Trunk Bay, St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands

A postcard-pefect vibe make this National Park beach a must visit

Google “Caribbean Beach” and odds are, one of the first images you’ll see will look similar to the image below–white sand, palm trees, clear blue water, coral reefs, offshore cays. It’s why we visit the Caribbean.

Few beaches fit that profile quite as dramatically as Trunk Bay, on St. John, in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Trunk Bay is the definitive Caribbean beach. Found along the

Trunk Bay, St. John, USVI
Trunk Bay, St. John, USVI

A setting worthy of a National Park

Thanks to the Rockefeller family, well over half of St. John belongs to the U.S. National Park Service (NPS). In the 1950s, Rockefeller donated his land on St. John to the NPS under the condition that it be preserved and protected from development for future generations to enjoy (thank you!). Today, some of the most beautiful and unspoiled beaches and bays in the Caribbean, if not the world, are found within the park boundaries on the north shore of St. John—Hawksnest, Cinnamon, Honeymoon, Maho, and the crown jewel of them all, Trunk Bay.

Just a few minutes north of Cruz Bay lies the gateway to Virgin Islands National Park. Cross the line and you’re transported to what the Caribbean must have been like back in the day. The North Shore Road winds through dry tropical forests, over green, undulating hills, and down along the island’s breathtaking white sand beaches. Every curve in the road brings an unexpected vista or diversion. You’ll encounter stunning views of the bays and beaches, hiking trails that lead to the ruins of sugar plantations, families of local donkeys walking alongside the road. You’ll be tempted to pull off at every stop in the road. Every trailhead. And you should. This part of the island is well worth exploring. But on this particular day, our sights were set on getting to Trunk Bay before anybody else.

Spend the day in paradise.

You can’t go wrong spending the day at any of St. John’s beaches, and we visited our fair share, but we found ourselves being drawn back to Trunk Bay. We’re early risers, so we love getting to beaches before the rest of the island. There’s something magical about having such a spectacular place all to yourselves… if only for a few minutes. But Trunk Bay’s allure is strong, so if you want to guarantee a parking spot and a prime spot in the shade under some sea grapes or coconut palms, get there early. No seriously, the parking lot will fill up by 10:00 am. There is a small admission fee, but just opt for the annual family pass for a bit more and return as often as you like while on the island (or on a future visit).

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Trunk Bay’s reputation is legendary. If that wasn’t apparent from the overlook you stop at before heading down the hill, it becomes immediately clear when you wander onto its shores. Fine, sugary white sand leads you into the clear, azure waters, where coral reefs teaming with life are easily reached after just a short swim. The water is usually calm, save for the occasional north swell, so it’s perfect for those with kids.

Explore the underwater snorkeling trail

The underwater snorkeling trail guides you through the reef, allowing you to identify the marine life that live among its protective habitat. Trunk Cay, the small island that lies just offshore, is skirted by rocks and reefs, providing ideal homes for dozens of species of tropical fish, rays, eels, turtles, and more.

Back on shore, the sand is perfect for lounging, sunbathing, making sand castles, beachcombing, gymnastics, and burying sisters. We enjoyed watching the pelicans dive bomb the schools of minnows that sought shelter in the shallows at the east end of the bay. The girls practiced their cartwheels and roundoffs while we sat and did… nothing. It was great.

When the crowds show up, we head back to town

As lunch time approached, the “crowds” (and I use the term loosely) grew larger and the sun grew hotter. Combine that with a cruise ship excursion that just arrived, and we had our cue to head back into town to grab lunch and cool off with some drinks at The Beach Bar. We perused the sights and shops of Cruz Bay while the rest of the island baked in the midday sun. We were intent on heading back to Trunk Bay to wrap up our day after the crowds of well-tanned beachgoers and daytrippers dispersed…

Late afternoon… A magical time.

Late afternoon on the North Shore is surreal. The sun, hanging lower in the sky, gives everything a golden hue, highlighting the texture in the sand and trees. The throngs of visitors had been reduced to a handful of diehard beachgoers and a few latecomers, giving Trunk Bay that solitary castaway vibe that we experienced earlier that morning. The girls, relaxed and refreshed, promptly hit the water in search of sea turtles that had managed to elude them earlier in the day. My wife immediately lost herself in her book and and nearly dozed off, hypnotized by the sound of the waves lapping at the shore and the trees rustling in the breeze. I took the time to wander the beach, searching for sights and subjects to photograph.

Late afternoon at Trunk Bay, St. John
Late afternoon at Trunk Bay, St. John

As the afternoon drew to an end and closing time approached, we gathered up our towels and chairs and said goodbye to Trunk Bay, unsure if we’d be back again during this trip. We still had a lot of St. John to explore, and only a few days left to do it. “Can we come here again tomorrow?”, our youngest asked, backed enthusiastically by her older sister, “YEAH!! I don’t want to go anywhere else, EVER!”

And that, my friends, is the magic of Trunk Bay.


Getting here & additional information

Visit the Virgin Islands National Park website for additional information on Trunk Bay, the underwater snorkeling trail, hiking trails, ruins, beaches, and much more.

Directions

Trunk Bay can be easily accessed from anywhere on the island via the North Shore Road.

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