Our path to the US Virgin Islands National Park – On our way through North Carolina, Georgia, and into Florida we drove. And during that drive we contemplated our next stops along the way…
During this trip that we call #vanlife we have set our goal of visiting all of the National Parks in the United States. And with that goal in mind we contemplated when we would visit the south eastern most park, the US Virgin Islands National Park.
What we learned was that the US Virgin Islands National Park was really not as close to Florida as we might have guessed. The plane ride is about 2.5 to 3 hours long from one of the southern Florida airports.
Knowing this we decided to do a little research into what it would take to get out to the US Virgin Islands, and discovered that the although the flight was not as quick as we had expected, the flight prices weren’t too bad.
So, as we made our way down the south eastern part of the United States we purchased two tickets to the US Virgin Island, St Thomas for about $220 each. And I can’t tell you how happy we are that we decided to make that purchase.
When we flew to St Thomas our flight path took us out over the Bahamas and Puerto Rico, which was an amazing sight to see from the plane, and really set the tone for what we were getting into at the US Virgin Islands.
Touching down in St Thomas we didn’t really know what to expect… we rented a little VRBO apartment on the north end of the island which was only a mile from the ferry out to St John (where the US Virgin Islands National Park is located). But we had to figure out how to get there (meaning the ferry).
Mission #1: Get to apartment
It’s all about first impressions right… well, we walked aimlessly out of the airport not really knowing if we could get an Uber or one of these Safari busses that we’d heard rumors about.
These Safari busses are modified trucks with the bed removed and converted into five or six rows of seats with a canopy over the top. They are the local city bus, and the rumor was they would be cheap, a great form of transportation, but not easy to figure out.
Having traveled all over the world, our immediate thought was that St Thomas was a little on the under developed side. But, the great thing was that everyone spoke English (and seemed very nice).
As we walked around the airport parking lot (which was smaller than the size of a Costco parking lot back home) we were pointed in the direction of the taxis that could help us get to our location.
We couldn’t find a Safari bus, but that’s ok, we just needed to get to the apartment.
I mentioned earlier that our apartment was on the north side of St Thomas, well, the airport is on the south side. But the good new is that when we got to the taxi station someone funneled us into an 11 person van that was headed in the direction of our rented apartment.
As the van was cruising up the windy vegetated road I was getting flashbacks of being in Costa Rica, but get this… the cars drive on the left side of the road. And simply being a passenger I found myself freaking out during the drive. All of my imbedded instincts were firing off telling me to be on the other side of the road. It was nerve racking for sure!
Well, the good news is that after about 30 minutes of driving around windy jungle roads (on what seemed like the wrong side of the road…) we made it to our rented apartment without getting into any accidents.
The apartment that we rented turned out to be fantastic, and exactly what we needed. It had an amazing view of the bay where boats were lined up in dozens.
Mission #2: Find some food
After figuring out how to get to the apartment and getting settled in, it was time to figure out the next most important thing… finding food!
The closest grocery store was about a mile away which in normal circumstances we would have simply walked (or run) to, but on St Thomas the roads had zero sidewalks or shoulders. So, for safety reasons we needed another way.
We completely lucked out and the mythical Safari bus stopped right outside of our apartment.
We jumped on, rode for about a mile, jumped off, and paid $1 per person, done!
In the town there was a small mini-mart style grocery store that had pretty much everything we wanted at double the price of mainland groceries.
We stoked up and headed back to the APT.
Funny story… when trying to catch the Safari bus back to the apartment we learned (after waiting for 20 mins) that the Safari bus only runs one way around the island. Makes total sense, right?
Fortunately the people were super nice and we were able to catch a ride back to the apartment with a group of housekeepers that were headed home for the day. Craziness!
After a great night sleep we hopped out of bed, grabbed our trail running gear, and headed out to catch the Safari bus into town.
In town we were able to get on a ferry that ran (or floated) to St John, which is the island that has the National Park.
The process was easy as can be, and in an hour we were walking around St John looking for a place to buy sunscreen. This was not as easy a task as you might have imagined on a tropical island, but after searching for 30 mins we found a surf store that had some for (again) double the usual price.
Our goal for this day in the National Park was to put in a quality day of trail running, and possibly some snorkeling as well…
To our great surprise the National Park visitors center was open (even during the Trump shut down), and we were able to look at a few of the detailed maps to come up with our plan.
The US Virgin Islands National Park
The first trail that we wanted to explore was just down the street from the visitors center (and walking distance from the ferry).
Although our intention was to run… the trail was super steep, and it ended up being tough uphill hiking. In fact, we averaged a 20 min/mile pace for the whole trail!
At the peak of the hike the trail leveled out and we were able to run a little over a mile down hill to a road where we figured taxis would be streaming by and we could just catch one out to the beaches.
This would have normally made sense because the road we popped out on was the only road to the nicest beaches in the area. What we didn’t factor in was that because it was pouring rain, there wouldn’t be many people headed out to the beaches.
As we were waiting on the side of a random road in the jungle of the US Virgin Islands a guy in a newish looking truck pulled over to secure something he was hauling. He saw us standing there (trying to look like we knew exactly what we were doing) and asked if we wanted a ride…
The driver was dressed in a polo and jeans, and Emily had read about people hitch hiking on the islands, so… we said, sure!
