Only accessible by boat or floatplane, Dry Tortugas National Park is a remote paradise 70 miles west of Key West and home to a diverse array of birds and sea life. Fort Jefferson was built on Garden Key starting in 1846 and was never completed before it was abandoned in 1874. Today birders come from all over to see the rookery of 100,000 sooty terns on Bush Key, and also get the joy of watching the acrobatic dives of brown pelicans, double-crested cormorants, and magnificent frigatebirds with their seven-foot wingspan.
Fort Jefferson, snorkeling, birding, overnight camping
Turquoise blue water is home to amazing coral reefs right offshore from Garden Key, with some coral and sea fans growing on Fort Jefferson’s brick moat wall and old dock pylons. Snorkeling among the historic debris feels like exploring an ancient shipwreck. The daily ferry ship provides free snorkeling gear for day-trippers.
Walk the sea wall that circles Fort Jefferson for great views and a chance to see the endangered American crocodile that sometimes resides in the moat.
Walking the archways of Fort Jefferson in the rays of the rising sun or watching a sunset from atop its ramparts is a great reason to spend the night here.
Weather permitting, the Yankee Freedom ferry boat runs daily all year, but you may want to be cautious during hurricane season.
A park entrance fee is collected by the Yankee Freedom ferry service when you purchase your tickets, but is refundable at check-in if you have an America The Beautiful Pass. A nominal camping fee is charged to stay on Garden Key.
A parking deck (fee) is located right near the docks and check-in for the Yankee Freedom ferry boat.
Primitive camping is allowed on Garden Key for a small fee. Campers must bring all of their own water and the only way to cook is with charcoal since fires and stoves are prohibited.
Explore More – Why were the islands of the Tortugas labeled “Dry” on early maps?