Everything you Need to Know about Planning a Dry Tortugas Day Trip from Key West
Dry Tortugas National Park is one of the most remotely located national parks in the United States. Situated approximately 70 miles off the coast of Key West, Florida, the Dry Tortugas are made up of several small islands. The most popular island, and the one you can visit via ferry or seaplane, and even camp on, is Garden Key. This is where Fort Jefferson is located. This guide will dive deep into everything you need to know about planning a Dry Tortugas day trip.
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History of Dry Tortugas National Park
First discovered by Ponce de Leon in 1513, the Dry Tortugas got their name because of the large number of sea turtles in the water. In 1846, the United States government believed they could protect the Mississippi River trade by fortifying the Dry Tortugas, thus beginning the construction of Fort Jefferson. Construction continued for over 30 years, but was never fully completed. Over 16 million bricks were used in the construction of Fort Jefferson, making it the largest brick building in the Western Hemisphere.
The Dry Tortugas were established as a national park in 1992 and is home to the third-largest coral barrier reef in the world.
Where are the Dry Tortugas Located
The Dry Tortugas are located in the Gulf of Mexico approximately 70 miles off the coast of Key West. The closest islands to the Dry Tortugas are the Marquesas Keys.
A Dry Tortugas day trip is one of the many family friendly activities in Key West you can do while visiting.
How to Get to the Dry Tortugas
The Dry Tortugas are only accessible by ferry or seaplane. When I visited the Dry Tortugas, I took a seaplane and I would highly recommend it. It is more expensive than the ferry, but I didn’t want to spend 2+ hours (each way) on a ferry. I also enjoyed the fact the seaplanes only carry a maximum of 10 passengers.
I’ll dive into both options below.
Hot Tip: Book your trip several weeks in advance, especially during the summer months. It’s not uncommon for days to sell out. I booked my trip over a month in advance.
The cheapest way to get to the Dry Tortugas is via the Yankee Freedom Ferry. The ferry departs from Key West every day at 8:00am and returns to Key West at 5:15pm. Leaving you with approximately 6 hours to explore the island. Even though this is cheapest route, it’s still by no means cheap. An adult round-trip ticket will set you back $180.00 and a child’s ticket (ages 4-16) is $125.00. *There is a $10.00 discount per ticket for active-duty military, seniors, and full-time students (age 17+).*
The ferry does provide a buffet breakfast during your journey to the Dry Tortugas and lunch while at Fort Jefferson. There are bathrooms on the ferry and a fresh water rinse shower.
The National Park Entrance Fee of $15.00 is included in the ticket price. If you have an Annual National Park Pass or Golden Age Pass, just show your pass at check-in for a refund.
The only seaplane service to the Dry Tortugas is offered by Key West Seaplane Adventures. There are two different excursions, a full-day and a half-day. Regardless of which excursion you choose, Key West Seaplane Adventures will provide you with a cooler full of soft drinks and water, plus snorkeling gear. Food is not provided and there is no food at Fort Jefferson, so it’s highly recommend you pack a lunch (for full-day excursions) and snacks.
The full-day excursion is approximately 8 hours long and only departs at 8:00am. You’ll have around 6.5 hours of time to spend on the island. The cost of the full-day excursion is $634.00 for adults and $507.20 for children (12 and under). The National Park Entrance Fee of $15.00 is not included in the ticket price. You’ll need to have $15.00 (in cash) when you check-in for your flight, unless you have an Annual National Park Pass or Golden Age Pass.
The half-day excursion is approximately 4 hours long and departs at 8:00am, 10:00am, 12:00pm, and 2:00pm. You’ll have around 2.5 hours of time to spend on the island. The best departure times are either 8:00am or 2:00pm, due to the ferry schedule.
If you take the 8:00am ride to the Dry Tortugas, you’ll get there before the ferry and have the island to yourself, minus any campers, for around 1.5 hours. The 2:00pm ride arrives a little before the ferry departs for the day, so you’ll have the island to yourself for around 1.5 hours after the ferry departs.
The cost of the half-day excursion is $361.00 for adults and $288.80 for children (12 and under). The National Park Entrance Fee of $15.00 is not included in the ticket price. You’ll need to have $15.00 (in cash) when you check-in for your flight, unless you have an Annual National Park Pass or Golden Age Pass.
What to Do at Dry Tortugas
If you arrive by ferry, once you disembark, you’ll be taken on a 40-minuted guided tour of Fort Jefferson. You can also chose to explore on your own. Fort Jefferson is much larger than I thought and I didn’t set enough time aside to explore it like I wanted.
The Dry Tortugas has some of the best snorkeling in all of the Florida Keys. There are several amazing beaches around Fort Jefferson to spend the day at. The picture below was taken at the South Swim Beach, which I highly recommend. I spent the majority of my time on the island there.
Things to Pack for your Dry Tortugas Day Trip
The Dry Tortugas are remote. Once you get out there, there is no turning around because you forgot something. Below is a list of items you should pack for your Dry Tortugas Day Trip.
- Swimsuit (I wore mine under a dress)
- Beach Towel
- Reef Safe Sunscreen
- Waterproof Shoes