Dry Tortugas Overview

Dry Tortugas National Park, located at the westernmost end of the Florida Keys of the United States, is a remote and isolated park known for its historical significance, pristine coral reefs, and abundant marine life. Comprising seven small islands and covering an area of about 261 square kilometers (about 101 square miles), the park is situated approximately 70 miles (113 kilometers) west of Key West, Florida, in the Gulf of Mexico. Established in 1992, Dry Tortugas National Park is accessible only by boat or seaplane, offering visitors a unique and secluded experience unlike any other national park in the United States.

The centerpiece of Dry Tortugas National Park is Fort Jefferson, one of the largest 19th-century forts in the United States. Constructed with over 16 million bricks, Fort Jefferson was designed to protect the United States’ strategic interests in the Gulf of Mexico and the Mississippi River. Today, the fort stands as a testament to American engineering and military history, inviting exploration of its massive walls, cannons, and picturesque views of the surrounding waters.

Beyond its historical allure, Dry Tortugas National Park is celebrated for its natural wonders. The park’s crystal-clear waters and vibrant coral reefs make it a premier destination for snorkeling, diving, and bird watching. The surrounding marine protected areas are home to diverse species of tropical fish, sea turtles, and coral, providing an unparalleled opportunity for visitors to experience the richness of the Florida Keys’ marine ecosystem.

Dry Tortugas National Park also serves as an important habitat for seabirds, including sooty terns and brown noddies, which nest on the islands in large numbers. The park’s isolated location and protected status contribute to the preservation of these unique ecosystems and historic structures, offering a glimpse into the natural and cultural heritage of the Florida Keys.

With its combination of historical intrigue and natural beauty, Dry Tortugas National Park offers an unforgettable adventure for those willing to make the journey, providing a peaceful escape to one of the most untouched and preserved areas in the United States.

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Park Map
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Dry Tortugas National park Highlights


The unique location of Dry Tortugas, along with its protected status, provides critical nesting, foraging, and breeding grounds for a wide array of species, from underwater inhabitants to migratory birds. Each species that calls this park home adds to the rich biodiversity that makes Dry Tortugas a must-visit destination for nature enthusiasts and birdwatchers alike.

Magnificent Frigatebird – Often seen soaring high above the islands, these large seabirds are known for their impressive wingspan and the male’s distinctive red throat pouch.

Brown Pelican – A common sight, Brown Pelicans glide gracefully over the water, diving headfirst to catch fish, showcasing their prowess as skilled fishermen.

Sooty Tern – Dry Tortugas is home to the largest Sooty Tern nesting colony in the United States, with Bird Key being a critical habitat for these seabirds.

Brown Noddy – These seabirds, smaller than the Sooty Tern, share the same nesting islands, creating bustling colonies that come alive during breeding season.

Loggerhead Sea Turtle – Named for their large heads, Loggerhead Sea Turtles frequent the park’s beaches to nest, an essential part of their life cycle.

Green Sea Turtle – Graceful swimmers, Green Sea Turtles are often spotted in the shallow waters around the park, feeding on the seagrass beds.

Queen Conch – These large marine mollusks, with their striking spiral shells, are a common find in the seagrass beds, contributing to the underwater landscape.

Goliath Grouper – One of the largest fish in the coral reef ecosystem, the Goliath Grouper is an awe-inspiring sight for snorkelers and divers.

Masked Booby – Occasionally seen on the park’s remote islands, Masked Boobies are known for their direct flight and dramatic plunge dives for fish.

Coral Species – Including Elkhorn and Brain Corals, these foundational species create the complex reef structures that host a myriad of marine life in the park.

Dry Tortugas National Park’s wildlife, from the aerial acrobatics of the Magnificent Frigatebird to the underwater majesty of the coral reefs, offers an unparalleled window into the diverse ecosystems that flourish in this secluded corner of the world.

Historical Defense

Fort Jefferson, situated within Dry Tortugas National Park, stands as a remarkable testament to American history and military architecture.

Constructed in the 19th century, this imposing coastal fortress served as a strategic defense post and later as a prison during the Civil War.

Spanning over 16 million bricks, it is one of the largest masonry structures in the Western Hemisphere. The fort’s hexagonal design encompasses a massive interior courtyard and three tiers of casemates, providing insight into its formidable defensive capabilities.

Visitors can explore its ramparts, gunrooms, and moat, immersing themselves in its rich history through guided tours and interpretive exhibits.

Surrounded by crystal-clear waters and coral reefs, Fort Jefferson offers a captivating blend of historical intrigue and natural beauty, making it a must-see destination within the captivating landscape of Dry Tortugas National Park.

Dry Tortugas National park Pictures

Engaging Dry Tortugas

This is an easy walk and exploration through Fort Jefferson which is a highlight of the national park.

Distance and Elevation Gain: Varies, but generally around 0.5 to 1 mile within the fort with minimal elevation gain

Description: This self-guided or ranger-led tour around Fort Jefferson provides insights into one of the largest coastal forts ever built. Visitors can explore the fort’s walls, parade grounds, and living quarters while enjoying panoramic views of the surrounding waters and learning about the fort’s strategic military history and its role as a prison during the Civil War.

(Access by permitted guided tours only)

Rating: Moderate (due to the need for special transportation)

Distance and Elevation Gain: Varies, but generally includes exploring the area around the lighthouse and snorkeling spots

Description: A visit to Loggerhead Key offers an adventurous day trip to see the historic lighthouse and enjoy some of the best snorkeling in the park. Visitors can explore the sandy beaches, snorkel in the vibrant coral reefs, and learn about the key’s ecological importance and maritime history.

Snorkel Trails Around Fort Jefferson

Snorkeling is one of the outdoor activities that visitors to Dry Tortugas can leverage to engage the national park and experience nature and the outdoors.

Rating: Variable, depending on swimming ability and conditions

Tours:  Guided snorkeling tours offer a unique way to explore the underwater “trails” of coral and marine life.

Description: Although not a trail in the traditional sense, snorkeling around Fort Jefferson provides an underwater exploration of the coral reef and shipwrecks. Visitors can see a diverse array of marine life, historic artifacts, and the vibrant ecosystem that thrives in the protected waters of Dry Tortugas National Park.

Dry Tortugas National park Trails

Garden Key Moat Wall Walk

Rating: Easy

Distance and Elevation Gain: Approximately 0.8 miles round trip with minimal elevation gain

Description: Walking atop the moat wall surrounding Fort Jefferson offers a leisurely stroll with stunning views of the fort, the clear blue waters, and the chance to spot marine life and birds. This easy walk is accessible to all visitors and provides numerous photo opportunities of the historic structure against the backdrop of the Gulf of Mexico.

Bush Key Bird Watching Walk

(Seasonally accessible)

Rating: Easy

Distance and Elevation Gain: Up to 2 miles round trip with minimal elevation gain

Description: During certain times of the year when Bush Key is open to visitors, this walk allows bird enthusiasts to observe nesting sooty terns and other seabirds up close. The key is closed during nesting season to protect the birds but is accessible at other times for a unique bird-watching experience.

  • Britannica, Dry Tortugas,, retrieved April 2024.
  • Britannica, Dry Tortugas National Park,, retrieved April 2024.
  • Dry Tortugas, Fort Jefferson,, retrieved April 2024.
  • National Geographic, Complete National Parks of the United States, National Geographic Publishing, Washington DC.
  • National Geographic, Guide to the National Parks of the United States, National Geographic Society, 2003.
  • National Geographic, National Parks of North America, Canada-United States-Mexico, National Geographic Society, 1995.
  • National Park Service, Dry Tortugas,, retrieved April 2024.