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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.

Tarpon at Hawksnest Beach
A tarpon spotted in Hawksnest Beach.

How to go snorkeling Hawksnest Bay?

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.

Hawksnest Beach snorkeling map, St John USVI

Water entrance for snorkeling 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.

Hawksnest Bay’s reefs snorkeling exploration tips

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.

Coral reef at Hawksnest Beach
Brain coral and gorgonians are very common at reef.

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.

Southern stingray at Hawksnest Beach
Southern stingrays pay regular visits to the bay.

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.

Blue tang at Hawksnest Beach
A blue tang at Hawksnest Beach.

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.

Restaurants and accommodation nearby

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.


  • Level required Beginner
  • Protected areaVirgin Islands National Park
  • Maximum depth15ft/5m
  • Water entranceEasy, from sandy beaches
  • LifeguardNo
  • Visitor numbersMedium to high
  • Access costsFree
  • Restaurants nearbyNo

MAP 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.