Plan your Visit to
Dry Tortugas National Park
It was he that caught 160 sea turtles and gave the area its name. Since that time the sea turtles have been protected from would be fishermen and the area was established as a national park in 1935. The 64,701 acres of the park encompasses 7 different islands and a lot of aquatic real estate, and rest assured that if you are among the 70,000 visitors that visit this sight annually, you will have a good time.
Explore the Fort
One of the main manmade features of Dry Tortugas National Park is the daunting Fort Jefferson. This fort, even as massive as it is, is not considered finished. Still, it is noted at the largest masonry brick structure ever to be built in the Western Hemisphere. Fort Jefferson is the place to go if you want a nice stroll through the many archways that make up the structure of the fort, or if you need information of any kind about the park. Within the fort, you will find the main visitor’s center for Dry Tortugas National Park along with information pertaining to transportation around the island.
Take to the Water
There is only 1% of dry land to be found within the borders of Dry Tortugas National Park. If you only visit the land areas, you will be doing yourself a great disservice with all there is to see within the water. Swimming in the crystal-clear waters surrounding any of the islands awards you the opportunity to see a spectacular view of the reef as well as the many tropical fish that live within. Diving and snorkeling enable you to get even closer to the action and are activities that should never be missed during your visit.
If swimming of snorkeling is not your idea of fun, you may want to consider paddling around in a kayak or paddle boat. Any boat that does not have a motor is permitted in this protected areas. The only exceptions are the boats bringing people to and from the islands. The natural quiet nature of non-motorized boats enables you to get up close to the animals you want to see. The sea turtles that surround the island along with all the other beautiful aquatic species are relatively used to humans and therefore will be more curious about you than you are about them.
For the Birds
Birdwatching has become a favored activity of families of all ages and few places attract as many bird species as Dry Tortuga National Park. It is estimated that roughly 300 different species of birds have been spotted on the islands. The islands have become sort of a mecca to avid bird watchers that flock to the areas during the spring and fall seasons when the birds are migrating to and from North America. Dry Tortuga National Park seems to be their resting spot to take a well-deserved break midflight. Sightings of hundreds of thousands of birds are not uncommon during the height of their migration.
It is important that we train our youth about the importance of preserving the planet and the animals within it. The Junior Ranger Program at Dry Tortugas National Park works to educate young people about these very important issues. Dry Tortugas National Park Rangers take children along on hikes through the different islands and into the waters for snorkelling and learning about the importance of the reef for sea creatures. Your child should not miss out on this activity as most of these programs are completely free of charge.
Things to Know
When you visit Dry Tortuga National Park it is important to remember that you are visiting a series of islands and therefore driving is not an option. Boats and sea planes are available to take visitors out to the islands, but their fee is completely separate from the entrance fee to the park. Dry Tortugas National Park visitors will arrive on Garden Key and are required to pay a $10 entrance fee at the self-service fee station on the island. The fee allows for a 7 day visit to the island, but does not cover the cost of camping.
Dry Tortugas National Park camping fees are $15 per night per site and are paid in the same way as the entrance fee. All fees are paid in either cash or check as there is limited staff on the islands to allow for any other form of payment. When you camp on the islands make sure that you only camp in designated camp sites and completely clean up after your group to help maintain the Dry Tortugas National Park.