5 Unique Things to Do at Dry Tortugas National Park

Looking to visit one of the most beautiful national parks in the country?

Dry Tortugas National Park is your chance! 

Located in the Gulf of Mexico, about 70 miles west of the Florida Keys, this is the perfect place to get that tropical vacation in while exploring one of the most isolated national parks from the mainland.

The park comprises seven small islands and is known for its history, wildlife, and beaches. 

Established in 1935, the park covers an area of approximately 64,000 acres.

Dry Tortugas is only accessible by boat or seaplane, making it one of the most remote national parks in the United States. It's also the home of Fort Jefferson, which is one of the largest brick buildings in the world, using 16 million bricks!

While it might be made of a few islands, the park has some incredible hiking trails to explore with interesting animal and plant life, including some of the least disturbed tropical landscapes in North America.

Our regular blogs have us showcasing five hikes in every national park, but at Dry Tortugas, there are only two officially recognized hiking trails you can take.

Below are five things to do — including two hikes — during your time at the park. 

Bush Key Trail

If you want a view of the entire island that Fort Jefferson calls home, the Bush Key trail is the perfect hike for you.

While a beach hike can seem tempting to forget the hiking shoes and where sandles or go barefood, a lot of the coral that washes up on the beach is very sharp. 

Wear a good pair of lightweight hiking shoes to keep your feet safe 

On an island hike like this one, expect to walk through some shallow water in a few spots. And be sure to keep an eye out for amazing tropical animal life, including lizards, birds, and hermit crabs!

Depending on the time of the year, the end of the trail might be blocked off because many tropical birds use this island to nest. If this is the case, you'll have to turn back, but it's still an enjoyable hike.

Total Distance: 0.99 miles 

Elevation Grade: 0 feet 

Difficulty: Easy  — Hiking, Walking

Route Type: Out and Back

Other Info:

  • Dry Tortugas National Park charges a fee to enter the park
  • Ensure proper sun coverage and sunscreen, little to no shade on the trail
  • Expect to travel through some water during the hike
  • End of the trail is closed seasonally for bird nesting

Fort Jefferson Loop

This is the only other official hiking trail in Dry Tortugas National Park and is an excellent way to see the different parts of the fort.

The trail will take you around the fort's perimeter, with views of the moat, bastions, and walls.

You'll also get to see some of the guns used to defend the fort.

Birds love to sit on the fort walls, so you can usually spot some exotic birds during your hike.

There are also some majestic views of the surrounding area and the other islands in the park from different parts of the fort.

Just keep in mind construction is usually happening to maintain the walls or the surrounding area of the fort, so some sections of this trail may be closed off.

Total Distance: 0.49 miles 

Elevation Grade: 3.2 feet 

Difficulty: Easy — Hiking, Walking

Route Type: Loop

Other Info:

  • Dry Tortugas National Park charges a fee to enter the park
  • Ensure proper sun coverage and sunscreen, little to no shade on the trail
  • Construction is common on this trail

Visit the Old Lighthouse at Loggerhead Key

The old lighthouse is one of the most popular attractions at Dry Tortugas National Park.

The Loggerhead Key lighthouse was built in 1858 and was used to help guide ships through the treacherous waters around the Keys.

The light was deactivated in 2015 but is still open for visitors to explore.

To get to the lighthouse, you’ll need to take a ferry from Fort Jefferson. The ride is about an hour long. 

Once you get to Loggerhead Key, you can explore the marked paths around the island and take a few pictures of the islands history including the lighthouse and the remnants of an old marine ecology lab that once called the island it’s home. 

Experience the History of Fort Jefferson 

Fort Jefferson was built in the 1800s to defend the nation's Gulf Coast.

It is one of the largest masonry forts ever built and was used as a prison during the Civil War.

Today, you can explore the fort and learn about its history.

There are also ranger-led tours available that will take you to some of the more interesting parts of the fort.

If you want to explore on your own, be sure to pick up a map at the visitor center.

Take a Swim or Go Snorkeling

Dry Tortugas National Park is home to some of the clearest waters in Florida. There are several spots around the park where you can go swimming or snorkeling.

The water is so clear that you can often see the bottom even when you're snorkeling.

Be sure to bring your own gear, as there is no rental equipment available at the park.

Campout and Watch the Nightsky 

One of the best ways to experience Dry Tortugas National Park is to camp out under the stars.

The park has several camping sites available, and you can even camp on some of the beaches.

While you can book the larger 10-20 person campsites in advance, the smaller 6 person sites are first come-first serve, so be sure to get there early if you want one of those.

Once you've set up camp, sit back and relax while you enjoy the incredible night sky that is completely free of light pollution. You will be able to spot thousands of stars with just the naked eye.

Dry Tortugas National Park is a truly unique place, and there are plenty of things to do there.

Whether you want to explore the history of the fort, go swimming or snorkeling in the clear waters, or just sit back and enjoy the night sky, there's something for everyone.

So what are you waiting for? Pack your bags and head to Dry Tortugas National Park today!