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Dry Tortugas National Park in Florida: A Remote Underwater Paradise

Nestled 70 miles off the coast of Key West, Florida, lies an enchanting and remote destination that captivates the hearts of adventurous travelers – Dry Tortugas National Park. Unlike any other national park in the United States, Dry Tortugas is a unique gem that is 99 percent underwater.

This secluded paradise offers crystal-clear waters, vibrant marine life, and an intriguing history that beckons explorers seeking an unforgettable experience.

Imagine a place where the boundaries between history and nature blur. Where you can explore a 19th-century fortress one moment and swim with sea turtles the next.

Dry Tortugas National Park is precisely that place. It’s a world where azure seas meet historic fortifications, where secluded beaches and pristine coral reefs await discovery.

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Photo Courtesy: Dry Tortugas National Park

In this article, we’ll guide you through planning your trip, discovering the islands, enjoying water adventures, and finding the perfect time to explore this unique national park. Get ready to embark on an extraordinary adventure in the heart of the Gulf of Mexico.

Planning Your Trip to Dry Tortugas National Park

A journey to Dry Tortugas is an adventure like no other, but it requires careful planning due to its remote location. Before you set off on this remarkable voyage, here’s what you need to know:

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Photo Courtesy: Dry Tortugas National Park
  • Remote Location: Dry Tortugas National Park comprises a cluster of seven small islands, most of which are submerged beneath mesmerizingly blue, crystal-clear waters. Its remoteness is part of its allure, but it also means you must prepare for a truly off-the-grid experience.
  • No Road Access: There are no roads that lead to Dry Tortugas, making it inaccessible by car. The absence of facilities for fuel, water, food, and charcoal means you need to come prepared for the duration of your stay.
  • Limited Supplies: Supplies within the park are scarce, with the only restrooms available aboard the Yankee Freedom ferry during its docking hours. Composting toilets are available for overnight campers from 3 p.m. to 10:30 a.m. daily.
  • No Connectivity: If you’re accustomed to staying connected, be prepared for a digital detox. Dry Tortugas National Park offers no cell coverage, internet access, or Wi-Fi, providing a rare opportunity to disconnect from the modern world.
  • All-Day Commitment: Due to the limited transportation options in and out of the park, a visit to Dry Tortugas is an all-day commitment. Once you’re on the island, there’s no quick escape, so be sure you’re ready for a day of exploration and adventure.
  • Adventure Awaits: If the idea of spending a day on a remote, tropical island with limited access to modern conveniences excites you, Dry Tortugas is a dream come true. It offers a unique chance to immerse yourself in nature and history.
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With these considerations in mind, you can embark on your journey to Dry Tortugas National Park fully prepared for the adventure that awaits. In the following sections, we’ll delve into the various ways to reach this hidden paradise, the activities to enjoy once you’re there, and the best time to visit. So, get ready to explore a world where history meets crystal-clear waters in Dry Tortugas National Park.

How to Get to Dry Tortugas National Park

Getting to Dry Tortugas National Park is an adventure in itself, and the journey is as remarkable as the destination. Since this secluded oasis is situated 70 miles west of Key West, the southernmost point of the continental U.S., you’ll need to choose your mode of transportation carefully. Here are the options:

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Ferry – Photo Courtesy: Dry Tortugas National Park
  • Ferry: The most popular way to reach Dry Tortugas is by taking the Yankee Freedom ferry. This two-hour round-trip ferry ride departs from Key West and offers a convenient and scenic voyage. The Yankee Freedom experience includes breakfast, lunch, a narrated tour of Fort Jefferson, complimentary snorkeling equipment, and park entrance fees. It boards at 7:30 a.m. and returns by 5:30 p.m. daily.
  • Seaplane: For a more adventurous and scenic approach, consider a seaplane ride. Key West Seaplane Adventures offers a spectacular journey to Dry Tortugas. Flying over the sparkling blue waters, you’ll spot dolphins, loggerhead sea turtles, stingrays, and even shipwrecks below. The small cabin size allows for an intimate experience, with only ten passengers at a time. While this option can be more expensive, it’s an unforgettable way to reach the park.
  • Private or Charter Boat: If you have access to a private boat or want a more personalized experience, you can arrange a charter or use your vessel to reach Dry Tortugas. This option allows you to explore various areas of the park beyond Garden Key and Fort Jefferson. However, keep in mind that you’ll need to acquire a permit for private boating.
A Seaplane at Fort Jefferson
A Seaplane at Fort Jefferson

While each transportation option offers a unique experience, many visitors opt for the ferry, as it provides an excellent balance of affordability and convenience. However, if you’re looking for an extraordinary adventure with breathtaking aerial views, the seaplane is sure to be a highlight of your trip.

Exploring Dry Tortugas National Park

Upon your arrival at Dry Tortugas National Park, you’ll find yourself immersed in a pristine and remote environment. The beauty of this national park lies not only in its stunning underwater landscapes but also in its unique natural features. Here’s what you can explore:

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Fort Jefferson, Photo Courtesy: Dry Tortugas National Park
  • Fort Jefferson: Located on 14-acre Garden Key, Fort Jefferson is a historic treasure within the park. This imposing masonry fort, one of the largest in the nation, has a rich history, serving various roles from a coaling station to a Civil War prison. Today, it stands as a preserved piece of American history with decorative brickwork and 2,000 stunning arches. Visitors can explore its intriguing past and architectural marvels.
  • Natural Wonders: Dry Tortugas is a hub of natural wonders, including coral reefs, sandy shoals, and diverse sea life. The park serves as an outdoor laboratory for scientific research, allowing scientists to study natural systems and marine ecology. The encompassing Dry Tortugas Research Natural Area, established in 2007, is a sanctuary for species affected by fishing and habitat loss in the Gulf of Mexico. For non-scientists, this means an opportunity to enjoy boating, diving, and snorkeling in some of the most pristine waters in the region.
  • Island Exploration: Dry Tortugas National Park comprises seven small islands, each offering unique experiences. Garden Key is the primary hub for visitors, while Loggerhead Key, located three miles west of Garden Key, is a snorkeler’s paradise with picturesque beaches. Bush Key, an undeveloped island, hosts significant bird colonies during the breeding season, making it a birdwatcher’s delight.
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Photo Courtesy: Dry Tortugas National Park

