Who knew we would find this gem of a national park in the middle of the ocean?! This day trip was a spur of the moment type of trip but we didn't want to pass up the opportunity during our short stay in Key West. The Dry Tortugas National Park is located about 68 miles west of Key West, Florida.
We visited Key West in June of 2012; our trip to the national park started at 7am by boarding the Yankee Freedom III ferry. This is a catamaran with two levels for passengers, the upper level was enclosed and played a movie about the fort and other history, while the lower level had an enclosed area, outdoor access, and the food bar. Ben and I chose to sit upstairs mostly, as we were the only ones up there, probably because you could feel the rolling waves much more! We did spend some time outside but it was a little chilly due to the speed that the ferry was travelling at.
Unfortunately for us, the weather didn't fully cooperate. A series of storms had just come through but we decided to do the trip anyways. The ride to the islands ends up being a little under 2.5 hours, so activities for little kids need to be planned so they don't get bored. Once you arrive, you dock at Fort Jefferson. What a site to see! You end up getting about 4 hours of exploration time, but there is plenty to do to stay busy. Once we got off the boat, the wind had really picked up and would occasionally sprinkle, making it chilly. We didn't bring any jackets so I got creative: A large black trash bag with a hole cut out of the bottom made a perfect "sack" for me to slide into to stay dry and warm!
Things to do:
- Explore the fort - Join a guided tour or explore on your own like we did, no restictions except no entry to the birding sanctuary
- Snorkel - Gear is included in your ferry ticket purchase
- Camping - Camp overnight with reservations. Note this is a dry island so it is a very primitive style camping
- Visit the gift shop - Buy schwag!
- Enjoy the beaches and relax in the sun
- Visit the bird watching area for a look at many different species
Breakfast and lunch are included in your trip, and on the return ride they open the bars for refreshing adult beverages. One thing we weren't prepared for when we arrived was the flood of campers who flocked onto the boat to make use of the showers and bathrooms, so make sure you bring all belongings with you regardless of what the staff say.
I really enjoyed exploring the fort, although we didn't know the specific details since we were self guided. It was an amazing experience to look at everything and try to imagine bringing all of the brick and supplies to construct such a large fort into the middle of the ocean. Although the weather took away our sunny beach time, this was still a memorable experience high on my list, and we plan to return again with our children one day!
Add this national park to your list of places to visit, and learn more information on their website here.
Do you have any experiences to share about the Dry Tortugas National Park? Please comment below!
Happy Road Tripping!