Beautiful Aerial View of Fort Jefferson in Dry Tortugas National Park Florida

Where is Dry Tortugas National Park

Dry Tortugas National Park resides in the Gulf of Mexico about 65 miles west of Key West, Florida. The seven Dry Tortugas islands are the westernmost and most isolated Florida Keys. The national park protects a series of coral reefs and a diverse and abundant marine ecology. Visitors arriving at Dry Tortugas National Park will find the opportunity to practice a variety of recreational activities including snorkeling, diving, recreational fishing, camping, paddle sports, and others. Visitors can also explore Fort Jefferson. Due to its location, Dry Tortugas National Park is only reachable via a daily concession ferry that leaves from Key West, private boats, charter boats, and by seaplane.

How Large is Dry Tortugas National Park

Resting in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, Dry Tortugas US National Park covers a total of over 64,700 acres or about 101 square miles. Across these 101 square miles, Dry Tortugas National Park protects a variety of marine environments including delicate coral reefs. In fact, the national park is over 99 percent water, and the total area of land found in Dry Tortugas National Park is only around 104 acres. Popular sights found within the park include Fort Jefferson, Loggerhead Key, and Garden Key. The latter of which contains an overnight campground visitor can stay at on the island. The average elevation of Dry Tortugas National Park is only around 10 feet above sea level.

View of Man Walking on Moat Around Fort Jefferson in Dry Tortugas National Park Florida

Dry Tortugas National Park Weather

Dry Tortugas National Park sits within a tropical savanna climate. Every year the park and surrounding area experiences a rainy season that coincides with the Atlantic hurricane season. This wet season lasts from May to October, and the dry season in the park extends from November to April. Even though Dry Tortugas experiences a yearly occurring rainy season it is still the driest place in all of Florida. Temperatures in the park vary very little throughout the course of the entire year. High temperatures during the summer approach 95 degrees Fahrenheit, whereas winter lows only fall to around 65 degrees Fahrenheit. The park only receives about 36 inches of rain per year.

When did Dry Tortugas Become a National Park

Juan Ponce de Leon was the first European to set his eyes on the Dry Tortugas in 1513. The United States purchased Florida from Spain in 1822. Immediately after, the United States Navy started to develop the Dry Tortugas into a strategic naval fortress. Fort Jefferson, though never finished, is the largest masonry structure found in the western hemisphere. The fort is composed of more than 16 million bricks. The park was originally dedicated as Fort Jefferson National Monument in 1935 under the Antiquities Act. The monument was expanded in 1983, and then redesignated Dry Tortugas National Park by an act of Congress in 1992. Dry Tortugas National Park is managed and maintained by the staff of Everglades National Park.

Things to do in Dry Tortugas National Park

Dry Tortugas National Park is a marine paradise. Almost all of the activities practiced in the park involve the Gulf of Mexico in some shape or form. Our National Park Visitors Guide list below discusses several popular adventures and activities visitors can participate in at Dry Tortugas National Park. 

Explore Fort Jefferson

Fort Jefferson is located on Garden Key and is the largest 19th century fort found in the United States. The fort is the central cultural attraction at Dry Tortugas National Park. Visitors looking to learn more about the history of Fort Jefferson and the masonic efforts that were involved in its construction can visit the fort and the park’s visitor center. Along the fort walkway and in the visitor center, visitors will find various educational displays and exhibits that discuss several key factors and events present in the history of Fort Jefferson.

Loggerhead Key

Loggerhead Key covers about 49 acres and is the largest island in Dry Tortugas National Park. On the key, visitors will find the Loggerhead Lighthouse; a popular historic destination. The lighthouse was constructed in 1857 and also once contained the “Tortugas Laboratory” which was operated by the Carnegie Research Institute from 1904 until 1939. The island also contains a variety of snorkeling and diving sites just off its shores.

Snorkeling and Diving Sites

Dry Tortugas National Park contains a long list of breathtaking snorkeling and diving sites. One of the more popular sites is Little Africa. This snorkeling site can be found in the water around Loggerhead Key and offers visitors the chance to share the water with a variety of large headed corals, tropical fish, and spiny lobsters. The Windjammer Wreck, one of the more popular diving sites, is also located near Little Africa. The Windjammer Wreck rests in only about 20 feet of water and hosts schools of tropical fish and colorful coral. The wreck site is a popular site among novice divers.

Kayaking & Paddle Boarding

Visitors looking to explore Dry Tortugas National Park via their own personal kayak or paddleboard can choose between several shorter trips near Garden Key or a few longer trips in open waters. Either way, no matter what paddle trip you decide to enjoy, you will find clear water and a variety of marine life as you look down into the sea grass beds prevalent in the park’s waters.

