Exploring Fort Jefferson and the Dry Tortugas

Probably the hardest national park to get to, the Dry Tortugas is the location of Fort Jefferson which housed the motley crew accused of conspiring in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Originally built between 1846 and 1875 to try and contain and control trade in the area, the fort was plagued with disease and troubles and never fully finished. It’s the largest brick masonry structure ever built in the Americas and uses over 16 Million bricks!

Fort Jefferson and Moat
Fort Jefferson Interior

We took a seaplane to visit this remote site which was an adventure of its own and allowed us to see countless turtles, sharks and even a few wrecks from the air as we did the 40-minute flight. (Tip for Divers: not to worry, the plane only gets up to about 500 feet so no need to worry about your post dive intervals.)

The park consists of much more than Fort Jefferson. The Windjammer Wreck (Norwegian Avanti which sank January 22,1907) and the lighthouse as well as the many sandbar islands, which are homes to hundreds of turtles, are all part of what is called the Dry Tortugas. The park itself was designated as a monument by president Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935. It was later designated as a national park by congress in 1992. The name ‘Dry Tortugas’ was given to it to highlight the fact that there was no fresh water on the islands. The Tortugas were originally discovered by Spanish explorers in 1513 and given its name due to the hundreds of turtles they found there.

The park entrance is 10$ but we were able to use our national parks entrance card which we picked up at the Grand Canyon and got us into Bryce and Zion too! The park is located 70 miles west of Key West and only accessible by boat or seaplane. Pets are allowed but not into the fort and must be cleaned up after.

If you do come, definitely bring a snorkeling kit. The waters were amazing, and just off the side of the beach you can snorkel between pilings of what used to be a dock and see lots of interesting sea life. We didn’t encounter any turtles but we saw numerous Christmas tree worms. These tiny delicate creatures are probably the prettiest worms in world.

Christmas Tree Worms Cluster
Christmas Tree Worm

While we arrived by seaplane, there is also a ferry that brings visitors to Fort Jefferson, but we enjoyed our bird’s eye view.

At the time of our visit the ferry wasn’t in operation and we ended up having the island to ourselves, well almost if you count the other 6 passengers. We didn’t want to leave.

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