Virgin Islands National Park (Ultimate Guide for 2023)
Virgin Islands National Park is a USA National Park covering two-thirds of St. John in the US Virgin Islands. The park is famous for its tropical forests, hiking trails, white sand beaches, secluded bays, historical sites, and colorful coral reefs.
As someone who lives in nearby St. Thomas, I make a point to explore Virgin Islands National Park as often as possible! After all, it is one of the top destinations in the USVI. Whether it’s hiking, snorkeling, scuba diving, paddleboarding, or sailing, there’s always a new adventure to be had!
Below, I’ve included my best tips on all there is to see and do in Virgin Islands National Park!
Table of Contents
- How to Visit Virgin Islands National Park
- Things to Do in Virgin Islands National Park
- History of St. John and Virgin Islands National Park
- Tips for Visiting Virgin Islands National Park
- FAQs About Virgin Islands National Park
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How to Visit Virgin Islands National Park
Getting to Virgin Islands National Park
National Parks are often remote and difficult to get to. And oftentimes, that’s why they’re so beautiful. But how many of those National Parks require travel via three modes of transportation?
- ✈️ Fly – Your first step is getting to the US Virgin Islands. For access to the National Park, you’ll need to fly into Cyril E. King Airport on St. Thomas (STT). I tend to find the cheapest fares to the island via Skyscanner.
- 🚕 Drive – Departing from Charlotte Amalie or the airport, you’ll take a cab or rental car to the St. John ferry terminal in Red Hook. See my guide to driving in the US Virgin Islands (we drive on the left!).
- ⛴️ Ferry or Barge – The ferry from Red Hook to Cruz Bay on St. John leaves every hour bringing passengers by foot. Three barge companies leave periodically throughout the day transporting vehicles to St. John. Find the schedule here.
- 🚚 Safari Taxi – if you didn’t bring your rental car, hop onto a Safari Taxi in Cruz Bay to travel deep within the park boundary.
Important Visiting Info for Virgin Islands National Park
🎟️ Entrance – Virgin Islands National Park has no entry fees except for a facility and parking fee at the wildly popular Trunk Bay Beach. The cost is $5 per vehicle.
🕐 Park Hours – The beaches, trails, and ruins of the National Park are open 24 hours.
🚻 Facility Hours – The facilities at Trunk Bay Beach and Cinnamon Bay Beach are open from 9 AM – 4 PM, 7 days a week.
🅿️ Parking – Most beaches and trailheads have small gravel lots which tend to fill up early in the morning. Street parking is also extremely common. All parking is free except at Trunk Bay.
🏞️ Website – National Park Service – Virgin Islands National Park
📍 Google Maps – Virgin Islands National Park, St. John, USVI, 00830
🏠 Visitor Center – Located in Cruz Bay on St. John. Open 9 AM – 3 PM, Mon. – Fri.
☎️ Phone – +1 (340)-776-6201
🧑🤝🧑 Tours – Most guided tours are aboard a vessel or kayak, while most hikes on St. John are self-guided.
Things to Do in Virgin Islands National Park
Along with its Puerto Rican neighbor, El Yunque National Forest, Virgin Islands National Park offers some of the best hiking trails in all of the Caribbean.
- 🌴 Reef Bay Trail: the best of many trails within the park. Beginning on Centerline Road, hikers descend an old forest road peppered with sugar mill ruins and ancient Taino petroglyphs before emerging onto a secluded beach. Allot yourself a half-day.
- 🌱 Francis Bay Trail: follow a short boardwalk through a mangrove forest before ascending to estate ruins. An excellent pick for families with small children.
- 🌅 Ram Head Trail: Jaw-dropping views of the Caribbean Sea on the southside of St. John island. Best hike for sunrise.
- 🏝️ Caneel Hill Trail: no car is necessary to access this trailhead right in Cruz Bay. Ascend to a scenic view before descending to the remnants of Caneel Bay Resort.
