Dry Tortugas National Park Travel Guide

  • Dry Tortugas National Park
    by jorgejuansanchez
  • Dry Tortugas National Park
    by jorgejuansanchez
  • The island looked pretty from the distance
    The island looked pretty from the...
    by jorgejuansanchez

Dry Tortugas National Park Highlights

  • Pro
    grandmaR profile photo

    grandmaR says…

     Beautiful and isolated 

  • Con
    Spacemanspiff profile photo

    Spacemanspiff says…

     Limited Camping area 

  • In a nutshell
    Spacemanspiff profile photo

    Spacemanspiff says…

     A great place to relax for a day or more 

Dry Tortugas National Park Things to Do

  • Land Flora and Birds

    The national park service has informational signs about even the smallest plants, but most of their energy is concentrated on the birdsBetween March and September as some 100,000 sooty terns gather on Bush Key for their nesting season. They perform nocturnal maneuvers above the Dry Tortugas but spent their days at sea. When they do land here in...

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  • Self Guided Tour

    Most of the ferries have a guided tour for their visitors. We listened in on one of these tours one morning when we were there. There are also intermittent ranger-led tours and also wildlife and bird tours led by the rangers. Check at the visitor center for more information. But there is also a self-guiding trail that interprets the history of...

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  • Meet the People

    It is always fun to meet the locals and your fellow travelers. Here are: Angela and Brooke part of the crew of the Fast Cat (and some guy in a VT Hat); Tony; Ranger Kelly; Shannon a volunteer at the park; and Nathalie a Russian girl working in New York and Aleks her Azeri friend and coworker.

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  • Birds

    A variety of birds live in the Dry Tortugas or stop here during migration. If you can tell me what kind of bird this is I would appreciate it.

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  • Sand Keys

    You can see several keys while in transit to and from Garden Key. Some of them have vegetation (like Bush Key and Loggerhead Key) and some are nothing but small circles of sand.

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  • Bush Key

    I visited the area when the 100,000 sooty terns and 10,000 brown noddies were nesting on Bush Key. They were flying constantly and were very noisy. The island is off-limits during nesting season.

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  • Have a Picnic

    There are a number of picnic tables on the island. There is no food and no drinking water on the island so make sure you bring your own.

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  • Views of the Gulf

    There are beautiful views of the gulf from the island and the fort walls. Note how the difference in what is under the water changes the shade of the blue.

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  • The Lighthouse

    They built a lighthouse on top of the fort, unfortunately it was too short and not bright enough so it was never really used for the intended purpose. A taller, brighter lighthouse was later built on nearby Loggerhead Key.

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  • The Dungeon

    This is the dungeon where the prisoners were held. Dr. Mudd was held here to but he had his own cell. There is still a lot of debate as to whether Mudd was a willing co-conspirator to the assassination of President Lincoln or was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. While he was here he worked again as a doctor and was very helpful during a...

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  • Bastions

    The part of the fort sticking out at the corners is called a bastion. These allowed for better fields of fire and allowed you to shoot at people near the fort walls.

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  • Magazine

    This is area is called the magazine and is where they stored the powder and the shells for the cannons.

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Dry Tortugas National Park Restaurants

  • grandmaR's Profile Photo
    Crews taking lunch coolers back to the boat 2005 4 more images

    by grandmaR Updated Oct 11, 2005

    3.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    The passengers on either of the ferry boats get lunch included in their fee. The seaplane people get two drinks in a cooler with ice, but no food. So if you come by seaplane for the whole day, bring your own lunch.

    Favorite Dish: The larger boat has a snack bar on it. I don't know if it is open during the time they are at the fort.

    Related to:
    • Cruise
    • Beaches
    • National/State Park

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Dry Tortugas National Park Nightlife

  • Watch the Sunset or Trade Beer for...

    About the only night time activity is watching the sunset (or the clouds - photo 4) and the birds circling over the fort (photo 2 and 3), or talking to other campers or boaters. Photo 5 shows a workboat and a sailboat anchored in front of the fort.After the commercial fishermen come in an anchor, you could possibly row over to their boats and trade...

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  • Shrimping

    In the Keys nearby areas, shrimping is done at night. The shrimp boats anchor during the day (like photo), looking like ghost ships covered with cobwebs (their nets). Sometimes there's a dog on board who will bark at you when you get close.Shrimpers are pretty rough uncouth characters. They stay out for days at a time.My SIL takes beer and...

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  • Dry Tortugas National Park Hotels

    0 Hotels in Dry Tortugas National Park

Dry Tortugas National Park Transportation

  • The fast Catamaran

    I give in. I'll take a stab at upgrading this tip since someone has decided to rate it daily. I recommend the Fast Cat for it's cleanliness, timeliness and the capable staff. I found it superior to one of the slower boats on a number of points but most simply because it afforded us more time at our destination. If you are more interested in a slow...

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  • The Fast Cat

    I took the Fast Cat. It goes 27 knots and makes the 70 mile trip in about 2 ½ hours. It was fast and clean and the crew was very friendly and professional. A limited breakfast and a lunch was provided. The fare was $165 as of April 2010. I got a $30 discount because of my military service. There is another larger and slower boat you can take too.

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  • Private Boating to the Dry Tortugas

    There are currently two ways to get to the Dry Tortugas. You can come by private boat or commercial boat. There are places to anchor nearby but no pier for docking. The old seaplanes are no longer available.

