Free shore access
This spot have a free shore access: you can go snorkeling there freely and without having to book a tour or pay an entrance fee.
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Hawksnest Bay, on St John’s north shore, features some of the island’s most popular beaches. This area, including Hawksnest Beach, Little Hawksnest Beach and Gibney Beach, is known for its dramatic coastline, making it a wonderful place to snorkel and enjoy the local beach life. Just off the beaches are shallow coral reefs, where grunt, angelfish, stingray, butterflyfish, parrots, and occasional sea turtles can be seen.
Hawksnest Bay is nestled on the northern shore of St John, about 2 miles north of Cruz Bay via Route 20 (North Shore Road). Hawksnest Beach, the recommended beach for starting snorkeling the bay, is just behind the large parking you will see on the left side of the road.
Boat can also be a great option to snorkel the area, as most of the full-day snorkeling tours along the north shore stop in Hawksnest Bay.
Depending on the area you want to snorkel, you can enter the water from Hawksnest Beach (the most recommended, as it faces the main reef), Little Hawknest Beach, or Gibney Beach.
The bay’s main coral reef extends from the center of Hawksnest Beach to the eastern end of Little Hawksnest Beach (see map). A second, smaller reef faces the northern part of Gibney Beach.
Because of its orientation, Hawksnest Beach is quite exposed to surf and current. As a result, the reef health is unequal, with untouched areas and some others pretty weathered.
The healthier parts of the reef feature elkhorn coral, brain coral, sea fans, gorgonian and sponges, supporting a large number of invertebrates and fish species.
Two species of trunkfish, the smooth trunkfish and the spotted trunkfish, are very common at reef. Yellowtail damselfish, beau gregory, blue tang and juvenile grunt from different species are also very easy to spot near the coral heads. You may also spot in the shallow coral beds small moray eels, especially the beautiful chain moray.
The open areas around the reefs are the right place to look for bigger species such as tarpons, barracudas or bar jacks. If you are lucky, you may spot at this location a stingray or a sea turtle, which are occasionally seen in Hawksnest Bay.
Hawksnest Bay is located inside the US Virgin Islands National Park and has no food options. Its covered shed with picnic tables nevertheless makes it a great picnic spot. Several hotels and vacation rentals are available less than a 5 minutes drive from the spot.
These snorkeling spots are accessible to beginners and kids. You will enter the water gradually from a beach, or in a less than 3ft. deep area. The sea is generally calm, shallow, with almost no waves or currents. These spots are usually located in marked and/or monitored swimming areas. It is not necessary to swim long distances to discover the sea life.
This level only apply when the spot experiences optimal sea and/or weather conditions. It is not applicable if the sea and/or weather conditions deteriorate, in particular in the presence of rough sea, rain, strong wind, unusual current, large tides, waves and/or swell. You can find more details about the definition of our snorkeling levels on our snorkeling safety page.
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Snorkeling spots are part of a wild environment and their aspect can be significantly altered by weather, seasons, sea conditions, human impact and climate events (storms, hurricanes, seawater-warming episodes…). The consequences can be an alteration of the seabed (coral bleaching, coral destruction, and invasive seagrass), a poor underwater visibility, or a decrease of the sea life present in the area. Snorkeling Report makes every effort to ensure that all the information displayed on this website is accurate and up-to-date, but no guarantee is given that the underwater visibility and seabed aspect will be exactly as described on this page the day you will snorkel the spot. If you recently snorkeled this area and noticed some changes compared to the information contained on this page, please contact us.
The data contained in this website is for general information purposes only, and is not legal advice. It is intended to provide snorkelers with the information that will enable them to engage in safe and enjoyable snorkeling, and it is not meant as a substitute for swim level, physical condition, experience, or local knowledge. Remember that all marine activities, including snorkeling, are potentially dangerous, and that you enter the water at your own risk. You must take an individual weather, sea conditions and hazards assessment before entering the water. If snorkeling conditions are degraded, postpone your snorkeling or select an alternate site. Know and obey local laws and regulations, including regulated areas, protected species, wildlife interaction and dive flag laws.
US Virgin Islands
Bays with coral reefs and seagrass meadows with sea turtles
Saint Martin/Sint Maarten
Shallow wreck with a few colorful fish
Free shore access
Snorkel Park with coral reef and wrecks
Marine reserve with seagrass beds, sea turtles and stingrays
Sheltered cove with sea turtles and coral reefs
Antigua and Barbuda
Large sandy beach edged with shallow coral reefs