Hi travelers! Welcome to our travel guide on the beautiful Dry Tortugas National Park of Florida. We are Ansley and Macy from Discovering Duo (@discoveringduo) – two close friends traveling the world together.
We met in college. Ansley is from a small town in South Georgia and Macy is from the greater Atlanta area. Both of us were working for our college’s athletic department when we met. Macy is a former college athlete and Ansley is an avid sports lover. That was almost six years ago now. Our friendship has been rooted in three things: God, sport and travel.
We attended the same church and so outside of work we typically saw each other on the weekends. That is where our friendship really began to blossom. Our campus was in the heart of the North Georgia Mountains which made our love for weekend adventures that much more possible.
We eventually took our first big trip together out of the country and our families joined too. Now we are all good friends and travel buddies. We decided to start documenting our adventures after one of our cruises. It was actually Macy who had the idea to start a joint Instagram account. We had all this footage from different adventures but nowhere to showcase it.
Ansley is into photography (don’t let Macy fool you, she can definitely hold her own with a camera as well) and Macy was good at the creative side of the Instagram account. We balance each other with our creative visions and have enjoyed documenting and sharing our journeys this way.
Visiting Dry Tortugas National Park
Our bucket list dream is to visit as many national parks in the United States as possible. Being beach lovers, Dry Tortugas National Park quickly made it to the top of our bucket list as a “must visit”. Since it’s one of the most remote parks, planning ahead is much needed to get to the Dry Tortugas.
We made the mistake of waiting until almost too late to find a way there, but luckily we found a private charter that was able to take our group for the trip of a lifetime! The journey to Dry Tortugas is all part of the adventure. We arrived at our boat’s dock in Key West, Finz Dive Center, at 6am to depart for the 70-mile one way trek to Dry Tortugas.
Some high winds that day caused a bumpy ride. But it was still well worth the trip. We saw a beautiful sunrise from the boat and some manatees as we left out of the channel that morning. We were in a 34-foot dive boat. Since the boat has to accelerate quickly all the way there, we were all sitting on beanbag chairs on the ground to ensure a smoother ride!
It took us about two and a half hours one way. We had our captain, first mate (a certified scuba diver) and snorkel guide with us. Once we arrived at Fort Jefferson, we spent around three hours on the island touring the fort and beach area. Then we did some swimming and snorkeling.
From there we went to a shipwreck snorkel spot about a mile out for about 45 minutes and then ventured to the largest island of Dry Tortugas called Loggerhead Key. Here we hiked to the lighthouse and enjoyed the beautiful beach for a little over an hour. After all of that, we had snacks on the boat and then made the trip back home. It was a wonderful experience.
Best Experiences at Dry Tortugas
Dry Tortugas National Park is truly one of the most beautiful places in the United States. Being able to experience this remote destination was absolutely incredible. One of the added perks of taking the charter that we did was being able to arrive at Fort Jefferson before any of the crowds.
It was just us and a handful of campers on the island. This gave us ample time to take in the park and fully appreciate our time there without being rushed. From there, snorkeling the Windjammer Wreck with just our small group allowed us to see everything we could have wanted.
Then, wrapping up our trip at Loggerhead Key, being the only people on the island was by far one of the most magical experiences for us. Having such a beautiful park basically for our group to enjoy all by ourselves made our trip unlike any other. It was an unforgettable time at Dry Tortugas.
Favorite Place at Dry Tortugas: Loggerhead Key
Being able to visit the beautiful Loggerhead Key and spend that time on the island with no one else there is something that won’t be forgotten from our trip. This island is not part of any typical Dry Tortugas tour via the ferry or seaplane and is only accessible by private boats or by kayaking there.
Loggerhead Key was not somewhere we even knew we could visit until we lucked into the specific charter boat that we took. And don’t get us wrong – Fort Jefferson is amazing and the history is very interesting. However, Loggerhead Key was probably our favorite part of the entire experience.
Things To Do at Dry Tortugas National Park
1. Take a Tour of Fort Jefferson
The fort itself is really such an incredible structure with a ton of history. We took a guided tour through our charter and learned so much while taking in breathtaking views along the way. Climbing to the top to see sharks and turtles in the water down below was definitely a highlight.
A cool photo op is inside the fort with the open-window style walls and the ocean backdrop. Make sure to speak with the park staff as they are friendly and knowledgeable. Ask about Dr. Mudd and his imprisonment!