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Dry Tortugas National Park Warnings and Dangers

  • Obey Warning Signs

    Obey all warning signs around the island. Although the fort is a level walking surface the footing is sometimes rough. The stairs are spiral and the steps narrow. There are cacti and open vents around the fort so be careful where you step. Stay off the cannons and the fort walls for you safety and the preservation of the fort.Snorkel with a buddy...

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  • Abandon Hope

    The fort was not build as a prison. It became a prison in 1861when President Lincoln commuted the sentence for deserters to life imprisonment here - it had no dungeons, but it was very secure because it was so isolated.On April 15, 1865, John Wilkes Booth shot and killed President Abraham Lincoln. When he leaped from the box to the stage, he caught...

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  • Keep Out of the Moat

    What would a fort built on an island out in the middle of the sea want with a moat? Isn't the whole ocean the moat? Au contraire. The moat wall (the ribbon of brickwork that surrounds the fort) acts as a breakwater to shelter it from waves. It also serves to keep an enemy warship from sailing right up against the fort, and allowing them to...

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Dry Tortugas National Park What to Pack

  • grandmaR's Profile Photo
    Beach near campsites

    by grandmaR Written Jun 15, 2003

    3.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    Luggage and bags: soft side luggage - camping gear. Wheeled bags aren't much good in sand.

    Clothing/Shoes/Weather Gear: Shoes that won't mind if they get wet. Swim suit and thermal protection if you are there in the winter. A hat with a brim

    Toiletries and Medical Supplies: sunscreen and insect repellant

    Photo Equipment: You can buy an underwater one-use camera there.

    Camping/Beach/Outdoor Gear: Tent etc. There's bbqs and tables there.

    Miscellaneous: Water, water, water and all the food you will need. You can't buy anything there. And trash bags to bring back all your trash.

    Related to:
    • Diving and Snorkeling
    • Camping
    • National/State Park

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Dry Tortugas National Park Off The Beaten Path

  • Marks the Entrance to the Gulf of Mexico

    The lighthouse on Loggerhead Key was built in 1858 to replace the Fort Jefferson light because even with this light, ships still ran aground on the surrounding nearly eighty-square-mile grouping of reefs, shoals, and islands known as the Dry Tortugas. (Then the lighthouse at the fort was reduced to a harbor light.) A red sector was placed in the...

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  • National Park Video

    Although it is difficult to be very 'off the beaten track' here, many people may miss the fact that there is a very good informational video in the National Park visitor's information center. There are also books full of documentation and information on the building of the fort, people who were stationed or lived here, and the birdsMost national...

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Dry Tortugas National Park Sports & Outdoors

  • Carry an Extra Barrell

    My husband and son and their buddies love to go down here to fish. I don't eat fish so I rarely go with them. The boys usually stop at a shrimp boat on the way down. The shrimpers sleep during the day and work at night. They will give you a pail of shrimp for beer or other recreational drinks or drugs. There is no fuel sold at Ft. Jefferson so you...

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  • Anchorage

    There is a good anchorage off the fort. It used to be that you could come into it from either end, but the access from the north side has drifted shut, so you have to go all the way around the fort and come in from the south. Vessels may only anchor overnight on sandy bottom within one nautical mile of the Garden Key Harbor Light. Vessels in Garden...

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  • Take the Moat Walk

    There is also a walkway around the moat enabling you to walk all the way around the fort. It is a small island so it is a short, easy walk. Wlking shoes, sunscreen, a hat, water.

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Dry Tortugas National Park Favorites

  • Dry Tortugas National Park

    Almost 70 miles (113 km) west of Key West lies a cluster of seven islands, composed of coral reefs and sand, called the Dry Tortugas. Along with the surrounding shoals and waters, they make up Dry Tortugas National Park. The area is known for its bird and marine life, its legends of pirates and sunken gold, and its military past. The islands were...

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  • Hot and Dry

    The fort is the main thing to see at the park, but it isn't the only thing. There's also the amazing underwater life and the birds. In the spring, the trees may be filled with hummingbirds and song birds resting on their migration north from central america. It must be an amazing sight. Observing the scenery and walking around the fort before the...

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Explore Deeper into Dry Tortugas National Park
Snorkel the Coral Reefs
Sports & Outdoors
Cannons
Things to Do
Heating Cannonballs
Things to Do
Memorial
Things to Do
Living Quarters
Things to Do
Soldier's Barracks
Things to Do
Self-Guided Tour
Things to Do
Ranger/Docent led Briefing
Things to Do
The Sally Port
Things to Do
Historic Fort Jefferson
Things to Do
Museum Displays
Things to Do
Stop at the Visitors Center
Things to Do
Take the big boat to Fort Jefferson
Transportation
Prison Cells
Things to Do
Catamaran
Transportation
Sailing or Fishing
Things to Do
Coral Reef
Things to Do
Fort Jefferson Tour
Things to Do
Sooty Tern Nesting
Things to Do
Birdwatching
Things to Do
Ferry - The Yankee Freedom
Transportation
Snorkle in the beautiful clear water!
Things to Do
Tour Fort Jefferson
Things to Do
Essentials
Warnings and Dangers
Communications Blackout
Warnings and Dangers
Sea Kayaks
Sports & Outdoors
Yankee Freedom - The Yankee Cat
Transportation
Seaplanes of Key West
Transportation
Snorkeling off the beach
Things to Do
Let the Birds Alone
Warnings and Dangers
Water Water Everywhere
Warnings and Dangers
Sunny Days 'Fast Cat II'
Transportation
Tour of the Fort
Things to Do
Map of Dry Tortugas National Park

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