Francis Bay, St. John Overview
Francis Bay is an often overlooked bay in St John’s Virgin Islands National Park that is just as stunning as the more popular Maho Bay & Trunk Bay. Francis Bay is located just north of Maho Bay and shares a coastline.
For those looking for a more laid back vibe, away from the crowds, Francis Bay is your cup of tea. Crystal blue water, white sands, with a backdrop of St. John’s lush canopy make up this breathtaking destination. We encountered several pelicans on the hunt over here as well as a boardwalk bird sanctuary.
Visiting Francis Bay – Virgin Islands National Park, St. John USVI
Things to Know Before Visiting Francis Bay
Sandals are your friend.
- FOOTWEAR: There’s nothing like the feeling of warm sand between the toes. There’s also nothing quite like the feeling of something sharp and pokey in the toes. The walk to the beach from the parking lot is short but best attempted with something between your feet and the ground, like these sandals that we love. and these sandals which have straps.
Do not touch our dear friend, the sea turtle.
- Sea Turtles: Green Sea Turtles are protected under the Endangered Species Act. Believe it or not it is a felony to touch one. As tempting as it might be, resist the urge and admire from a distance. We’ve all gotten pretty good at social distancing – best to apply these practices to our sea turtle friends as well.
Goggles and flippers for the win.
- SNORKEL GEAR: There is an actual underwater trail in Virgin Islands National Park – how cool is that? In order to best experience it along with so many other amazing underwater spots, you need snorkel gear! This is the inexpensive set we used. We also liked this cool American Flag swimming cap
Underwater camera housing… to ruin, or not to ruin.
- UNDERWATER CAMERA HOUSING: So here we must add the caveat that we lost a camera to the depths in Virgin Islands National Park (at Maho Bay). Anytime you get your camera near water, let alone saltwater, you’re taking a risk. With that being said we have used this underwater camera housing in the past and had luck with it.
Please, Wear Sunscreen.
- SUNSCREEN: Many sunscreens have been outlawed in the Virgin Islands due to reef-damaging ingredients. Goes without saying but we’ll say it anyway – wear sunscreen! The Caribbean is unforgiving on unprotected skin. We’ve made that mistake enough times to make lathering up a top priority. We highly recommend this one (which is reef-safe).
Rash guards are great for extra UV protection, especially after that inevitable burn.
- RASH GUARD: We were told to be sure and pack rash guards for this trip not so much for the coral etc but for extra UV protection (especially for me who burns easily). We got these inexpensive ones off amazon and we were sure glad to have them.
Where to Stay
Visiting Virgin Islands National Park? If you haven’t decided where to stay (yet) check out our helpful guide on visiting Virgin Islands National Park for tips. Don’t have time? Here’s our favorite place to stay on St John.
Due to the long term closure of Caneel Bay (the only resort in the park destroyed by the 2017 hurricanes) and the ensuing battle with the park service over the future management of the property, the closest hotels & resorts are back in Cruz Bay.
Best Time to Visit Francis Bay
The best time to visit Maho Bay is during the day to soak in some rays and cool off with a nice swim in the ocean. Sunrises from here can be spectacular as it is an east facing beach.
Getting to Francis Bay
Francis Bay is a 20 minute drive from Cruz Bay where the main island ferry lands. To get to Francis Bay one can either park at Maho Bay and walk up the beach past Maho Point about half a mile or drive past Maho Bay and continue toward Annaberg to use the Francis Bay Beach parking lot.
Francis Bay is easily accessed from the parking lot via a short path that is about 100ft from the parking area. Sandals are recommended for the short traverse as the ground is not sand and can be rough on the feet.
Snorkeling Francis Bay
Francis Bay offers warm, crystal clear waters and abundant sea life making for excellent snorkeling opportunities. Francis Bay is home to sea turtles and rays which makes for especially cool underwater viewing. As opposed to Maho Bay which is located just to the south, Francis has a rockier bottom with corals and more fish.
If you’re looking for an underwater camera rig, we used this underwater camera housing in the past and had luck with it.
Best Photo Spots Francis Bay
The best spot to photograph Francis Bay is actually from America Hill Ruins which overlook the bay from high above. If you’re not into a big hike, there are other options.
Francis Bay Beach is an great spot to capture the stunning beauty of the bay, especially the mesmerizing turquoise waters.
Francis Bay After Hurricane Maria
Hurricane Maria had a devastating impact on the Caribbean islands, especially St. John, home to Virgin Islands National Park. Many of the photos of the park you’ll find feature locations that have been totally changed since the hurricane hit the island in 2017.
Francis Bay was not as badly affected by the Hurricane as it’s sister bay, Maho, but even still it took a beating.
With that being said, Francis Bay is still stunningly beautiful and well worth the trip!
*all of our photos of the park feature it in its current condition, post-2017 hurricane Maria damage
Nearby Francis Bay
Experience Virgin Islands National Park in 8K
VIRGIN ISLANDS 8K is a visually stunning journey through one of the most beautiful national parks in the world, Virgin Islands. Journey with More Than Just Parks as we explore this tropical paradise located on the outskirts of the Caribbean Sea. Swim with sea turtles, explore ancient jungle ruins, relax on white sand beaches, and soak in the island beauty. This is Virgin Islands National Park.
Getting to Virgin Islands National Park
Closest Airport: STT – Cyril E. King Airport (distance – 13 miles from Cruz Bay)
The fastest way to get to Virgin Islands National Park is by plane, flying into St. Thomas’s Cyril E. King Airport Airport. Cyril E King Airport on the neighboring island of St Thomas (also part of the US Virgin Islands so no passport required for Americans) is the closest (and most affordable) place to fly into to get to Virgin Islands National Park.
Rental Car: St Thomas (Hertz, Enterprise, Budget, Dollar, more)
Ferry to St. John
Ferry: After flying in to St. Thomas you’ll need to catch a ferry over to St. John. This can be done in one of two places currently: Charlotte Amalie, or Red Hook (furthest from the airport but closest to St John). The cost per adult to ride the ferry is $20 each way.
Best Time to Visit Virgin Islands National Park
The best season to visit Virgin Islands National Park is Winter when temperatures are still warm and both humidity and crowds are down.
Winter is also known as the rainy season but rain typically comes and goes quickly in the Virgin Islands. This is a great time of year to visit as well as winter marks the end of Hurricane season.
Who doesn’t dream of tropical islands during the dead of winter? Can’t just be me…
I would recommend visiting anytime between December through April.
Driving in Virgin Islands National Park
Virgin Islands National Park has no official park shuttle to get around the park. To get around the park visitors will need to bring their own mode of transportation.
Currently a car is the best mode of transport in the park and can tourists not from the island should find a rental car from St Thomas and take the ferry to St John.
Alternatively, there are a few taxi services that operate on the island, mostly open air “safari-style” vehicles. Many of these taxis run on a fairly regular basis from Cruz Bay to many of the top tourist spots on St. John.
Helpful Related Articles
Virgin Islands National Park Guide: Epic Guide to Virgin Islands National Park
Things to Do Virgin Islands: 12 Amazing Things to Do in Virgin Islands National Park
Virgin Islands Facts: 10 Interesting Facts About Virgin Islands National Park
Virgin Islands Locations Worth Exploring:
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