Virgin Islands National Park St.John USVI. March 2023

National Park Count: 33
NPS Unit Count: 61 (if you are wondering why it jumped a lot since the last entry…I realized during this post that I had been forgetting the “National Parks” in the NPS Unit count. So 61 it is!

Hey there Adventurers! After a long hiatus the Sidekick was able to rejoin me on a new national park quest: an extended weekend trip to the Caribbean to visit Virgin Islands National Park! This trip marked a number of firsts for me in addition to netting National Park 33, and an additional national park unit as a bonus! Our itinerary was as follows: a bonus evening late in San Juan, fly to St. Thomas the next morning, catch a cab and then a ferry to St. John, hang in St. John for 2 days and 2 nights, and day 3 return to St. Thomas for the day before returning to San Juan for a bookend evening, and an early morning flight back to Florida.

If you are going to St. Thomas, you can fly directly there on some airlines. Because I have some good perks with Southwest Airlines, we flew into San Juan the night before and took a 30 minute Silver Airlines flight to Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas the following morning. This trip marked my first time ever visiting a territory of the United States, and here I got in two of them! The language of the VI is English, but the driving side is left, using an American side steering wheel, and the roads are narrow and a lot more mountainous than you might think! Anyway, the best and easiest way to get to St. John and the national park is to take a ferry from the east side of St. Thomas, an area called Red Hook. The islands are quite small, and Red Hook is only a handful of miles from the airport, but be prepared for 30 a minute drive with the twists and turns of the road! Also, note that taxi cabs here are not private, but leave when they are full or it makes sense to leave. From Red Hook the ferry is fairly inexpensive and a short but beautiful 4 miles or so, 15-ish minute trip to Cruz Bay.

Expect to see this view on the ferry from Red Hook to Cruz Bay! Taken by me.
This is the view from the other side approaching St. Thomas. The water here was super clear! Taken by me.

St. John is little different than the usual National Park. This small, but beautiful island is almost entirely National Park land once you get a short distance out of the ferry town of Cruz Bay. That being said this is a working, inhabited island with businesses and services. The island is crossed mainly by two roads, one that goes along the northern length of the island/park, and another that bisects the island/park and is what the locals use to get from side to side. Most amenities are found along this central road, or in Cruz Bay proper. Both roads eventually lead to Coral Bay, the bigger area of the east side of the island. We didn’t make it out there, but there are amenities there as well. We got very lucky and snagged a rental (4 WD/AWD is a must here) the morning we flew out! For a few months I had been looking and couldn’t find anything available. The big issue is that most outfitters (they are all local St. John businesses) require at least 3 day rentals and we only needed 2. I had been told that if you called the morning or two before that you might get lucky! If you do not get a rental, never fear, there are many taxis ready to serve you the moment you step foot in Cruz Bay! Other than the inconvenience of having to wait and maybe not stopping at small stops on your route, they are a very good and much used way around the island. I will say, however, that the rental was definitely the way to go for us!

A view of Cruz Bay, taken by me.

After stopping for some delicious bar grub at The Beach Bar, we headed up the northern road which starts pretty much at the National Park Visitor Center. The visitor center was damaged pretty badly during the hurricanes in 2017 and is still in repair mode. At the time, there was only one ranger working the park and he gets the weekends off! In other words, on the weekend, the Visitor Center might be closed! The road takes you through the park and along cliffs of the northern coast giving amazing views of the bays below. We skipped the hyper popular Trunk Bay. The parking lot was full anyway. Just for reference, this one has some services, is extremely popular for turtle viewing, and even has an underwater snorkel trail complete with markers and everything. As an aside, the weather was spectacular, but pretty windy and the water was rough – there was no underwater visibility anyway! A reason to come back? MAYBE!

Number 33! Not the most beautiful sign, and also not in a particularly scenic area, but you get what you get! Taken by the sidekick.
This is a view from an overlook. The foreground bay is Caneel Bay. The one in the background is Hawksnest Bay. That water is gorgeous! Taken by me.

Cinnamon Bay was our main stop on this day. This is a big area with lots of parking because there is a store, a campground, showers, a food shack, and a water activity rental outfitter. The beach here is quite spectacular and offers probably one of the best photo op spots I have seen in a national park, in the form of a window from an old ruin looking out onto the beach. We got there in the early afternoon, and took a swim and walk around the area. It is spectacularly beautiful! The blue of this water is incredible! The water was a little chillier than expected and the waves were big and fun, but there was nothing to see under due to the wave action. Protip: a deflated inner tube can be packed easily in luggage! After a little driving around and exploring, we were done for the day and headed back to Cruz Bay for dinner. We lucked into a reservation at a delicious place called The Terrace. Very pricey, but great!

