Dry Tortugas National Park in Key West, Florida is a place you should visit at least once. And I guarantee once you go there you will want to go back! It is one of those amazing places you see on Instagram or Pinterest and you can’t believe it is real. We went it is real and AMAZING!
Dry Tortugas is a set of 7 small islands that are located 70 miles off of Key West, Florida in the middle of the ocean. Seriously there is nothing else around but water which is what makes it such a cool experience.
Things To Do on Dry Tortugas
On the island is an old civl war fort: Fort Jefferson. When you visit the island you have the chance to walk around and explore the fort at your leisure. You can also sign up for a 45 minute narrated tour if you are a history buff and want to learn more about the history of the fort. They also offer a self guided tour that you can download to your phone – before you leave for the island when you have internet.
The pictures you can get while walking around are unbelievable. Plus just walking around imagining when the soliders actually lived here and what that must have been like is surreal.
The fort is huge so you can spend hours walking around on the first floor, going up to the second and then spending time on the top of the fort. One of my favorite things was walking along the fort wall and looking down into the crystal clear water. I mean look at the color of this water!!
There are still a variety of heavy guns that were left on the island to explore. Along with walking through the fort to try to find the bricks that were transported all the way from Maine to the island during construction.
Conch Shell Beach
You know those huge conch shells that you can buy at a tourist stand throughout Florida? This Florida beach is FILLED with them. Literally there are 100’s of them there. Some are so old they are white washed while others are super colorful. There are also a variety of sizes.
We spend a lot of time just walking around this part of the beach taking in the beauty of these shells and the waves splashing on to the beach. It was us and no one else on the beach. It was amazing.
There is also a tree where people have decorated it christmas ornament style with conch shells. Make sure you add your own conch shell to the tree and take a picture. Along with getting a picture of you blowing into a conch shell. Fun times!
There is a small section of the island you can’t reach by foot since there is water between the main island and the smaller island. That is OK because due to this birds have been able to move in here and live like they use to in the Keys before all the people moved in.
This means there are 100’s of birds in this small area and it is so cool to see them in their natural undisturbed habitat and to imagine how many birds use to populate this area of Florida. There are have been over 300 different species of birds spotted on the island as they are migrating from South America to the US.
On the other side of the Conch Shell Beach is a stretch of beach with soft white sand and crystal clear aquamarine colored water. We sat here and just soaked in the beauty of the beach and water and the stillness of being so far from the mainland.
There is an additional beach – remember you are on an island so beaches surround the island – where you can snorkel – if the water is calm. Unfortunately when we were there the water was not calm but I have heard it is beautiful snorkeling when the water is calm.
The depth is about 5 – 15 feet around the island so it is perfect for all levels of snorkelers. You can see coral reefs, sea grass, tropical fish and more.
To get to the main snorkeling area you swim out from the beach and along the fort wall. It is quite the experience. You do get complimentary snorkel gear to rent as part of your boat fee. I also recommend talking to the workers when you are there to see where they recommend you go snorkeling that day.
There is a small visitor center in the fort where you can pick up some souvenirs or books about the Dry Tortugas.
YES! You can camp on the island and we definitely want to go back to do this. We have friends who did and they said it was amazing. The camping is dry camping so you have to bring in all your own water and food and there is no electricity.
I can only imagine how cool it must be once the day ship leaves and you are on the island with only about 20 other people. WOW we really want to go back to experience this! You can stay up to 14 days – if you can figure out what to do for water and food. Most people I know stay a couple of nights.
There are National Park staff members that stay on site so you aren’t totally alone stranded on an island out in the middle of the ocean!
How To Get There
In order to get to Dry Tortugas you have to take the Yankee Freedom Ferry, a Sea Plane or your own boat. We took the Ferry and it was quite the adventure!
Yankee Freedom Ferry
You have to get there early in the morning – well before the rest of Key West is awake or maybe before people have gone to sleep . . . To get on the boat. OK not that early just 7am but Key West is way different at 7am then it is at Midnight! Once you check in and get on the boat they take off for the island.
