Take the Seaplane to Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida Keys
Dry Tortugas National Park is situated in the Gulf of Mexico to the west of Key West in Florida. Because of its remote location, it’s a haven for birdlife as well as unspoilt reefs as well as calm, turquoise sea and pristine beaches. Of course, you can’t miss the iconic Fort. If you’re thinking of traveling in the United States, then an excursion to Dry Tortugas National Park certainly wants to be on your Florida Bucket List.
Why Visit Dry Tortugas National Park in the Florida Keys
Taking the seaplane to Garden Key in Dry Tortugas National Park is a thrilling memory that I’ll never forget. Not only did I get to visit one of America’s most remote and least visited national parks, but I also had the unique opportunity to see it from the air.
What makes Dry Tortugas National Park so unusual is its remoteness. It is an archipelago of seven islands in the Florida Keys and is situated about seventy miles west of Key West. However, in stark contrast to Key West, Dry Tortugas National Park sits quiet and isolated in the Gulf of Mexico, with zero commercialism.
All supplies need to be brought in for the ten or so staff members who reside there.
Fort Jefferson is a large hexagonal brick structure that dominates much of Garden Key. It looks absolutely stunning from the air, with its imposing size and shape, harshly popping against the miles of turquoise water all around it.
I saw my first aerial photo of Fort Jefferson on a whim while browsing the internet for warm getaways. Its beauty piqued my curiosity and I immediately added this experience to my bucket list.
The History of Dry Tortugas National Park
Dry Tortugas National Park was originally named “Tortugas” by the Spanish in 1513 because of the abundance of sea turtles residing in the surrounding waters. The word “Dry” was added later, as an indication that there is no fresh water on the islands.
Despite the harsh conditions, plans for Fort Jefferson began after the War of 1812 in order to protect the valuable trade routes along the United States’ southern coast.
Though Fort Jefferson was buzzing with activity during the American Civil War, it was never fully completed due to structural issues. It largely fell out of use by the end of the 19th century, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared Dry Tortugas a National Monument in 1935. Congress later upgraded Dry Tortugas to National Park status in 1992.
Today, tourists come to Dry Tortugas primarily to visit Garden Key. There are stunning beaches, abundant coral reefs, a nearby bird nesting colony, and the three levels of Fort Jefferson to explore.
Experiencing the Seaplane to Dry Tortugas National Park
Before visiting Dry Tortugas National Park, I had never been on a seaplane before. Although I was stoked to see and do something new, I am also a nervous flyer, so fears preoccupied much of my thoughts. The anxiety was especially bad the night before, to the point where part of me was almost dreading this new adventure.
That said, the next morning my husband and I easily navigated to and found parking at Key West International Airport. Before we knew it, we were crossing the tarmac with our tour group. I remember feeling small and vulnerable upon hearing the occasional roar of an engine as a plane was taking off.
On the seaplane, there was only one seat per row on each side, which meant each passenger had a window seat. Our pilot provided everyone with headphones so that we could hear him tell stories and point out various sights during the trip.
After the seaplane took off, I was soon reminded of what inspired me to book this experience in the first place. We were immediately greeted with views of Key West below, and soon we were over nothing but bright blue sea. As the seaplane does not fly very high, it is easy to see every shade of blue and turquoise in the shallow water, and we could even pick out sea turtles and stingrays.
As I had originally hoped when booking the seaplane to Dry Tortugas, I felt nothing short of bliss in these surroundings. The amazing blue hues in the water below were breathtaking, and passing shipwrecks and remote islands felt unreal. By the time we finally spotted the hexagonal shape of Fort Jefferson in the distance, I was so happy to have pushed myself outside of my comfort zone for this experience.
Arrival on Garden Key
I was surprised to notice that landing on the water didn’t feel much different than a commercial jet landing on a runway. The only difference was that the seaplane literally pulled right up to the beach. Funny enough, with how much I anxiously fixated on the flight, I forgot about another cool experience: the fact that we were being dropped off onto a remote island with virtually no internet access for the day!
This is truly a one-of-a-kind bucket list day trip that simply cannot be replicated elsewhere. Everyone who has the chance should experience landing and take off in a seaplane in order to see Fort Jefferson and the beautiful colors of the Gulf of Mexico from the air. Once on Garden Key, guests virtually have the run of the island, and can explore all over Fort Jefferson, including the roof!
Useful Information for visiting Dry Tortugas
To reach Dry Tortugas National Park by seaplane, reservations are required several months in advance of travel. There is only one company that offers this experience: Key West Seaplane Adventures, which leaves from Key West International Airport.
This is not a cheap day trip, costing $361 per adult for a half-day, or $634 for a full day. However, it’s totally worth it and easy to add as a day trip during a Key West getaway.
A half-day is enough time for most people, but those who are avid snorkelers may want more time to swim around the entirety of Garden Key. That said, if doing a half-day, I recommend booking the morning tour in order to beat the ferry, which arrives mid-morning and drops about one hundred and fifty or so people onto this tiny island. My husband and I cherished our quiet morning on Garden Key’s gorgeous south beach before the noisy ferry crowds arrived.
About the Author
Theresa is an Ohio based travel writer and the brains behind Fueled By Wanderlust. She started traveling in her mid-twenties after paying off her hefty student loan debt. She worked as a full-time certified public accountant for eight years, before taking the leap into full-time travel blogging. Today, she loves exploring both domestically and abroad, when she isn’t cozy at home with her husband and dog.
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