Dry Tortugas National Park
Almost 70 miles west of Key West lies a cluster of seven islands, composed of coral reefs and sand, called the Dry Tortugas. Along with the surrounding shoals and waters, they make up Dry Tortugas National Park. The area is known for its famous bird and marine life, and its legends of pirates and sunken gold. Fort Jefferson, one of the largest coastal forts ever built, is a central feature. Discovered by Ponce de Leon, the islands provide a unique experience and a variety of remarkable experiences await those who arrive. Whether you find yourself camping, snorkeling, birdwatching, fishing, or just enjoying a view from the top of massive Fort Jefferson, you quickly realize how magical this place can be.
Fort Jefferson, on Garden Key, and Loggerhead are open year-round during daylight hours; closed at dark. Bush Key, Hospital Key, and Long Key are closed-year round and visitors should remain 100 feet offshore of all closed islands. Middle and East Keys are closed April 1 through October 15 for turtle nesting. Pets are not allowed and there is no cell phone tower at the park.
Upon arrival, see the orientation program at the visitor center in Fort Jefferson and take the self-guiding tour of the fort. A boat is necessary to visit areas of the park other than Garden Key/Fort Jefferson.
There are several vendors that provide tours, dive or snorkel trips, and more. The park is accessible via boat and is the best way to get around the explore the keys. Personal watercraft (jet skis) are prohibited even as tenders. In general you may tie up to the public-use dock for no more than 2 hours between sunrise and sunset with the following exceptions: From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily (due to ferry boats), and while park supply boat unloads cargo or unloads fuel. Schooner Halie & Matthew offers sailing (published as of 2008).
The Dry Tortugas provide long-term habitat for few birds. Fewer than 40 species are usual in winter and only seven nest more-or-less regularly (Masked Booby, Brown Pelican, Magnificent Frigatebird, Roseate Tern, Sooty Tern, Brown Noddy, Mourning Dove). Most birds in the area are transients or strays, present only briefly (usually during migrations), but often very numerous when they occur. A checklist of 299 species is available on the park website.
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 accommodate up to six people and three tents, and are available on a first-come, first-served basis. A group site is available for 10-40 people and must be reserved in advance. Fees paid for transportation (seaplane or ferry) do not include camping fees. Campsites have picnic tables and grills. Campers must bring all supplies, including fresh water, fuel, ice, and food. Neither ferry allows the transport of fuels such as propane, lighter fluid, or any other type of liquid fuel or gas. Instead, self-starting / lighting charcoal is recommended. Vessels may anchor between sunset and sunrise in a designated anchorage area, defined as the area of sand and rubble bottom within one nautical mile of the Fort Jefferson harbor light. Overnight anchoring is not permitted at any other location in Dry Tortugas National Park.
Sport fishing is permitted while lobstering and spearfishing are prohibited. Florida state fishing laws and regulations also apply as does Florida fishing license. Contact Park Ranger for areas closed to fishing. Many vendors provide guided fishing trips: Arthur S. Nichols; Yankee Fleet; Lethal Weapon Charters, Inc.; Dream Catcher Charters, Inc.; Tortuga Hooker, Inc.; On the Fly; FishMonster; Fishing Generation; Eddie Fish Chartering; Stephanie Fleet; Capt. Andy Griffiths; Compass Rose Charters; Triple Time. All services published as of 2008.
The Tortugas were first discoverd by Ponce de Leon in 1513. Abundant sea turtles or "tortugas" provisioned his ships with fresh meat, but there was no fresh water-the tortugas were dry. Since the days of Spanish exploration, the reefs and shoals of the Dry Tortugas have been a serious hazard to navigation and the site of hundreds of shipwrecks. U.S. military attention was drawn to the keys in the early 1800's due to their strategic location in the Florida Straits. Plans were made for a massive fortress and construction began in 1846, but the fort was never completed. The invention of the rifled cannon made it obsolete. As the military value of Fort Jefferson waned, its pristine reefs, abundant sea life and impressive numbers of birds grew in value. In 1935, President Franklin Roosevelt set aside Fort Jefferson and the surrounding waters as a national monument. The area was redesignated as Dry Tortugas National Park in 1992 to protect both the historical and natural features.
Campsites have picnic tables and grills. Campers must bring all supplies, including fresh water, fuel, ice, and food. All trash and garbage must be carried out upon departure. The park can only be reached by boat or seaplane; it is inaccessible to trailers and motorhomes. Neither ferry allows the transport of fuels such as propane, lighter fluid, or any other type of liquid fuel or gas. Instead, self-starting / lighting charcoal is recommended.
Vendors provide various dive and snorkel trips at the park. Diving: Research Vessel Tiburon, Inc.; Sea-Clusive Charters; Seawillow Sailing LLC; Spree Expeditions. Snorkeling: Calypso Watersports Charter. All services published as of 2008.
Several service providers offer wildlife viewing tours around the islands: Getaway Adventures; Orchids and Egrets; Arthur S. Nichols; Yankee Fleet; Research Vessel Tiburon, Inc.; Larry Manfredi Birding Tours; Jaeger Tours; Sea-Clusive Charters; Seawillow Sailing LLC. All services published as of 2008
Dry Tortugas is in a subtropical climate. Temperatures range from the 50 F to 85 F. April and May are often idyllic. There are essentially two seasons: 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. Due to the ever-changing weather patterns, an accurate weather forecast is recommended before your visit.
The Everglades Association is the official private, non-profit partner supporting educational, interpretive, and historical and scientific research responsibilities of Biscayne, Dry Tortugas, and Everglades National Parks and Big Cypress National Preserve. Sales profits are returned to the parks to further support their programs to increase public understanding of and support for their long term preservation and care.
Additionally, the South Florida National Parks Trust was founded in 2002 to improve the quality of life in South Florida by supporting the national parks that define Florida landscape and enrich its culture--Everglades National Park, Biscayne National Park and Dry Tortugas National Park in the Florida Keys. Over the past four years, the trust has funded a series of projects that enhance the visitor experience, promote education, and facilitate volunteerism and community involvement. For more information about the South Florida National Parks Trust, call 3056654769 or visit http://www.southfloridaparks.org.(305) 247-1216
Yankee Freedom serves as the official ferry to the park, and offers snorkeling gear as well as guided tours.(800) 634-0939
Dry Tortugas National Park is one of the most remote parks in the National Park System. Located approximately 70 miles west of Key West it is accessible only by private boats, charter boats, or seaplanes. There are no roads to the park.
Private Boats Private pleasure boats are welcome, but must be fully self-sufficient. U.S. Coast Guard and Geodetic Survey Chart #11438 is necessary for navigation to the Dry Tortugas.
Commercial air service is not available to Dry Tortugas National Park as of this publication. The closest airports are Key West and Miami.
Public transportation - ferry and seaplane - serves the park from Key West.
Yankee Freedom II: phone 800-634-0939 or 305-294-7009; on the internet at www.yankeefreedom.com.
For seaplane schedules, prices, and reservations, contact: Key West Seaplane Adventures: phone 305-942-9777; on the internet at www.keywestseaplanecharters.com.