Fort Jefferson on a sunny day. The moat walkway surrounds the fort with turquoise water all around. Text on the image says "Top Tips For a Day Trip to Dry Tortugas National Park"

Top Tips For a Day Trip To Dry Tortugas National Park

We visited Dry Tortugas National Park in February 2020. It’s a very unique park and a trip that you definitely won’t want to miss out on. This Florida national park is located about 70 miles west of Key West and is a vitamin sea lovers paradise. Dry Tortugas National Park consists of 7 small islands and is surrounded by the most beautiful turquoise water. Dry Tortugas differs from other national parks in that it doesn’t really have hiking trails like the others do. The main attraction of the park is the historic Fort Jefferson, which was once a prison during the Civil War.

Dry Tortugas National Park is very difficult to get to compared to other national parks, so we’ll share our top tips for visiting Dry Tortugas to help you make the most of your trip!

1. Make Reservations in Advance

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There are very few ways to reach Dry Tortugas: seaplane, ferry, or personal/charter boat. We didn’t start planning our trip until we were already in the Florida Keys. There ended up being only one day available for us to book out of the 10 days we were in the area (at least for the ferry not sure about the seaplane). Keep in mind that winter is Florida’s busiest season so if you plan to go during the winter/spring you’ll definitely want to get those reservations made as soon as possible!

The ferry costs $220 per adult, which includes entrance into the park as well as a breakfast snack and box lunch. The seaplane is $466 for a half day excursion and does not include the $15 entrance into the park and food is not provided. 

Pro Tip: If you have a National Park Pass, Veteran’s ID, or Every Kid Outdoors Pass, make sure to select the “w/ National Park Pass” ticket option when purchasing your ferry tickets online. This brings the price of an adult ticket down to $205. You MUST show your pass at check in or you’ll be charged the entrance fee.

2. Bring Things to do on the Ferry Ride

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The ferry ride from Key West to Dry Tortugas National Park takes approximately two and a half hours one direction or roughly five hours roundtrip. I highly suggest bringing a book, card game, downloaded music or some other activity to keep you occupied during the trip.

Onboard the Yankee Freedom III there is both indoor and outdoor seating and an upper deck on the boat. They also provide you with a breakfast snack and box lunch but you may want to bring some extra snacks and water for when you are out exploring the island or for the return trip home. 

The day we went out there were 7-8 foot swells and choppy waves. If you are prone to getting motion sickness I suggest bringing along some Dramamine just in case or taking some ahead of time. I’ve been on plenty of boats and have no issues with motion sickness but, the last hour of the ride there was awful (I even got sick). They do have Dramamine for purchase, but it’s probably cheaper to bring your own.

The return trip home was a lot smoother and we both fell asleep! It’s an all day excursion so make sure you’re well rested. Check in starts at 7am and you arrive back in Key West around 5:30 or so.

3. Be Prepared to Get Wet

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Less than 1% of Dry Tortugas is dry ground! One of the best ways to explore the national park is by getting in the water. If you arrive by ferry they have complimentary snorkeling gear for you to borrow. When we went the conditions weren’t great for snorkeling. The waves just kept kicking up too much sand. We still got in and swam though! The water is too irresistible to pass up taking a dip in. 

There are a few changing rooms on the island for you to use! We wore our swimsuits under our clothes on the way there so we wouldn’t be wasting any time. The ferry also has a few fresh water rinses on the back of the boat that you can use before the return trip home. Don’t forget to bring towels, sunscreen, and a change of clothes. You’ll want to make sure to leave yourself plenty of time to change and rinse off before you are expected back on the boat. 

4. Walk the Moat Wall and Explore the Fort

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The fort has 6 sides and 3 levels made up of 16 millions bricks but was never finished or fully armed. You can walk on every level of the fort including the very top and the moat wall too! The top level is completely open to the elements and has the best views in the park. You are also able to walk around the outside of the fort on the moat wall. You need to be careful where you step when walking throughout. The moat wall has sections missing from hurricane damage and most of the fort doesn’t have hand railings. There are also bricks laying around so be careful not to trip!

5. Bringing Pets to Dry Tortugas

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Pets can be brought to Dry Tortugas National Park however, there are a few caveats. Pets are allowed on Garden Key but not inside the fort or on any other key in the park. They must be on leash at all times and pet parents must remove waste from the park. If you are taking the ferry only certified assistance dogs are allowed onboard. So for most visitors to the park, bringing along a furry friend isn’t really feasible. 

6. Dry Tortugas National Park Camping

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We did not get the opportunity to camp at Dry Tortugas this time but it is definitely on our bucket list. Campsites at Dry Tortugas are available on a first-come, first-served for regular sites (up to six people) and cost $15 or $30 for a group site. While camping reservations are not required, ferry tickets often sell out months in advance and are limited to 10 camping passengers per day.

Keep in mind that if you’re camping, you can only take the ferry or a private vessel to get to the island because of all the extra gear you’ll need to bring.

Camping at Dry Tortugas is PRIMITIVE camping, meaning you must bring everything with you including water. There are composting toilets available but you must pack everything out that you bring with you. You should bring only the essentials as gear can not exceed 60 lbs. per person (not including water). Due to security/safety aboard the ship, campers are not allowed to bring flammable accelerants or propane canisters so options for starting fires are limited to charcoal or stereo cans. More information about camping at Fort Jefferson and rules can be found here

It seems like a lot of work but I think it’d be worth it to spend a night or two under the stars on a secluded island camped in front of a historic fort!

couple posing in front of Fort Jefferson sign Dry Tortugas

We hope these tips for visiting Dry Tortugas National Park helped. Happy adventuring!

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One Comment

  1. Oooo another to add to the ever growing travel list!!🤩 thank you for this! Getting to new places always freaks me out so having this guide will be amazing! 🙌🏼

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