|NATIONAL PARKS QUICKLINKS|
Backpacker Magazine – November/December 2005
Kayak amid the reefs and sand of Virgin Islands National Park
SURE, MOST BACKPACKERS are rugged enough to handle the likes of a multiday snowshoe into the frozen Bob Marshall Wilderness. But there's no shame in occasionally exploring places where the light's a little softer and the water's warm, and where lying on the sand under a seagrape tree after a day of paddling doesn't feel too bad at all, thanks very much.
To that end, the island of St. John has an unusually cool fringe benefit: More than 60 percent of its acreage and much of the reef-dappled waters around it is preserved as Virgin Islands National Park. In 4 days you can circumnavigate an entire park and then some--and still have time to snorkel reefs abundant with psychedelic fish and hike to highlights like Arawak Indian petroglyphs and the ruins of Dutch sugar plantations.
This isn't virgin terrain--Dutch slave labor turned the 19-square-mile island into a massive sugar producer in the 1700s--but there's also little resemblance to other Caribbean paradises that have vanished under the pastel-colored concrete of mega-resorts. "If it weren't for the national park," says Arthur Jones, owner of Arawak Expeditions, "this would all look like St. Thomas."