Picture yourself on a secluded island, seventy miles off Key West at one of America’s most remote National Parks. You can be snorkeling, sunning, and swimming in the most inviting turquoise ocean. On land you can tour a 19th century fort, hike out to a bird sanctuary, or discover purple coral and pink conch shells.
Whatever your interests are, Dry Tortugas National Park is an incredible adventure, well off the beaten path.
How to get there?
You can only reach the island by ferry, seaplane, or private boat. This is a pricey trip – I almost skipped it in efforts to be thrifty, but in the end the splurge paid off because this is a memory that will last a lifetime. The most affordable way to visit is by making a reservation via Yankee Freedom’s ferry service leaving from Key West. The ride to the island is just over two hours long, keep your eye out for sea turtles – you’ll have four hours to explore on the island. It’s a full day trip including breakfast, lunch, and snorkeling gear.
What is there to do?
+On the ferry you can sign up for a time-slot to tour Fort Jefferson. It’s a brief introduction to the history of the Guardian of the Gulf, but you can read more in the Visitors Center and walk around the grounds. It’s amazing that something so self sufficient existed in the middle of nowhere. There is no natural source of water on the island, so fort engineers designed a system to collect and tore rainwater. A walk on top of the fort yields infinitely beautiful views.
+Snorkel gear is included with your trip and if you are lucky enough to get a calm day this is an remarkable spot. You will see tons of sea creatures – coral and fish, which get much bigger as you head out to the pylons around the corner. Even if you don’t like to snorkel, just wading in the water you will encounter schools of fish.
+The water was perfectly warm and calm to swim in, and there is a lovely slice of sandy beach to sun on. Just keep your eyes peeled for the resident American crocodile that I really wished to see, but eluded me.
+Hike out to bird sanctuary and look for magnificent frigatebirds soaring above, the only year long nest colony in the US.
There are approximately 300 specifies of birds that visit the island. Look for an assortment of intricate and vibrant coral (there are 30 species on the island) – who knew they would be bright purple?
There were piles of conch shells, some fresh and pink – others blanched from the sun.
You are asked not to collect anything from the island, just take away pictures and memories.
+Only a few camping sites exist, so reservations need to be made way in advance. I imagine this would be one of the most dazzling places to camp in the world when the day trippers leave – the dark sky would be magical at night.
+The entrance fee for the park is $10, which should be deducted from transportation ticket price if you have NPS pass
+Make sure to ask for any discounts including student or military
+Grab a free parking spot instead of paying extra for a garage all day in Key West
+Wear your bathing suit, pack a towel, sunscreen, hat, and pack a change of clothes, and a sweater (the ride home is freezing with the AC)