Virgin Islands National Park is a United States National Park covering approximately 60% of the island of Saint John in the United States Virgin Islands, plus a few isolated sites on the neighboring island of St. Thomas. The park is famous for scuba diving and snorkeling and has miles of hiking trails through tropical forests.
Ferries from Red Hook and Charlotte Amalie on Saint Thomas make regular stops at Cruz Bay, Saint John, near the park, which averages 725,000 visitors per year.
One of the Virgin Islands National Park's most famous attractions is Trunk Bay, which sports a white sand beach and underwater snorkeling trail, although the trail's chronic overuse has led to extensive coral bleaching along its path.
The park includes the sugar-plantation-ruins-littered Cinnamon Bay Nature Trail and the Bourdeaux Mountain Trail that leads to the highest point on the island at 1,277 feet (389 m) above sea level, and whose view is best described as "what you must see from heaven". The most popular hike, however, is the Reef Bay Trail. This route paves the way to witnessing the beauty of the surrounding forestlands, remnants of sugar mills, historical Taíno petroglyph rock carvings, a spring-fed waterfall and reflection pool, and a chance for rest and relaxation or snorkeling excitement at Genti Bay.
Visitors can stay on Saint John nearby but off-park land, or they may elect to stay in one of the park's two campgrounds, Maho Bay and Cinnamon Bay, which offer varying levels of comfort. The park is free of hotels and resort, with a notable exception, the Caneel Bay resort on the north shore, which lies on Rockefeller’s former personal estate.
Virgin Islands National Park also includes Hassel Island, just off Charlotte Amalie harbor, as well as a few isolated sites on the island of St. Thomas.
The main features of the Virgin Islands National Park are the coral reefs and oceans. They almost completely surround the park. As new coral species replace older ones, the coral reefs are experiencing rapid change. For example, in 2006, the Elkhorn and Slaghorn coral were introduced to the Virgin Islands. Another important feature of the Virgin Islands are the tropical forests. The tropical forests hold most of the park's plants and wildlife. The plants and wildlife are what the Virgin Islands Park is famous for. Bats are the only mammal native to the island. Wild donkeys and crabs are other very common species.
Flora and fauna
Much of the vegetation on Saint John is second generation growth. Almost the entire Island was clear-cut to make way for sugar cane production during the colonial era. Some native species like the tyre palm remain, but much growth today are introduced species. The only mammal known to be native to the island of St. John is the bat.
When to visit
There is very little temperature difference between summer and winter and the sea is warm year round. Because of the park's typically hot weather a park visitor is recommended to bring sunscreen, a bathing suit, sunglasses, and shorts. The tourist season is from December to April and outside of those months prices for accommodation drop considerably. Camping is available in the park, as well as lodging.
The Park's beautiful beaches are the "can't miss" attraction as they are stunningly beautiful.
The Park’s Visitor Center in Cruz Bay offers an exhibit showing both natural and cultural resources with examples of reef fishes and coral on display. Other panels depict the cultural history from the earliest inhabitants to the subsistence era. Artifacts from the pre-Columbian Tainos, tools used to harvest sugarcane during the late 1700’s and early 1800’s sugar production era, and examples of objects that became essential for survival after slavery emancipation are displayed.
The St. John Historical Society has a small museum located at the Battery (Offices of the Governor), just a short walk from the Visitors Center.
In Cinnamon Bay, visitors may visit the archeology lab (a converted sugar factory warehouse) and see the artifacts recovered from the nearby dig. If planning a visit, call first to ascertain that the building is open.