Dry Tortugas National Park

What to See and Do and Where to Stay When Visiting
Dry Tortugas National Park:

Get critical information, insider tips, and pictures, as well as ideas for where to stay when visiting this national park located in southwestern Florida, west of Key West in the Gulf of Mexico.

Dry Tortugas  National Park Details and Background

  • Address: Dry Tortugas National Park, P.O. Box 6208, Key West, FL 33041
  • Phone: 305-242-7700
  • Date established as a national park: October 26, 1992
  • Size: 64,700 acres
  • Visit the Official Park Service Dry Tortugas National Park and Preserve site for park (which includes information such as entrance fees).

    Special advisories:

  • Plan to bring all water, food, and supplies as no fresh water is available for campers and no showers.[NG]
  • Private boats must anchor offshore in designated areas as no public boat moorings or slips are available.[NG]
  • No public-telephone system to the Dry Tortugas is available.[NG]
  • 10 interesting facts about Dry Tortugas National Park

    1. Dry Tortugas National Park is not exactly in Florida; it is about 70 miles off the coast of Key West -- and barely 40 acres of the park are above water. [NPS] [NG]
    2. Dry Tortugas National Park comprises a cluster of seven islands, composed of coral reefs and sand. [NPS]
    3. The Carnegie Institute's Laboratory for Marine Biology was established among the Dry Tortugas in 1905. Based on Loggerhead Key, this research facility laid the foundation for 20th century tropical marine science, with an emphasis on coral reef systems. [NPS]
    4. Despite its distance from the mainland, Dry Tortugas National Park is home to some American crocodiles. [NPS]
    5. Between the March and September, some 100,000 sooty terns, who finds their only regular U.S. nesting site on Bush Key adjacent to Fort Jefferson, come to nest on the islands of the Dry Tortugas. They are joined by brown noddies, roseate terns, double-crested cormorants and brown pelicans.[NPS]
    6. A large military fortress, Fort Jefferson, was constructed in the mid-19th century in the dry Tortugas to enable the United States to protect the extremely lucrative shipping channel that connects the Gulf of Mexico, the western Caribbean, and the Atlantic Ocean. Despite more than 30 years of construction, massive Fort Jefferson was never truly completed on the islands of the Dry Tortugas. Advances in weapon technology would come to render the fort obsolete by 1862. It was used as a prison during the Civil War. [NPS]
    7. The Dry Tortugas have been the site where hundreds of ships have wrecked, stranded, or sustained causalities since its discovery in 1513 by Ponce de Leon. [NPS]
    8. The Carnegie Institute's Laboratory for Marine Biology, based on Loggerhead Key, laid the foundation for 20th century tropical marine science, with an emphasis on coral reef systems.[NPS]
    9. The Dry Tortugas derived their name from the abundance of turtles that could be found in the area. Pirates lived on the turtles and their eggs. Even today, lucky visitors may be able to spot loggerhead, green, hawksbill, and leatherback sea turtles plying the waters.[NPS] [NG]
    10. The park's coral and sea grass communities are among the most vibrant in the Florida Keys. The coral community is the third-largest barrier reef system outside of Australia and Belize. [NPS]

    10 tips for getting the most out of a visit to Dry Tortugas National Park

    Biscayne National Park
    1. The National Park Service describes April and May in Dry Tortugas as "often idyllic." Two seasons exist in the park: The winter season (December-March), which can be windy with rough seas, and the tropical storm season (June-November) during which Dry Tortugas experiences both hot, humid weather and calm seas or severe weather events. The Park Service recommends consulting an accurate weather forecast before your visit because of ever-changing weather patterns.[NPS] [NG]
    2. Access to the park is by boat (about 3 hours) or seaplane (40 minutes). Get information on transportation here. [NG] [NPS]
    3. A limited number of vendors offer guided fishing trips, dive and/or snorkeling trips, guided wildlife viewing trips, and sailing charters to Dry Tortugas National Park. See list of vendors here.[NPS]
    4. Other park activities include swimming, diving to view shipwrecks, undwerwater photography, birdwatching, camping, and stargazing. Sport fishing is permitted while lobstering and spearfishing are prohibited. Florida state fishing laws and regulations also apply as does Florida fishing license.[NG] [NPS]
    5. Ranger-led tours are sometimes available. Check at the Visitor Center on Garden Key for the most current schedule upon your arrival.[NPS]
    6. Download numerous brochures about the park here.
    7. The seawall outside Fort Jefferson is a sheltered habitat for sea creatures, and outside the wall is a superb snorkeling area with at least 442 species of fish. The visitor center lends out a limited supply of goggles, snorkels, and flippers. [NG]
    8. Loggerhead and Bush Keys are available for day use only, and Bush Key is closed from March to September during the nesting season. [NG]
    9. You can get a glimpse of what the park is like through an underwater webcam. See this press release, which also includes Everglades National Park. [NPS]
    10. Check with park headquarters when planning a visit as ongoing preservation of Fort Jefferson may result in partial closures.[NPS]
    11. Kids can learn all about the habitats, history and animals around Fort Jefferson while becoming a Junior Ranger. They can ask for a copy of the Junior Ranger Handbook at the visitor center, or download it here. [NPS]
    12. Learn about special-use permits that may be required here.
    13. Learn about volunteer opportunities at the park here. [NPS]

    Where to stay when visiting Dry Tortugas National Park

    Biscayne National Park Camping
    A 10-site, primitive campground is located on the same island as Fort Jefferson and is a short walk from the public dock. Eight individual sites can accomodate up to 6 people and 3 tents, and are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Should a regular campsite not be available, an overflow area is provided. A group site is available for 10-40 people and must be reserved in advance. Call 305-242-7700 to obtain a reservation application, or download a camping reservation form.

    RV Parks

    The park does not provide any public lodging other than its primitive campground. Visitors can stay in Key West, and can visit the Greater Key West Chamber of Commerce site for hotel and RV park listings.

    While you're visiting Dry Tortugas National Park

    While you're in the area, you might want to also explore the Everglades National Park to the east.

    Guide to sources:
    NG = National Geographic Guide to the National Parks of the United States
    NPF = National Park Foundation's The Official Guide to America's National Parks
    KB = The National Parks: America's Best Idea by Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns
    AAA = AAA Guide to the National Parks
    NPS = National Park Service Website

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