- 🇻🇬 Leinster Bay Trail: flat trail following the shoreline of Leinster Bay. Snorkel at Waterlemon Cay or ascend a small peak to the Windy Hill Greathouse Ruins for a panorama of the British Virgin Islands.
The best beaches in St. John are along the island’s north shore. If you have your own car, we recommend visiting the south side beaches too.
- 🤿 Trunk Bay: printed on most postcards departing St. John, the most famous beach in Virgin Islands National Park features an underwater snorkel trail.
- 🏝️ Cinnamon Bay Beach: turquoise waters lap the white sand shoreline of this tropical paradise.
- 🏖️ Salt Pond Bay Beach: Hike-in to this secluded beach on the south side of the National Park.
- 🐚 Jumbie Beach: A small, intimate sandy shore away from the crowds of popular beaches nearby.
- 🌊 Maho Bay Beach: the most lively beachfront in the National Park with food trucks, rum huts, watersport rentals, and wild donkeys.
🏖️ Want more beaches in the US Virgin Islands? After you explore St. John, hop one island over to discover the best beaches on St. Thomas.
You can snorkel in any of the sheltered bays in the Virgin Islands National Park and expect to see something. But a few are much better than the others:
- 🐢 Maho Bay: this popular beachfront is the best site to snorkel with sea turtles in the US Virgin Islands.
- 🤿 Trunk Bay: a short swim from shore is a small islet surrounded by colorful coral featuring an underwater snorkel trail.
- 🌱 Hurricane Hole: just outside of Coral Bay is a series of small mangrove-lined bays. These spots are the only place to snorkel a mangrove ecosystem in the US Virgin Islands.
- 🌊 Little Lameshur Bay: the right side of this south shore bay is teeming with an incredible amount of biodiversity.
- 🏝️ Waterlemon Cay: this small islet in the northeast corner of Leinster Bay has possibly the healthiest coral reefs on St. John.
📚 Related Reading: We love snorkeling, but the rest of St. John has more pretty fun things to do too!
Ruins and History
At one point, much of the park land was used for the production of sugar cane. Today, the remnants of the Danish Colonial Sugar Plantations are still found peppered throughout the National Park.
- 🏭 Reef Bay Sugar Mill: Industrial revolution-era machinery is infused throughout the halls of this scenic factory.
- 📜 The Petroglyphs: Ancient symbols from the island’s first indigenous culture, the Taino, are carved into a rock face along Reef Bay Trail.
- 🏛️ Annaberg Sugar Plantation: Wandering the grounds of the park’s largest plantation provides a glimpse into the unique island history of the region.
- 🏖️ Peace Hill Windmill: A short hike easily accessed from Cruz Bay leads to a stunning windmill overlooking the beautiful north shore beaches.
I’ve explored Virgin Islands National Park by land and by sea, and I must say, both offer wildly different experiences, sights, and sounds.
- 🛥️ Seas the Day: stop at the floating taco stand, Lime Out, after snorkeling in the bays of St. John’s northside.
- ⛵ Sonic Charters: select your pick-up location before departing on a day-long excursion circumnavigating St. John.
- 🏴☠️ Stormy Pirates: leaving from Red Hook on St. Thomas, this fleet of boats specializes in small group outings into the National Park.
Cinnamon Bay Campground
After a years-long hiatus (2017 to 2022), camping has returned to Virgin Islands National Park! Cinnamon Bay Campground is open for business!
The grounds of Cinnamon Bay offer a breakfast cafe, food trucks, and watersports rentals with kayaks, paddleboards, and snorkel gear. Visitors can bring their own tent to set up on a raised platform or choose to stay in an eco-tent or small cottage. Make your reservation far in advance!
History of St. John and Virgin Islands National Park
AD 1200 to 1500 – The Taino inhabit most of the Caribbean, including St. John and the present-day Virgin Islands National Park. Petroglyphs from their culture are found along Reef Bay Trail.
1493 – Columbus arrived at nearby St. Croix and sailed near other islands including St. John, naming them “Eleven Thousand Virgins”. Additionally, Columbus introduces sugar cane to the region.
