An Overlander’s Guide to Virgin Islands National Park 

 May 27, 2024

By  Patrick @DarkSkyOverland

Virgin Islands National ParkWelcome to Virgin Islands National Park, a tropical paradise nestled in the heart of the Caribbean Sea. While this breathtaking destination may not be accessible by your trusty overlanding rig, the spirit of adventure and exploration that defines the overlanding lifestyle is alive and well here.

This comprehensive guide has been crafted specifically with overlanders in mind, providing you with all the essential information you need to plan an unforgettable trip to Virgin Islands National Park. From the best ways to get there and the top activities to experience, to insider tips on camping, hiking, and immersing yourself in the park’s rich history and culture, I’ve got you covered.

As an overlander, you’ll find that Virgin Islands National Park offers a unique blend of diverse landscapes, fascinating heritage, and endless opportunities for discovery, making it a must-visit destination for any adventure seeker. So, gear up and get ready to embark on a journey that will awaken your sense of wonder and leave you with memories to last a lifetime.

About Virgin Islands National Park

Shark Bay, Virgin Islands National ParkVirgin Islands National Park, located on the island of St. John, is a true paradise for nature lovers and adventure seekers alike. Spanning an impressive 60% of the island’s area, this tropical oasis was established in 1956 and has since been captivating visitors with its lush forests, white sandy beaches, crystal-clear waters, and diverse ecosystems.

The park seamlessly blends natural beauty with historical significance, offering visitors a unique opportunity to immerse themselves in the island’s rich cultural heritage while enjoying a wide range of outdoor activities. One of the park’s most striking features is its rugged terrain, characterized by steep hills, volcanic peaks, and winding valleys.

As an overlander, you’ll appreciate the challenging hiking trails that traverse this lush landscape, rewarding you with breathtaking vistas and close encounters with the island’s flora and fauna. The Reef Bay Trail, one of the most popular hikes in the park, takes you through dense forests, past ancient petroglyphs, and down to the pristine beach at Reef Bay.

For those seeking a more strenuous adventure, the Ram Head Trail offers a challenging climb to the island’s southernmost point, where you’ll be greeted by panoramic views of the Caribbean Sea and the neighboring islands. In addition to its hiking trails, Virgin Islands National Park boasts some of the most stunning beaches in the Caribbean.

Trunk Bay, St. John, Virgin Islands National ParkTrunk Bay, often hailed as one of the world’s most beautiful beaches, features soft white sand, turquoise waters, and an underwater snorkeling trail that guides you through a colorful coral reef teeming with tropical fish. Cinnamon Bay, another popular spot, offers a wide range of activities, from snorkeling and kayaking to windsurfing and paddleboarding.

Speaking of underwater wonders, Virgin Islands National Park is a true mecca for snorkeling and diving enthusiasts. The park’s crystal-clear waters and extensive coral reefs are home to an astonishing array of marine life, including colorful fish, sea turtles, rays, and even the occasional reef shark.

Some of the most popular snorkeling spots include Waterlemon Cay, where you can swim with friendly sea turtles, and the mangroves of Hurricane Hole, which provide a nursery for young fish and a unique snorkeling experience. Beyond its natural attractions, Virgin Islands National Park also offers a fascinating glimpse into the island’s rich history and cultural heritage.

The park encompasses numerous historical sites, such as the Annaberg Sugar Plantation ruins, which stand as a testament to the island’s colonial past and the impact of the sugar industry. Visitors can also explore the Taino petroglyphs at Reef Bay, which offer a rare glimpse into the lives of the island’s indigenous inhabitants.

With its diverse landscapes, abundance of outdoor activities, and rich cultural heritage, Virgin Islands National Park is a must-visit destination for any overlanding enthusiast. Whether you’re hiking through the lush forests, snorkeling among the vibrant coral reefs, or simply relaxing on a pristine beach, this tropical paradise promises an unforgettable experience that will leave you craving more.

Getting to Virgin Islands National Park

St. John Bay, Virgin Islands National ParkWhile you can’t drive your overlanding rig directly to St. John, getting there is still an adventure in itself. The most straightforward way is to fly into Cyril E. King Airport (STT) on the nearby island of St. Thomas.

From there, you can take a taxi to the ferry terminal in Red Hook or Charlotte Amalie and catch a ferry to Cruz Bay, St. John. The ferry ride takes between 20-45 minutes, depending on your departure point, and offers stunning views of the Caribbean Sea and the islands along the way.

