The Dry Tortugas are a cluster of seven islands located about 70 miles west of Key West in the Gulf of Mexico. The seven islands that make up the Dry Tortugas are Garden Key, Loggerhead Key, Bush Key, Long Key, East Key, Hospital Key, and Middle Key. This area is famed for its bird and marine life as well as its rich history involving pirates and the US military. The Dry Tortugas are also a National Park, and you cannot get there by car; these islands are only accessible by boat or seaplane.
Garden Key is home to Fort Jefferson, the largest masonry fort in the United States, and the largest brick edifice in this hemisphere. The fort was constructed between the years of 1846 and 1875 to protect the nation’s use of the Gulf of Mexico. But it was never used for this purpose; it was used as a military prison during the Civil War. Unfortunately, the fort was never completed. For over 100 years Fort Jefferson has been weather beaten in this harsh, saltwater environment, so there are contestant projects being done by the National Park Service to restore this piece of history.
Loggerhead Key is the largest of the Keys and it houses a brick tower lighthouse that was completed in 1858. The lighthouse was operated by the US Coast Guard until it was recently handed over to the National Park Service. Yes, this lighthouse is still in operation today. And that is a good thing because we do not want to add to the many shipwrecks that dot the surrounding waters.
Besides the historical edifices on the islands, the park is home to a rich animal life. The park’s coral reef and sea grass areas are teeming with tropical reef fish and nurse sharks. Sea turtles hang out in the waters and on the beaches watching over their eggs. And the Sooty Tern along with several other bird species nest here.
The Dry Tortugas are open year round, although certain parts of the park are closed at times. Below is a list of those restrictions. Also, since getting here requires a plane or a boat, making the trip to the Dry Tortugas is very dependent on weather. High winds and/or storms will make this a dangerous crossing. Luckily, the weather is generally pretty darn nice around here.
- Garden Key is open year round 24 hours a day.Ft. Jefferson, on Garden Key, is open year-round from sunrise to sunset.
- Loggerhead Key is open to day visitors year round from sunrise to sunset. All other facilities on the island, including Loggerhead Lighthouse are closed to the public.
- Bush Key is open to visitors October 15th to January 15th from sunrise to sunset.
- Hospital Key, and Long Key are closed year round and visitors should remain 100 feet offshore of all closed islands.
- Middle and East Keys are open to visitors October 16 to March 31 from sunrise to sunset.
There are also many park regulations to consider when visiting the islands. That is mainly because the National Park Service wants visitors to stay safe and enjoy their time here and we also want to protect the area and the wildlife that call it home. You can click on Dry-Tortugas-Park-Regulations for detailed regulations in regards to the park.
If you plan on visiting the park, there are many things to do. There is camping, birding, fishing, snorkeling, touring Fort Jefferson, or just relaxing on the beach. Just make sure that you bring a camera with you to capture some of the awesome scenery the island offers.
So, now you are wondering how to get there, right? Well, unless you have your own boat or seaplane you can go out with one of the licensed tour operators that offer trips here. Keep in mind that because options are so limited reservations need to be made well in advance. We recommend at least 2 weeks in advance for public trips and a month in advance for private charters.
For more information about things to do and see in our island city, go to our Key West Web Site. You can also visit our Key West Events Calendar to see more details on upcoming special events.
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