The Danish West Indies
1671 – St. Thomas is taken under Danish control.
1675 – The governor of St. Thomas stakes claim to nearby St. John.
1718 – Permanent occupation of St. John occurs in Coral Bay.
1726 to 1810 – Sugar production on St. John sees ups and downs over the century before peaking in 1810.
American Era and the National Park Service
1917 – The United States officially purchases the Virgin Islands from Denmark for 25 million dollars in gold.
1935 – Tourism officially begins in St. John with the opening of the Caneel Bay Resort.
1952 – Laurance Rockefeller purchases most of the land on St. John, eventually donating it to the federal government to establish Virgin Islands National Park.
Hurricanes Irma and Maria
September 2017 – Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated the US Virgin Islands, destroying most structures within Virgin Islands National Park.
December 201 – NPS announces all trails and roads are open 105 days after the hurricane impact.
2022 – Cinnamon Bay Campground officially reopens. Caneel Bay Resort still remains closed and is up for debate on what should be done with it.
Tips for Visiting Virgin Islands National Park
Rent a Car
Although public Safari Taxis can get you to popular spots like Reef Bay Trail, Maho Bay, Trunk Bay, Annaberg Plantation, and Cinnamon Bay, it’s wise to rent a car if you want to explore the deeper portions of the National Park.
Plan for Multiple Days
It’s impossible to see everything Virgin Islands National Park has to offer within one day. We recommend planning at least 3 days to maximize your time hiking through tropical forests, snorkeling colorful coral reefs, boating to secluded bays, and relaxing on the white sandy beaches.
Dress for Success
Sun protection is of utmost importance in the Caribbean. And believe me, it’s nearly impossible to adequately reapply sunscreen throughout a single day. It’s best to use long sleeves, UPF clothing, a hat, and sunglasses for sun protection!
🌴 Read Next: 33 Interesting Facts About the Virgin Islands
USVI National Park has a unique blend of hiking, beaching, and snorkeling. In fact, most adventures incorporate all three. Here are a few handy items to successfully bring everything in one pack:
- 🗺️ National Geographic USVI National Park Adventure Map: How else were you going to plan your hiking routes?
- 🤿 Travel Snorkel Set: I bring my snorkel gear wherever I go anywhere in the Virgin Islands.
- ⛱️ Packable Beach Blanket by Grand Trunk: The sand sheds right off this ultra-lite and packable beach blanket.
- 🎒 Dry Bag Backpack: incredibly useful for any outdoor activity in the Caribbean.
Stay on St. Thomas
You don’t need to stay in St. John to enjoy everything the National Park has to offer. In fact, most people find it cheaper to stay on St. Thomas and take the ferry or car barge for a day or two to go from St. Thomas to St. John.
FAQs About Virgin Islands National Park
How many national parks are in the Virgin Islands?
Between the three main islands of the US Virgin Islands, there are a total of six areas managed by the National Park Service:
– Buck Island Reef National Monument on St. Croix
– Christiansted National Historic Site on St. Croix
– Salt River Bay National Historic Park and Ecological Preserve on St. Croix
– Hassel Island on St. Thomas
– Virgin Islands Coral Reef Monument south of St. John.
– Virgin Islands National Park on St. John.
What Virgin Island has a national park?
Covering two-thirds of St. John, Virgin Islands National Park is the largest National Park in the US Virgin Islands.
What is the Virgin Islands National Park known for?
Virgin Islands National Park covers two-thirds of St. John in the US Virgin Islands and is known for its white-sand beaches, secluded bays, colorful coral reefs, epic hiking trails, and scenic sugar mill ruins.
Why is the Virgin Islands a national park?
The Virgin Islands as a whole is not a national park. Rather, the US Virgin Islands are home to Virgin Islands National Park on St. John plus five other recreational areas managed by the National Park Service.
Are you ready for your next trip to the Caribbean? The US Virgin Islands (and Virgin Islands National Park) are a great addition on a trip to nearby Puerto Rico!
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