
Enjoy the best hiking trails in the Caribbean
Here in the US Virgin Islands, we’re fortunate to have the National Park Service working to protect and preserve much of the natural beauty that makes the Caribbean so stunning. As a result, St. John has some of the most well-maintained hiking trails not only in the US Virgin Islands but the Caribbean as a whole.
Of course, Reef Bay and Ram Head Trails are a must. But don’t forget about others like Lower Lind Point Trail to Honeymoon Beach & Caneel Bay, Drunk Bay Trail, Leinster Bay Trail, Johnny Horn Trail, Salt Pond Bay Trail, and Brown Bay Trail.
Day Charter or a Sunset Cruise
View St. John from the eyes of a sailor
And as always, I simply have to recommend hopping aboard a boat to fully enjoy the sights of the USVI’s. After all, I work as a Captain here!
But honestly, the boat charters circumnavigating St. John are among my favorite with options for all sorts of groups: families, spring breakers, young kids, and large groups. The Captains are always fun, professional, yet quirky. You’ll have chances to snorkel, explore the sights of the National Park, witness incredible marine life, and likely stop for a taco at the floating restaurant!
👉 Need a place on St. John? Check out my guide to the best places and areas to stay on St. John.
Explore an entirely different island for the day
You likely flew into St. Thomas and you likely took the ferry from Red Hook to arrive on St. John in the first place. So if you’re staying in St. John, it’s worthwhile to go spend at least a day exploring the many things to do in St. Thomas.
St. Thomas is the main cruise ship port of the US Virgin Islands with attractions largely catering to the cruise crowd. Some noteworthy things to do on a day trip from St. John include Magens Bay, Coral World Ocean Park, Paradise Point, Mountain Top, and Water Island.
So there you have it, 21 incredible adventures and things to do in St. John! Let us know in a comment below which one is your favorite and what you’re most excited to do on your upcoming trip. And be sure to check out my complete travel guide to St. John.
In the meantime, the USVI’s stretch beyond St. John with St. Thomas and St. Croix within striking distance! Start planning your entire trip with our travel guides to the USVI Territory!