Roughly 70 miles off the tip of Florida, Dry Tortugas National Park is not the easiest place to get to. But plan your trip with the following suggestions and you likely will be able to justify the expense getting there.
What awaits you?
Dry Tortugas is known for coral reefs, sandy beaches, near-pristine sea grass beds that are robust habitats for marinelife and magnets for snorkelers and scuba divers, and then, of course, there's historic Fort Jefferson. There also are sunken treasures of ancient shipwrecks, and the birding in spring and fall can offer birders several species rarely seen nesting elsewhere in the United States.
The Tortugas’ maritime and military significance was first noted in the early 1600s, when Ponce de Leon explored the New World, according to Park Service historians. The islands that border the main shipping channel between the Gulf of Mexico, the western Caribbean and the Atlantic Ocean have been mapped on nautical charts ever since.
Of historical significance, Fort Jefferson, on Garden Key, is the largest all-masonry fort in the United States. Originally built to protect shipping access to the gulf, the fort was used as a military prison during the Civil War.
But the cost of getting there can cause you to catch your breath if you don't have your own boat. A ferry ride over runs $165 per adult, $155 for seniors 62 and older, and $120 for kids 4-16, and charter flights are many times that.
So how best should you plan a visit to this national park? For answers to that question, Traveler reached out to Elizabeth Ross, who was the Park Service's site manager at Dry Tortugas for a good time. She provided the following list for your planning:
* 1. Camp for at least two nights and three days.
* 2. Try to schedule around Wednesday to get the ranger-led tour of the fort.
* 3. Kayak over to the beautiful remote island of Loggerhead and snorkel "Little Africa."
* 4. Watch the sunset or sizzle into the most brilliant colors of blue ocean from the terraplain (top) of Fort Jefferson.
* 5. If you're fortunate enough to bring your own vessel, trek over to the amazing Windjammer wreck and snorkel there. You'll actually feel like you're in an aquarium. It was the most amazing experience in my life.
* 6. For sure get out at night and see how close the stars are. I can't tell you how many falling or shooting stars I've seen in any given morning around 4 a.m.
* 7. You may as well stay up and watch the sun rise from the dock house. If you're lucky, you'll see schools of bait fish all around and huge Grouper feasting.
* 8. Definitely walk the moat wall and see some of the most beautiful fish and coral all the while imagining how it is to live there.
* 9. Enjoy the beach to yourself after the ferry departs around 3 p.m.
* 10. Do it now and don't wait!