Any visit out to the Dry Tortugas National Park definitely requires a bit of pre-planning. This is not the kind of place you can simply show up at, if only because of the fact that it is 70 miles from the nearest city. For a properly planned trip to the Dry Tortugas, you will need to be aware of the following: directions & how to get there, operating hours & seasons, fees & reservations, and things to do.
The actual Tortugas islands are only accessible by boat or plane. The most common way to get out here is via the Yankee Freedom or sea planes. The planes, often called seaplanes, are less popular means to get to the islands mainly due to their price and infrequent trips. The ferries depart daily at 8AM from Key West and return at 5PM.
Getting to Key West is easy. The island has a small airport that is accessible from most major Florida cities. Driving down to Key West is also an option; the island is located about 3.5 hours from Miami. If you are somewhere on the West coast of Florida, a ferry called the Key West Express transports people daily from Fort Myers to Key West (this is an excellent option for people who do not want to make the long drive from the west coast down to Key West). Several shuttle buses also run from different cities in Florida including Miami and Ft. Lauderdale.
Operating Hours and Seasons
The Dry Tortugas National Park is open year-round. Fort Jefferson, Garden Key, Loggerhead Key, East Key and the Middle Keys are open during the daylight hours, all year long. Bush Key is only open from October to January, as the months of February through September are reserved for nesting sooty and noddy terns. Hospital Key and Long Key are closed all year.
Fees and Reservations
The entrance fee for the park is $5 for adults and the entrance pass is valid for seven days. The park honors National Park Pass, Golden Eagle, Golden Age, and Golden Access Passports. Camping is an additional $3 per night fee. Holders of Golden Age of the Golden Access Pass receive a 50% discount.
Things to Do
There is plenty to do in the Dry Tortugas. The most common activity is the snorkeling. This is the absolute best snorkeling in Key West, with the coral reef just feet from the shores of the isles. Other things to do in the Tortugas include camping, bird-watching, swimming, going on a guided tour of Fort Jefferson, or simply enjoying the beauty and magic of this unique island chain.