Dry Tortugas National Park is quite possibly the most unique park in the NPS system. For starters, it’s in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, 70 miles west of Key West (and 2.5 hours away by ferry). Then add the fact that it is 95% water with 6 small islands. These islands are nesting grounds for sea turtles in the summer and a stopover for over 200 bird species who migrate through the park. The water is home to a type of coral found nowhere else in the world, a huge number of fish (plus manta rays, jellyfish, conch and man o’ war that we saw snorkeling) and hundreds of shipwrecks throughout the ages. Oh, and the main island is dominated by Fort Jefferson, a massive hexagonal fort made from 16 million bricks in the mid 1800s to control access to the gulf.

Dry Totugas 3

Yeah, I’m gonna go ahead and say nowhere in the park system is remotely like Dry Tortugas.

Our visit there definitely surpassed the high expectations. We rode the ferry over and camped for two nights, so we had lots of time to explore the park compared to the more than 80% of people who come and leave on the ferry the same day. Even so, we only explored the area around the main island. We toured the fort, read up in the Visitors Center, snorkeled around amazing coral, watched pelicans fish, kayaked around the harbor and clocked a lot of time chilling on the beach.

But the ranger told us his favorite parts of the park were all those other spots you could only get to with your own boat. So I think we only got a taste for the treasures of Tortugas. Whatever the case, it was truly a once in a lifetime experience!

Print above courtesy of PurpleMooseBasics.com

Written by Cole

  • Helen

    It is nice to see that you are enjoying the dry weather and the sun finally. You two really make the most out of each park you travel too. I am enjoying your adventures. Enjoy!!

    • Cole

      Thanks Helen! We soaked up as much sun as we could to make up for the Smokies 😉

  • James Bordonaro

    Did you drive from Miami to Key West and then get a ferry?

    • Cole

      Yep! Unfortunately Key West lodging or camping is really expensive. So we drove down to Key West at night and slept in our car the first night (since we had to have our gear on the dock by 6:30AM). Then on the evening we returned to Key West on the ferry we left immediately to up to Everglades to camp. I was really bummed that we never actually got to US Hwy 1 on the keys in the daylight. Unfortunately when it’s pitch black it doesn’t matter that you’re traveling on a 7-mile bridge, but I’ve heard it’s beautiful.

  • Dee

    What a gorgeous place!! Elizabeth I’m glad to hear that you find ally got Cole to “chill” at the beach. Lol.

    • Cole

      I think the key is sticking me on a tiny island. Once I’ve done every activity and read every plaque possible, I can handle chilling for a few minutes at a time. haha.

  • Jeff Orth

    Beautiful. Never heard of this park before. Looks like a great place for rest and peace.

    • Cole

      And a great place for a family vacation! haha

      We had definitely never heard of it before either, but being on a tiny island in the middle of the ocean adds a huge cool factor.

  • Tmama

    Just gorgeous. I love to snorkel. Glad you got to see so much interesting wildlife.