Dry Tortugas

Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas
Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas

The Dry Tortugas, a group of seven islands, lie almost 70 miles (112.9 km) west of Key West. These islands, the surrounding waters and coral reefs, and nesting areas for a variety of wild birds, make up the Dry Tortugas National Park. One of the most unique parks in the national park system, the Dry Tortugas is also one of the smallest, most remote and least visited in the United States due to being accessible only by boat or seaplane.

Visiting the Dry Tortugas, you are in for an unforgettable experience. The history and natural wonders here are truly remarkable. The first thing you'll notice upon entering the park is the massive unfinished fortress named Fort Jefferson located on Garden Key. Composed of over 16 million bricks, Fort Jefferson is the largest of the 19th century American coastal forts. Exploring the fort on a self-guided tour, you will be able to see huge cannons, stroll around the moat on a walkway, and go inside to view the prison cells and other rooms, including where the fort's most famous prisoner, Dr. Samuel Mudd was imprisoned for his participation in the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

View of Dry Tortugas
View of Dry Tortugas from Fort Jefferson

Famous for vibrant colorful coral reefs, abundant sea life and shipwrecks, the park is a treasure trove for snorkeling and scuba diving. Directly off the white sandy beach from Fort Jefferson, snorkelers can enjoy some of the best offshore snorkeling in North America. Both beginners and experts will enjoy exploring the shallow waters (5-15 feet) in this protected marine sanctuary that are abundant with colorful tropical fish, starfish, queen conchs and more.

Home to a large colony of unique wild birds, Bush Key, the island adjacent to Fort Jefferson, has the only regular nesting site of Sooty Terns in the United States. Between March and September, birdwatchers will see approximately 100,000 sooty terns coming to nest on the island. Brown noddies, roseate terns, masked boobies, frigate birds, double-crested cormorants and brown pelicans can also be seen here.

Discovered in 1513 by the Spanish explorer Ponce De Leon, the islands were given the name Las Tortugas (The Turtles) because of the abundance of sea turtles that could be found in the area. The word 'Dry' was added shortly thereafter because of the lack of fresh water on the islands. Visitors today might be lucky and spot loggerhead, hawksbill, leatherback and green sea turtles swimming in the waters.

Even with the park's remote location, it's no wonder that almost 80,000 visitors enjoy it each year. A wonderland rich in history and nature, the Dry Tortugas is memorable for all who visit.

Fast Facts about the Dry Tortugas National Park:

Entrance Fees:
The entrance fee for the park is $5.00 for visitors 17 and older. The pass is valid for 7 days.

The campground is a self-service fee area with a nightly fee of $3 per person.


  • Public transportation - seaplanes and ferry service are available to the islands from Key West.
  • Private pleasure boats must be fully self-sufficient. U.S. Coast Guard and Geodetic Survey Chart #11438 is necessary for navigation to the Dry Tortugas.
  • Fish and dive charters are available from the Florida Keys and Naples.
  • To visit other islands beside Garden Key/Fort Jefferson, you will need a boat.