2. Go Snorkeling in the Shallow Waters
Snorkeling in the area is a great activity for everyone as the water is shallow and there is a good amount of marine life and coral. Swimming around the moat of Fort Jefferson is also a fun experience and makes for a great relief from the hot temperatures which at times can get extremely high.
3. Book an All-Day or Overnight Charter
If you can, try to take an all-day charter or overnight charter so you can visit more than just Fort Jefferson. There is so much more to see of Dry Tortugas National Park than just Garden Key and Fort Jefferson. Many people fail to realize that there are more opportunities within the park.
With binoculars on Garden Key, you can actually birdwatch over onto Bush Key (nesting season is March through September). Then, our visit to Loggerhead Key was such an added bonus to our trip with the gorgeous landscapes, white sandy beach, crystal clear water and cool lighthouse.
4. Camp Overnight on Garden Key
We weren’t able to do an overnight charter or camp on the island but this experience is why we will come back! A few hours simply isn’t enough time at Dry Tortugas. Camping on Garden Key would be an unreal experience. Spending more time in such a remote location would be epic.
5. Join a Fishing Charter at Dry Tortugas
Fishing is another activity we didn’t personally experience but it was something people couldn’t stop talking about! Macy’s dad actually took a fishing charter there about 25 years ago and from what we continued to hear from everyone else was that it’s just as amazing now as it was then.
If you are into fishing, Dry Tortugas National Park is a major bucket list destination with Goliath Grouper, Snapper, Amberjack, Tarpon, Mahi Mahi and more! A quick google search and you will find a great fishing charter.
Where to Stay when Visiting Dry Tortugas National Park
The only way to stay anywhere near Dry Tortugas is by primitive camping on Garden Key with a reservation or by an overnight boat charter that anchors outside the park. We weren’t able to do either of these but had an amazing experience staying on a catamaran at Stock Island Marina.
This was definitely one of the greatest experiences and such a wonderful option to stay a little more secluded during the pandemic. We rented it through Airbnb but it was a company called Blue Ocean Yacht Charters. If that isn’t your style, there are plenty of hotels, condos, traditional B&B’s, private rentals and motorhome camping options throughout the Keys.
Downtown Key West is a fun place to stay and hang out as well. From there it’s just a short drive to one of the three options to get to Dry Tortugas: Yankee Freedom ferry dock, Key West Seaplanes or private charter boats.
Other Amazing Places to Visit near Dry Tortugas National Park
Like we said previously, a private or overnight charter would be the best way to see all of what Dry Tortugas has to offer. The Windjammer Shipwreck is less than a mile from Garden Key filled with vibrant sea life and well worth the snorkel stop (watch out for the moon jellyfish!).
Back in Key West, if you are still feeling the fort vibes, check out Fort Zachary Taylor State Park and beach area as it’s one of the best spots in the Keys to explore in or out of the water. The Southernmost Point is another must visit while in the area even though it’s a major tourist spot.
There are endless opportunities in the Keys. You just have to know where to go. We took an overnight catamaran sail, snorkeled, went fishing, ate a lot of great food, went shopping and enjoyed Smathers Beach. Florida is a beautiful state but the Keys and Dry Tortugas take it to the next level.
Need to Know Before you Go
We can’t stress this enough: book in advance! Dry Tortugas National Park, especially right now, is an extremely popular destination. After booking, there are three main ways to get to the park. They are as follows:
The Yankee Freedom Ferry: This is a large ferry boat you ride with other passengers two hours or more one way. It books up months in advance and can be the most cost-effective way to get there. The Yankee Freedom Ferry even has a camping option if you book far enough in advance.
Key West Seaplane: A small seaplane you ride that takes about 40 minutes each way. You have the option for a half day or full day trip each with different price points and a bit more expensive than the ferry.
Private Charter: Something you will have to research to see what makes sense for you. Rates, availability, number of passengers and activities vary by the company. Plan this in advance as there are opportunities for day charters, overnight charters, fishing charters and more if you book in time.
Another tip is to make sure you know if your national park admittance is covered in your transport rate. If you have a national parks pass this fee can be waived, otherwise it’s $15 per person. Apart from those things, just enjoy your time at this unique paradise called Dry Tortugas!