Don't Miss in Virgin Gorda
The Baths formation is a geological wonder, featuring giant boulders spewed from an ancient volcano and scattered on a white sand beach. You can view the boulders from the sands, but to really experience the place, you'll want to climb through the caves, some so narrow and short that occasionally you'll have to drop to all fours to get through, until you come out into a boulder harbor. Along the way, warm tidal pools form in grottos as light romantically filters through crevices in the rock -- a perfect place to take a dip. There are ropes to hold on to during the more treacherous parts of the established trail, though anyone moderately fit can make the trek. You can swim around the boulders, and snorkelers will find an abundance of sea life. Be aware the footpath to reach The Baths is rough and uneven. Part of the BVI National Parks Trust, the park entry fee is $3; kids 10 and younger are free. The site is about 1.2 miles from Spanish Town and easily accessible by taxi.
Scuba diving is popular, and divers will find plenty of enticements including the wreck of the RMS Rhone, sunk in a hurricane in 1867 and considered by many to be among the top 10 wreck dives in the world. The many reefs in the Dog Islands off the coast of Virgin Gorda also are popular among divers and snorkelers. Dive operators offer two-tank morning dives. Contact individual operators for the availability of "discover scuba" programs for non-certified divers. Operators include Dive BVI, with an outlet at the Yacht Harbour and another at the North Sound (800-848-7078, 284-495-5513) and Kilbride's Sunchaser Scuba (800-932-4286).
You can catch a ferry to Tortola, but the most desirable destination is Anegada, about 15 miles from Virgin Gorda and the northernmost of the BVI. On Anegada, you'll find an oasis with only 150 residents and many miles of unpopulated white sand beach, hundreds of pink flamingoes and excellent snorkeling; Anegada's Horseshoe Reef is the third largest continuous reef in the Eastern Caribbean. Several charter companies cruise to Anegada on full- or half-day tours from the Yacht Harbour, including Spirit of Anegada (284-340-7777) and La Boheme Charters (284-541-4861). But a big caveat: Be very conscious of your ship's departure time when planning your excursion.
Hikers will want to make a beeline for the 265-acre Gorda Peak National Park, donated by Laurance Rockefeller in 1974. At 1,370 feet, the peak is the highest in the BVI. A wooden observation tower at the summit affords panoramic views of the island, sea and neighboring islands; on a clear day, you can even spot Anegada. The park is rich with indigenous flora and fauna including the world's smallest lizard, the Virgin Gorda gecko. The main trail to the top takes 25 minutes but is steep at times. An easier second trail gets you to the top in about 40 minutes. Note: Getting to the trailhead in the park requires some very steep driving; a 4x4 vehicle is recommended.
For history buffs, the Copper Mine National Park on the island's rugged southwestern tip is home to ruins of a mine built by Cornish miners in 1837 and abandoned in 1862, because of declining market prices for the ore. You can still see ruins of an engine house, chimney and mineshafts and spot copper veins. Ocean-view trails around the ruins offer a nice hike.