Buck Island Reef National Monument (Ultimate Guide to Visiting)
Buck Island Reef National Monument is a federally protected island off the northeast coast of St. Croix in the US Virgin Islands. In this guide, I’ll tell you everything you need to know to visit Buck Island: how to get there, things to do, useful tips, and some fascinating history.
Buck Island is home to some of the most dazzling coral reefs in the Caribbean Sea while fostering a healthy habitat on land for critical wildlife.
A boat trip to the island is always atop the list of best things to do in St. Croix with its stunning white sand beach, fabulous snorkeling, incredible marine life, and epic hiking trail ascending to jaw-dropping views of St. Croix and beyond.
Table of Contents
- How to Visit Buck Island – St. Croix
- 7 Things to Do in Buck Island Reef National Monument
- History of Buck Island Reef National Monument
- Tips for Visiting Buck Island from St. Croix
- FAQs About Buck Island
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How to Visit Buck Island – St. Croix
How to Get to Buck Island from St. Croix
The only way you can get to Buck Island from St. Croix is via boat. Most boat charters depart from either the Christiansted Harbor or Green Cay Marina near the East End of St. Croix. You’ll have your choice between a half-day or full-day tour.
Half-day tours are between 3 and 4 hours and include a stop at Turtle Beach and a snorkeling session on the dazzling elkhorn coral barrier reef. Full-day tours are between 6 and 8 hours and include lunch, beaching, snorkeling, and more time to embark on the island’s epic hiking trail.
Buck Island Boat Tours
- Big Beard’s Adventure Tours – this is the tour company I booked a half-day trip with for $85 departing from Christiansted. I couldn’t have been more pleased with the experience!
- Caribbean Sea Adventures – St. Croix’s all-encompassing boat operator includes full and half-day trips to Buck Island.
- Jolly Roger Charters – highly rated sailing tour departing from Christiansted Harbor.
- Smooth Recovery – operated by Caribbean Sea Adventures, this private charter is perfect for small groups looking for a tailor-made itinerary.
Important Visiting Info for Buck Island Reef National Monument
🎟️ Entrance Fees: there are no entrance fees required to visit Buck Island.
🛥️ Private Vessels: View the many rules and regulations for private boaters visiting Buck Island.
☀️ Seasons: Buck Island Reef National Monument is open year-round, seven days a week including all federal holidays.
⏱️ Hours: the park is closed from sunset to sunrise to protect sea turtle nesting.
🏠 Visitor Center: Information on Buck Island can be found at the National Park Service contact station in Christiansted National Historic Site on St. Croix.
🌞 Weather: Average highs year-round are between 84°F and 89°F. Check the current weather in St. Croix from the National Weather Service.
🌀 Hurricane Season: Runs between June and November while peaking in September and October. Monitor disturbances in the Western Atlantic with the National Hurricane Center.
🌐 Website: National Park Service – Buck Island Reef National Monument
📍 Google Maps: Buck Island Reef National Monument
☎️ Phone: (340) 773-1460
🏞️ Nearby National Parks: The US National Park Service manages six national parks in the Caribbean including Virgin Islands National Park on St. John and San Juan National Historic Site in nearby Puerto Rico!
7 Things to Do in Buck Island Reef National Monument
Turtle Beach is the western-facing shoreline on Buck Island with calm, blue waters and powdery white sand. It’s among the best beaches in the USVI and, for me, was the highlight of my half-day tour to Buck Island.
🛑 No-Take Zone: You might be tempted to bring home a conch shell souvenir during your trip to Buck Island. However, this is strictly prohibited in the National Monument to protect the ecosystem at large.
Hiking the Buck Island – Diedrich Trail
If you take a full-day tour to Buck Island, you’ll have the option of hiking the Diedrich Trail. The trail takes about 45-minutes to complete ascending through a subtropical forest of native flora to the peak where you’ll be treated to an observation deck with panoramic views of the Caribbean Sea, St. Croix, and on a clear day, St. John and St. Thomas.
🥾 More Hiking in the US Virgin Islands: We love hiking on St. Croix, but honestly, the hiking in St. John is the best in the Virgin Islands – if not the entire Caribbean.
Underwater Snorkeling Trail
Before sending snorkelers off, the guided tour to Buck Island will take you along an underwater trail upon arrival. This is their time to assess your snorkel skills while pointing out neat fish and marine life. The underwater trail is found on the barrier reef circling two-thirds of the island.
