We visited Virgin Islands National Park for the first time back in 2018 (and even created a comprehensive guide about it) and had some mixed feelings for sure.
On the one hand, Virgin Islands National Park is a breathtakingly beautiful location with everything you could imagine an island paradise having. Crystal blue waters, white sand beaches, palm trees, sunshine, jungle ruins, and more.
On the other hand, we were fairly surprised by the amount of damage done to the park by Hurricane Maria. Most of the photos we saw of the park were not representative of what we found when we visited and that was a real eye-opener.
One of the biggest differences we found was with the palm trees that lean out over the water which St John is famous for had been almost entirely been destroyed (we found one beach with a few left).
Is Virgin Islands National Park Worth Visiting Post-Hurricane?
With that being said, we had an absolutely incredible time in the park and still highly recommend it to everyone.
We spent weeks in the park itself visiting all of the main attractions photographing all of the most stunning features to give you an up-to-date (post-hurricane) idea of what the park is like.
If you’re visiting the park be sure to check out our full Virgin Islands National Park Guide!
Things to Know Before Visiting Virgin Islands National Park
Please, Wear Sunscreen.
- SUNSCREEN: Many sunscreens have been outlawed in the Virgin Islands due to reef-damaging ingredients. Goes without saying but we’ll say it anyway – wear sunscreen! The Caribbean is unforgiving on unprotected skin. We’ve made that mistake enough times to make lathering up a top priority. We highly recommend this one (which is reef-safe).
Map & Guidebook
- This is the best map to use for Virgin Islands National Park.
- And this is the best guidebook we found for Virgin Islands National Park (and we ordered several)
Sandals are your friend.
- SANDALS: There’s nothing like the feeling of warm sand between the toes. There’s also nothing quite like the feeling of something sharp and pokey in the toes. We recommend these sandals that we love. and these sandals which have straps.
- SHOES/BOOTS: Some of the hikes on the island are best attempted with a sturdy pair of boots or hiking shoes.
Goggles and flippers for the win.
- SNORKEL GEAR: There is an actual underwater trail in Virgin Islands National Park – how cool is that? In order to best experience it along with so many other amazing underwater spots, you need snorkel gear! This is the inexpensive set we used. We also liked this cool American Flag swimming cap
Underwater camera housing… to ruin, or not to ruin.
- UNDERWATER CAMERA HOUSING: So here we must add the caveat that we lost a camera to the depths in Virgin Islands National Park (at Maho Bay). Anytime you get your camera near water, let alone saltwater, you’re taking a risk. With that being said we have used this underwater camera housing in the past and had luck with it.
Rash guards are great for extra UV protection, especially after that inevitable burn.
- RASH GUARD: We were told to be sure and pack rash guards for this trip not so much for the coral etc but for extra UV protection (especially for Will who burns easily). We got these inexpensive ones off amazon and we were sure glad to have them.
Do not touch our dear friend, the sea turtle.
- Sea Turtles: Green Sea Turtles are protected under the Endangered Species Act. Believe it or not it is a felony to touch one. As tempting as it might be, resist the urge and admire from a distance. We’ve all gotten pretty good at social distancing – best to apply these practices to our sea turtle friends as well.
Where to Stay
Visiting Virgin Islands National Park? If you haven’t decided where to stay (yet) check out our helpful guide on visiting Virgin Islands National Park for tips. Don’t have time? Here’s our favorite place to stay on St John.
Due to the long term closure of Caneel Bay (the only resort in the park destroyed by the 2017 hurricanes) and the ensuing battle with the park service over the future management of the property, the closest hotels & resorts are back in Cruz Bay.
Things to Do Virgin Islands National Park
13. Camping at Cinnamon Bay Campground
Great news here folks! After years of rehabilitation following the devastating affects of a series of hurricanes, Cinnamon Bay Campground has re-opened for campers offering the only camping in Virgin Islands National Park!
The new grounds are pretty amazing with a variety of services including bare sites for tents, tents rentals, luxury eco-tents, and even cottages.
I highly recommend checking out this camping area and reserving a campsite as early as you can.
12. Summit the Caneel Hill Trail for Sunset
Caneel Hill Trail is one of the most popular trails in Virgin Islands National Park on St. John featuring panoramic views of Cruz Bay, Trunk Bay, & the surrounding islands. The trail (which leads to the top of Margaret Hill) is a spectacular sunset spot, perhaps the best in all of Virgin Islands National Park.
The hike up to the viewpoint is moderately difficult at nearly 1700ft of elevation gain and plenty of rocks and roots to trip over.
Length: 4 miles
Time Needed: 2-3 hours
We explored Caneel Hill after Hurricane Maria and cover what it looks like now in this post.
