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The Forgotten National Park: Dry Tortugas, Florida

Dry Tortugas National Park (NP) ranks among the least frequented sites in the entire National Park Service system. The park's seven islands are located about 70 miles from Key West. Las Tortugas stems from Juan Ponce de León's observations of sea turtles in the vicinity, and the "Dry" aspect of the name is derived from the map notations–no freshwater is available here.

Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States, became interested in the islands centuries later. He hoped that they would be able to protect ships traveling in a vast area of water known as the Florida Straits. It was his idea to build a military base there.

As of 1821, Florida, as well as its islands, were under American control. Several years after Jefferson's death, a military fort was constructed in 1848.

The fort would house 1,500 soldiers and 450 massive cannons. Do you know the fort's name? Fort Jefferson. The American troops abandoned Fort Jefferson in 1874. The fort became obsolete because of modern artillery.

Visiting Dry Tortugas

Nowadays, thousands of fish, birds, and sea turtles have found a haven in the abandoned fort and deserted tiny islets.

Visitors travel from Key West, Florida, on high-speed boats for hours to reach the island; they dip in the open waters and bask in the Florida sunshine. Scuba divers and snorkelers alike enjoy exploring the shipwrecks underwater. Other visitors bring their tents and stay on the white sand beaches for a few days.

Every year, thousands of tourists visit the Dry Tortugas National Park. Unsurprisingly, they are no longer greeted by troops once they land at Fort Jefferson. In the present day, friendly employees of the National Park Service do the job. They receive each boat loaded with tourists. With smiles on their faces, they say, "We're glad you're here at Dry Tortugas National Park and Fort Jefferson."

Only a couple of the massive guns still stand in the park. They aid in reminding tourists what the fort used to look like. The elements continue to have an impact on the structures of the fort. As a result, employees continue to battle environmental degradation.

The Park covers an area of nearly 26,000 hectares. Almost everything is under the ocean, and live coral reefs guard the islands.

Over the decades, several ships have perished in the waters surrounding the islands. The wreckage of these ships offers safe havens for a variety of fish.

Things to Try at Tortugas National Park include:

If you wish to spend a more extended period on the island, camping is an excellent method in Dry Tortugas National Park.

Most tourists, however, only stay for one day in Dry Tortugas NP, taking advantage of activities such as snorkeling, scuba diving, ranger-led excursions, wildlife viewing, and visits to ancient Fort Jefferson. Fishing, geocaching, and paddling are among the options, though you'll need to pack your paddleboard, kayak, and other gear.

Garden Key is the most popular stop for visitors to Dry Tortugas National Park as that's where the ferry and seaplane drop off their passengers. If you have your boat, you can also explore the other islands within the park.

Located three miles west of Garden Key, Loggerhead Key is the island with the most beaches and the best snorkeling in the park. During the breeding season (February to September), the 16-acre Bush Key Island is home to up to 4,500 brown noddies and 80,000 sooty terns. Because Bush Key is the only major breeding colony for the bird species in the United States, visitors are not allowed during this time.

Yankee Freedom Ferry docked in Dry Tortugas National Park in the Florida Keys

Best Time to Tour the Park

Dry Tortugas National Park opens year-round due to its subtropical environment. In every season, the weather usually is warm and clear. Winters (between December and March) is windy, increasing the likelihood of choppy waves, but the weather is milder and dryer. In contrast, summers are hot and humid.

The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June to November, so storms are possible. Even so, you may tour the park at any time of year and have a picture-perfect experience.

Dry Tortugas Quick Facts

  • The Dry Tortugas National Park spans 64,700 acres
  • The Dry Tortugas National Park was created on October 26, 1992
  • At the Gulf of Mexico, the lowest elevation in the Dry Tortugas is 0 feet.
  • Loggerhead Key has the highest elevation in the Dry Tortugas at 10 feet
  • The Dry Tortugas admission charge is $15 per person per week
  • The Dry Tortugas National Park is located in the Eastern time zone

Those who intend to visit are highly advised to verify local government regulations, guidelines, and safety precautions on COVID-19 before departure and their comfort level and health status.

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