Enjoying Water Adventures

Dry Tortugas National Park’s crystal-clear waters are an aquatic playground for visitors. Whether you’re a snorkeling enthusiast or prefer leisurely swimming, there are plenty of water adventures to enjoy:

  • Snorkeling: The underwater world at Dry Tortugas is a mesmerizing sight. Snorkelers can explore vibrant coral reefs, encounter an array of colorful fish, and even swim with sea turtles. Snorkeling equipment is readily available for rent, making it accessible for visitors of all experience levels.
  • Swimming: The inviting waters surrounding the islands are perfect for swimming. Whether you choose to take a refreshing dip near the shore or embark on a more extended swimming adventure, the clear, warm waters provide a unique experience.
  • Paddling and Fishing: If you’re up for more active pursuits, consider bringing your kayak or paddleboard. Paddling allows you to explore secluded coves and appreciate the beauty of Dry Tortugas from a different perspective. Fishing enthusiasts can also cast their lines and try their luck in these abundant waters.
  • Geocaching and Wildlife Spotting: For those seeking a bit of adventure on land, geocaching is a fun activity to try. Additionally, Dry Tortugas National Park is a wildlife paradise. Keep your eyes peeled for various bird species and other fascinating creatures, both in the water and on the islands.
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Photo Courtesy: Dry Tortugas National Park

With an array of water-based activities, Dry Tortugas National Park promises a memorable aquatic adventure that complements its historical and natural attractions. Whether you’re an underwater enthusiast or simply seeking to relax on sandy shores, this remote underwater paradise has something to offer every visitor.

Discovering the Islands of Dry Tortugas National Park

Dry Tortugas National Park is not just a single island; it’s a cluster of seven unique and captivating islands, each with its own charm and character. As you explore this remote paradise, you’ll discover the distinct features of these islands:

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Photo Courtesy: Dry Tortugas National Park
  • Garden Key: Garden Key is the primary hub for visitors and home to historic Fort Jefferson. You can spend hours wandering through the fort’s intricate architecture and learning about its intriguing history. The island also offers opportunities for snorkeling and beachcombing.
  • Loggerhead Key: Located three miles west of Garden Key, Loggerhead Key is a haven for snorkelers. Its clear waters and vibrant marine life make it an ideal spot for underwater exploration. The picturesque beaches are perfect for sunbathing and relaxation.
  • Bush Key: Bush Key, a 16-acre undeveloped island, comes to life during the breeding season when it hosts significant bird colonies. While it closes to visitors during this time to protect the nesting birds, it’s a unique ecosystem worth appreciating from a distance.
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Bush Key – Photo Courtesy: Dry Tortugas National Park

Exploring these islands offers a diverse range of experiences, from historical exploration to wildlife observation, and snorkeling in crystal-clear waters. Each island adds another layer of beauty and intrigue to your visit to Dry Tortugas National Park.

When to Visit Dry Tortugas National Park

Dry Tortugas National Park is a year-round destination, thanks to its subtropical climate. However, the timing of your visit can impact your experience. Here’s what to consider:

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Photo Courtesy: Dry Tortugas National Park
  • Winter (December – March): This period offers mild and dry weather, making it an excellent time for calm seas and comfortable temperatures. However, it can be windier, so be prepared for potential rough seas if you plan to explore by boat.
  • Summer (June – August): Summers in Dry Tortugas are hot and humid. While this time provides ideal beach weather, it’s also the Atlantic hurricane season. Keep an eye on weather forecasts if you plan a summer visit.
  • Spring and Fall: The shoulder seasons of spring and fall provide a balance of pleasant weather and fewer crowds. These periods offer a more relaxed and peaceful experience at the park.

Ultimately, the best time to visit depends on your preferences. If you want to avoid crowds and enjoy comfortable weather, consider the shoulder seasons. However, if you’re a beach lover and don’t mind the heat, summer can also be an option. Just keep in mind the potential for hurricanes during that time.

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Photo Courtesy: Dry Tortugas National Park


Dry Tortugas National Park in Florida is a remote underwater paradise that beckons travelers seeking a unique blend of natural beauty, history, and adventure. As one of the most isolated national parks in the United States, it offers an escape from the hustle and bustle of daily life and a chance to immerse yourself in a pristine and untouched environment.

From the captivating history of Fort Jefferson to the vibrant marine life in its crystal-clear waters, Dry Tortugas National Park offers a wealth of experiences for visitors. Whether you arrive by ferry, seaplane, or private boat, the journey to this hidden gem is an adventure in itself.

As you explore the islands, snorkel in the rich coral reefs, and witness the breeding colonies of native birds, you’ll come to appreciate the remarkable diversity of this national park. And with a year-round open policy, Dry Tortugas welcomes adventurers at any time, promising unforgettable memories and a connection with nature that’s hard to find elsewhere.

So, pack your sense of adventure and your spirit of exploration and make your way to Dry Tortugas National Park, where history and natural beauty merge in a remote underwater paradise. It’s a journey that promises to leave you with lasting memories and a deep appreciation for the wonders of the natural world.

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