Swim With Sea Turtles
Like much of St. Croix, Buck Island is a popular sea turtle nesting site with common encounters in the nearby waters. During your time on Turtle Beach, snorkel the sandy bottoms and seagrass beds to witness these majestic creatures.
Buck Island is a critical habitat where endangered brown pelicans and threatened least terns nest. For those interested in birds, whenever my wife and I adventure in the USVI, we always bring this handy Field Guide to Birds of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
Buck Island has two designated scuba dive moorings on the north side of the island. These are beginner-level dives between 30 and 40 feet. You can contact Caribbean Sea Adventures or Dive Experience for more scuba diving information.
🤿 Wall Dive in Cane Bay: The dives around Buck Island are great, but in my professional dive opinion, you can get a better diving experience directly from the beach at Sweet Bottom Dive Center on Cane Bay Beach.
Have a Picnic
Buck Island has two designated picnic areas with charcoal grills to have your own picnic. Of course, if you’re on a full-day tour, lunch will be provided by the charter company. Either way, enjoy your meal on one of the Caribbean’s best beaches!
History of Buck Island Reef National Monument
First Inhabitants + Danish West Indies
- AD 400 – Indigenous tribes of St. Croix likely visited Buck Island 2,000 years ago to harvest conch, lobster, and sea turtle eggs. Although no permanent settlements were ever found on Buck Island, scattered pottery near likely campsites have been.
- 1754 – Johann Deidrich is listed as the first manager or owner of Buck Island.
- 1789 – a signal station is erected at the island’s highest point by the Danish government to alert Fort Christiansvaern of ships approaching St. Croix.
- Early 1800s – After centuries of various naming efforts, the island adapted the English name “Buck” from the Dutch word “Bock” (meaning ram-goat) for the island’s feral goats.
The US Virgin Islands & National Park Service
- 1917 – the US government purchases the Virgin Islands from Denmark.
- 1948 – the Government of the VI established Buck Island and its underwater landscape as a territorial park.
- 1961 – President John F. Kennedy transfers control of the island to the National Park Service establishing Buck Island Reef National Monument. In the Presidential Proclamation, JFK aimed to preserve “one of the finest marine gardens in the Caribbean Sea”.
- 2001 – President Bill Clinton greatly expanded the Monument’s scope by 18,135 acres of the submerged terrain.
Tips for Visiting Buck Island from St. Croix
Book a Full-Day Trip
Half-day trips to Buck Island are great, but to fully enjoy everything the park has to offer, book a full-day tour! You’ll have more time for snorkeling, exploring the beach, drinking rum punch, and embarking on the scenic hiking trail!
Prepare for the Sun
The Caribbean sun is intense and much of a day at Buck Island is spent with no shade. Pack UPF clothing with long sleeves, a hat, sunglasses, and reef-safe mineral sunscreen.
Visit Mid-week or the Offseason
Buck Island isn’t only popular with those visiting St. Croix, but it’s also popular with the locals. On the weekends, Turtle Beach fills up with private boats enjoying the park’s beauty. If you go mid-week, chances are you’ll only have to share the island with other guided tours.
I visited in October during the offseason and had the beach to myself (+ the others on my boat). Not only can you avoid the crowds, but traveling during the offseason is by far the cheapest time to visit the US Virgin Islands!
FAQs About Buck Island
What is special about Buck Island?
Buck Island Reef National Monument is a special marine protected area 1.5 miles north of St. Croix in the US Virgin Islands. The park features over 19,000 acres of submerged and dry land serving as home to native Caribbean flora, endangered marine life, seagrass beds, plus one astounding elkhorn barrier reef encompassing two-thirds of the island.
How long is the boat ride to Buck Island?
The boat ride to Buck Island from Christiansted takes around 30 minutes, depending on the speed of the boat.
Can you go to Buck Island Without a Tour?
You can go to Buck Island near St. Croix without a tour but you need to get there by boat. If you have a private vessel, be sure to acquire the appropriate permits before visiting.
Can You Go On Buck Island?
You can go to Buck Island near St. Croix and explore its beautiful beach and scenic hiking trail. Visitors cannot climb on the dunes and natural vegetation or depart the designated trails.
Is Buck Island a National Park?
Buck Island near St. Croix is managed by the US National Park Service and is formally known as Buck Island Reef National Monument.
Let us know what questions you have about visiting Buck Island! In the meantime, begin planning out your entire US Virgin Islands Itinerary!
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