Where is Virgin Islands National Park
Virgin Islands National Park resides on the United States Virgin Islands which are located within the Caribbean. The national park specifically is located on the island of St. John. However, the national park also extends and covers a large portion of the adjacent ocean and the entire land area of Hassel Island. Virgin Islands US National Park, which contains numerous coral reefs and dive sites, is well known for being a SCUBA diver’s paradise. Visitors planning their trip to Virgin Islands National Park will also find an extensive series of hiking trails which meander throughout the park’s tropical rainforest. Also, on St. John Island, visitors will find Charlotte Amelie, the capital and the largest city of the Virgin Islands. Transportation to the national park from other parts of the Virgin Islands can be obtained via ferries that bring passengers into Cruz Bay. Ferries frequently leave from ports located in Red Hook, Charlotte Amelie, Tortola, Jost Van Dyke, and Virgin Gorda on their way to Cruz Bay and Virgin Islands National Park.
How Large is Virgin Islands National Park
In total, Virgin Islands National Park covers over 14,700 acres. Of these 14,700 acres, about 5,000 are acres of ocean adjacent to St. John island. The remaining acres include about 60 percent of the total area of St. John Island and the entirety of Hassel Island. In 2017, the national park received a total visitation of about 304,408 visitors. However, this number was significantly underachieved in 2018 due to two major hurricanes which caused major repairs and closing to occur across the park. The park was closed from September to December and only received about 112,287 visitors. The park’s most popular natural attractions include a vast array of coral reefs, pristine beaches, and acres of tropical rainforest. The best way to explore the waters of Virgin Islands National Park is via SCUBA diving, whereas the rainforest can be explored on foot via several hiking trails.
Virgin Islands National Park Weather
Virgin Islands National Park fluctuates between being hot and breezy and balmy and dry throughout the year. Temperatures are the hottest throughout the latter portions of the year. However, hurricane season also falls within the months of June through November. This season is highly unpredictable and can produce hurricanes that drastically impact daily and long-term life of the Virgin Islands. On average, visitors arriving at the park will experience temperatures in the 70’s or 80’s. Though, occasionally temperatures will fluctuate further outside this average. Accumulated precipitation for the year normally reaches totals of around 35 to 40 inches at the national park.
When Did Virgin Islands Become a National Park
Virgin Islands National Park was first created in 1956 through a donation from Laurence Rockefeller’s Jackson Hole Preserve, which owned an extensive portion of St. John’s Island. The land was donated under the condition that it be completely immune to future development efforts. The water, coral reefs, and shorelines of St. John islands are also protected via the national park and the recently designated Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument. Over the years since 1956, the national park service has obtained other land holdings on the island including the Estate Macho Bay, Mamey’s Peak, and several other unnamed beaches and acres of rainforest. In total, the national park boundaries cover about 75 percent of the island, but other land withholding within these boundaries currently reduce their acreage to about 60 percent of the island.
Things to do in Virgin Islands National Park
Virgin Islands National Park contains a variety of outdoor recreation opportunities including extensive adventures in the rainforest and in and around the park’s pristine beaches. Our National Park Visitors Guide discusses these adventures and other attractions you may wish to experience on your trip to Virgin Islands National Park.
Get Oriented at the Cruz Bay Visitor Center
Once arriving on St. John Island, you will need to get oriented with the island and the park. The best way to do this is to visit the visitor center located in Cruz Bay. Your ferry will already be docking in Cruz Bay upon your arrival so a trip to the visitor center is a no brainer. At the visitor center, not only will you become familiar with the layout of the park via park maps and brochures, but you will also begin to learn about the park’s history, ecology, geography, and cultural relevance through a variety of educational exhibits and displays. Park rangers working within the visitor center will also be able to provide you with additional information and answers to any specific questions you may have. These rangers also periodically offer interpretive programs which are perfect for anyone trying to learn more about the park and its properties.
Hike Through the Tropical Rainforest
Hiking is the most popular activity at Virgin Islands National Park, and once you are immersed within the rainforest you will see why. The park maintains more than 20 trails, which you can use to explore the island and its rainforest. Within the rainforest, you will be transported to another world full of dense vegetation and the sights and sounds of an array of wildlife. The most popular trails found at Virgin Islands National Park are Yawzi Point Trail, the Tektite Trail, and the Francis Bay Trail. The latter of which takes visitors by the Francis Bay Sugar Factory, through a dense tropical forest, and around a salt pond via a boardwalk. Birding on the Francis Bay Trail is often some of the best on the island.
