While many may flock to some of the most beautiful beaches in Florida for one of the top weekend getaways in Florida, Dry Tortugas National Park offers the same crystal waters of the popular Florida beaches while boasting some of the most fascinating Florida history.
The Dry Tortugas National Park is a series of islands around 70 miles from Florida's Key West. As a place filled with great beauty, solitude, and history, Dry Tortugas is one of the greatest weekend getaways in Florida.
Catch a ride on the Dry Tortugas ferry or book a ticket on a seaplane to Dry Tortugas to truly explore what this Florida National Park has to offer. Before we get started, make sure to grab one of my completely free travel planners to fully trace out and budget for one of the top Florida weekend getaways.
Camping, snorkeling, and fishing are all popular activities at Dry Tortugas National Park, so make sure to stick around to learn everything you need to know before you leave on one of the best weekend getaways in Florida! If you prefer to set up your vacation at one of the luxurious hotels in Key West, that is a great way to see the Florida Keys with day trips to Dry Tortugas National Park.
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Dry Tortugas History
The Dry Tortugas area was originally discovered in 1513 by Ponce de Leon. As one of the most underrated weekend getaways in Florida, the Dry Tortugas were named after the large number of sea turtles living in the surrounding waters.
"Tortugas" means turtles in Spanish, so it completely makes sense why this fascinating Florida area was named after the large influx of turtles. It was later discovered that Ponce de Leon caught over 100 different sea turtles during his time here on the island.
Now for the "dry" part of this Florida National Park's name, this predicate was only later given to the island to indicate that the land lacked fresh water. This was to inform other mariners and seafarers about the resources on the island.
Military Strategic Significance
Quickly after their discovery, Dry Tortugas became an important spot in the Caribbean for the United States government.
This is because the shipping lane found in the Gulf of Mexico was limited to a narrow stream of deep water, passing fairly close to the Dry Tortugas islands. Therefore, anyone who controlled the Dry Tortugas also controlled the passageway located between the United State's mainland and Dry Tortugas.
Once understanding this context, it is easy to understand why orders were sent immediately to begin constructing Fort Jefferson in 1846 at the Dry Tortugas. Although over 1,500 troops were eventually garrisoned at Fort Jefferson, they never had to defend the Dry Tortugas in battle.
Another important use of the Dry Tortugas at Fort Jefferson was seen during the United States Civil War. This fort rose to fame as a prison for war prisoners, Union deserters, and other highly-undesired individuals.
Since Military Abandonment
In 1874, the US military abandoned Fort Jefferson and the Dry Tortugas. Consequently, squatters and pirates took advantage of the facility.
In 1898 the USS Maine attempted to sail to the Dry Tortugas which eventually led to it sinking to the bottom of the Havana harbor-- helping ignite the Spanish-American War.
Around ten years after this incident, the Dry Tortugas islands and Fort Jefferson were designated to the area's birds as a nature reserve and breeding ground.
Only nearly 60 years later did the Dry Tortugas become a national monument. The year 1992 was the final step for Fort Jefferson as the name "Fort Jefferson National Monument" was upgraded to the new name "Dry Tortugas National Park".
How to Get to Dry Tortugas
Due to Dry Tortugas' remote location and limited transportation choices, it can be hard to get to one of the most underrated weekend getaways in Florida.
It is very important to plan ahead to get the most out of your visit to this Florida National Park and explore the remarkable marine landscape and historic monuments.
Dry Tortugas Ferry
By far the easiest and most common way to get to this Florida National Park is through the Dry Tortugas Ferry.
You will get on board the Yankee Freedom III at the Key West Ferry Terminal and ride for about two and a half hours to one of the best weekend getaways in Florida. This ferry service departs daily at 8am.
You can park at the City Parking Garage on Grinnell Street which is located across the corner from the Ferry Terminal for $32/day.
Make sure to book well in advance, as tickets will sell out fast (especially in the summer months).
Book the Dry Tortugas Ferry on Trip Advisor for the best deal offered on the internet with no booking fees.
Seaplane to Dry Tortugas
A more unique way to get to this Florida National Park is through a seaplane to Dry Tortugas. Since the Dry Tortugas National Park isn't the kind of park you can easily drive up to, you will have to somehow cross water.
What better way to do this than through a seaplane to Dry Tortugas National Park?
The Dry Tortugas seaplanes offer the quickest way to get to the Dry Tortugas, with a flight that takes less than 45 minutes. This way, you will have extra time to spend on the islands of Dry Tortugas, with some of that time surrounded by only a handful of other visitors.
This seaplane to Dry Tortugas tour leaves from Key West and flies at a low altitude of 500 feet. You will pass over plenty of colorful marine environments, including the Marquesas coral atoll. You can choose either a full day or a half-day tour of Dry Tortugas-- one of the best weekend getaways in Florida.
Private Boat to Dry Tortugas
If you are looking for a more intimate experience, I highly recommend booking a tour through a private boat to Dry Tortugas National Park.
This is a great way to do exactly what you want, whether you want to leave after five minutes or stay the entire day.