If you’re looking for a more flexible and scenic route, consider flying into St. Croix’s Henry E. Rohlsen Airport (STX) and taking a seaplane or a combination of ferry and taxi to reach St. John. This option allows you to explore more of the U.S. Virgin Islands and enjoy aerial views of the crystal-clear waters and lush landscapes.

For those who prefer a more luxurious and direct approach, there are private charter flights available from various Caribbean islands directly to St. John’s small airport, the St. John Cyril E. King Airport (STT). While this option is more expensive, it offers the convenience of arriving just minutes away from the park’s entrance.

Once you’ve arrived on St. John, renting a car is highly recommended to explore the island and the national park at your own pace. Keep in mind that driving is on the left side of the road, and some roads can be steep and winding, so drive cautiously.

For a more adventurous approach, consider chartering a private boat from St. Thomas or other nearby islands. This option allows you to explore the islands at your own pace and offers a unique perspective of the park’s coastline.

Private boat charters can be arranged for various durations, from half-day trips to multi-day excursions, allowing you to customize your itinerary and visit remote beaches and snorkeling spots that are inaccessible by land. Many boat charters also offer the opportunity to fish, snorkel, and even scuba dive, making for a well-rounded and exciting adventure.

Regardless of your chosen mode of transportation, be sure to plan your trip well in advance and make necessary reservations, especially during peak tourist seasons. With a little preparation and a sense of adventure, getting to Virgin Islands National Park can be a memorable experience in itself.

Camping & Lodging at Virgin Islands National Park

Honeymoon Beach at Virgin Islands National ParkOnce you arrive on St. John, you’ll find a variety of lodging options to suit your preferences and budget. The nearby town of Cruz Bay offers several accommodations, from luxury resorts to charming guesthouses.

However, for a true overlanding experience, we recommend staying at Cinnamon Bay Campground, located within the park. Camping within Virgin Islands National Park is permitted only by reservation in designated camping locations at Cinnamon Bay Beach and Campground.

Cinnamon Bay Campground offers a range of options, including tents, cottages, and bare sites for pitching your own tent. The campground features essential facilities such as restrooms, showers, and a small convenience store, ensuring a comfortable stay while keeping you close to nature.

Falling asleep to the sound of the waves and waking up to the tropical birds’ songs is an experience you won’t soon forget. After a long closure due to hurricane recovery and rebuilding damaged infrastructure, the campground reopened on January 22, 2022.

Visitors can make reservations and see available amenities by visiting Cinnamon Bay Beach and Campground’s official website. The management of Cinnamon Bay Beach & Campground, which includes the food and beverage concessions at Trunk Bay Beach, transitioned to a new concessions operator, CinnOpCo, LLC, in May 2019.

For questions and concerns, visitors can email Cinnamon Bay at info@cinnamonbayvi.com, call at 340-714-7144, or contact Park Concessions Specialist Elba Richardson by phone at 340-776-6201 ext. 221 or via email. In addition to the excellent lodging options, Cinnamon Bay offers a variety of activities for visitors to enjoy during their stay.

One popular activity is the Cinnamon Bay Nature Loop and Accessible Boardwalk, which allows visitors to meander through the ruins of the historic Cinnamon Bay Sugar Plantation and smell the scent of the leaves from the bay rum trees, once used to make the famous St John Bay Rum Cologne. The nature loop is an easy 0.5-mile hike, and the boardwalk is located across the road from the entrance to the Cinnamon Bay Resort and Campground.

Another must-do activity is spending a beach day at Cinnamon Bay, which offers a long, gently sloping, snow-white beach perfect for sticking your toes in or going for a leisurely stroll. The crystal-clear waters provide many delights for even novice snorkelers, with turtles and fish of all sizes and colors visible.

Near Cinnamon Bay Cay, there is an underwater fish holding pen probably made by the Taino or their ancestors, as well as a submerged historic village and a sunken plane from the 1940s to discover. Spending a couple of hours trying to find these unique underwater attractions is a great way to spend your day at Cinnamon Bay.

Activities in Virgin Islands National Park

Annaberg Trail in Virgin Islands National ParkVirgin Islands National Park offers a wealth of activities for adventurers and nature lovers alike. From hiking and snorkeling to kayaking and exploring historical sites, there’s something for everyone in this tropical paradise.

One of the most popular activities in the park is hiking, with several scenic trails ranging in difficulty and offering unique experiences. The Reef Bay Trail is a challenging 4.9-mile hike that takes you through dense forests, past ancient petroglyphs, and down to the pristine beach at Reef Bay.

