Virgin Islands National Park
CAMP, HIKE, SNORKEL, AND HIT THE BEACH IN A U.S. NATIONAL PARK LIKE NO OTHER.
The Founding of a U.S. National Park in Paradise
Legislation was passed by Congress on August 2, 1956, to authorize the establishment of the Virgin Islands National Park. This act limited the potential acreage of the Park to 9,485 acres on St John (an island 12,500 acres) and 15 acres on St Thomas. On 05 Oct 1962, the boundary of the Virgin Islands National Park was expanded to include 5,650 acres of offshore areas (waters and submerged lands). Some think these water acres contain some of the most significant natural features within the National Park. They include coral reefs, mangrove shorelines and sea grass beds. The boundary was again expanded in 1978 to include Hassel Island located in St Thomas harbor together with “…adjoining lands, submerged lands and waters” to equal the 12,908.60 acreage, with water area being 5,650 acres.
In 1976, the Virgin Islands National Park became part of the biosphere reserve network designated by the United Nations. The goals of the Biosphere Reserve Project are to “establish a network of representative ecosystems, conserve genetic diversity, monitor changes, develop techniques to restore the land, and study traditional use and conduct experimental research”. Virgin Islands National Park was the only biosphere in the Lesser Antilles until President Trump removed its designation in 2017.
The History of St. John
The nearly five centuries of the Virgin Islands’ cultural history is as colorful and enthralling as a carnival parade. Humans inhabited the area long before Columbus arrived. Archeological discoveries show that Indians migrating northward in canoes from South America, lived on St John as early as 710 BC. They hunted and gathered foods primarily from the sea. Like most of its Caribbean neighbors, the island later ( c. AD 100) supported a small population of Taino Indians who chose sheltered bays for villages, made pottery, and practiced agriculture.
Columbus may have named the islands, but no lasting settlements were in place until the 1720’s. Attracted by the lucrative prospects of cultivating sugar cane, the Danes took formal possession in 1694 and raised Danish colors in 1718, thereby establishing the first permanent European settlement on St John at Estate Carolina in Coral Bay.
Rapid expansion followed, and by 1733 virtually all of St John was taken up by 109 cane and cotton plantations. As the plantation economy grew, so did the demand for slaves. Many who were captured in West Africa were of tribal nobility and former slave owners themselves. In 1733, they revolted and an island-wide massacre of families occurred. Six months passed before the rebellion was quelled.
The Beaches of Virgin Islands National Park
The white sand beaches of the Virgin Islands have a well-deserved reputation for being among the most beautiful beaches in the world. Picture-postcard beaches fringe Hawksnest Bay, Trunk Bay, Cinnamon Bay, Saltpond Bay and many of St John’s other sheltered coves.
Sand is brought to the island shore by waves, tides, and currents. Primarily the sand comes from two sources within the bay, marine algae that grow just offshore and from living coral reefs. Both, when broken down into tiny fragments, make sand. Without the algae and the reefs, the ready supply of sand would disappear, as would, in time, the beaches.
Costs & Fees
Virgin Islands National Park has no admission or entrance fees. Donations are accepted. There is a donation box available at the Cruz Bay Visitor Center.
Trunk Bay is the only beach on St. John that you'll have to pay to access and use. Fees as of 2017 are as follows: Children age 16 and under are admitted free; adults, $5.00; individual annual pass, $20.00; family annual pass, $30.00.
Camping in Virgin Islands National Park
Camping is restricted on park land to Cinnamon Bay Campground. You may book bare sites for the DIY traveler, platforms with pop up tents for an elevated camping experience and cottages and eco tents pepper the beach and campground for the more luxurious camper. All reservations have a maximum length of 2 weeks during in season and 30 days during off season. Click here to make a reservation and learn more about the Cinnamon Bay Resort & Campground.
The Visitor Contact Station in Cruz Bay and picnic areas at Trunk Bay and Hawksnest beaches are wheelchair accessible. Wheelchair accessibility to beaches and trails is extremely limited due to the steep topography of the island. Cinnamon Bay campground has several accessible campsites. Call the Park for more information.
Cruz Bay Visitor Center is only a five minute walk away from the public ferry dock. The visitor center is the ideal place to start your park explorations. The center contains exhibits, a park video, brochures, maps, and books.
1300 Cruz Bay Creek
St. John, VI 00830
(340) 776-6201 x238