Virgin Islands National Park: Back to Brown Bay

Sea Grapes

On Saturday, March 19 [2022], we decided to stay over on the eastern side of St. John, nearer to our home base at Concordia. We hadn’t actually been planning to go into Cruz Bay every single day of the trip, but somehow had. Also, we figured that with it being the weekend the more famous beaches like Trunk Bay were probably going to be packed. So we decided it would be a good day to return to a favorite bay from Sean’s and my previous trip: Brown Bay, nestled on the north side of St. John—almost to East End—and accessible only by a hike two-hundred feet up and over a ridge. On our first trip to Virgin Islands National Park, Brown Bay offered the most spectacular snorkeling of the trip. The return didn’t disappoint.

Four-Eye Butterflyfish, French Grunts, Mustard Hill Coral, Sea Fans, Sea Rods, Sea Whips, and Branching Fire Coral
Turpentine Tree

Each morning of our trip to that point, Concordia had been alive with birdsong. On this particular morning, the quite loud Pearly-Eyed Thrashers began calling to each other at 4:30am. Ugh. The other mornings, they had at least started closer to sunrise after 5:30am. Also early that morning, a car alarm went off in the parking area. So, I got up at 6:30. Josh was awake too. I climbed down from the loft, quietly made a little coffee, and then sat on the balcony catching up on my notes from the trip thus far.

Image: Sean M. Santos

Saltpond Bay

Despite my being groggy, everything felt fresh and clean. It had rained overnight, but now the clouds were moving off and revealing what promised to be a lovely day.

Ram Head

Once everyone was up, Sean made a hearty breakfast of breakfast tacos with eggs, cheese, and prosciutto, served with fruit and yogurt.

Afterward, we packed up our things for Brown Bay.

Down in Coral Bay, instead of turning left to go west to Cruz Bay, we turned right and headed east toward East End. The trailhead for Brown Bay is on the north side of the road not far outside of Coral Bay. The hike up the south side of the ridge, some two-hundred feet, is fairly steep.

Butterfly Pea

Hurricane Hole

The views looking back to the south were pretty great.

Hurricane Hole

Brown Anole

Once over the ridge, the trail took about twice the length to descend the two-hundred feet back to sea level.

Sir Francis Drake Channel

On this side, we could see the Sir Francis Drake Channel, separating St. John from the British Virgin Islands. The deepness of the blue indicates the deepness of the very deep channel. Essentially St. John and the BVI islands are mountain tops rising above an undersea canyon.


Brown Bay

There was very little beach, but we found a sheltered spot among the sea grapes to lay our towels. There were a handful of other people there, but they eventually left and we had Brown Bay all to ourselves. Although the water came high up the beach, it was extremely shallow for many yards out. It was easy to see and avoid the ample sea grass beds that give Brown Bay its name.

I snorkeled out into the center of the bay. Once it starts getting deep, Brown Bay gets deep pretty quickly. The wind was slightly up causing little baby whitecaps. Not ideal for snorkeling, but I spotted a few things.

It was a little unnerving, actually. So I explored closer to shore.

Sea Grass

Sea Fans, Fire Coral, and Sea Grass

Spiny Rods, Fire Coral, Mustard Hill Coral, Sea Grass

Smooth Trunkfish

Smooth Trunkfish

Schools of Horse-Eye Jack, Palometo Jack, Bar Jack, and Blue Runner

Sea Grass

I decided to take a break and join the guys on the beach.

Brown Pelican

Brown Pelican

We talked to a woman who was getting ready to head back to the trailhead. She said she’d seen a turtle. The breeze was dying down, making snorkeling more pleasant. Josh and I decided to go out and try to see a turtle. Sean said that if we saw one, to make an arm motion, and they’d swim out.

Sea Grass

Josh headed over to the reef area on the western side of the bay. I headed out toward the middle.

Green Sea Turtle

Bingo! There was a Green Sea Turtle.

Green Sea Turtle

It was just munching away, having its lunch.

Green Sea Turtle

Green Sea Turtle

I waved for Sean and Nick and hollered, “Turtle!” But they decided I was out too far in water too deep for them to feel comfortable.

