A Guide to Dry Tortugas Park

Did you know the Dry Tortugas Park, about 70 miles west of Key West, is one of America’s most remote national park and least visited? I didn’t! I actually had never heard of it until Ben started telling me about it – which is a little sad considering it’s part of my state! But once he told me about it and I did some research, I knew I had to go there one day.

I’ve broken down some important things to know if you plan to take this trip. Once you get through that, you’ll find some of our amazing photos from that day.

Yankee Freedom Day Cruise:
We finally planned a trip to the keys and booked our day cruise on the Yankee Freedom. You can even arrange to take your kayak or canoe to the island. The boat cruise runs about $170 per ticket, but luckily a lot is included in this:

  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
  • Snorkle gear
  • Entry into Dry Tortugas National Park and Fort Jefferson
  • 45 minute guided tour of the fort (you don’t have to participate in this – you can still explore on your own)
  • Restrooms on the boat for use throughout the entire day
  • 5 hour round trip boat experience

DT WindowFort Jefferson:
I’m not much of a history buff, but this fort is impressive. Dating back to the Civil War, it’s one of the largest 19th century forts in the nation. We opted for a self-guided tour so we could go as quickly or slowly as we liked. We climbed to the top of the fort to look out over the ocean and you could see for miles.

What’s interesting is that the fort is a massive, unfinished fortress. It was used as a military prison then turned into a coaling station for the US Navy. And now it stands as a piece of history for visitors to awe over.

I would ultimately love to come back and camp here. It’s very remote and I’ve read that you need to book many months in advance. Space is limited and it seemed only about 10 people were camping while we were there. They have outhouses for campers to use overnight. I can only imaging how beautiful the sky is at night! Campers have to show up earlier for the cruise to load all of their gear on and the cost is slightly higher – about $200 for campers and gear.

While you can certainly bring your own snore gear, the boat provides equipment for you to use as well. We opted for their gear and snorkeled more than halfway around the fort until I saw a school of tarpon and got freaked out so I turned around. I know, I’m a baby! There were lots of fish, coral, and other cool things to see while snorkeling.

There are two really nice sandy beaches to lay on while there. They have more beaches, but the birds seemed to be taking over the others. The sand is white and soft and the water is clear blue and simply beautiful. There’s not much shade so I suggest bringing an umbrella if you can’t stand the sun too long.

BD Dry Tortugas2

If there’s specific food or drinks you like, pack a cooler to bring with you. While the boat does provide breakfast and lunch, the options are quite limited. Plus it’s an all day thing so you may want some snacks in between meals or you may not want to have to trek back to the boat every time you want a drink. Also be sure to pack plenty of sunscreen and a change of clothes so you don’t have to take the 2 hour ferry ride back wet!

Sadly, on the day trip, you only get four hours on the island. For some this might be sufficient, but I would have loved at least six hours. It takes a while to walk around the fort since it’s so massive. And by the time we finished the fort, snorkeling and eating lunch, we didn’t have but maybe an 45 minutes to lounge and enjoy the beautiful beaches. Ben and I were literally the last ones on the boat to go back. My parents said the boat crew kept paging our names to get on the boat! Ooops! I loved it so much I didn’t want to leave. I hope you enjoy our, what I call, breath-taking photos from the day.

Whether you do a day trip or camp, or you get there via the boat cruise or sea plane, Dry Tortugas National Park is a must-see. I can’t wait to go back and camp next time!

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