For those seeking stunning coastal views, the Ram Head Trail is a must-do. This 2.4-mile hike ends at a dramatic cliff overlooking the Caribbean Sea and the neighboring islands.

Another hiking trail not to be missed is the Bordeaux Mountain Trail, which takes you to the highest point on St. John at 1,277 feet above sea level. The trail offers panoramic views of the island and the surrounding waters, making it an excellent spot for photography enthusiasts.

For a more relaxed hiking experience, the Francis Bay Trail is a gentle 0.3-mile loop that winds through a tropical forest and offers the chance to spot various bird species. The Lind Point Trail is another easy hike, leading to the historic Lind Point Battery and providing access to the secluded Salomon Beach.

Snorkeling and diving are also incredibly popular activities in Virgin Islands National Park, thanks to the crystal-clear waters and vibrant marine life. Trunk Bay, famous for its underwater snorkeling trail, is a must-visit spot for both novice and experienced snorkelers.

The underwater trail features plaques that identify the various coral formations and fish species, making it an educational and entertaining experience. Waterlemon Cay, located off the coast of Leinster Bay, is another top snorkeling destination known for its sea turtles and colorful coral reefs.

For those interested in diving, the park offers numerous dive sites suitable for all skill levels. Some popular dive spots include the wreck of the Rhone, a British Royal Mail Steamer that sank in 1867, and the Coral Reef National Monument, which features a diverse array of coral species and marine life.

Kayaking and paddleboarding are excellent ways to explore the park’s coastline and mangroves at a more leisurely pace. Rent a kayak or paddleboard from one of the many outfitters on the island and set out to discover hidden coves, secluded beaches, and the tranquil beauty of the park’s waters.

Some popular kayaking and paddleboarding spots include the mangroves of Hurricane Hole, the calm waters of Maho Bay, and the scenic shoreline of Hawksnest Bay. For a unique experience, consider a guided kayak tour through the bioluminescent waters of Salt Pond Bay, where you can witness the mesmerizing glow of the microscopic organisms at night.

In addition to its natural wonders, Virgin Islands National Park also offers a fascinating glimpse into the island’s rich history and cultural heritage. The Annaberg Sugar Plantation ruins are a must-visit for history buffs, providing insight into the colonial era and the impact of the sugar industry on the island’s development.

Visitors can explore the remains of the sugar mill, windmill, and other structures while learning about the lives of the enslaved Africans who worked on the plantation. Other historical sites worth visiting include the Catherineberg Sugar Mill ruins, the Cinnamon Bay Sugar Factory ruins, and the Reef Bay Sugar Factory ruins, each offering a unique perspective on the island’s past.

For a more immersive cultural experience, consider attending one of the park’s ranger-led programs, which cover topics such as the island’s ecology, history, and traditional crafts. The park also hosts various cultural events throughout the year, including music festivals, art exhibitions, and food fairs, showcasing the vibrant culture and traditions of the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Stargazing in Virgin Islands National Park

Stargazing the Dark Skies over Virgin Islands National ParkVirgin Islands National Park is a stargazer’s paradise, boasting some of the darkest skies in the Caribbean. With minimal light pollution and clear night skies, the park offers an unparalleled opportunity to marvel at the celestial wonders above.

One of the best spots for stargazing in the park is Trunk Bay, a breathtaking white sand beach that’s perfect for laying back and taking in the night sky. The beach’s isolation from the island’s main towns and resorts ensures that light pollution is kept to a minimum, allowing for an unobstructed view of the stars.

Another excellent location for stargazing is Hawksnest Beach, situated on the island’s north shore. This secluded beach offers a tranquil setting for observing the night sky, with the gentle sound of the waves providing a soothing backdrop to your stargazing experience.

For those seeking a more immersive stargazing experience, consider joining one of the park’s ranger-led night sky programs. These programs are typically held during the winter months when the skies are at their darkest and offer a guided tour of the constellations and planets visible above the park.

During these programs, park rangers will share their knowledge of astronomy and point out some of the most prominent celestial features, such as the Milky Way, the North Star, and various constellations like Orion and Scorpius. They may also provide telescopes or binoculars for participants to get a closer look at the stars and planets.

If you prefer a more private stargazing experience, consider hiking to one of the park’s more remote locations, such as the Ram Head Trail or the Reef Bay Trail. These trails offer access to secluded beaches and hilltops that provide excellent vantage points for observing the night sky.

