Dry Tortugas National Park – Secrets to Explore

Florida - Dry Tortugas
Florida - Dry Tortugas

Dry Tortugas, named after the large population of sea turtles living in the islands surrounding waters, was discovered by the Spanish explorer Ponce De Leon in 1513. Notably, “tortuga” means turtle in Spanish. 

De Leon himself caught more than 100 sea turtles while he weas on the island. The term dry was added later to indicate to other explorers that the island lacked a fresh water source which was an important fact for other seafarers to know.  

There is a lot to unpack about the island and also plenty of interesting things to do. So, let’s unpack Dry Tortugas National Park – Secrets to Explore. 

Dry Tortugas National Park Background 

Dry Tortugas was originally named Las Tortugas due to the sheer number of turtles in the area. The park is currently under the care and management of the National Park Service.  

Visitors can explore the fort that lies on the island or camp on one of the smaller islands. They can also enjoy the immaculate beaches, azure waters, and the sprightly sea life that comprise the park’s eco-system.  

There are a lot of exciting things to do and places to see in the Sunshine State. However, after you read this article, Dry Torugas may very well be the highlight of your trip. 

Things to Do While at Dry Tortugas National Park 

A visit to Dry Tortugas may very well be an adventure you won’t soon forget. The remote park is located in the Gulf of Mexico and offers a variety of activities that are sure to hold anyone’s attention.  

  • Fort Jefferson – One of the national park’s main highlights, Fort Jefferson is a massive and historic coastal fortress located on Garden Key. Though never completed, it is still one of the largest 19th-century American coastal forts. Despite all that the fort still played a crucial role in US history. As you explore the massive structure, you’ll step back in history, learning about its significance throughout the 19th century.  
  • Snorkeling and/or Diving – If underwater exploration is your bag, then snorkeling or diving in the clear waters of Dry Tortugas National Park will satisfy your needs. Amid the area’s vibrant marine life and colorful corals, you may even spot sea turtles or shipwrecks. Notably, the park provides snorkeling equipment for visitors as they arrive via ferry (see below). Local operators offer dives to explore the fascinating shipwrecks and reefs surrounding the park. 
  • Camping Fun – For a fun and exciting experience consider camping at Dry Tortugas National Park.  Though there are a limined number of camping sites available on Garden Key and space is limited, you’ll enjoy a peaceful and intimate stay beneath a starry sky.  
  • Fishing, Boating, and Seaplane Rides – With the ideal location of the park, fishing and boating activities can be quite remarkable. You can take a guided fishing trip that will afford you the perfect opportunity to explore the area. Another great way to explore the area is to take a sea plane ride with Key West Seaplane Adventures. 
  • Bird watching – The park affords guests the perfect opportunity for bird watching along the Great Florida Birding Trail.   
Related:  Top 5 Volunteer Vacations in Central Florida

Florida - Dry Tortugas

How to Get to Dry Tortugas National Park 

There are only a few ways to get to Dry Tortugas National Park as it is so far from any civilized area. Though you can charter a boat, or you can sail your own boat, most people elect to use the Dry Tortugas ferry. 

Boating permits for the area around the park are free, you’ll need to register with the National Park Service once you arrive at Fort Jefferson.  The Dry Tortugas ferry is a catamaran called the Yankee Freedom III.  

It departs from the Seaport area of Key West each morning. You’ll need to book your trip in advance, listing the passengers. So, the trip will require some pre-planning. You can catch the boat near the Marker Key West Resort and the Waterfront Brewery. 

Are you still planning a Florida vacay? Check out our articles Islamorada Key and the Banyon Tree and Florida’s Strange, Weird, and Wacky Attractions. 

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