Dry Tortugas is certainly worth the visit!

Known as the “Sunshine State”, Florida is home to hundreds of miles of white sandy beaches. The state of Florida has become a synonym for an amazing summer holiday vacation. Miami, Key West, Panama City and Fort Lauderdale are only some of the most popular beach destinations in Florida.

Sometimes, however, we are looking for a more peaceful and quiet summer getaway to escape the busy city life. If you are also searching for a laid-back vibe destination, where you can spend your summer holiday this year,  we have the perfect suggestion for you – Dry Tortugas National Park – the best hidden gem in Florida!  Keep reading to learn more about the park and how to plan your trip. 

As one of  America’s 62 National Parks, the park is a collection of small islands west of Key West, Florida and remembered for its incredible pirate history and legends of buried treasures. Home to the outstanding Fort Jefferson, the park also preserves beautiful coral reefs, rich marine life and wide variety of bird species. Combined with the beautiful white sandy beaches, Dry Tortugas National Park is the best hidden gem in Florida. 

The seven coral islands part of the archipelago are: Middle Key, Long Key, Hospital Key, Loggerhead Key, Garden Key, Bush Key and East Key. While, Loggerhead is the biggest island but also completely uninhabited, the second largest – Garden Key is where tourists can find the visitor center, as well as the park’s headquarters. 

Dry Tortugas National Park
Of the coast of Key West Florida

Location

Situated at the heart of the Gulf of Mexico, Dry Tortugas National Park is known for the spectacular Fort Jefferson and the beautiful turquoise waters surrounding it. The park lies approximately 70 miles away from Key West, covering a territory of almost 150 acres. Completely surrounded by the blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico, visitors can only reach the national park by boat or seaplane. 

dry tortugas location

Getting to Dry Tortugas National Park

The nearest airport to Dry Tortugas National Park is Key West (EYW). Check out the best domestic flight deals.

Dry Tortugas National Park is a relatively remote location with just a few thousand visitors per year. The limited transportation options is one of the factors why this stunning natural area often gets neglected by tourists. The best way to get to Dry Tortugas National Park is to get the ferry from Key West to Garden Key, which is the second largest island part of the park. Once you reach the park, though, you will need to consider your mode of transportation around the area. 

Having a boat is by far the best way to explore the islands and their surrounding waters. Keep in mind that you will need a boat permit before sailing around the park, though. 

Working Hours and Entrance Fee for Dry Tortugas National Park 

Operational year-round, the main part of the park is open 24 hours a day! Before visiting the park, though, keep in mind  that only some of the islands are open for visitors. For example, Hospital Key, Long Key, Middle Key and East Key are completely closed to the general public, as various animal species are using the area for nesting. Loggerhead Key is open from sunrise to sunset for day visitors only, whereas Bush Key is working on seasonal basis from October to January. Visitors are also required to pay an entrance fee of $15 per person, which is valid for 7 consecutive days. Visitors under the age of 16 years are free of charge. If you are arriving by ferry the admission fee is included in the ferry ticket, while those who arrive by private boat will need to pay at the main dock at Garden Key. 

Similar to other American National Parks,  there are five entrance fee-free dates annually. In 2020 these are: January 20, April 18, August 25, September 26 and November 11. 

Staying Overnight at Dry Tortugas National Park 

As the best hidden gem in Florida, Dry Tortugas National Park deserves more of your attention and it is a good idea to stay overnight. There are 8 campgrounds located at Garden Key, however, they are only available on first-come first-served basis. There is also an additional group campsite with an occupancy of around 12-15 tents for those planning on visiting as part of a large group. Staying in one of the campsites is an additional $15 per night and $30 for the group camping area. If you are a Golden Access Pass holder, you can use a 50% discount. 

Facilities at Dry Tortugas National Park 

Make sure that you are well prepared for visiting Dry Tortugas National Park. The untouched natural area has a very limited number of facilities. Visitors will need to bring their own food and water, as there are no shops or restaurants around the island. The campsites have grills that you can use to prepare your own food, though. It is always advisable to bring an extra supply of food and water as well. 

Things to Do

Dry Tortugas National Park offers various ways to spend your time around the island. As the most popular sight, visiting Fort Jefferson should certainly be part of your itinerary.

Fort Jefferson 

Spreading at approximately 16 acres, the massive fortress is known as one of the largest masonry structures in America. Dating back to the 19th Century, the fort was once used to protect the harbor and the ships sailing around the Gulf of Mexico. In reality the fortress was never finished, neither was it ever attacked, however, it played a crucial role during the Civil War. For all history buffs, a guided tour around Fort Jefferson may be the best way to spend an afternoon on the island. 

Fort Jefferson
South Coaling Dock Ruins in Fort Jefferson, a historical military fortress, dominated by Garden Key Lighthouse, on Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida, United States.

Beaches

Dry Totugas National Park’s beaches have been declared as some of the most beautiful and pristine beaches in Florida. At Garden Key island you can find four stunning beaches to choose from – South Swim Beach, Dinghy Beach, Seaplane Beach and North Swim Beach. There is nothing better than swimming in the crystal clear blue waters and getting to admire the colorful coral reefs. As you can guess from their names – North Swim Beach and South Swim Beach are the perfect choice for this. Besides the reefs and the different fish species, visitors can also get to spot some sea turtles in their natural habitat. The area is known to be home to the green and loggerhead sea turtles. Hence, the name of the park – Dry Tortugas, coming from Spanish for ‘turtles’. 

Activities

While snorkeling and diving are the most popular activities around the islands, visitors can also explore the park by kayaking or paddle-boarding. If you are just a beginner, it is advisable to remain close to Garden Key. However, experts can also paddle all the way around Bush and Long Key as well as Loggerhead Key islands. This will allow you to fully experience Dry Tortugas National Park with its blue waters, rich wildlife and beautiful scenery. 

Completely surrounded by the crystal clear waters of the Gulf of Mexico in this remote location far away from the busy city life, you will be able to find peace and quiet and spend an amazing summer getaway. Go and explore for yourself to see why Dry Tortugas National Park is the best hidden gem in Florida. Are you excited about visiting Dry Tortugas National Park? Are you going to add it to your travel list for this summer? 

By Polly Nenkova