Escape The Crowds At Dry Tortugas National Park

Off the Florida shore about 70 miles south is one of the least visited U.S. National Parks, Dry Tortugas. The park includes 7 small islands with Garden Key being the most popular because it is home to Fort Jefferson, one of the largest 19th century forts in the U.S.

So why do only 60,000 people visit Dry Tortugas each year? The answer is easy—accessibility. The island can only be reached by boat or seaplane. The Yankee Freedom III ferry is the official boat to reach the island. ( The other option, other than via your own boat, is the Dry Tortugas Seaplane ( The ferry is a full day excursion whereas the seaplane can be either half or full since travel time is less. Both options include snorkeling equipment for the beautiful reef waters around the island and entrance into the fort.

We had never flown on a seaplane, so we chose that option. The 40-minute ride was fascinating. Our pilot pointed out sharks and other large fish below us. We also were able to see Spanish galleons that had sunk hundreds of years ago and now serve as homes to many types of aquatic life. The turquoise waters were breathtaking as we flew over.

Once we arrived at Garden Key island, we entered the fort where we had a very interesting and entertaining tour by a National Park Ranger. The all-masonry fort was constructed between 1846 and 1875 to protect shipping lanes into the Gulf of Mexico. The Union army controlled the fort during the Civil War and used its position to block shipping to the South. (Fort Jefferson was the southernmost fort held by the North during the Civil War.) The fort also served as a prison with its most infamous prisoner being Dr. Samuel Mudd, the doctor who helped John Wilkes Booth, Lincoln’s assassin.

The tour gave us plenty of time to explore the old fort with its many beautiful views over the waters surrounding it. We explored the land around the fort and had a picnic lunch. While most tourists choose a day trip as we did, camping is allowed. There are 10 spaces for primitive camping—no restrooms or running water are on the island.

Our trip was an amazing part of our Key West visit. Although it is relatively expensive to make the trip to the island, we felt that the experience–the flight and the visit to the fort—were worth the splurge.

Have you visited Dry Tortugas National Park or other national parks? If so, which is your favorite one to visit?

Candace Ahlfinger has loved traveling since she was little and has always been on the go whenever possible. Now she is retired and gets to do what she loves best… TRAVEL! Whether it’s traveling with her wonderful husband, or our children and grandchildren, traveling is a great experience that enriches her life. Because she always enjoys reading and hearing about others’ travel experiences, she wants to share her travels with the Ellis DownHome readers. 


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