Snorkel or SCUBA in Salomon and Honeymoon Bays
Behind hiking, snorkeling and SCUBA diving are the next most popular activities practiced at Virgin Islands National Park. The waters and beaches of St. John’s island offers some of the best snorkeling and SCUBA diving sites in the world. A popular spot for snorkeling and SCUBA diving is off of the beaches in Salmon and Honeymoon Bays. These beaches provide access to a variety of coral reefs and other dive sites which will amaze even the most seasoned of divers. Within the coral reefs divers and snorkelers are likely to see a variety of tropical fish, various corals, and the occasional sea turtle. Brochures at the visitor center provide more up to date information on the various dive sights found in the park.
Keep Your Eyes Peeled for Wildlife
Visitors looking to spot wildlife species during their trip to Virgin Islands National Park should keep their eyes peeled while exploring the island. The park provides a home to about 144 different bird species throughout the year. These species include year-round residents and migratory sea birds. In addition, visitors may also be lucky enough to spot sea turtles, dolphins, and other marine species in the waters surrounding St. John’s Island. The only land mammal species native to the island are the six species of bats found within the park. Other nonnative mammals, which were introduced by humans, include goats, donkeys, and mongoose.
Cinnamon Bay Campground
The Cinnamon Bay Campground and resort is the only designated campground and lodging found within the national park. However, the resort and campground has been undergoing renovations for several years due to the effects of the 2017 hurricane season. When finished, the resort at Cinnamon Bay is expected to contain a fully serviced campground and other lodging options such as poolside villas and hotel rooms.
When to Visit Virgin Islands National Park
Virgin Islands National Park is open year-round, and visitors can ideally plan their trip to the park throughout anytime of the year. However, planning a visit during hurricane season is always a risk. The season is highly unpredictable and could result in extreme rains, winds, and damage. Visitors wishing to avoid the hurricane season should plan their trip in December through May. Temperatures at Virgin Islands National Park are similar throughout the entire year. Therefore, a trip planned for December or May will most likely result in similar weather and conditions ideal for outdoor exploration and recreation.
Must Have Items to Bring to the Park
Visitors traveling to Virgin Islands National Park should be prepared for life on an island. Listed below are a series of items List of Parks suggests are either essential or will make your trip to the park just that more enjoyable.
Virgin Islands National Park is constantly exposed to intense sunshine. This exposure can dehydrate anyone who is recreating within the park. It is very important that visitors bring vast quantities of water with them to the national park to hydrate themselves while hiking throughout the rainforest and recreating on the beaches.
A trip to Virgin Islands National Park is best completed through the use of three types of footwear. A sturdy pair of hiking boots are perfect for navigating through the rainforest. However, sandals and water shoes will better suit visitors when they are walking along the park’s beaches or recreating in the water.
Light Rain Jacket
In order to be prepared for a sudden rain shower, visitors should arrive at Virgin Islands National PArk equipped with a light rain jacket. This jacket should be strong enough to propel rain, but light enough that it will not overheat the visitor wearing it. During the wet season, visitors may use this rain jacket more than once.
Sunscreen, Swimsuit, & Sunglasses
Life on an island requires some specific equipment. Sunscreen, sunglasses, and a swimsuit are some of the most important equipment designed for island life. These pieces of equipment will protect visitors from the sun, and also grant visitors an enjoyable time in the park’s waters.
Field Guides & Binoculars
Wildlife enthusiasts visiting Virgin Islands National Park will want to bring field guides and a solid pair of binoculars with them on their trip. These field guides will aid in identification, while the binoculars will allow visitors to get a closer look at the park’s avian and other wildlife species.
Where to Stay in Virgin Islands National Park
Visitors will find no lodging hosted by the national park service within the borders of Virgin Islands National Park. However, the rest of St. John’s Islands contains numerous hotels, resorts, and other lodging establishments that are sure to serve visitors' needs. Often these resorts and hotels offer beachside attractions and views of the Caribbean or tropical rainforest. The resort at Cinnamon Bay is currently undergoing renovations, but when it is finished it is expected to contain a campground and other lodging options for visitors of the national park.
Food Near Virgin Islands National Park
On St. John’s Island visitors will find a variety of restaurants, bars, and pubs. These eateries and others on the island will not only give visitors a taste of island life but will also satisfy their hunger. Visitors planning to spend a long day in the national park should look to bring supplies of water, snacks, and meals with them. There are very few options for sustenance within Virgin Islands National Park.
Airports Near Virgin Islands National Park
The largest airport within the United States Virgin Islands is located on St. Thomas. The Cyril E. King Airport receives flights from a variety of international airports including the Miami International Airport. From Cyril E. King Airport, visitors can take a ferry to reach Cruz Bay, St. John’s Island, and Virgin Islands National Park.