Dry Tortugas National Park: A Visitor’s Guide

Dry Tortugas National Park

dry tortugas national park
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Dry Tortugas National Park was proclaimed as Fort Jefferson National Monument in 1935 and redesignated as Dry Tortugas National Park in 1992. The park is located 70 nautical miles west of Key West, Florida and is known for its famous marine and bird life and military history. Dry Tortugas National Park includes a cluster of seven islands, or “keys,” amid 100 square miles of shoals, water, and coral gardens. Fort Jefferson is the main cultural feature and is one of the largest 19th-century American coastal forts.

arrow-icon  Phone Number: 305/242-7700

arrow-icon  Park Hours:  Park opens daily. Some areas close at dusk.

arrow-icon  When to Go: Busiest March-June. Least crowded September-November.

arrow-icon  Helpful Links: www.nps.gov/drto

arrow-icon  What to Do: Fishing, picnicking, sailing, scuba diving, snorkeling, camping, touring historic structures, bird-watching.

arrow-icon  Facilities: Visitor center (Fort Jefferson), book and chart sale areas, grills, picnic tables.

arrow-icon  Programs/Events: Guided tours daily 11 am, occasional ranger-led tours, moat walks.

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arrow-icon  Address and  Mailing Address: 40001 SR-9336
Homestead, FL 33034

arrow-icon  Directions: Access via boat or Ferry   national parks

arrow-icon  Number of Visitors/Year:
56,810 (Year 2018)

arrow-icon  Fees and Permits:  An entrance fee of $5 per person is charged upon arrival at the park.  Annual national park passes may be used.

  Accessibility: Fort Jefferson has three floors. The second and third tiers are not wheelchair-accessible. The fort is accessible only on the first tier on the grass surface or the brick walkway and trail outside of the fort.

arrow-icon  Pets: Pets are permitted on Garden Key but not inside Fort Jefferson. Pets are not permitted on any other key in the park. Pets must be restrained on a leash, never left unattended, and owners are responsible for removing pet waste.

Major Attractions

For nature and history lovers, Dry Tortugas has enough attractions to keep you busy on a visit to this unique national park.

Snorkeling: Dry Tortugas offers some of the best snorkeling in North America. The 5-15 deep water makes snorkeling enjoyable and fun for everyone. The most popular snorkeling area is the 0.6-mile long seawall and moat that surrounds Fort Jefferson. The clear water and mesmerizing coral reef harbor literally hundreds of colorful tropical fish species, and soft and hard corals. Seeing turtles are also a possibility.

Fort Jefferson: Explore this massive fort and imagine how life was like in the 1860s. There a lot to learn here. You can follow the self-guided tour of the fort or join a guide-led tour for fascinating details and stories of past times. Visit the Garden Key Harbor light and the various fort tiers each with fascinating stories.

Birding: The tiny islands that compose Dry Tortugas National Park are full of seabirds year-round. Many species return every year to the islands to breed and others are permanent residents. The gardens in Fort Jefferson and surrounding grounds are an important spot over during the month of May, June, and July for many migratory species returning to North America from the Caribbean Islands and Mexico. Dry Tortugas National Park is part of the Great Florida Birding Trail.

Tips: Go mid-March.-mid-May for migrating birds, June through August for the calmest weather.

Dry Tortugas National Park’s Summary Reviews

What is good:

Don’t expect many modern amenities, but a wealth of history and scenic beaches with excellent snorkeling, make the trip to this remote park worth it.

Beautiful Park and nice ferry ride from Key West. The water is gorgeous and the fort is very nice! And the staff are always willing to teach you more about the fort. Recommended for all kids/adults!

Unforgettable experience! Tons of aquatic life, awesome snorkeling, beautiful beaches and not to mention we saw tons of sea turtles.

Don’t just go for the day, camp! We go every year for three nights and it’s just an amazing place to be at night, a trillion stars. Bring a kayak and a fishing pole too, the fish are biting!

The hidden gem of Key West. It takes a little effort to get there, but beyond worth the value. Great for snorkeling, and a little beach action.

We camped 3 days, 2 nights, which IMO not nearly enough time to snorkel all of the wrecks and reefs, fish, tour the fort. We will be back next year and plan to camp at least 3 nights.

Excellent, excellent, excellent, best decision ever, completely disconnect from everything, not internet connection, just connecting with nature, camping was the best part with starry night, make sure you bring your snorkeling gear with you, lots of sunblock lotion, a cooler with lots a water, ice, and the spirit of do nothing else more than relax.

This has got to be one of the coolest places to camp. On a clear night, you will see millions of stars and have the island to yourself.

Definitely worth the 2 hr ferry ride. Just pack sunscreen and umbrellas for shade, as there is no AC and very few places to hide from the hot sun!

Incredibly beautiful island. The story of Fort Jefferson is akin to Babylon 5 without the diplomatic mission and the firepower of a Deathstar.

What is not so good:

I do not appreciate the animals biting my toes, but other than that, I really enjoyed the trip. 🙂

While the boat ride to the island had a great set of people running it, the park itself (in this review) was just ok. It didn’t feel like a “National Park”, not in the traditional sense.

The Fort on the island was interesting but I would not return. Once was enough.

The island is kind of polluted with garbage (cans, bottles, etc. in the beaches) that you see while hiking and walking the beach.

The blue water and waves were iconic in Florida and very nice but you can see that anywhere in Florida.

Pretty place but unfortunately it takes forever to get out there. The waters were so cloudy, the snorkeling was unimpressive. All I saw was seaweed.

I am rating this low based only on my lack of interest in historical sites. While I am certain many people find these types of locations to be fascinating, I don’t.

For me, 3 hours on a boat to get to an island with historical Fort was a complete waste of my time and money.

If you are hoping to explore pristine islands and coral reefs, skip this and book a tour with one of the adventure companies.

We were here for a day trip. There are changing rooms on the island, but no showers.
Not much shade unless you’re inside the fort walls.

If you go by personal boat make sure to check before you anchor. My husband was given a $100 “parking ticket” because there was not a Visible sign stating that we could not anchor.

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