Are you looking for best things to do at Virgin Islands National Park? If so, you’re in good hands. I spent nine (!!) days exploring every inch of Virgin Islands to create this helpful post.
Virgin Islands National Park is the quintessential epitome of paradise – perfect white sand beaches and warm clear water where relaxation is considered sport. I’m sure you will love your time there!
I’m not one for small talk, so let’s get to the good stuff!
Tips for Visiting Virgin Islands National Park
Practice Leave No Trace
- If you’re unfamiliar with leave no trace, it’s a measure to be a good steward of the land. You can read about the seven principals of Leave No Trace here.
You + Sunscreen = Best Friends (Forever)
- Did you know that certain sunscreens are illegal in Virgin Islands National Park? The reason? The active ingredients in traditional sunscreen is causing irreversible damage to reefs worldwide.
- I highly recommend this sunscreen, which is legal and safe for reefs. I used it during my trip and loved it! In fact, I’ve repurchased it 3 times since!
Wear hiking boots with good traction
- Even though the trails are well maintained, exposed roots are common. It’s easy to trip on hikes, so set yourself up for success by wearing proper shoes.
- These are my hiking boots, and I’d sleep in them if I could. Yes, they’re that good!
- Stepping on the exposed tree roots actually harms the trees and causes them to degrade over time. Step over roots whenever possible.
- Bring insect repellent during summer months and a light rain jacket regardless of the season. Check trail conditions before heading out!
Things to Do in Virgin Islands National Park
#1. Visit Trunk Bay
Trunk Bay is often referred to as the most beautiful beach in the world and it’s easy to see why.
This beach has everything — white sand, leaning palm trees, rolling green hills and warm water.
The crystal-clear water makes it a great spot for snorkeling.
Try your had at the National Park Underwater Trail – underwater plaques guide the way!
On-site vendors offer kayak and snorkeling rentals, changing rooms and restrooms are available.
#2. Explore Maho Bay
We spent most of our time at Maho Bay because we loved the laidback feel of the beach. This beach is famous for leaning palm trees that line the shore, but they were pulled out by the storms.
Regardless, Maho Bay is still beautiful and provides great snorkeling opportunities – we came across sea turtles every time we swan here!
- Vendors offer kayaks, paddle boards and snorkeling gear. A bathroom is available on site.
#3. Explore Salt Pond Bay
Salt Pond Bay is a great for snorkeling. We swam with massive schools of fish and had a great time on this rocky beach.
The little beach directly in front of the parking lot gets crowded but if you take the boardwalk to the other side of the coastline, you’ll probably have the entire beach to yourself.
#4. Relax at Honeymoon Beach
Honeymoon Beach seems like the most developed beach on the island but getting here requires a mile-long hike. When we first arrived we had the entire beach to ourselves until a cruise ship excursion arrived.
We were told this beach gets very busy during tourist season.
A shack on the beach rents kayaks, paddle-boards, snorkeling gear and lounge chairs. The shack sells a day pass that runs around $50/person and allows all day access to the gear mentioned above.
The Canella Beach Hut offers seasonal food and drink to beachgoers. We ordered some brews from here and made a day of it.
Restrooms, lockers and changing room are available.
Best Hikes in Virgin Islands National Park
#5. Hike Reef Bay Trail
Reef Bay Trail is the most popular hike in Virgin Islands National Park. Coincidentally, it ended up being our favorite.
The strenuous hike is 4.5 miles round-trip, gaining 900 feet of elevation on the way back.
The trail takes you past historic petroglyphs, the ParForce Great House Ruins and a (seasonal) waterfall, it ends at the Reef Bay Sugar Factory Ruins.
We suggest capping off with a swim in the warm sea before turning around! Bring more water than you think you’ll need, we were out for 4 hours.
#6. Ram Head Trail
Ram Head Trail offers sweeping 360 degree views of Saint John that can’t be beat.
The hike ends on a windy cliff where you can watch the ocean crashing into jutting stone, it gets chilly up here.
