Magens Bay is the most popular beach on St. Thomas, and it is the most renowned aspect of Magens Bay Park. Thousands of people head to the park each month to bask on its sandy shores and swim in the clear turquoise water. But there is more to Magens Bay Park then the beach, a lot more. In fact, there is 319-acres more. The park includes a watershed and a dry forest with hiking trail. They make up the bulk of the park’s protected lands. Drake’s Seat is also part of the park. It is one of the most popular overlooks on St. Thomas offering stunning views of, you guessed it, Magens Bay! The proper name for the park is the Magens Bay Watershed Preserve, and it is one of the largest protected areas on St. Thomas.
How did Magens Bay Park come to be?
On December 28, 1946 long time island resident and philanthropist, Arthur S. Fairchild, gifted the beach and 47 acres of his estate to be “maintained as a public park (with its natural beauty preserved) for use by the people of the Virgin Islands in perpetuity without discrimination of any kind as to race, creed, color or national origin”. The beach was developed accordingly for public recreation. In 2002 more land was acquired including the Drake’s Seat Overlook, and a large parcel belonging to the Wheaton Estate. This parcel in combination with the existing Magens Bay Authority managed beach park and an existing 75 acre preserve managed by the Nature Conservancy was joined to create the 319-acre Magens Bay Watershed Preserve. The Preserve protects approximately 25 percent of the Magens Bay watershed and is a joint effort between the Virgin Islands Government, the Nature Conservancy and the Magens Bay Authority.
You can enjoy Magens Bay Park in a variety of ways, but the three most popular activities are swimming, sightseeing and hiking.
1. Go Swimming at Magens Bay
Magens Bay is one of the longest beaches on St. Thomas. Its golden sand and sun-drenched, turquoise waters are a magnet for visitors looking for a beach day. It is a popular stop for cruise ship tours. It’s also the heart of recreational activities for residents. Early in the morning and late in the afternoon residents exercise at Magens Bay; walking, running and swimming. During the day its popular for friends meeting up, for parties, bbqs, weddings and receptions, church gatherings, kid’s camps, annual events and more. It’s one of the best beaches on St. Thomas for swimming. The water is very calm for most of the year, the clarity is fantastic, and it’s a long beach.
2. Enjoy the View at Drakes Seat
A legend, a namesake bench and a fabulous view await you at Drake’s Seat. Legend has it that Sir Francis Drake stood on this spot to keep an eye out for enemy ships, and that’s where the name comes from. A more practical story explains that Drake’s Seat was built in 1933 by Arthur Fairchild. He thought the spot was a good one for taking a rest. In those days the main means of transportation was walking and donkeys. It was a long walk to town for the people living on the northside of the island. A nice midway spot to take a rest was a welcome respite. Today the simple bench, a small overlook with off road parking, and a spectacular view await you.
3. Hike the Tropical Discovery Trail
Take a hike in the Magens Bay Preserve. The trailheads are located off Magens Bay Road at Canaan and at Magens Bay on the west side of the beach. It is a moderately active hike and covers approximately 1.5 miles. The steep parts have steps and rope railings to help with navigating the trail. Plenty of shade is provided from the tree canopy.
You will hike amongst mangrove trees and other moist forest plants. In the dry forest there are white cedar, red-barked turpentine, tyre palm, guava berry, genip and silk cotton trees. Birds, lizards and crabs are the most popular animals that you might see. Birds include native and migratory birds such as golden warbler, stilt sandpiper, peregrine falcon and piping plover. It’s a great hike.
The trail was opened to the public in May 2004. The preserve and trail were made possible in part by a 25-acre land donation to the Nature Conservancy by Frank McConnell in hopes that residents and visitors would someday be able to enjoy this beautiful undeveloped area of St. Thomas. The trail is dedicated to McConnell’s mother, Virginia.
Note: The Magens Bay Park includes an arboretum and coconut grove. Both areas sustained great damage during the 2017 hurricane season. You can walk around the coconut grove. Young trees grow next to piles of fallen tree trunk pieces. The arboretum is currently closed.