Virgin Islands National Park

Virgin Islands National Park, copyright QT Luong, www.terragalleria.com/parks

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Beaches sparkling white and palm-lined. Warm Caribbean waters tinted turquoise and flecked with darting blue tangs, schools of yellow sergeant majors, and luminescent green parrot fish. Coral reefs swaying in the currents with their fans and given depth and texture by brain, staghorn, and elkhorn corals. These make this national park a tropical paradise.

It is one with a rich, at times dark, history with chapters that delve into slavery and pirating, a history whose stories reside in the ruins of sugarcane plantations that once covered the island of St. John, in bays and coves that were visited by pirates, in rock faces into which petroglyphs were hammered by ancient cultures. These are vignettes from the past that, when threaded together, help tell the story of European domination of paradise, of lost cultures and their beliefs, of a landscape that might have been found in Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island.

Today the island with its national park is a fount of relaxation and rejuvenation, with more than a little fun mixed in. While nearby St. Thomas might be the cruise capital of the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. John is where you head to flee most of the throngs of tourists.

Though it covers only about 7,000 acres on St. John, an island that itself covers only about 20 square miles, the national park seems to go on and on, no doubt in part because of the lack of roads. Cruz Bay is the "big city" on the island, and where your ferry ride from St. Thomas ends. It's a small town with narrow streets crowded with tourists and locals and their rigs. It's also where you'll find park headquarters with its maps, guidebooks, and other tools for orienting yourself, and some great restaurants.

At the park's visitor center in Cruz Bay you can orient yourself through natural and cultural resources exhibits, including some on coral reefs and the fishes that inhabit them. Here, too, you can pick up field guides and other interpretive materials.

Beyond Cruz Bay, the park with its sparkling beaches and densely forested mountainsides awaits.

Traveler's Choice for: Snorkeling, swimming, sea kayaking, beaches, archaeology.

Park History: Virgin Islands National Park

To explore modern-day history of the park, it's worth turning the calendar back to the 1950s when a Rockefeller -- not John D. Rockefeller Jr., but rather Laurence Spelman Rockefeller -- took a decided liking to the island of St. John.

Seasons At Virgin Islands National Park

Though daily high and low temperatures don't change much throughout the year at the park, there is a rainy season, one that could include hurricanes.

Lodging at Virgin Islands National Park

There are no lodges within the national park. As a result, most visitors either stay at a resort or rent a house. Maho Bay, though, does have a privately run mix of tent cottages and condo-like units.

Camping At Virgin Islands National Park

Fancy yourself a modern-day Robinson Crusoe? Pitch your tent at Cinnamon Bay, the only beach in the park with a public campground.

The Beaches Of Virgin Islands National Park

A wealth of beaches makes Virgin Islands National Park an incredible destination for water lovers. Any of those beaches within the national park can quickly become a favorite to head to day after day after day during your visit, guaranteed to provide warm waters teeming with marine-life, soft, sugar-sand beaches lined by palms perfect for napping.

Snorkeling Virgin Islands National Park

Learn to snorkel. It's not hard, and it's the best way to explore the treasures that lie below the surface.

Hiking in Virgin Islands National Park

You won't go on terribly long hikes at Virgin Islands National Park, but there are some interesting options for when you want a day away from the beaches. One of the few trails of any significant length is Reef Bay, and though it's only about 3 miles long, it's not to be looked down upon (unless you're hiking down it).

Traveler's Checklist For Virgin Islands National Park

Ahhh, the sun-kissed Caribbean. Is there a better place for a mid-winter's getaway than a place with sugar-sand beaches lined by palms and washed by warm turquoise waters that provide habitat for sea turtles the size of trunks, colorful fishes like blue tang and parrotfish, and menacing barracudaIf you don't think so, then Virgin Islands National Park is your destination. Here's Traveler's Checklist to negotiate a visit to St. John and the park.

Archaeology at Virgin Islands National Park

The Annaberg Plantation ruins are the best-preserved on the island, and a stop there is worth an hour or two at least. At the height of its operation, in the late-18th century, it was one of more than two dozen sugar plantations in production on St. John.

Resources For Visiting Virgin Islands National Park

This is where you can find websites, helpful phone numbers, friends groups and cooperating associations, and, sometimes, books related to the park.

Virgin Islands National Park News

Kupe and the Corals (Long Term Ecological Research) Coral reefs are some of the richest habitats in the world, providing home and grocery for scores of marine species. Too, they serve as storm buffers for the islands and mainlands they rim, and delight countless snorklers and scuba divers who explore them. A new children's book focuses on coral reefs, and how they're established.

Junior Ranger Program For Underwater Explorers

With so many units of the National Park System tied to water, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the Junior Ranger program has a category for Underwater Explorers.

Photography In The National Parks: Capturing Spring

Springtime is a great time to take photos in the national parks, but are you prepared for that task? Rebecca Latson has some suggestions for what you need to consider before heading off into the parks.

Virgin Islands National Park Images