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November/December 2005

Best Damn Weekend Ever: Paddle Around St. John, Virgin Islands NP

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.”

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