Tours via a private boat to Dry Tortugas are a popular option for those looking to fish at this Florida National Park. Many companies offer full-day fishing trips that stop at Fort Jefferson and tour many of the wrecks, ledges, and reefs surrounding Dry Tortugas National Park. Others ditch the whole idea of stopping at the popular Port Jefferson to solely focus on fishing around the area.
Whether looking for a private sailing catamaran, a fishing tour, or a high-speed powerboat, a tour through a private boat to Dry Tortugas is a great way to enjoy one of the best weekend getaways in Florida.
Trip Advisor has an excellent deal (the same price as the ferry fare) for a Dry Tortugas National Park Day Trip by Catamaran, leaving from Key West.
Dry Tortugas Camping
If you are heading out to Dry Tortugas National Park as one of your favorite Florida weekend getaways, you will definitely want to try Dry Tortugas camping!
Sleeping under the stars on an island located 70 miles from any civilization is a once-in-a-lifetime experience you do not want to miss. Dry Tortugas camping is the best way to fully explore this Florida National Park, featuring warm tropical breezes through the colorful palm trees on the Dry Tortugas.
Camping at Fort Jefferson is primitive camping-- you must bring everything you could ever need with you! This means you should grab one of our free travel planners or packing lists to note packing your own water, food, and other necessities.
Dry Tortugas camping is only offered at Garden Key, where Fort Jefferson resides. Camping at Garden Key on the 6-person sites does not require a prior reservation. If you are planning to enjoy Dry Tortugas camping with your camper, you are guaranteed a spot to camp once you arrive.
Like I stated earlier, all campers at the Dry Tortugas National Park must bring all needed supplies, including fresh water, a tent, any fuel, ice, and food. You should also bring some trash bags as all garbage must be brought out once you depart from one of the best weekend getaways in Florida.
Dry Tortugas camping sites offer picnic tables, elevated grills, and hooks to hang your items above the ground. There are also composting toilets open from 3pm to 10am, so make sure to use the commercial ferry boat facilities at other times.
There are no public showers, WiFi, cellular service, or electric hook-ups offered at the Dry Tortugas National Park in Florida.
For those looking for a little more luxury, set up your base at one of the hotels in Key West offering a convenient vantage point for day trips to Dry Tortugas National Park.
Dry Tortugas Activities
I already covered most of the history of Fort Jefferson earlier, however, it is no wonder this Florida fort is one of the best weekend getaways from Florida.
While you already know that Fort Jefferson was constructed to guard one of the most strategic deepwater anchorages in North America, did you know that at its height, the fort was home to nearly 2,000 people?
As you explore this historically beautiful Florida fort, make sure to try and imagine life here during the hectic 1860s. While you may be exploring Fort Jefferson with a couple hundred people, thousands of people crowded the island in the 1860s, causing a massive amount of disease, death, and suffering.
Fort Jefferson consists of over 16 million bricks, most of which survived a long, four-day journey from the Pensacola area via boat. Imagine standing on top of Fort Jefferson's walls, exposed to enemy fire, during an intense battle. If you are feeling vulnerable, don't worry, thick masonry mounds were designed to help protect these soldiers and guns that were exposed throughout the fort.
Snorkeling Dry Tortugas
If you have enjoyed snorkeling in Key West, you are going to absolutely fall in love with snorkeling Dry Tortugas.
Offering some of the best snorkeling in all of North America, it is no wonder Dry Tortugas is one of the top weekend getaways in Florida. The shallow waters surrounding Dry Tortugas National Park make snorkeling perfect for every age!
You will quickly notice the large amount of colorful fish and beautiful coral under the Caribbean waters at Dry Tortugas. That, paired with the pristine white sand beaches at Fort Jefferson, is reason enough to enjoy snorkeling Dry Tortugas.
Watch out for colorful coral reefs, plenty of varieties of tropical fish, queen conchs, starfish, and much, much more in this abundant marine sanctuary.
Feel free to bring your own snorkel gear, but if you forget or don't want to purchase any, complimentary fins, masks, and snorkels are provided.
Fishing Dry Tortugas
This Florida National Park also offers some pretty good fishing opportunities. Fishing Dry Tortugas is prohibited in the Research National Area, which includes all the keys.
However, you can catch one of the chartered private boats to Dry Tortugas, which will bring you within one nautical mile from the Historic Use Area, featuring some extra scenic fishing spots.
The Finger Piers and the Main Dock offer great, hassle-free fishing in Dry Tortugas National Park. You will find the finger piers adjacent to the main pier. While these are mostly open for public use, you can only fish from the two westernmost finger piers. The main dock is where the ferry arriving from Key West docks, meaning if the Yankee Freedom ferry is on the island, you cannot fish.
Otherwise, check out Seaplane Beach in Dry Tortugas, located slightly east of the main dock. Make sure to only fish here when no seaplanes are present. This way, you will have no problem reeling in some great catches.
The final area ideal for fishing Dry Tortugas is Dinghy Beach. You can easily fish on Dinghy Beach but just don't cast within 50 feet of the concrete wall of the fort's coal dock ruins.