Seventy miles off the coast of Key West lies a fortress hidden in the sea. It’s an island called Dry Tortugas National Park – home to Fort Jefferson, the largest brick masonry structure in the Americas! The fort was named after President Thomas Jefferson. Construction on the fort began in December of 1846, but the fort was abandoned by the army in 1974, never being fully completed.
The island was established as a National Park in 1992, called Dry Tortugas National Park. It was originally named “Las Tortugas” (the Spanish word for turtle or tortoise) by Ponce De Leon in 1513 for the amount of sea turtles in the area. The island is the most active sea turtle nesting site in the Florida Keys! Here you can find Loggerhead, Hawksbill, Leatherback, Kemp’s Ridley and Green Sea Turtles.
HOW TO GET TO DRY TORTUGAS NATIONAL PARK
1. Chartered Seaplane
The quickest but most expensive way. Prices range from a half day adventure at $329 to a full day at the park at $578. Travel time in the sea plane is approximately 40 minutes each way. You can find more information at Key West Sea Plane Charters.
2. Private Yacht
This is also one of the more expensive ways to get there, and will not save you much time. You can book through: Adventure Water Sport Charters, Delph Fishing, Cockle Shell Corporation, or Dream Catcher Charters.
3. The Yankee Freedom Ferry
The Yankee Freedom Ferry is the most economical way to get to the park at $175 and how I traveled there as well. The ferry has daily departures from Key West. Travel time for the ferry is about 2 1/2 hours each way and gives you about 5 hours at the park. Breakfast and lunch is included with the ferry ride over, as well as park entrance which is usually $10. The ferry will also provide you with snorkeling gear if you wish. Restrooms are also on board the ferry, there are none available on the island. You will experience beautiful scenery on the ferry ride over as well as chances of spotting sea turtles and dolphins. I suggest having some dramamine on hand just incase you are prone to seasickness, as the ride is a bit long.
THINSG TO DO AT DRY TORTUGAS NATIONAL PARK
Once you arrive on the island you will have plenty to do. Guided tours of the fort are available. You can stop by the bookstore, visit the museum, snorkel, walk the fort boarders, or hang out at the beach and go for a swim. There is no food or drink available for purchase on the island, so if you are not arriving by the ferry, make sure you bring your own.
Camping is also permitted on the island. I unfortunately missed out on camping as this was a last minute trip for me, and camping can fill up weeks in advance as there are only a small amount of camping spots available. Camping fees are $15 per night. You will have to bring enough food and water to last you for your entire camping experience, as once again, there is no food or water available for purchase at the park. It is also suggested that you bring proper equipment to protect your food from the rat population that lives on the island! Pictures of the fort at night look amazing! I’m still upset i wasn’t able to camp overnight, and will for sure be doing so if I am able to get back there!
I personally decided to visit the park because it was pet-friendly. I was traveling solo with my dog and I couldn’t pass us the beautiful scenery as well as a doggie beach. Benson, my Old English Sheepdog and I arrived to the island via the ferry. Please note, only certified assistant dogs are permitted on the ferry. Please also note Key West is VERY dog friendly and when I offered his paperwork at check in and they declined to see it. Employees on the ferry were also very happy to see Benson offering him lots of pets and bringing him food and water the entire trip. Dogs are permitted on the island but they are not permitted inside the fort. Dogs must be leashed at all times and waste removed as well.
By the time we arrived everyone knew Benson’s name. Not mine though, I guess he was more popular! We decided to walk around and explore the island. Every corner we turned I heard “Oh, there’s Benson!” “Hi Benson!” We walked down the beach taking photos, looking for sea glass, shells, and corals. As pretty as they are, removing them and other natural objects from the island is prohibited. So photos will have to do!
We then walked around the moat, which I highly suggest doing. It was an amazing view of the fort, as well as the island, and the crystal clear waters. About an hour has passed, and by this time I was starving. It had gotten extremely hot out. I decided to head back to the ferry for the included lunch. I also figured if I needed a break from the heat, Benson probably needed a break as well as some water. We took about a 45 minute lunch break. The lunch included sandwiches, salads, snacks, cookies, and cold drinks. It was very plentiful and was a buffet style, so you could go back for seconds if needed.
After lunch, we headed out to the doggie beach. The doggie beach is located to the left of the fort entrance. Here they can hang out on the beach or swim if they want. Once again, make sure to bring water (and a water bowel!) with you for your dog at all times. It can can get really hot and they can get dehydrated easily. We spent the rest of our time at Dry Tortugas on the dog beach.
Benson loves to swim so he had a great time there. And of course the entire afternoon was spent with people coming up to Benson to say hello. “Look, it’s Benson!” “Oh is he on holiday? That’s so funny!” “Can I take a picture with him?” I’m often traveling solo, so I’m not really used to this much attention. But when you have a dog with you, EVERYONE wants to chat, which was a nice change.
Once our time on the island had run out, we headed back to the ferry. Here, they have showers on the back of the boat to rinse off the sand/salt water. I grabbed a couple cold drinks and snacks that the ferry had out and we headed to the upper level for the ride back to Key West.
Overall, I really enjoyed my time at Dry Tortugas. The long ferry ride is definitely worth it. I’m also very happy with how dog friendly everyone was at the park, as this is often hard to find. If you decide to venture out to the Dry Tortugas make sure to plan in advance, especially if you are trying to camp overnight. Make sure to bring sunglass, sunscreen, a hat, bathing suit, towels, a change of clothing, plenty of food and water (if you are not riding on the ferry), and a really awesome dog!
Have you been to Dry Tortugas or another spot in Key West? Please share your experience in the comments section below! Read Next > 5 Fantastic Florida Kayak Escapes
By We Are Travel Girls Contributor Kerry Harrison
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