When planning your stargazing adventure, be sure to check the moon phase and weather forecast beforehand. The best time for stargazing is during a new moon or when the moon is in its crescent phase, as this minimizes the amount of natural light in the sky and allows for better visibility of the stars.

Additionally, aim for a clear night with minimal cloud cover to ensure the best possible viewing conditions. Be sure to bring a red-light flashlight or headlamp to preserve your night vision, as well as a star chart or smartphone app to help you identify the various celestial objects you’ll see.

Finally, remember to practice good stargazing etiquette by keeping noise to a minimum and avoiding the use of bright white lights, which can disrupt the night vision of other stargazers. By following these guidelines and taking advantage of the park’s exceptional stargazing opportunities, you’ll be treated to a truly unforgettable experience under the stars in Virgin Islands National Park.

Wildlife in Virgin Islands National Park

Sea turtle in the Caribbean Sea at Virgin Islands National ParkVirgin Islands National Park is home to a diverse array of wildlife, both on land and in the surrounding waters. From tropical birds and reptiles to colorful fish and marine mammals, the park offers visitors the chance to observe a variety of fascinating creatures in their natural habitats.

One of the most iconic land animals in the park is the green iguana, a large herbivorous lizard that can often be seen basking in the sun on rocks or in trees. These impressive reptiles can grow up to six feet in length and are known for their distinctive spines and vibrant green coloration.

Another notable reptile species found in the park is the Virgin Islands tree boa, a non-venomous snake that is endemic to the region. These nocturnal constrictors are excellent climbers and can often be spotted coiled around branches in the forest canopy.

Birdwatchers will delight in the park’s diverse avian population, which includes over 140 species of resident and migratory birds. Some of the most commonly sighted birds include the bananaquit, a small, yellow-breasted songbird that feeds on nectar and fruit, and the pearly-eyed thrasher, a bold, vocal bird known for its distinctive white eyes and melodious song.

Other notable bird species found in the park include the magnificent frigatebird, with its striking red throat pouch and impressive wingspan, and the green-throated carib, a vibrant hummingbird that plays a crucial role in pollinating the island’s native plants. The park’s salt ponds and mangrove forests also provide important habitat for various species of wading birds, such as the great egret and the yellow-crowned night heron.

In the waters surrounding the park, visitors can encounter an incredible variety of marine life, from colorful coral reefs teeming with tropical fish to graceful sea turtles and playful dolphins. The park’s clear, warm waters provide excellent visibility for snorkeling and diving, allowing visitors to get up close and personal with these fascinating underwater creatures.

One of the most iconic marine animals found in the park is the Caribbean reef squid, a small, fast-moving cephalopod known for its ability to change color and pattern to communicate with other squid and avoid predators. These intelligent creatures can often be seen hovering in small groups over the reef, their shimmering bodies pulsating with ever-changing hues.

Other notable marine species found in the park include the queen angelfish, with its striking blue and yellow coloration, and the stoplight parrotfish, a brightly colored fish that plays a vital role in maintaining the health of the coral reefs by grazing on algae. Visitors may also have the chance to spot some of the park’s larger marine residents, such as the Atlantic spotted dolphin, which is known for its friendly and curious nature, and the hawksbill sea turtle, a critically endangered species that relies on the park’s protected waters for foraging and nesting.

In addition to these iconic species, the park is home to countless other fascinating creatures, from tiny hermit crabs scuttling along the shoreline to majestic brown pelicans diving for fish in the bay. By exploring the park’s diverse habitats and keeping a keen eye out for wildlife, visitors can gain a greater appreciation for the incredible biodiversity that makes Virgin Islands National Park such a special place.

FAQs about Virgin Islands National Park

Planning a trip to Virgin Islands National Park can raise many questions for first-time visitors. To help you prepare for your adventure, we’ve compiled a list of frequently asked questions and their answers.

Q: Do I need a passport to visit Virgin Islands National Park?
A: If you are a U.S. citizen, you do not need a passport to visit the U.S. Virgin Islands, including Virgin Islands National Park. However, it is always a good idea to carry a government-issued photo ID, such as a driver’s license or passport card, for identification purposes.

Q: What is the best time of year to visit Virgin Islands National Park?
A: The best time to visit Virgin Islands National Park is from December to April, during the dry season. This period offers warm temperatures, low humidity, and minimal rainfall, making it ideal for outdoor activities and beach-going.