They will feed you breakfast on the boat but be prepared this is a bumpy ride. I mean really bumpy. If you have any issues with motion sickness save your self the hassle and take the Dramamine well before you get on the boat.
After breakfast you still have quite a long time to go so either settle in inside of the boat or find a place outside to sit and enjoy the ride. It is cool to be outside so you can watch as you pull away from Key West and past island after island. A few of them are privately owned with a single house on them. Dreams yes dreams. How cool would it be to own an island with a house on it!
The ride takes about 2 hours and as you get closer I recommend finding a spot on the railing so you can watch as you approach the island. It is quite the site to see! They pull into the port and off you go to explore.
There is also the option of taking a Sea Plane to get to the island. If you are able to swing it, it would be a really cool way to get to the island. Plus a lot quicker and I am assuming less bumpy way then the ferry. If you have taken the sea plane to get here please share your experience in the comments!
After you reach the port at about 10:15am you can get off to start exploring and then 45 minutes head back to the boat for lunch. Which is provide with the boat fee. Lunch is served from 11am to 1pm so either you can eat right away and have the rest of the time to explore. Or plan on exploring for a while before eating. Just be sure you get there before 1pm when lunch is all cleaned up!
After that you have until 3pm to explore the island at your leisure. Just be sure to be on the boat so you don’t miss your ride home. At this point we were really jealous of the people that were booked to camp there. We didn’t want to leave!
How cool would it be to be able to watch all of the tourist leave on the boat while you get to stay and have the island almost to yourself. We have friends who did just that with their younger kids and had a blast. If you can’t tell we really want to do this!
This is just one stop among these 6 Epic National Park Road Trips our friends shared. Check it out!
Preparing For Your Trip
It is definitely a good idea to prepare for your trip. You are going to be out of cell range for the majority of the trip so plan for that. You will also want to be sure to dress accordingly with comfortable shoes and clothes for the whole day. Depending on the time of year you are going layers may be a good idea and definitely sun screen or long sleeves to protect from the sun.
A hat and sunglasses are always a good idea and it doesn’t hurt to bring a change of clothes just in case. Plus, even if you don’t think you want to swim, bring a suit. Once you see that beautiful water you may just want to jump in to go for a swim or go snorkeling so pack that suit and towel!
Like I mentioned the boat ride is a couple of hours long so bringing a book or something to do is a good idea. Remember no cell service so make sure you have your book or music downloaded before you go.
And of course you want to bring a Camera maybe a couple! Plus extra battery and make sure you have space on your camera and phone. I couldn’t stop taking pictures when we were there. It was so breathtaking!!
Please note that dogs are not allowed on the boat or island – unless they are service dogs.
When To Go
We went in January and it was pretty cool. From my perspective it was a good thing since it made exploring better since we weren’t hot. That being said we didn’t go swimming and I think that would be a really cool experience. For that reason you may want to go in November or March.
I have heard that it can be hot in the summer so I think late fall or early spring could be the perfect time to visit the island and explore comfortably. Fun fact – there are no mosquitos on the island since there is no standing water. Nice!
If you want to learn more about the island and its history you can check out the Dry Tortugas National Park and Historic Key West Bight Museum back in Key West. It is a free museum that will help you better understand the history of the island.
Going to Dry Tortugas is no cheap adventure. But I can honestly say it is worth every penny. You can learn more about tickets and rates here: https://www.drytortugas.com/rates-reservations/
If you are able to plan a night or two or three to camp I HIGHLY recommend it. This will truly be a once in a lifetime experience for you and your family.
Once you are back in Key West make sure to spend some time exploring this cool city with your family. Here is our list of 13 things we recommend doing with your kids while in Key West.
If you are planning a trip to Florida make sure to add Key West and Dry Tortugas National Park to your list of places to visit. I can’t wait until we can plan a trip to take our kids camping on the island!
And for even more inspiration, visit this post by our friends at Trekaroo – The Best National Parks with kids.
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