What Is It?
A castle rising from the Gulf waters, Fort Jefferson at Dry Tortugas National Park is a day trip with dazzling views of history, nature and buried treasure.
Seventy miles west of Key West, Dry Tortugas was a popular stop on 17th century shipping routes. The seven islands were named for the turtles in the area. “Dry” was added because of the islands’ lack of springs. Many ships wrecked in the waters around the park, with one becoming a popular diving and snorkeling spot.
Construction on Fort Jefferson took place from 1846 to 1889 and was never officially completed. The fort served as a military base and prison, at times housing more than 2,000 people. It was never modernized, so guided tours show what life would have been like on the remote island during the 1800s, as well as the modern efforts undertaken to preserve the masonry.
Travel and Lodging
The only lodging on Dry Tortugas is a few campsites, so most visitors stay in nearby Key West. To get to the islands, most visitors travel by ferry. Some take a seaplane to get overhead views.
When to Go
Dry Tortugas is one of the least-visited national parks. Spring is the best time to visit. February and March are a part of the area’s dry season, with temperatures in the 60s and 70s.
For safety precautions, Dry Tortugas National Park is having a phased reopening. Campsites, as well as some of the islands and tours, have been reopened. For more information, visit www.nps.gov/drto or call the National Parks Service at 305-242-7700.