The US Virgin Islands is a US Territory, taken over from Denmark in 1917, comprised of three main islands – St. Thomas, St. Croix, and St. John – plus about 50 other mostly uninhabited islands. There are five national park units in the US Virgin Islands: a National Park, two National Monuments, a National Historic Site and a National Historic Park, located on the islands of St. John and St. Croix.
National Park Units in the US Virgin Islands
- Virgin Islands National Park
- Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument
- Buck Island Reef National Monument
- Christiansted National Historic Site
- Salt River Bay National Historic Park and Ecological Preserve
Hiking in Paradise
The island of St. John is over half national parkland, offering wonderful hiking. There are 20 developed trails.
We were amazed at the diversity of vegetation – from tropical rainforest to cactus, Kapok trees and mangos.
Most hikes can take you to a secluded beach where you can watch the pelicans and snorkel.
Our favorite hike was the L’Esperance Trail through the ruins of an old sugar plantation, then the Reef Bay Trail to an amazing snorkeling beach.
Hint: Be sure to carry your snorkels, water and snacks on any hike.
Part of the hiking adventure is the trip back to town! We didn’t rent a car (be prepared if you do; they drive on the left). There is really only one road. We stayed in the main town of Cruz Bay and hiked from there or took a bus to a trailhead, then hiked one way and either took the bus or hitched a ride back. People are incredibly friendly and it is fun just to see where your feet take you.
One of our hikes ended in Coral Bay, known for all the wild donkeys. Another went by the Salt Ponds where there is an incredible diversity of birds, and ended at Drunk Bay where the beach is covered in sculptures. It’s fun the build one of your own.
Along with the land-based activities, you really need to get out on the water. On St John we rented a dingy and went to amazing snorkeling sites. We saw manta rays and sea turtles, and a huge diversity of fish.
There also are organized snorkel and diving tours to see the coral reef.
Unfortunately St. John took a direct hit from two category five hurricanes in 2017, but the park has reopened. You will have to check what services and tours are available.
Along with the ruins on St. John, you can visit historic sites in St. Croix. There are two old forts – Christiansted and Fort Frederik. If you enjoy wandering around old forts, you will enjoy both of these.
Christianstead is a National Historic Site – a former Danish colony established in 1733. It is very well preserved and there is a self-guided tour of the buildings and grounds.
Fort Frederik is not part of the National Park Service but also worth a visit. It is a National Historic Landmark. We loved the canons and the long pier.
While you are touring the island, a fun detour is Cruzan Rum – one of the oldest distilleries on the islands. They have a tour and a sampling room, with a lovely outdoor sitting area. Another thing we enjoyed on the island was the drive to Point Udall, the easternmost point of the U.S. If you like to run, it’s a great run, a portion of it on the former St. Croix Ironman 70.3 course.
No matter what you like to do, the US Virgin Islands has it!