What to Do at Virgin Islands
If you only have one hour at the park, take the self-guided trail at either Annaberg or Cinnamon sugar mill. If you have several hours at the park, board a safari taxi to some of the scenic overlooks. If you have a full day or more, try the six-hour hike to Reef Bay. Good snorkeling sites include Watermelon Bay, for parrotfish and grunts; Honeymoon Beach and Salmon Bay, for tunicates and star coral; and Salt Pond Bay, for a variety of corals, reef fish, squid, and sea turtles. Stop by the visitors center for a snorkeling guide. Rent sailboats, kayaks, and windsurfers at Cinnamon Bay beach.
St. John's Centerline Road (Route 10) offers many dramatic vistas. At the Bordeaux Mountain Overlook, visitors can take in expansive views of Coral Bay and the Caribbean Sea—and, on clear days, the British Virgin Islands.
(All distances cited are for one-way treks, not round-trip.)
The half-mile Francis Bay Trail explores the park's wetlands, including mangrove forests and a salt pond. A big attraction here: The many birds, both migratory and resident, that can be spotted. The trail also winds through a scrub forest and past the Francis Bay Estate House, and ends at a quiet beach. A boardwalk along the salt pond offers good opportunities for bird-watching.
Hikers will find an abundance of plant life along the 2.2-mile Reef Bay Trail. The trail passes by the remains of four sugar estates and some abandoned farming communities. A detour at the 1.5-mile point leads to the Petroglyphs Trail, which highlights rock carvings by the island's pre-Columbian Taino inhabitants. A guided hike is also available.
The 0.2-mile Annaberg School Area Trail visits one of the oldest public schoolhouses in the Caribbean. An exhibit describes the schoolhouse's early days; the trail offers spectacular views of Mary Point, Leinster Bay, and Tortola. www.nps.gov/viis/planyourvisit/outdooractivities.htm
In Trunk Bay, there is a 225-yard-long snorkeling trail. Underwater informational plaques along the route provide facts about coral reefs and other marine life.
With dense forests in the mountains, cactus scrubland, and mangroves lining the bays' shores, Virgin Islands National Park boasts 740 plant species. While hundreds of types of birds and fish make the island their home, only 22 mammal species do. The bat is the park's only native mammal, but deer, goats, sheep, donkeys, cats, dogs, mongoose, and pigs also roam the park.
The overlook at the end of the Ram Head Trail offers a sweeping view of the Caribbean Sea from a height of 200 feet.
Capture scenic landscape shots from the cliff-side overlooks on Route 20 (North Shore). This well-maintained road also provides access to beaches, trails, and ruins.
Smart Traveler Strategies
You may feel like you're in paradise on St. John, but don't forget to bring insect repellent, sunscreen, and plenty of water, especially on hikes. Also, avoid hiking in the middle of the day, when the sun and temperatures are at their height.
Though there are restaurants on the park grounds, it is always good to bring energy snacks and fruits with you.
For birdwatchers, the best time to catch glimpses of native species is in winter. The Francis Bay Trail is highly recommended.
If you rent a car, get one with four-wheel drive. You'll need it for some of the island's more rugged roads.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Trunk Bay beach is the park's most popular and crowded beach, especially for day visitors from cruise ships. The restrooms, snack bar, souvenir shop, and snorkel-gear rental office here close at 4 p.m. A quieter beach experience can be had at Lameshur Bay and beach, where you can snorkel along the bay's east coast and walk to ruins along the west.
Cinnamon Bay campground closes to unregistered guests at 10 p.m.
Stop by the Cruz Bay Visitor Center to pick up maps and ask for information. It's open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Excursions Outside the Park
The Elaine Ione Sprauve Library and Museum houses a collection of documents, historic artifacts, and photographs of the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Visit the island of St. Thomas to see 300-year-old, Danish-built Fort Christian, the oldest standing structure in the Virgin Islands, and to ascend the stairway of 99 Steps (actually 103), which were fashioned in the 1700s by Danish settlers to ease the climb up Charlotte Amalie's hillsides Charlotte Amalie Harbor.
View hundreds of exotic butterflies in a rain forest setting at the Butterfly Farm on St. Thomas.