What To Know About Visiting Dry Tortugas

We’re officially in the doldrums of winter, and it’s frigid and gray in many parts of the country.

dry tortugas national park
Photo by Christopher Osten on Unsplash

If that sounds like the situation you’re in currently, you might be thinking about taking a road trip to warmer weather. Florida is always a nice option for warm weather no matter the time of year, and especially Dry Tortugas National Park.

The following are some of the essential things to know if you’re planning a trip to this fascinating park.

The Basics

Dry Tortugas is a national park around 70 miles west of Key West. The park is around 100 square miles, and it’s primarily open water, and then there are seven small islands. The park is known as the home of Fort Jefferson and amazing blue water and coral reefs, teeming with marine life. Less than 1% of the park is dry ground, so you’ll do a lot of swimming, boating, snorkeling, and diving.

You Can Only Drive So Far

Dry Tortugas may be part of a road trip, but you can only make it so far by car. You can drive the Key West, and then from there, you have a couple of options for actually getting to the park. You can only reach it by water or seaplane.

First, you can take a fishing charter to the park. If you take a fishing charter, you can catch everything from snapper to tuna.

Another option is to take a seaplane. When you take a seaplane you get there in the shortest amount of time, so you can spend more time enjoying the park. You can charter your own seaplane or ride with other people.

The third option, which is the least expensive, is to take the official Dry Tortugas National Park Ferry, the Yankee Freedom. You can take this high-speed, modern catamaran from Key West, and it runs daily.

If you opt for the seaplane flight, it takes less than 45 minutes, and you can choose a half-day or full-day tour.

Camping Options

You can make a day trip to Dry Tortugas, or you can camp. If you do camp, there are only primitive sites, so you’re going to have minimal amenities. You’ll have to bring your own supplies from start to finish.

It gets busy, particularly during peak seasons, so you should try to book in advance.

Garden Key Campground is one of the most popular camping options in the park. It’s located on the same island as Fort Jefferson. There are shaded areas throughout the campsite, and you’ll have beautiful views of the water from your site, plus there are sandy areas all around.

What to Do in Dry Tortugas

Since most of the national park is underwater, you should absolutely plan to snorkel while you’re there. The park is full of stunningly colorful coral reefs and marine life. If you don’t have access to your own snorkeling gear, you can get it from the Yankee Ferry.

Fort Jefferson is another one of the features that people go to Dry Tortugas for. Fort Jefferson is on Garden Key island. Construction began in 1846 as a way to protect the Florida coastline.

Sea kayaking is popular at the park, and you can have your own kayak transported on the ferry. You can also arrange to rent them and then add them to the ferry.

For paddling, Loggerhead Key is one of the most popular destinations.

Loggerhead Key is also the largest island in Dry Tortugas. The site has shipwrecks, a lighthouse, and it was once the Carnegie Laboratory for Marine Ecology site.

Loggerhead is open for day use only to the public, and it’s three miles from Garden Key. There isn’t any public transportation to the island, so you have to either have a private vessel or use your own kayaks and canoes that you bring by ferry. If you plan to bring canoes or kayaks on the ferry, you need to arrange for this ahead of time because the boat has limited capacity.

If you visit, you have to stay on marked paths, and all the buildings and docks on Loggerhead Key are closed to the public.

Finally, you will have to check in and file a boat permit on Garden Key before visiting Loggerhead Key or participating in other personal boating recreation in the park.

If you go around a mile to the southwest of Loggerhead Key, you’ll also find the Windjammer Shipwreck.

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