Located 1.5 miles north of the large Caribbean island of St. Croix is Buck Island, which covers only 176 acres of the 19,015 acres designated as Buck Island Reef National Monument. Arguably the best coral reef in the entire National Park Service (NPS) system is the barrier reef around the island’s northern and eastern shore, which includes large examples of elkhorn coral with its beautiful yellow branches. Private boats can get a permit to visit the island, but most tourists reserve trips with an NPS-authorized concessionaire that provides the gear for guided snorkeling and scuba diving experiences.
Snorkeling, Underwater Trail, West Beach, Observation Point
Snorkeling on the eastern end of the island is the highlight of a day trip to Buck Island. The water offshore from St. Croix is cooler, even though your boat will moor in a lagoon, so consider wearing a wet suit. There is an Underwater Trail with interpretive signs at one location along the coral reef. Watch for a variety of parrotfish, angelfish, filefish, and sharks (lemon and nurse). Sea turtles (green, hawksbill, loggerhead, and leatherback) are more common the west side of the island.
A steep, sandy trail climbs from Diedrichs Point and forms a loop when you walk West Beach, the designated anchorage area. The 45-minute trek has a must-do spur to Observation Point for the best views, otherwise you will not be able to see through the thick vegetation of thorny trees interspersed with organ pipe cactus. Stay on the trail and be careful not to touch poisonous manchineel trees or Christmas bush (related to poison-ivy).
Bring an underwater camera for great photo opportunities. We followed a spotted eagle ray and a large school of blue tangs around the reef. We also saw a nurse shark, lemon shark, and dozens of barracudas.
Anytime except hurricane season
Buck Island is only open during daylight hours
None, except for concessionaire boat trip
There are no roads on the island, so a boat tour through an NPS-authorized concessionaire is necessary to access it. There is a large parking lot (fee) near the Christiansted marina and floatplane airport. Note: you drive on the left side of the road in the U.S. Virgin Islands, but in standard American left-side driver seat vehicles.
Buck Island is closed between sunset and sunrise, with no overnight mooring allowed. On St. Croix, there is no official NPS campground at Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve, but people camp along the coast there and at many beachside locations around the entire island.
Christiansted National Historic Site (U.S. Virgin Islands)
Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve (U.S. Virgin Islands)
Virgin Islands National Park (U.S. Virgin Islands)
Explore More – What type of domesticated animals were let loose on Buck Island in the 1700s (permanently altering the vegetation)?