This is in front of the little general store at Cinnamon Bay. Taken by the sidekick.
This window and wall are all that’s left standing of an old structure here on the beach. It provides a great photo op spot! The
sidekick took this one!
The other side of the ruined wall and window. Taken by me. I might have been in an inner tube that I packed and brought with me.
Cinnamon Bay. Taken by me.

The next day we geared up and headed for Maho Bay just down the road a bit from Cinnamon Bay. This was a really nice place for many reasons, but you definitely need to get there early because its quite busy and the parking lot is small! This is another great snorkeling spot to see coral and turtles, but again the water was too murky, despite still being that gorgeous blue. This beach has a couple shelters with grills, a walk up bar, a food truck, a paddleboard and kayak concessionaire (due to the waves they were not renting), and some gift shops.

A delicious bloody Mary on the Maho Bay beach! Taken by me.
A water level view of Maho Bay. Taken by me.

After several hours at Maho Bay, we ventured further down the road. There is quite a bit of sugar plantation history, and accompanying ruins sprinkled across the entire island. Some of them require a hefty trek through the jungle to get to, but one that is easily accessible from that northern road is called Annaberg. Approaching the ruins of Annaberg one can find some easy very shallow water access to explore for shells and coral pieces. But then going up the hill and onto some overlooking cliffs you first see a well preserved windmill and the remains of slave housing structures in varying degrees of ruin. The more industrial part of the ruins are more intact as you make your way up the hill. There is an old bakery type building and the larger boiler building. This was where the slaves would process the sugar out of the cane. Incidentally, this spot is also a great vantage point of Tortola, one of the islands of the British Virgin islands, only maybe a mile or so away.

This shallow part of the ocean is called Mary Creek. Taken by the sidekick.
This is the same area. Taken by me.
This is the windmill at Annaberg. Taken by me.
Inside the boiler building ruins. Taken by me.

The sun tires a person out and there were a few more stops to make back in town. We stopped at St. John Brewers which is an awesome brewery with a full bar and a decent kitchen menu as well! I highly recommend a stop there! Afterward we headed to another cool spot, The Windmill Bar. This is probably the best spot to catch a sunset. The bar itself is actually within the park and does contain an old windmill ruin! Just down the hill from the Windmill is a place called Shambles Island Bar and Grill. They have some GREAT food.

Sunset from the Windmill Bar. Taken by me.

The next day we headed back to St. Thomas. A quick taxi ride and we were at Magens Bay. This is a very popular tourist draw and for good reason! The bay cuts into the mountains on the northern shore here. The beach is awesome and the water, of course, beautiful. There are lots of amenities here as well: a food bar, a liquor bar, rental chairs/umbrellas/towels, gift shop and a kayak rental vendor. I did a little self kayak tour of the bay and saw several sea turtles! They do not like being seen and are very fast! I did manage to (barely) snag one on my camera.

Kayaking in beautiful Magens Bay! Taken by me.
LOOK AT LEONARDO! Little buggers are SUPER hard to find. They look just like drifting seaweed and as soon as they know you see them they dive! I just barely caught this guy! This is in Magens Bay

The bulk of the trip was in the VI but we did bookend the trip with an evening in San Juan. On that last night we went down to Old San Juan and had yet another delicious dinner at a place called St. Germaine Bistro and Cafe. Afterward we took a walk down to San Juan National Historic Site and the fort there, Castillo San Felipe del Morro. At this late time of the night the inside was closed, but they have the outside lit up beautifully and we walked around the grounds a bit before heading out. And that concludes another National Park trip!

Taken by the sidekick.
The Fort is obviously not open at night, but the National Park Service has done a light illumination job for the evening strollers! Taken by me.

Overall Impressions:  Despite the relative shortness of this blog, this is an amazing place and on the list of places to I would make a return visit to. Absolutely beautiful! The only downside to this place is the quickness of which your money separates itself from your wallet!

The Adventurer’s Rating: 5 Stars!

Published by parksadventurer

I am on multiple journeys: A weightloss journey and a travel journey! Just trying to explore!

5 thoughts on “Virgin Islands National Park St.John USVI. March 2023

  1. Beautiful photos! We took a Caribbean cruise many years ago. It was so beautiful! We ended up taking a trip later on to Antigua, that was one of my favorite stops on the cruise.


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