The trail is about 2.5 miles out and back but make sure you take extra sunscreen and lots of water.
#7. Cinnamon Bay Nature Trail
We took the Cinnamon Bay Nature Trail to reach America Hill Ruins (our favorite ruins in the park). This lush half-mile hike takes you up an exposed hill until you reach the top. Shade is minimal so layer up on sunscreen.
This hike is a great way to stretch your legs and take in some beautiful scenery.
#8. Hike the Peace Hill Trail to Denis Bay
We hiked the Peace Hill Trail during sunset to see the ruins at the top of the hill. I’m hesitant to call this a hike, as the entire distance from the parking lot to the ruins is .1 mile.
However, once we reached the top, we noticed a little trail that lead towards the water. Naturally, we followed it and came across a small beach called Denis Bay.
Since the bay is off the beaten path, chances are good you’ll have the whole place to yourself, like we did.
Note: The property behind Denis Bay, above the high water line, is privately owned, please respect the owner’s privacy and property. Visitors are allowed to enjoy the bay as long as they don’t go onto private property.
Historic Sites in Virgin Islands National Park
#9. Explore Reef Bay Sugar Factory
Reef Bay Sugar Factory ruins are found at the end of the Reef Bay Trail. We LOVED these ruins and spent almost two hours exploring them because we were so impressed by the preservation.
There’s a handful of interpretive signs that explain how every room in the mill functioned and since so much of it is still intact, it’s easy to envision how the mill was used.
We are so glad we saw these ruins and highly recommend you visit them as well, you won’t regret it!
#10. Explore America Hill Ruins
Just in case I haven’t mentioned it 100 times yet, these are, hands down, my favorite ruins on the island!
The one mile hike takes about 30 minutes to an hour and follows a slightly steep, exposed hill.
America Hill Ruins are absolutely beautiful, and the views of the north shore are breathtaking! In fact, we liked these ruins so much, we wrote an entire post about it.
#11. Visit the Catherineberg Sugar Mill Ruins
Catherineberg Sugar Mill was a sugar plantation mill from the 18th to 19th century, now considered the most intact ruins on the island.
Getting here doesn’t require a hike, as you can park right next to the ruins.
This doesn’t seem like a popular spot (there’s no informational plaques explaining the history of the building) and a lot of tourists forgo visiting, but we enjoyed exploring this site and spent 30 minutes doing so.
#12. Explore the Annaberg Plantation Ruins
We caught a sunrise at Annaberg Plantation Ruins and learned about sugar production in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The ruins are a few steps from the parking lot so it’s not technically a hike.
You can catch a ranger guided tour here, for information, visit the park’s website.
#13. Explore Waterlemon Cay & Windy Hill Ruins
Waterlemon Cay is considered the best snorkeling spot on the island by locals and tourists alike.
We hiked to the Windy Hill Ruins and watched a reef shark circle the cay below, it was so cool!
We parked in the Annaberg Sugar Plantation parking lot and followed a rocky trail that lead directly to a beach.
At this point along the trail you can stop for a dip in the sea or continue further up the trail to the ruins.
The trail continues up a steep hill for about one mile. The hike took approximately 45 minutes and was well worth the effort.
From the top of the hill we were rewarded with sweeping views of Waterlemon Cay, Leinster Bay, Mary Point and the British Virgin Island to the right.
We thoroughly enjoyed this hike and highly recommend it!
#14. Kayak to Whistling Cay
Spending 10 days on an island could drive any loving couple nuts. We were looking for variety and honed in on some ruins that have been tempting us from shore.
Will had the crazy (and fun!) idea of kayaking to Whistling Cay to explore the abandoned structure up close.
We enjoyed this adventure so much we devoted an entire blog post to it! You can check it out here.
Kayaking to Whistling Cay ended up being one of our most memorable experiences, we recommend the half-day trip.
Where is Virgin Islands National Park?
Virgin Islands National Park in on the island of St. John in the US Virgin Islands. There is no fee to enter the park.
