Dry Tortugas National Park is located 70 miles west of Key West, FL, and is only accessible by ferry, seaplane, or private boat, making it one of the least-visited national parks. If you want to experience beautiful coral reefs, marine wildlife sightings, & historical Fort Jefferson, this remote national park should be on your bucketlist!
PTO/Vacation Days Needed: 0-2
Fly into either Miami (3 hour drive to Key West) or directly to the Key West airport.
The only way to get to Dry Tortugas National Park is via seaplane, ferry, or private boat. Although more expensive, going by seaplane allows you to see the park from an aerial view, and is only 40 minutes of travel time. The ferry takes 2.5 hours to get to the island.
If riding in a seaplane is on your bucketlist, this is a great place to do it! We opted to splurge for the seaplane to Dry Tortugas, and it was such a cool experience. I even got to ride in the cockpit with the pilot!
Seaplane Pricing and Options:
Key West Seaplane Charters is the only seaplane company that operates to the island
Half Day Excursion: $342 (2.5 hours on the island)Full Day Excursion: $600 (6.5 hours on the island)
We did the half day excursion, and were satisfied with 2.5 hours exploring the island. In addition to the costs listed above, you must also pay a $10 park entrance fee.
Ferry Pricing and Options:
You can book the Yankee Freedom III ferry here.It’s a 2.5 hour ferry ride to the island, and there are snack and drinks available for purchase on the boat.
Day Trip: $175 (about 6 hours on the island)
Overnight Camping Trip: $195 + $15 campground fee
Things to do on the Island:
1. Check out Fort Jefferson
Fort Jefferson is America’s largest masonry structure, with over 16 million bricks in its structure. The fort was used as a prison for criminals during the Civil War, and is most commonly known as the prison that held Dr. Samuel Mudd for assisting in the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. If you arrived on the ferry, you have the option to join a 40 minute guided tour of the fort, but grabbing a map and doing as self-guided tour was sufficient for us.
You are able to climb up the fort to the top, where you can get the best views of the island!
2. Relax at the beach and swim!
Take the trail to the right of the fort that leads to a small beach adjacent for Fort Jefferson. Pack a cooler with sandwiches and beers to enjoy at the beach!
Grab your snorkel gear and head around the corner from the beach to snorkel around the old dock pilings. The water is clear, and there are coral formations and lots of tropical fish!
If you are able to go by private boat, I imagine there are TONS of amazing, untouched reefs to snorkel in the surrounding area that we were not able to swim to from the beach. Also, if you are into scuba diving, there is the famous Windjammer Shipwreck dive in the area. However, there are only overnight dive charters available, which come with a hefty price tag.
If you want to spend more time on the island and pretty much have the place to yourself once the ferry leaves, you should consider camping! If you wish to camp on the island, there are 10 primitive campsites not far from the public dock area. These sites are first come, first served. The ferry will only take 10 campers each way per day. Campers must arrive by boat, as the seaplane cannot accommodate the extra weight of camping gear on board. The campsites are primitive, meaning you must carry in everything you need (including plenty of water!)
Other Interesting Facts:
Ponce de Leon discovered Dry Tortugas in 1518, and caught over 100 sea turtles while living on the island (hence the name ‘Tortugas’)The word “Dry” in Dry Tortugas comes from the lack of fresh surface waterDry Tortugas National Park is made up of 99% water. The 1% of land is comprised of 7 islands. The island with Fort Jefferson (where the ferry and seaplane take you) is called Garden Key.Over 299 bird species can be found in the park