For more about Caneel Hill Trail including best time to visit, snorkeling tips, trail info, transportation, photos, and more, see our Caneel Hill Trail post.
11. Hike Out to Ram Head
Ram Head is a beautiful, rocky bluff that represents the southernmost point on the island of St. John in Virgin Islands National Park. The point is accessed by Ram Head Trail via the Salt Pond Trail.
The route to the point is pretty unique starting on an unpaved road before passing through a beach, wrapping around Salt Pond, another beach, and finally the grassy/rocky Ram Head point.
Time Needed: 1-2 hours
We explored Ram Head after Hurricane Maria and cover what it looks like now in this post.
10. Tour the Catherineberg Ruins
The Catherineberg Plantation Ruins in Virgin Islands National Park are among the best-preserved on all of St. John. The Catherineberg sugar mill is the one of the largest in the virgin islands. In its hay-day, Catherineberg produced sugar and rum.
We explored the ruins after Hurricane Maria and cover what it looks like now in this post.
For more about Catherineberg Ruins including best time to visit, snorkeling tips, trail info, transportation, photos, and more, see our Catherineberg Ruins post.
9. Kayak to Whistling Cay
Whistling Cay is one of the lesser visited spots in Virgin Islands National Park, St John. The cay itself sits in the middle of a spectacular coral reef and is visible from folks soaking in the sun from Maho Bay.
The most popular way to access the cay is by kayak which can be rented on Maho Bay.
For more about Whistling Cay including best time to visit, snorkeling tips, trail info, transportation, photos, and more, see our Whistling Cay post.
8. Watch the Sunrise at Annaberg Ruins
The Annaberg Plantation Ruins in Virgin Islands National Park are stunningly beautiful and among the best-preserved on all of St. John. The Annaberg sugar mill is the largest in the virgin islands. In its hay-day, Annaberg produced sugar, rum, and molasses.
We explored the ruins after Hurricane Maria and cover what it looks like now.
For more about Annaberg Plantation Ruins including best time to visit, snorkeling tips, trail info, transportation, photos, and more, see our Annaberg Plantation Ruins post.
7. Snorkeling in Francis Bay
Francis Bay is an often overlooked bay in St John’s Virgin Islands National Park that is just as stunning as the more popular Maho Bay & Trunk Bay. The bay is located just north of Maho Bay and shares a coastline.
For those looking for a more laid back vibe, away from the crowds, Francis Bay is your cup of tea. Crystal blue water, white sands, with a backdrop of St. John’s lush canopy make up this breathtaking destination. We encountered several pelicans on the hunt over here as well as a boardwalk bird sanctuary.
For more about Francis Bay including best time to visit, snorkeling tips, trail info, transportation, photos, and more, see our Francis Bay post.
6. Discover Ancient Ruins on the Reef Bay Trail
The Reef Bay Trail in Virgin Islands National Park connects some of the park’s most popular and beautiful sites including several spectacular ruin sites, ancient petroglyphs, a waterfall, and a stunning beach.
The first mile or so of the trail is quite steep as it descends into the jungle but eventually levels out winding its way through ruins and marvelous tropical foliage headed toward its terminus at Reef Bay.
Length: 4.4 miles
Time Needed: 3-4 hours
We explored the the trail after Hurricane Maria and cover what it looks like now in this post.
For more about Reef Bay Trail including best time to visit, snorkeling tips, trail info, transportation, photos, and more, see our Reef Bay Trail post.
5. Take in the Breathtaking Sights of Waterlemon Cay
Waterlemon Cay is one of the most heavily photographed points in Virgin Islands National Park, St John. The iconic island sits in the middle of a spectacular coral reef outlined by sand and brilliant, clear turquoise water.
Visitors enjoy hiking the Leinster Bay trail around the bay as well as swimming and snorkeling out to it.
Waterlemon Cay is located near the Annaberg Plantation ruins. The hiking trail that leads visitors to the popular viewpoint shares a parking lot with Annaberg.
For more about Waterlemon Cay including best time to visit, snorkeling tips, trail info, transportation, photos, and more, see our Waterlemon Cay post.
4. Spend a Day Relaxing on Honeymoon Beach
Honeymoon Beach (located next to Salomon Beach) is one of the most beautiful and popular beaches in Virgin Islands National Park on St. John.
This beach is home to some of the last remaining leaning palms the island was once famous for prior to Hurricane Maria in 2017, along with crystal blue waters, white sands, and a snack shack (that has booze).
Honeymoon Beach is located adjacent to the currently-shuttered, luxurious Caneel Bay Resort.
The trailhead to the beach is easily accessed via the main park road and is full of wonderful things to do.
For more about this stunning spot including best time to visit, snorkeling tips, trail info, transportation, photos, and more, see our Honeymoon Beach post.
