Hiking in Paradise: Virgin Islands National Park

The island of St. John is a well-known paradise for vacationers, but those who hike beyond the beaches can discover many layers to the story of this culture in the Caribbean.

Hiking Easy, Moderate, Difficult

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Leinster Bay near the Annaberg Ruins
Leinster Bay near the Annaberg Ruins Photo: Carolyn Sugg

Description

The US Virgin Islands are a top destination for tourists from around the world. Renowned as a tropical island paradise, this archipelago sparkles with white beaches and clear water, surrounded by splendid coral reefs just beneath the gentle waves. Seekers of sand and sun need no further convincing to add the Virgin Islands to their bucket list, but mountain lovers can find a haven here as well, on trails traversing the rugged interior and reaching more distant shores.

The island of St. John is home to Virgin Islands National Park, an ideal getaway not only for beachgoers but for hikers as well. The park boasts more than 20 official hiking trails, covering all aspects of this hilly volcanic isle. Some of the trails are tame walks among natural and historical sites, but others delve into remote and rugged corners of the island. Hiking the trails can earn a much deeper understanding of the changing ecology, troubled history, and modern life in this island territory of the United States.

Along the trails are plantation ruins from a disturbing colonial past, as are much older traces of a Pre-Columbian society. Today nature is slowly reclaiming the relics, but the island’s flora and fauna are shaped by ongoing environmental plights, which began with deforestation and continue with the effects of development, hurricanes, and climate change. Only by venturing beyond the resorts and popular beaches can one begin to understand the reality of life in this so-called paradise.

This guidebook highlights five of the best trails on the island, from easy beach walks to tough mountain hikes. All of them have their place in a worry-free island vacation, but they can also grant a deeper perspective to those who seek it. Hike these trails to not only bask in the tropical sun, but to also feel the burden of history and the toll of disasters, while simultaneously admiring the resilience of the people and nature in their wake.

Routes included