Virgin Islands National Park’s Visitor Center is located in Cruz Bay; open daily from 8:30am to 4pm.
It’s important to know that there’s NO airports on St. John, therefore you will need to take a ferry to get to Virgin Islands National Park.
Getting to the park (car ferry)
- Since there’s no airport on St. John, you’ll probably fly into the airport on St. Thomas and take a car ferry over to St. John.
- The shortest car ferry route departs from Red Hood, St. Thomas and arrives at Cruz bay, St. John. The ride takes approximately 30 minutes and runs every two hours between 6:15am – 7pm.
- We had the option of paying $30 one-way or $50 round trip, it was cash only.
- SUPER IMPORTANT: ARRIVE EARLY! We waited an hour before we were able to load onto the ferry, folks that came after us had to wait two hours because it was busy.
History of Virgin Islands National Park
The part of the island designated as a national park was generously donated to the National Park Service by Laurence Rockefeller’s foundation in 1956. The stipulation? The land must be protected from future development.
Calling this donation generous is not an understatement, the park covers 75% of the island.
Best time to visit Virgin Islands National Park
- There isn’t technically a low tourist season because temperatures on the island stay pleasant year-round. However, it’s good to know that hurricane season runs from June 1st – November 30th.
- We visited the last week of August because we found great deals on flights and the island seemed completely void of tourists – 80% of our hikes were spent in solitude (I kid you not).
- Hotels: There are two hotels within the park: Cinnamon Bay Resort & Campground and Caneel Bay Resort (closed).
- As of October 2019, Cinnamon Bay Resort & Campground is closed for repairs due to damage from the hurricanes. They are due to reopen December 2021.
- Other accommodations outside the of park are available and range from Airbnb’s to Bed & Breakfasts to villas.
- There are several restaurants on the island, but prices are high. During our 10-day trip, we ate at the same 2-3 restaurants. Our favorite spots were:
- Breakfast: Cruz Bay Landing
- Lunch: The Longboard
- Dinner: Extra Virgin Bistro
We usually buy groceries and prepare our own meals when exploring national parks but prices on the island were sky-high.
Driving & Gas
REMEMBER – DRIVE ON THE LEFT SIDE OF THE ROAD ON ST. JOHN.
- Driving is a breeze because the roads are well maintained.
- Gas prices are high, which is to be expected on an island.
Snorkeling in Virgin Islands National Park
- Over 40% of Virgin Islands National Park is underwater. Our visit occurred in the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria and the coral reefs were in a state of dismay. However, we were still able to snorkel with sea turtles, fish, eels and rays!
- Our top snorkeling spots for sea turtles is Maho Bay, hands down. We saw turtles here every single day.
- For a variety of fish and coral, Waterlemon Cay is the considered the best snorkeling spot on the island.
Please Use Reef Safe Sunscreen! Always look at ingredient lists to make sure reef-damaging substances (such as oxybenzone, butylparaben, octinoxate and 4-methylbenzylidine camphor, all of which have been shown to cause coral bleaching even at low levels) aren’t included.
I hope you enjoyed this handy guide to Virgin Islands National Park!
As always, if you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment below.
Until next time!
Your pictures are so pretty and crisp. JUST AMAZING!
Antonina Pattiz says
That is so kind to hear, Yana! Thank you SO much!! Made my day.
Really enjoyed this~Thankyou! We have always enjoyed coming back to St.Thomas & St.John! Still one of our favorite places,…????❤️????☀️????
Thanks, we’re planning a trip in December and was researching and your info help was appreciated.
