Skip to main content

NATIONAL PARKS: Virgin Islands National Park

By December 24, 2015No Comments
Sun sets over Cinnamon Bay

Sun sets over Cinnamon Bay

Story and photographs by Jerry Ginsberg

I constantly marvel at the many wonderful features of our far-flung national parks, especially their diversity. Scenic, geographic, topographic and climactic, this never-ending variety means that every one of our parks has its own personality and offers a unique experience.

This is certainly the case with green, hilly and tropical Virgin Islands National Park located entirely on tiny St. John, one of the three main U.S. Virgin Islands. This small archipelago was purchased by President Woodrow Wilson from Denmark in 1917 as a means of preventing Imperial Germany from threatening the Panama Canal or extending its military influence into the Western Hemisphere at the height of World War I.

Blooms among the ruins of an eighteenth-century sugar mill.

Blooms among the ruins of an eighteenth-century sugar mill.

Along with this acquisition came more than two centuries of Danish colonial history, still marked today by the ruins of several ancient sugar mills. For a unique perspective, pay an unhurried visit to the historic Annaberg Sugar Mill, which was worked by slaves. When slavery was abolished, plantations were divided, and the 518 acres that were once Annaberg Plantation were divided into smaller farms. Today the plantation ruins include slave quarters and a windmill. They are protected by the Virgin Islands National Park and are open to the public. Walk the grounds and look for small compositions.

Among the best scenic places to photograph in this verdant park are the beaches and the mountains. Gorgeous Trunk Bay consistently ranks at or near the top of the very best beaches of the world. Take in the underwater trail just steps off the Trunk Bay beach. It’s perfect for snorkeling. If you have yet to try this easy way of enjoying the underwater world, here is the place to learn. Bring along an underwater camera or housing and have fun.


Yawzi Point on Lameshur Bay is a great spot for an early morning panoramic.

Make sure to also take in charming Cinnamon and Hawksnest bays as well as the somewhat remote Yawzi Point on Lameshur Bay. These are all best at sunrise or late afternoon into sunset. A drive farther east takes you to the small village of Coral Bay.

One experience that should not be missed is the ranger-led Reef Bay hike. This one-way downhill stroll departs from the visitor center just once each week and always fills up, so reserve your spot as early as possible. Wear sturdy, old shoes or sneakers, and leave your tripod behind. Roundtrip transportation from the visitor center at the harbor is included in the small fee.

Like several other national parks, this one owes its existence to the philanthropy of the Rockefeller family. Most of the park’s land was donated to the nation by that leading clan with its altruistic aim of preserving the best of the natural world for the future benefit of posterity. That would now include us.

Getting to St. John can be a bit of a chore. Since it has no airport, the only practical way is to fly to St. Thomas and then catch one of two ferries to Cruz Bay, the tiny port on St. John. My own preference is the ferry that runs from downtown Charlotte Amalie rather than the more tedious route through Red Hook.

Once you arrive in Cruz Bay, pick up your pre-reserved car or jeep and you’re quickly on your way. At just under 13,000 acres, Virgin Islands National Park is one of the smallest and occupies most of St. John. Even though distances are relatively short, driving just a few miles on these steep and winding mountain roads can take longer than you might think. Another wrinkle is that driving in the U.S. Virgin Islands is on the left side of the road. (It’s not easy to change a lifelong habit of driving on the right, but pasting a note in the center of your steering wheel can help.)

The island offers a wide array of accommodations from high-end luxury resorts to ecocamps within the park. Sacrificing air conditioning for the sake of economy in this humid climate is a trade-off that should be considered carefully.

With food choices running the wide gamut from street vendors to gourmet dining, you will definitely not go hungry in this tropical paradise.

Jerry Ginsberg is a widely published freelance photographer whose images have graced the pages of hundreds of books and magazines. He has photographed all 59 U.S. national parks as well as most of South America with medium-format cameras. Jerry is also an artist in residence for 2015 at Petrified Forest National Park. More of Jerry’s work can be seen at E mail:

Leave a Reply