I love the national parks and would love to visit them all eventually. Some are harder than others to get to and those I assume I may not get to. Dry Tortugas was one of them. It’s 70 miles off the coast of Key West and Florida has never really been on my list. Nothing against Florida but there’s just so much to do between Arizona and Florida that it’s way down on the list. A friend of ours is from Florida and convinced us to take a trip to Key West and boy am I glad we said yes! When we started planning and I realized how close we’d be to Dry Tortugas, I knew I had to make it happen.
The Dry Tortugas are a group of seven islands west of Key West. The islands were named Las Tortugas (The Turtles) in 1514 but later changed to Dry Tortugas to signify that there is no fresh water on them. The United States started building Fort Jefferson on Garden Key (one of the seven islands) in 1846 as a way to control navigation of the Gulf of Mexico and protect Mississippi River trade. During the Civil War, the fort was a prison for captured deserters and also held the four men accused of President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Most notably, Dr. Samuel Mudd. (We’re huge fans of the National Treasure movies so seeing Dr. Mudd’s cell in real life and learning even more about the story was exciting.) Eventually the Army left the fort and in 1908 it became a wildlife refuge. In 1992 it became a national park and is home to endangered sea turtles, birds, coral reefs, ship wrecks, and Fort Jefferson.
There are two ways to get to Dry Tortugas – a 2.5 hour ferry boat ride or a 30 minute seaplane ride. I guess the third option is to take your own boat but that’s only for local boat owners. Of course no option is perfect. With the ferry you get to spend four hours on the island. With the seaplane you only get two and a half hours. I really wanted to take the seaplane to see the area from the sky but our group opted for the boat. As long as the sea isn’t too rough, you can stand on the front of the ferry which was fun for a little bit but so windy as we were going 30+ MPH.
Fort Jefferson is massive and was constructed with 16 million bricks. The color contrast between the red bricks and the different shades of blues in the sky and water make for absolutely stunning views everywhere you look.
It’s so hard to decide how to spend your four hours because there is so much to do. Snorkeling, swimming, exploring the fort, walking on the beaches. We started with a dip in the water and a picnic lunch on the beach. Off in the distance in the picture below, you can see the lighthouse on Loggerhead Key.
After lunch we decided to explore the fort. There are three levels and throughout are signs explaining how the fort was constructed and operated. Every hall looked like the picture below. Some narrower than others but so perfectly constructed. Are all forts like this? This is the first I’ve been to so maybe this is normal.
In between each pillar is a window and I’m pretty sure I took a picture out of at least half of them. Jaw. Dropping. They each so perfectly frame the gorgeous sky, sea, moat wall, and beach. I could have sat there all day but only had four hours so we had to keep moving.
You can walk on the top of the fort which is a little crazy as there are no rails. There are a bunch of cannons up there (I don’t know if they are original or replicas) and more signs explaining the history. The fort is so large that we didn’t have time to explore the entire thing.
Inside the fort walls there used to be several buildings. In the left of the picture below you can see what remains of the barracks. The right side is the armory which is still largely in tact.
After exploring the fort we headed back to the beach for more swimming and snorkeling before having to board the ferry back to Key West.
This was such a fun day and one of my favorite days on our trip. I cannot get over the insanely gorgeous water colors. I’m mostly a mountain girl but I can see why people love the beach and this part of the world. If you ever get a chance to visit Dry Tortugas, I highly recommend it. It’s a little pricey but worth every penny.