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How to Get to Dry Tortugas National Park

How to Get to Dry Tortugas National Park

Dry Tortugas National Park is for the more adventurous explorer. This national park is more difficult to get to than most national parks. Getting there requires either sailing your own boat, chartering one, taking a ferry, or a seaplane. 

Though it’s one of the least visited national parks, those who make the journey out to this island are greeted with a 19th century fort, marine and bird life, and opportunities for activities like snorkeling and visiting Fort Jefferson. 

How To Get To Dry Tortugas National Park

This national park is located approximately 70 nautical miles west of Key West, placing it in the Gulf of Mexico. There are four distinct options for getting to the park. 

Visit The Park Using Your Own Boat

If you enjoy taking your time and not being on anyone else’s schedule, taking your own boat is your best option for your visit. 

You can take a private boat to the park during daylight hours. However, the ferries are docked between 10am and 3pm, and private boats aren’t allowed to dock during that time. 

You’ll need to make a stop at the Garden Key headquarters inside Fort Jefferson when visiting the park. You can find more information on boat permits on the National Park Services website

Charter a Tour to Get to Dry Tortugas National Park

There are many tour operators who have permits to bring visitors to the island. Every company has designed a tour with a different focus in mind for activities during your visit.

Some of the types of tours you can take to the park include:

  • Snorkeling trips
  • Diving tours
  • Guided fishing trips
  • Wildlife viewing
  • Sailing Excursions

Take the Ferry to the Park

The ferry is the most popular way to visit the park. The Yankee Freedom III will bring you to Fort Jefferson. 

The entrance fee for the park is included in the cost of the ferry ride. For adults, a day trip costs $180. For children ages four to sixteen, it costs $125. If you already have a national park pass, you will be refunded the cost of the park entrance when you check in the morning of your trip. 

The 70 mile journey to the park takes 2.5 hours on the ferry. As part of a day trip, you will have four to five hours on the island to explore. 

Travel By Seaplane

You can hire a seaplane to take you to Dry Tortugas National Park from the Key West airport. The flight will take you a little over an hour and a half to arrive on the island. 

The seaplane tours typically allow you up to three hours on the island and average a cost of $300 per person, though this varies depending on what company you hire. 

What You Need To Know Before You Go

Before you make the visit to Dry Tortugas National Park, these are some things you should know to help you better plan and have an enjoyable trip.

What to Expect From the Weather At the Park

This national park is in a subtropical climate. The winters are milder and drier, while the summers are hot and humid. This area has two storm seasons. 

From December to March, you can expect windier weather and a rougher journey by boat. In the summer and fall, from June to November, there are more isolated storms. 

Despite the chance of isolated storms, the water is clearer during the summer months. You can expect it to be very warm, likely in the 90s (F), and humid so you will want to be prepared for the heat.

The Cost of Visiting Dry Tortugas

The entrance fee is $15 per person to visit the park. It can be purchased online before you go and printed off to be presented when you arrive. The pass is good for the seven consecutive days after you arrive. 

Children under the age of 16 may visit for free. 

Most of the cost of your visit will be in your method of arriving there. Note that if you purchase a tour, your entrance fee is likely included in the cost of the tour. 

Camping At the Park

There is camping available at the national park for a cost of $15 per night. If you wish to camp here, you can do so for up to three nights if you arrive by ferry, or 14 nights if you arrive on your own boat. 

Cell Phones At the Park

Note that you are unlikely to get cell phone service in the Dry Tortugas National Park. There are no cell towers there. 

What To Bring With You To The Park

If you forget something or want to plan to purchase snacks on the island, there is a small gift shop available for you at the park. They sell both snacks and souvenirs. They accept cash and cards there. 

Things you may want to bring with you include:

  • A beach towel
  • A water bottle
  • A hat
  • Sunscreen
  • Sunglasses
  • Comfortable shoes for walking
  • A change of clothing
  • Bathing suit
  • Camera
  • Binoculars
  • Your own snorkeling gear, though it is possible to rent some on the island

What To Do At Dry Tortugas National Park

There are many popular activities you can take part in while visiting this national park. There’s a little bit of something for everyone to enjoy on a day trip or a few days camping here. 

Some of the most popular activities include:

  • Bird watching
  • Diving
  • Snorkeling
  • Swimming
  • Camping
  • Fishing
  • Wildlife viewing
  • Take a guided tour
  • Visit Historic Fort Jefferson

A tour of the fort is included in your entrance fee to the park. 

Fort Jefferson is a six sided structure. The fort housed both military and served as a prison, mostly housing army deserters. 

The guided tours of Fort Jefferson include different activities depending on the day, so if there’s something you’re particularly hoping for, you’ll need to check the National Park Service’s website for Dry Tortugas to see what events are scheduled during your visit. 

Plan Your Visit to Dry Tortugas National Park

A visit to this Florida National Park is a rare adventure, and one that is easily customized to be unique to you.

Once you choose one of the ways to get to Dry Tortugas National Park, you’ll be able to pick from a long list of activities to plan a trip just the way you want it.

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