3. Explore the America Hill Ruins
The America Hill Ruins in Virgin Islands National Park are among the most beautiful and most intact ruins on all of St. John. Getting to the ruins requires a hike (starting at Cinnamon Bay) but it is well worth the effort.
We hiked this trail after Hurricane Maria and we think the views from here were actually improved by the hurricane (at least there’s one positive impact).
The trailhead to America Hill Bay is easily accessed via the main park road and is full of wonderful things to do.
For more about America Hill Ruins including best time to visit, snorkeling tips, trail info, transportation, photos, and more, see our America Hill Ruins post.
2. Kayak & Chill at Maho Bay
Maho Bay is one of the most beautiful and serene bays in the world, let alone Virgin Islands National Park. As compared to the more popular and more heavily photographed Trunk Bay, Maho has a more laid back vibe.
The bay was once full of beautiful leaning palm trees that leaned into the ocean but since hurricane maria in 2017 nearly all of those trees are gone.
Even still, Maho Bay is a jaw-dropping spot, well worth the visit. Crystal blue/turquoise water, white sands, sea turtles, and palm trees comprise this stunning destination. Visitors als can rent kayaks here and swim with sea turtles.
The bay is easily accessed via the main park road and is full of wonderful things to do.
For more about Maho Bay including best time to visit, snorkeling tips, underwater trail info, transportation, photos, and more, see our Maho Bay post.
1. Experience the Beauty of Trunk Bay
Arguably the most iconic location in all of the Caribbean, Trunk Bay representing the epitome of the idyllic island paradise. Palm trees, crystal blue waters, sea turtles, snorkeling, and even the famous “underwater trail” await you at this beautiful white sand destination.
Trunk Bay is easily accessed via the main park road and is full of wonderful things to do.
Planning a trip to Virgin Islands National Park? Learn how to do it right with our comprehensive Virgin Islands National Park Guide that covers what to see, campgrounds, lodging, dining, seasons & weather, and so much more.
> Virgin Islands National Park Guide <
Summary of the 10 Best Things to Do in Virgin Islands National Park
- Trunk Bay
- Maho Bay
- America Hill Ruins
- Honeymoon Beach
- Waterlemon Cay
- Reef Bay Trail
- Francis Bay
- Annaberg Ruins
- Whistling Cay
- Catherineberg Ruins
- Ram Head
- Caneel Hill Trail
Getting to Virgin Islands National Park
Closest Airport: STT – Cyril E. King Airport (distance – 13 miles from Cruz Bay)
The fastest way to get to Virgin Islands National Park is by plane, flying into St. Thomas’s Cyril E. King Airport Airport. Cyril E King Airport on the neighboring island of St Thomas (also part of the US Virgin Islands so no passport required for Americans) is the closest (and most affordable) place to fly into to get to Virgin Islands National Park.
Rental Car: St Thomas (Hertz, Enterprise, Budget, Dollar, more)
Ferry to St. John
Ferry: After flying in to St. Thomas you’ll need to catch a ferry over to St. John. This can be done in one of two places currently: Charlotte Amalie, or Red Hook (furthest from the airport but closest to St John). The cost per adult to ride the ferry is $20 each way.
Best Time to Visit Virgin Islands National Park
The best season to visit Virgin Islands National Park is Winter when temperatures are still warm and both humidity and crowds are down.
Winter is also known as the rainy season but rain typically comes and goes quickly in the Virgin Islands. This is a great time of year to visit as well as winter marks the end of Hurricane season.
Who doesn’t dream of tropical islands during the dead of winter? Can’t just be me…
I would recommend visiting anytime between December through April.
Driving in Virgin Islands National Park
Virgin Islands National Park has no official park shuttle to get around the park. To get around the park visitors will need to bring their own mode of transportation.
Currently a car is the best mode of transport in the park and can tourists not from the island should find a rental car from St Thomas and take the ferry to St John.
Alternatively, there are a few taxi services that operate on the island, mostly open air “safari-style” vehicles. Many of these taxis run on a fairly regular basis from Cruz Bay to many of the top tourist spots on St. John.
About Virgin Islands National Park
Situated along the outskirts of the Caribbean on the island of St. John, Virgin Islands National Park is a picture perfect tropical paradise featuring crystal-blue waters, world class snorkeling, jungle ruins, white sand beaches, sea turtles and so much more.
Virgin Islands represents one of only a handful of truly tropical National Parks in the system and is the closest one to the East Coast.
- Location: St. John, US Virgin Islands
- Established: August 2, 1956
- Size: 7,259 acres
- Native Land: Ciboney, Kalinago (Carib), Taino (Arawaks)
- Visitors: 112,287 (2018)
If you’re interested in visiting Virgin Islands National Park be sure to check out our visually-stunning comprehensive guide before you go here: Virgin Islands National Park Guide