Virgin Islands National Park’s hills, valleys and beaches are breath-taking. However, within its 7,000 plus acres on the island of St. John is the complex history of civilizations – both free and enslaved – dating back more than a thousand years, all who utilized the land and the sea for survival. The National Park Service has developed a wonderful map of St John’s Virgin Islands National Park which shows, in great detail, the Park’s boundary, trails, beaches, and roadways.
Civilizations lived on St. John long before the Europeans arrived to the region, as evidenced by the petroglyphs, or rock carvings left by the Taino people. These carvings are found especially on the Reef Bay hiking trail. These people were all but driven into extinction by Europeans in the 17th century seeking new territories as colonial properties.
Columbus first put the Virgin Islands on the map in 1493 and for nearly 200 years thereafter the islands changed hand between the Spanish, English, French and Dutch. In 1672, the Danish West India Company took control of St Thomas and 20 years later, St John. The company purchased St Croix from the French in 1733. The three-island group became known as the Danish West Indies and lurched to the fore of the sugar production industry.
America first attempted to buy St. Thomas and St. John during the Civil War for $7.5 million from then-owner Denmark. The islands became critical to the U.S. during WWI as a means of controlling the Caribbean region and, ultimately, the Panama Canal. In 1917 the U.S. government handed over $25 million in gold for the three islands and 60 or so adjacent cays. Home rule was granted in 1970. Today the islands are an unincorporated U.S. territory.
Much of the vegetation on the Island is second generation growth. Almost the entire Island was clear-cut to make way for sugar cane production during the colonial era. Some native species like the tyre palm remain, but much growth today are introduced species.
In 1962, Congress expanded the boundary of Virgin Islands National Park to include 5,650 acres of submerged lands to protect and preserve the beautiful coral gardens and seascapes. Today, the Park conducts research, and has developed policies and practices aimed at protecting the fragile coral reef systems.
National Park Beaches:
Trunk Bay is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. It features a 225-yard long underwater snorkeling trail. There is a bathhouse, snack bar, souvenir shop and snorkel gear rentals are available. Lifeguards are on duty daily. There is a day-use fee. When visiting Trunk Bay pay a visit to the Archaeological dig where many prehistoric artifacts were found. You’ll see remnants of bones and plant material.
This is an ideal beach for Family Vacations, since the place is children friendly with many water sports and calm waters. And at the same time very popular with groups of cruise lines passengers, that like to spend the day here.
Cinnamon Bay has a water sports center that rents snorkel gear and windsurfers, and can arrange day sailing, snorkeling and scuba diving lessons. A campground with bare tent sites, prepared sites and cottages is adjacent to the beach.
Hawksnest has changing rooms, picnic tables, grills and restrooms. It is the closest beach when driving from Cruz Bay.
Picnic areas are located on several of the beaches and offer tables and grills. They are wheelchair accessible.
Accessible Trails in V.I. National Park Both Francis Bay and Cinnamon Bay have accessable trails. These trails allow visitors in wheelchairs, families with young children and strollers, and other people who need assistance to enjoy the natural beauty and exotic fauna of the V.I. National Park. The Cinnamon Bay Trail is now wheelchair-accessible with a 610 foot ramp that winds thru the Cinnamon Bay Factory Ruins. The wide path combines concrete walkways with raised wood boardwalks. It also uses toe rails and grooved handrails to ensure that visitors are safe and comfortable.
St John AnnabergAnnaberg was once one of the larger sugar plantations on St. John. The remains of the windmill and horsemill, used to crush the sugar cane to extract its juice, still stand. Much of the sugar factory, where the juice was boiled and condensed to make raw sugar, remain as well, as does part of the rum still. Cultural demonstrations, including baking “dumb bread” and basket weaving take place Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Parts of the Annaberg School, used to educate the children, are located not far from the sugar mill.
Catherineburg, was another sugar plantation and factory is located on Centerline Road overlooking Cinnamon Bay. While part of the national park, it is not as developed as Annaberg. However, much of the windmill and the boiling house remain.
The Reef Bay Sugar Mill can only be reached by hiking. Ranger-led hikes on Mondays and Thursdays take visitors down a 3-mile path through tropical forests to the sugar mill. Reservations are required and there are fees for taxi transportationto the trailhead and boat return to the Visitor Center. See the Visitor Activities brochure for more details.
A kid’s dream – become a junior Park Ranger! The National Park Service wants kids (and their parents) to appreciate the beauty of St John and they encourage families to stop by the National Park Service Visitor Center to pick up a ‘Junior Ranger Workbook’. Spend time ‘interviewing’ trees, taking a nature walk, and doing word games. Complete the workbook and hand it to a Ranger and get rewarded with a ‘Junior Ranger’ certificate and badge!
The Friends of Virgin Islands National Park, an independent non-profit organization, is dedicated to the protection and preservation of the natural and cultural resources of Virgin Islands National Park and promotes the responsible enjoyment of this unique national treasure. Money raised by the Friends supports environmental education, natural resource protection, cultural preservation and scientific research. The Friends also acts as an advocate for our National Park, particularly on issues that threaten its precious natural or cultural resources. With the generous financial support of donors, Friends of Virgin Islands National Park has played a significant role in helping protect and preserve VI National Park for the past 20 years. The following is a sample of the projects and programs that Friends funding has supported: SCA Trail Crews — During the last seven summers, teams of young conservationists improved more than 35 miles of Park trails; Boat Moorings – installed 220 moorings in 8 bays to protect turtle habitat and coral reefs from anchors’ damage and more recently, 19 day-use, fishing and dive moorings, and 120 storm moorings were installed in Hurricane Hole in the Coral Reef National Monument; Eco-Camps – Hundreds of 8-14 year old Virgin Islands youth have spent three days at camp in the Park learning about the island’s terrestrial and marine eco-systems; and the Archeology Program – uncovering and preserving pre-historic Taino and St. John plantation era artifacts. The VI National Park has posted their schedule of events on-line.