Dry Tortugas National Park lies 70 miles west of Key West, Florida, and is comprised of several small keys, mostly uninhabitable. The main island attraction is Fort Jefferson, which was built in 1847. The fort’s strategic position was chosen in the early 1800s shortly after Spain sold Florida to the United States to control piracy and protect America’s shores.
Dry Tortugas, while within the National Park system, is a unique island that is only accessible by ferry or seaplane. Every day there are day trips to come and enjoy Fort Jefferson. But in our opinion, the best way to experience this park is by taking advantage of beachside camping. Read on to learn all about how to camp in Dry Tortugas!
Content and photographs provided by Yana Kogan and Timon.
- Best Time to Visit Dry Tortugas
- How to Get to Dry Tortugas by Boat
- How to Get to Dry Tortugas by Seaplane
- Camping Reservations and Permits for Dry Tortugas
- Top Things to Do in Dry Tortugas
- What to Bring for Camping on Dry Tortugas
- Food Recommendations
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Best Time to Visit Dry Tortugas
Temperatures are very high in the summer and hurricane season makes this a good park to visit during the winter. Winter is peak season, so make sure to book tickets ahead of time.
How to Get to Dry Tortugas by Boat
Unless arriving by private boat, there are only two ways to visit the island – by boat or by seaplane. Yankee Freedom offers day trips to Fort Jefferson. Tickets cost $190 per person for day trips and $210 for overnight campers. They request campers to arrive by 6:00am to load gear, and all passengers arrive by 7:00am for the 8:00am departure.
It takes 2 hours and 15 minutes to get to Fort Jefferson, arriving around 10:15am. The boat departs at 2:45pm back to Key West.
How to Get to Dry Tortugas by Seaplane
Arriving by plane is more flexible, as they visit between the hours of 8:30am and 5:30pm. There is a half-day tour that gives 2 hours on Fort Jefferson, as well as a full-day tour that gives roughly 6 hours.
The cost of a half-day tour is $360, and a full-day tour costs $635 per person. Tickets are reserved directly through Key West Seaplane Adventures. The flight is 40 minutes long on a small seaplane that holds up to 12 passengers total.
Camping Reservations and Permits for Dry Tortugas
Yankee Freedom only brings 10 campers on the boat per day so it is required to book reservations far in advance. Campsites are $15 per night, payable on site. The process to reserve a campsite is to have a reservation with Yankee Freedom.
Once you have a reservation, your campsite is by default reserved, which is payable upon arrival to Dry Tortugas. Contact Yankee Freedom at (800) 634 – 0939 or book online HERE.
Top Things to Do in Dry Tortugas
Explore Fort Jefferson
Park ranger-guided tours are available at 11:00am and noon daily. However, it is best to explore on your own. If you are camping, wander around in the early morning before the day crowd arrives.
Enjoy the Beach
There is a small beautiful beach with great views of the moat. Yankee Freedom provides snorkeling gear, so just grab some from the boat each day they are docked. This is a great way to explore the reef right outside the island.
Camping on Dry Tortugas
There is plenty of space on the boat, and they have big wheelbarrows to help cart your gear. Each campsite has a charcoal grill. Make sure to bring charcoal, food, water, and all of your camping gear.
There is NO water on the island so think ahead and bring enough drinking water. And don’t plan on showering during your stay.
Fishing at Dry Tortugas
Bring your own or rent fishing gear in Key West as the fishing is excellent at Dry Tortugas. Fish directly from the dock or in designated areas by kayak.
Rent fishing gear from West Marine in Key West for $50.
Kayaking Around Dry Tortugas
Rent a kayak in Key West and bring it on the ferry with you for an extra charge. Be sure to reserve space for a kayak with Yankee Freedom as they only allow two per day.
Kayaking allows you endless fishing opportunities as well as an excellent day trip to Loggerhead Key. Loggerhead Key is a two-hour kayak ride from Fort Jefferson. You can explore the endless beaches and the quaint lighthouse.
Rent a kayak from Marty for $195 for a 3-day rental. Contact Marty at 305-741-1934.
Night Photography at Dry Tortugas
The night sky at Dry Tortugas is some of the best in the United States. There is no light pollution, so evenings get very dark, allowing for great pictures. Bring a tripod and capture the night stars.
What to Bring for Camping on Dry Tortugas
- Sleeping bags
- Sleeping pads
- Cooking/grill utensils
- Garbage bags
- Small utility rope
- Fish (plenty to catch if fishing)
- Curry powder or spices
- Grilled vegetables (mushrooms, onion, eggplant, potatoes)
- Peanut butter & jelly
- Alcoholic beverages
That’s it – we hope you have a lovely time on your Dry Tortugas adventure!
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