St. John: Nature’s playground

There are no water parks, no mini-golf courses and no kid-centric all-inclusives on the 28-square-mile island of St. John in the U.S Virgin Islands. Yet this picturesque tropical destination, accessible only by ferry, has something more captivating than manmade entertainment for families-it boasts attractions only nature can create.

Where to stay

Family-friendly lodging for any size pocketbook can be found on
St. John.

  • For those accustomed to first-class amenities, the luxurious
    Caneel Bay resort hosts the nightly “Dinner and a Movie” program so
    adults can enjoy one of the island’s romantic eateries like Zozo’s
    or Asolare while kids gather for a group meal followed by a fun
    flick.
  • The Westin St. John, the island’s other large resort property,
    features iguana feedings and crab races to captivate young
    guests.
  • Less pricey options include condos with kitchens such as Palm
    Terrace Villas or Lavender Hill Suites, both within walking
    distance of town.
  • Homes with private pools can be rented on a weekly basis from
    outfits such as DestinationStJohn.com.
  • And true environmental enthusiasts on a shoestring budget can
    rough it by pitching a tent or booking a cabin at the national
    park.

Two-thirds of the island is protected as national park territory, providing a safeguard against the rampant development that permeates much of the Caribbean. The Virgin Islands National Park also serves another important purpose: it provides families the opportunity to get in touch with their outdoorsy sides through unique excursions.

“Ken Wild, the park’s archeologist, always has a dig going at Cinnamon Bay,” says Frank Barnako, author of the popular News of St. John blog. “Wild invites volunteers of all ages to join him and get their hands dirty.”

The island is also home to dozens of trails with options for even pint-sized hikers, like the pleasant half-mile trek down to Salomon Bay, one of the prettiest and most secluded beaches on St. John. For those with the stamina for a more rigorous journey, Barnako recommends the two-mile trip led by a park ranger on Reef Bay Trail, which passes the ruins of a historic sugar mill and culminates in a scenic boat ride back to the main town of Cruz Bay.

Of course, visitors simply can make it their goal to experience a different beach every day-St. John is home to some of the most famous seaside spots in the world. Barnako offers this tip for beachgoers searching for a tranquil piece of paradise: “Except for Trunk Bay, where daytrippers from neighboring St. Thomas seem to congregate, St. John’s beaches are long, wide, clean, safe and uncrowded.”

For ranger-led activities at the Virgin Islands National Park and other park information, call the national park visitor center at (340) 776-6201 ext. 238.

Visit barnako.typepad.com, the News of St. John blog, for an insider view of happenings on the island.

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