Dreaming of Travel: Virgin Islands National Park
Virgin Islands National Park is one of the least visited National Parks. It's a bit harder to reach than other parks, but is well worth the extra effort! It will surely become one of your favorites!
About Virgin Islands National Park
Virgin Islands National Park is located in the US Virgin Island of St. John. The park takes up nearly 60% of the island of St. John. Virgin Islands National Park is unique because more than 40% of the park is underwater! This opens up so many special experiences that other parks can’t offer.
Historically speaking, Virgin Islands National Park has much to offer. There are signs of the area being inhabited as early as 770 BC.
In the 1400s the island was occupied by the Tainos. They were the first people to greet Christopher Columbus. Columbus named the island Santa Cruz and introduced sugarcane farming.
In 1672, Danish sailing vessels arrived in St. Thomas, and in 1675 they laid claim to St. John.
In 1917 the United States purchased the Danish West Indies for 25 million dollars in gold.
In 1952 Laurence Rockefeller donated land to establish Virgin Islands National Park and it officially became a National Park in 1956.
The visitor center for Virgin Islands National Park is located in Cruz Bay and is within walking distance of the ferry terminal. The visitor center is a great first stop when you arrive on St. John. There you can get your park map, a few souvenirs and talk with a park volunteer for tips on what to do in the park. The Virgin Islands Visitor Center is open Monday-Friday from 9 am-3 pm.
How to get to Virgin Islands National Park
There is no airport on the island of St. John. To get to Virgin Islands National Park, you will need to fly into St. Thomas and then take a ferry to St. John. Once you have arrived on St. John you can get to the park either by renting a jeep (drive on the left), taking a taxi or a bus.
The ferry from Red Hook (St. Thomas) to Cruz Bay (St. John) is about 20 minutes and costs $6.00 each way. The ferry runs every hour between 6 am and midnight. You’ll want to get to the ferry terminal about 30 minutes early. If you are in St. Thomas on a cruise and would like to visit Virgin Islands National Park, this is the only ferry option that will work for you.
There is another ferry terminal in Charlotte Amalie, the West Indian Dock. The ferry from West Indian Dock to Cruz Bay takes about 40 minutes and costs $12 each way. There are fewer times available for this ferry, so carefully check the schedule to be sure you understand it.
Cruz Bay to Virgin Islands National Park
Taxis are easy to find when you get off the ferry and in front of the most popular beach areas. Most taxis on St John are open-air type trucks where benches are put in the back. Taxis are not metered, and rates are charged by the destination. We paid $7 to go from the ferry terminal to Cinnamon Bay in February 2022.
If you have rented a car and plan to drive to the beaches, remember to drive on the left. The roads are narrow, windy and on steep hills. Parking is extremely limited at the beaches and you’ll see vehicles parked along the roads outside the popular beaches.
Where to stay in Virgin Islands National Park
Accommodations in Virgin Islands National Park can be pretty expensive. There are high-end hotels available as well as vacation rentals. One way to make the experience a bit more budget-friendly is to camp. Camping in the park can only be done with reservations. The campground is located at Cinnamon Bay.
Another option would be to stay at another Virgin Island such as St. Thomas and ferry over to St. John.
What to do in Virgin Islands National Park
- Snorkeling- With so much of the park underwater it's no surprise snorkeling is one of the top things to do. From seagrass bottoms full of turtles to coral reefs, there is so much to see underwater. The best beach to see turtles is Maho Beach. Trunk Bay offers an underwater “trail” that is great for snorkeling with markers that teach you about the different things you’ll see.
- Beach days- There are incredible beaches in Virgin Islands National Park, including Trunk Bay, which has been voted the world's most beautiful beach many times. Even when there are a lot of people you can find some quiet and peace on the beaches.
- Hiking- While these aren’t the mountainous summits you may be used to, hiking Virgin Islands National Park is still something you should do. You’ll learn a lot about the history of the area this way. There are ruins to hike to that are wonderful and easy for all ages! Try hiking across the street from Cinnamon Bay to see the ruins of an old sugar mill. Annaberg Plantation is the most well-preserved site for ruins, and a great educational opportunity.
- Fishing and boating- You can join a tour, or rent a boat to spend time on the waters surrounding Virgin Islands National Park. Some fishing is allowed in certain areas at certain times, always check with the National Park Service before you fish to be sure you are following regulations.
Best Beaches in Virgin Islands National Park
- Trunk Bay- Wide, beautiful beach with an underwater snorkel trail. Food and toilets are available.
- Cinnamon Bay- Wide beautiful beach with plenty of space to spread out and explore. Campgrounds are available here. Ruins across the street. Food and toilets are available.
- Maho Beach- A smaller beach with calm water that makes it easy to play or snorkel. Turtles are usually found here. Food, toilets, and picnic tables are available. This beach gets crowded!
- Hawksnest- Another great snorkeling beach with toilets and food available.
Virgin Islands National Park can be enjoyed by all ages. If you only have one day here, I would suggest driving to Annaberg plantation to explore, and then pick the beach that most interests you and spend the rest of the day there.
Have you been to Virgin Islands National Park? What were your favorite spots and activities? Let us know in the comments below and don't forget to tag us in your Instagram photos @gethappyly!
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