After some small talk the driver opened up a bit and was a very nice guy that managed high end properties in the area, and told us how it was pretty normal to hitch hike on the islands, BUT that you needed to point in the direction you wanted to go, and not to use your thumb.
The driver was so nice that he even offered to drop us off at the beach while he ran up to grab something from one of his properties, and come back to pick us up so we didn’t have to hangout too long in the rain. But because the rain didn’t bother us and we wanted to do some snorkeling, we thanked him and hopped out at the beach.
The beaches on St John are known for having some amazing snorkeling, so we had put our goggles in our running packs, and figured we could rent snorkels or just hold our breath while swimming around.
This turned out to be awesome and about 3 minutes after diving in the water we were swimming with manhole sized turtles and small stingrays. It was AWESOME!!!
The turtles would mozzy around the bottom for a long time and then swim to the surface where they would take a big breath and then continue back to the bottom.
We planned going to this beach because it was supposed to be great for snorkeling AND it was near a trail that we could jump on, see some crazy old petroglyphs, ancient ruins of a sugar plantation, and loop around to a road that would allow us to get back to town well before dark.
Again, the start of the hike was not runnable. Imagine a steep overgrown trail with a sharp incline on one side and a steep cliff into the jungle below on the other.
The steep incline ended up being about a mile of tough hiking before hitting a road and diving into a moderate downhill run that took us about 2 miles to these amazing B.C. (read really old) petroglyphs next to a small waterfall (see the spur just before mile 3).
After the petroglyphs the trail continued downhill’ish for another 3/4 mile where we hit the sugar plantation ruins, which were freaking amazing and included these HUGE creepy crawly hermit crabs in the hundreds (or maybe thousands!).
After exploring the sugar plantation we were right next to the beach on the south side of the island, so we took a little stroll on the sand before heading back onto the trail, and up (more up)!
As you can see on the map… mile 4 to the end (mile 6.5) was mostly uphill with the occasional flat or down.
Because this part of the trail was very unused we encountered spider webs that netted across the trail in droves. To counter this (spider web) assault, I grabbed a stick that was about 4 feet long and was swinging it up and down as we ran down the trail. This worked great and I got an unexpected forearm and biceps workout in the process. Bonus!
We also found some pretty good views from the trail…
Once again we found ourselves at the end of the trail and on a road in the middle of the jungle miles away from where we wanted to be…
We kind of have a “we’ll figure it out, let’s go play” attitude about life and adventures.
But, guess what… a random old Jeep came bouncing down the road, we pointed in the direction of town, and they stopped and told us to hop in!
It was a sailboat captain and his chef that were just headed back to town after a day of work on the boat, and as we continued to bounce down the road towards town we were fascinated to see that the driver was drinking a beer as he drove. Well, I guess this is not the mainland…
Good news! We made it to town in one piece, and ate some of the best bacon cheeseburgers that we’ve ever had at Tap & Still!
Now checkout the sunset that we had from the ferry ride back to St Thomas!
We’ll call that a wrap for day 2 on the US Virgin Islands!
Day 3 with a snorkeling focus
While on St John the day before during our hitch hiking adventures we were told twice that the best snorkeling on the island was out at Waterlemon Bay, which is one of the farthest beaches from town.
This time we caught a taxi from the ferry terminal out to the bay.
It was super cool, and there were a bunch of well preserved ruins near the trail that led out to the bay.
After walking around the ruins, we made the short hike (maybe 2 miles) along the water to Waterlemon Bay, where we could snorkel around Waterlemon Cay.
I can’t even express to you how amazing the water color is in this part of the world. The pictures don’t even do it justice.
Again, we brought our goggles, and we swam around the Waterlemon Cay, seeing fish and coral all over. It was a pretty good swim, but the salt water buoyancy made the swimming much easier.
After we’d had our fill of the Waterlemon area, we started our walk back towards town and all of the other amazing beaches that we wanted to snorkel at.
We’d heard that there were some more ruins tucked up off of a trail near Waterlemon Bay that were kind of hard to find, but not too far away. Fortunately we spent the time to look for them and found some of the most beautiful views of the whole trip!
After posing for pictures at these amazing ruins we kept moving…
This time there were no people driving by to help us along, or taxis to be seen. So, we had ourselves a nice like 2-3 mile walk back to the beach that we swam at the day before (with the turtles).
So, we swam with the turtles and stingrays again, of course!
After a few hours of swimming and hangout out at the beach we caught a taxi back to the ferry.
And I bet you wouldn’t guess it… but we had to eat cheeseburgers at Tap & Still again (just the location on St Thomas this time). They were so good that we just had to.
The Last Day in the US Virgin Islands
We had 2 amazingly full days on the islands that included amazing trail running, swimming with turtles, and even finding petrography from BC. It literally felt like we were there for a full week!
On our last day, we decided to take a taxi to the local CrossFit gym (Reebok CrossFit St Thomas) on our way to the airport.
This is a cool wide open gym that allows a lot of room to play CrossFit, including an outdoor turf area.
After a great pre-flight workout we headed to the airport and few our way back to Miami to rejoin the van life.
If you have any questions about our trip just drop a comment below or shoot us an email!