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November/December 2005

Best Damn Weekend Ever: Paddle Around St. John, Virgin Islands NP

Kayak amid the reefs and sand of Virgin Islands National Park

Jones’s 4-day, 30-mile guided paddle is the way to go, and not just because he owns one of the few kayak concessions around. He knows, for example, that the place to stop for lunch on day 1 is Henley Cay; snorkeling there, you’ll often find vivid yellow-and-black-striped fish called sergeant majors dawdling around intricately latticed sea fans. Dolphins occasionally swim near the boats, but winged wildlife is far more common: pelicans diving and scooping meals; frigate birds snatching fish with their talons; and American oystercatchers plucking mollusks from the shallows with their cartoonish carrot-stick beaks. You’ll bunk down the first night about 8 miles from the launch at Maho Bay Camps, where the tent cabins run on wind and sun.

The second day is the longest and toughest paddle, 10 miles in all, all of it upwind along the island’s north shore until you turn the corner around the East End. But even there, “tough” is relative: You’ll start early to take advantage of the morning calm, then stop in Brown Bay for lunch and more snorkeling (the turtlegrass there often attracts hawksbills and green sea turtles), before rounding the island and stopping for the night at Vie’s Campground in Hansen Bay.

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