Guided Ranger Programs

Visitors wishing to learn more about the ecology and history of Dry Tortugas National Park and historic Fort Jefferson may want to join in on one or more of the park’s guided ranger programs. A variety of programs are offered by the park, but a few specific programs include Fort Jefferson History Tours, ecological moat walks, and night sky presentations. Visitors looking for the park’s daily list of activities and events can visit the park’s website or check with a park ranger upon arrival.

Camping in Dry Tortugas National Park

Primitive camping is allowed on Dry Tortugas National Park within the Garden Key Campground. The park operates on a self-service payment plan, and campsites are not reservable online. Campers traveling to the national park are limited to purchasing a ticket for the Yankee Freedom Ferry or their own personal watercraft; seaplanes and private boats will not normally take campers to the islands due to the added weight of their gear.

Wildlife Viewing in the Park

The diversity of wildlife in Dry Tortugas National Park, largely due to its location and climate, is unlike any other found in the continental United States. Species of wildlife present on the island include a variety of threatened and endangered birds and marine life. Visitors are likely to spot several species of birds during their visit including brown pelicans, magnificent frigatebirds, masked boobys, roseate terns, and bridled terns, and a variety of migratory songbirds. In the past, one individual American crocodile was consistently seen in the national park. However, due to concerns about continued visitor interaction the crocodile was relocated to Everglades National Park.

Dramatic Sunset View of Lighthouse in Dry Tortugas National Park Florida

When to visit Dry Tortugas National Park

Dry Tortugas can really be visited throughout the entire year. Temperatures in the park rarely fluctuate drastically, and constantly are conducive to outdoor and marine recreation. Visitation to the park peaks during summer vacation windows. Therefore, visitors looking to avoid crowds in the park may want to plan their visit during the winter. During the season, Dry Tortugas National Park still consistently experiences days of 80-degree temperatures. Rainy season in the park occurs from May to October.

Must Have Items to Bring to Dry Tortugas National Park

Just like every national park adventure, a trip to Dry Tortugas National Park requires a series of equipment and supplies. Visitors looking to camp in the park will need to bring additional equipment as the park's campground has no running water and is very primitive. List of Parks provides the following list which includes several essential items visitors should bring along with them to Dry Tortugas National Park. 

Water & Snacks

Water and energy filled snacks are essential for every outdoor recreation trip, but on a trip to Dry Tortugas National Park they are a lifeline. The national park does not operate any restaurants or snack bars where visitors can obtain any sustenance. The campground on Garden Key also does not contain running water. Everything you will need in terms of water and food needs to be brought with you to the island.

Swimsuit, Sunglasses, & Sunscreen

Visitors looking to recreate in or around the water of Dry Tortugas National Park will want to bring a swimsuit, sunglasses, and sunscreen with them to the national park. These items will provide protection and comfort.

Snorkeling & Fishing Equipment

Visitors looking to snorkel or fish while in Dry Tortugas National Park will want to bring all of the required equipment along with them. Anglers visiting the park will also need to obtain a valid Florida state saltwater fishing license before traveling to the park. All Florida saltwater fishing regulations also apply.

Camping Equipment

The best way to keep track of all of the camping equipment needed at Dry Tortugas National Park is through the use of a camping checklist.

Wildlife Field Guides

Visitors wishing to learn more about the various species of wildlife found in Dry Tortugas National Park will want to purchase various wildlife field guides. The best field guides contain color images and lengthy species descriptions that make identification easy and educational.

View of Boats in Beautiful Clear Ocean Water in Dry Tortugas National Park Florida

Where to Stay in Dry Tortugas National Park

Visitors looking to stay within Dry Tortugas National Park will need to bring a variety of camping equipment along with them to the park. The park’s campground offers very little in terms of services or amenities. Visitors will also need to arrive at the park’s campground early in the day during the summer season to ensure availability. The park’s campground operates on a first come, first served basis. Visitors wishing to stay in a hotel off of the island will want to make a reservation in Key West.

Food Near Dry Tortugas National Park

There are no restaurants, shops, or concession stands on Dry Tortugas National Park that can provide visitors with food or other services. The ferry will provide its customers with breakfast and lunch. However, visitors planning to camp on the island should make sure to bring all of their needed sustenance and hydration supplies with them to the park. Visitors staying in Key West at night can find a variety of restaurants offering various cuisines.

Airports Near Dry Tortugas National Park

The closest airport to Dry Tortugas National Park is located in Key West. Flights out of Key West normally connect with flights in Miami. Visitors then can connect to most international airports from the Miami International Airport.

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