Beth Martin says
Caneel Bay Resort is closed. The Cinnamon Bay Campgrounds are scheduled to reopen December 2021
Antonina Pattiz says
Thank you Beth, the post has been updated. 🙂
Bob McAndrews says
You hit many of the spots that I have visited. My wife and I try to get to the island every-other year. But hurricanes (as you mentioned) and now Covid have delayed out coming to the St. John for a few years. You didn’t mention “Skinny Legs” as a place to go for food, but we love it for an awesome hamburger and brew! I’m known on YouTube as “Bob The Spider Hunter.” I have a channel there on spiders, and of course I’m out in the wild spider hunting! lol. Enjoyed your Blog on St. John. Our best snorkel spot is Waterlemon Cay, and as you noted, Maho for turtles. We’ve been going there since 2005. Thx for your post. PS: Covid stopped us from going this past March…we tested positive this time around! Total bummer…
Antonina Pattiz says
Thanks for taking the time to share about your favorite spots (including Skinny Legs). My husband and I loved our time at St. John and plan to return soon as well, we’ll definitely try it. Also, you are so lucky that you visit to often — it’s a true paradise!
Bob McAndrews says
Thx for responding. We enjoy St. John even more than Hawaii. Don’t get me wrong that’s another wonderful paradise, but the 8 hour flight to get there makes a two week stay more enjoyable. Not having to fight a constant surf to enter much of the islands, there is usually little surf to battle with on St. John! If you get back there sometime look me up and I’ll give you a few more out-of-the-way places to visit on the island you might enjoy. Have a great weekend!
Carol Craven-DiPiazza says
What were the types of sunscreens you used that are reef safe? My husband & I do alot of snorkeling while in St John. We usually go every year to celebrate our Wedding Anniversary but Covid-19 put a damper on that! But this year already booked our flight & staying in an Airbnb for 17 days.
Antonina Pattiz says
Hi Carol this is the sunscreen we use!
I went in January 2021 because the flights were ridiculously cheap ($140 r/t from ATL). Had a covid negative test and stayed in St. Martin. Took ferry to St. John twice: once to beach hop between Honeymoon, Trunk & Maho Bay where we swam, snorkled, and tried paddleboarding and again to hike.
We chose Reef Bay hike and we almost regretted it. We had a hard time finding someone to get us there. The trailhead is right off the highway. It’s not a bad hike going in. We saw deer, birds, huge wasp nests thingies. We passed very few hikers but most commented that we would “feel it” coming back out. The ruins of the sugar factory were ok.
Reef Bay is on the Caribbean Ocean side of the island and it was so different from Trunk Bay– it had coarse, rocky sand flowing into clear, greenish blue water. It was completely deserted. It was secluded yet open and there was no one else around us for over 1.5 hours. I took off my top just to say I did it! Lol.
The beach was bordered by greenery– something like guineps with pretty flowers until you walked further down to the hilly part of the shore. I was very glad to have my chacos.
All this is to say– that hike back up to the side of the highway is a doozy. You run out of water, then out of energy by the time your hair has air dried and you still have the final 0.5 mile of the hike to go. And that’s only if you don’t have to hoof it back to town because you can’t catch a taxi or ride.
It was worth it though 🙂
Matthew D Fritz says
Thanks for this amazing guide! My wife and I are going back next month for our 25th anniversary. We were there for a week in 2000 and fell in love with it. We are really into hiking now so I’m taking notes from your post, but I was wondering where to park when getting to the trailheads. On google maps, its not very clear where you would park and start your hike. Maybe it’s on a trail map from the visitor center. Any suggestions?
Antonina Pattiz says
I’m so excited that you and your wife will be re-visiting Virgin Islands for your anniversary — congratulations on 25 years!
As for parking, I believe most of the trailheads have little gravel pullouts that can accommodate 5-10 cars, if I’m not mistaken, that’s where we parked for almost every trail. However, your suggestion of swinging by the visitor center is a great one, I bet the Rangers will be able to offer some advice in that arena.
I hope you enjoy your trip! Virgin Islands National Park is breathtaking!
AP is correct at most trail heads you can find a few places to park. There are a few that you just have to pull onto the side of the road and find one of three or four pull off spots. But do pull completely of the roads! My wife and I will be celebrating our 45 anniversary in St. John in September of 2021. Can’t wait to get back to our favorite island!