Green Sea Turtle

I called Josh over from the reef, and he spotted a Leatherback Sea Turtle with a Remora in tow as he swam over. I was so envious that he saw a Leatherback.

We looked around for it, but no luck.

Green Sea Turtle and Remora

On the way over to the reef, we spotted another Green with a Remora.

The reef along the western side of Brown Bay was just as splendid as I’d remembered from when Adam and I explored it nine years before.

Sea Fans and Sea Rods

French Grunts, Sergeant Majors, Blue Tang, Mustard Hill Coral, Sea Fans, Sea Rods, Swollen-Knob Candelabrum, and Branching Fire Coral

Sea Whips, Sea Rods, Sea Fans, Finger Coral, and Branching Fire Coral

Blue Tang, Sergeant Majors, Sea Whips, Sea Rods, Sea Fans, and Branching Fire Coral

French Grunts, Sea Urchins, Sea Whips, Sea Rods, Sea Fans, Finger Coral, and Blade Fire Coral

Sea Whips, Sea Rods, Sea Fans, and Finger Coral

Elkhorn Coral, Sea Whips, Sea Rods, and Sea Fans

Four-Eye Butterflyfish, Mustard Hill Coral, Swollen Knob Candelabrum, Sea Whips, and Sea Rods

Bar Jacks, Sea Whips, Sea Rods, and Sea Fans

Blade Fire Coral, Sea Urchins, Sea Whips, and Sea Fans

Doctorfish, Blue Tang, Sea Whips, Sea Rods, and Sea Fans

Sergeant Majors, Sea Whips, Sea Rods, and Sea Fans

Sea Whips, Sea Rods, and Sea Fans

Stoplight Parrotfish and Yellowtail Parrotfish

Yellowtail Parrotfish

Four-Eye Butterflyfish, Sea Fans, and Sea Rods

Yellowtail Parrotfish and Elkhorn Coral

Bluestriped Grunt, Mahogany Snapper, Stoplight Parrotfish (female), French Grunt, and Sea Fans

Sea Fans, Sea Rods, Sea Whips, and Mustard Hill Coral



We eventually swam over to Sean, Jimmy, and Nick, who mooned us underwater.

There was interesting stuff to see in the reef immediately adjacent to the shallow, sandy area of the bay. So we convinced the guys to grab their masks and have a look.

“You don’t even have to swim. You can just stand there in the sand and dip your head underwater.”

They did. Even Jimmy. Sean did great.

Back on the beach, Josh and Nick had a photoshoot with lifestyle influencer Sean “Starbody” Santos.

Tortola, British Virgin Islands

Brown Pelican

Brown Pelican

I could have stayed at Brown Bay all afternoon, but Nick was starving. So at about a quarter to two, we packed up our things for the hike out.

Sean wandered off into the sea grapes and then came running back: “I just saw a squirrel chasing a lizard!”

We were confused. There are no squirrels on St. John.

We realized that what Sean had seen was a Mongoose chasing a juvenile Iguana in its bright green stage. The Iguana had been running away on its hind legs.

All this was basically confirmed a few moments later when Jimmy spotted a Mongoose.

It was the second wildlife sighting I was very envious of in as so many hours.

Brown Bay

Sir Francis Drake Channel

Hurricane Hole

Love Bush

Back at the car, we first headed further east toward East End, but the road ahead was way too steep. Maybe in a Jeep, but not in a Hyundai Santa Fe with five grown men in it.

We turned around and headed back into Coral Bay. We put our name in for a table at Skinny Legs and then checked out the souvenir shop while we waited.

Sean bought us all matching bracelets in an array of colors to remember the trip.

Burgers, sandwiches, beer, Lesbians at an adjacent table. Then back to Concordia.

We spent much of the afternoon hanging out in the pool, which we had all to ourselves.

For dinner that night we went back down to Coral Bay and picked up some pizzas at the Salty Mongoose.

After dinner we went back in the pool for a while. Jimmy did a water ballet to “Mother Moon.” Then we stayed up far too late reading fortune cards and invoking “Mother Moon.”

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