Q: Are there any entrance fees for Virgin Islands National Park?
A: There are no entrance fees for Virgin Islands National Park, making it an accessible and affordable destination for visitors. However, some specific areas and activities within the park, such as overnight camping at Cinnamon Bay Campground, may require permits or fees.

Q: Can I bring my own snorkeling gear to the park?
A: Yes, visitors are welcome to bring their own snorkeling gear to explore the park’s vibrant coral reefs and underwater landscapes. However, if you prefer to travel light or don’t own snorkeling equipment, many local outfitters and shops on St. John offer snorkel gear rentals.

Q: Are there any guided tours available within the park?
A: Yes, Virgin Islands National Park offers a variety of guided tours and ranger-led programs, including hiking excursions, snorkeling trips, and cultural heritage walks. These tours provide visitors with a deeper understanding and appreciation of the park’s natural wonders and historical significance.

Q: Can I fly my drone within Virgin Islands National Park?
A: The use of drones within Virgin Islands National Park is strictly regulated to protect wildlife, visitors, and the park’s natural and cultural resources. Visitors must obtain a special use permit from the park superintendent before flying any unmanned aircraft within park boundaries.

Q: Are there any restaurants or food services available within the park?
A: While there are no restaurants or food services directly within Virgin Islands National Park, visitors can find a variety of dining options in the nearby town of Cruz Bay, just a short drive from the park’s main visitor center. The Cinnamon Bay Campground also offers a small convenience store with basic groceries and snacks.

Q: Can I bring my pet to Virgin Islands National Park?
A: Pets are welcome in Virgin Islands National Park but must be kept on a leash no longer than six feet at all times. Additionally, pets are not allowed on the park’s beaches, trails, or in any public buildings, with the exception of service animals.

Q: Are there any safety concerns I should be aware of when visiting the park?
A: As with any outdoor adventure, visitors to Virgin Islands National Park should take certain precautions to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience. These include staying hydrated, wearing sunscreen and protective clothing, being aware of changing weather conditions, and avoiding contact with any unfamiliar plants or wildlife.

By familiarizing yourself with these frequently asked questions and their answers, you’ll be better prepared to make the most of your visit to Virgin Islands National Park. Remember, if you have any additional questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to reach out to the park’s visitor center or rangers for assistance.

Final Thoughts About Virgin Islands National Park

Hawksnest Bay in Virgin Islands National ParkVirgin Islands National Park is a true gem for overlanders and adventure seekers, offering a unique and unforgettable experience in a stunning tropical paradise. With its diverse landscapes, ranging from lush forests and pristine beaches to crystal-clear waters and vibrant coral reefs, the park provides endless opportunities for exploration and discovery.

Whether you’re hiking through the park’s scenic trails, snorkeling among the colorful marine life, kayaking through tranquil mangrove forests, or simply relaxing on a secluded beach, Virgin Islands National Park has something for everyone. The park’s rich history and cultural heritage add an extra layer of depth to your adventure, allowing you to connect with the island’s past while immersing yourself in its natural beauty.

As an overlander, you’ll find that the park’s rugged terrain, remote locations, and diverse ecosystems provide the perfect backdrop for an exciting and rewarding journey. From the moment you arrive on St. John and set foot in the park, you’ll be transported to a world of adventure, where every day brings new challenges, discoveries, and unforgettable experiences.

So, what are you waiting for? Pack your gear, plan your route, and get ready to embark on an incredible journey through Virgin Islands National Park.

As you explore this Caribbean paradise, remember to tread lightly, respect the park’s natural and cultural resources, and take the time to fully immerse yourself in the beauty and wonder of your surroundings. By doing so, you’ll not only create lasting memories but also help preserve this remarkable destination for future generations of overlanders and adventure seekers.

In the end, Virgin Islands National Park promises an experience you’ll cherish for a lifetime, one that will leave you with a deeper appreciation for the natural world and a renewed sense of adventure. So, embrace the overlanding spirit, and get ready to discover the magic of this incredible Caribbean gem.

Have you visited Virgin Islands National Park? If so, what did I miss in this overlander’s guide?

Share your thoughts in the comment section below. Thanks for your input! It is greatly appreciated!

Patrick @DarkSkyOverland

Dark Sky Overland is an overland lifestyle brand that was created to support the various trips I take to National Parks and other designated Dark Sky Parks within the United States. It was also born out of a strong desire to simplify life after my wife of over 24 years passed away from a three year battle with inflammatory breast cancer (IBC). You can learn more about my story at https://darkskyoverland.com/about/.

Patrick @DarkSkyOverland

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