Dry Tortugas National Park

 fort jefferson of dry tortugas national park – (PHOTO: NAGEL PHOTOGRAPHY/SHUTTERSTOCK)

Dry Tortugas National Park offers a fine variety of activities, in addition to scenic views of nature and a deep-rooted history. Situated on a remote island, Dry Tortugas is guaranteed to offer you a once in a lifetime adventure with stories you can tell for generations. 

Established on the 26th of October, 1992, the 64,700 acre national park lies at a distance of almost 70 miles from Key West, and consists of a cluster of seven small islands formed by sand and coral reefs. The surrounding waters are the majority of the national park, making roughly 63,000 acres of the park composed of water. The area is known for its spectacular marine and bird life, along with some legendary tales of pirates, lost gold, and famous prisoners. 

History Of Dry Tortugas

Dry Tortugas received its name from Juan Ponce de Leon, a Spanish explorer who spotted the islands and named them Tortugas for the numerous sea turtles around the area. The area later became known as dry by sailers who quickly discovered the lack of fresh water on the islands.  

Fort Jefferson, which is known as one of the biggest coastal forts ever constructed, serves as the central feature of the park. Construction of Fort Jefferson began in 1846 on the largest island, known as Garden Key. The fort was intended to be an army base to protect the Gulf of Mexico, but was never finished due to slow and costly construction. During the Civil War, Fort Jefferson transformed into a military prison and housed the famous physician turned prisoner, Dr. Samuel Mudd. He earned his infamy for treating John Wilkes Booth’s broken leg after he killed President Abraham Lincoln, and was sentenced with conspiracy to assassinate the president. Dr. Mudd denied the claims and was pardoned after four years for treating prisoners stricken with yellow fever during an 1867 outbreak.  

 a leftover canon in fort jefferson – (PHOTO: Felix Lipov/SHUTTERSTOCK)

Aerial view of fort jefferson – (PHOTO: Thomas Barrat/SHUTTERSTOCK)

Activities

 arches to the ocean at fort jefferson – (PHOTO: Nagel Photography/SHUTTERSTOCK)

Visitors typically spend the majority of their time exploring Fort Jefferson and walking along the walls of the surrounding moat to view the colorful marine life. Snorkeling is a great way to get a closer look at thecolorful fish, vibrant coral and sea turtles that frequent the area. Those with a keen sense of adventure gravitate toward the opportunity to explore some of the nearly 200 abandoned shipwrecks within the park’s shallow waters. Birdwatching is spectacular on the islands, especially during the spring migration when millions of birds can be seen taking a rest from their journey.  

 bush key seen from fort jefferson – (PHOTO: FELIX LIPOV/SHUTTERSTOCK)

Getting There

In order to reach the park, situated 70 miles west of Key West, Florida, visitors must take a three hour ferry ride or fly on a seaplane. The guests who choose to take the ferry ride to the park will enjoy a complimentary breakfast of doughnuts, fresh bagels, orange juice, fruit and coffee. The entire tour will last at least 10 hours, so it is imperative to set the whole day aside for this trip. 

Seaplanes are a viable option at your disposal if you have a limited amount of time. The flight will transfer you to Fort Jefferson in roughly 45 minutes, with breathtaking views of sharks, dolphins and colorful fish along the way.  

 Fort Jefferson – (PHOTO: Varina and Jay Patel/SHUTTERSTOCK)

 a view inside fort jefferson – (PHOTO: THOMAS BARRAT/SHUTTERSTOCK)

 sunset from the lighthouse of dry tortugas – (PHOTO: Dan Kosmayer/SHUTTERSTOCK)

the lighthouse of dry tortugas national park –  (PHOTO: DAN KOSMAYER/SHUTTERSTOCK)