When you want to camp at Dry Tortugas National Park about 70 miles off of Key West you don’t have a lot of options but the options you have are pretty sweet if you can get a campsite! Dry Tortugas is one of the most remote US National Parks about 70miles off of Key West, Florida and unless you have your own boat there is only one way to get there. You’ll need to take the Yankee Freedom III out to Dry Tortugas from Key West with all of your camping gear, food and water out with you. There are no services out on Dry Tortugas, no fresh water; just you, the fort, the island and the ocean. If you want to go to Dry Tortugas for just a day trip you can take the Yankee Freedom III or you can take a seaplane.
As of April 2013, the cost to take the Yankee Freedom out to Dry Tortugas for a camping trip is $180.00. For just the day trip it will cost $169.00. In addition to the transportation fees aboard the Yankee Freedom III you’ll have to pay the $3.00 per night campsite fee and you’ll have to pay a one-time $5.00 per person entry fee to go to Dry Tortugas National Park. If you have an annual pass for the US National Parks you will need to show that to get credit for the $5.00 park entrance fee.
The campground at Dry Tortugas National Park is pretty small. There are a total of 8 individual campsites and two group campsites at Dry Tortugas on the same island as Fort Jefferson. If all the individual campsites are full, there are two group campsites that if not occupied serve as an overflow area for the individual campsites. Some of the individual campsites so offer shade and are nestled among the plants that grow on the island. The group camping areas are completely exposed. When the weather is nice out at the campground by Fort Jefferson on Dry Tortugas, any campsite there is awesome. If a storm rolls in, anyone camping in the group campsites or the exposed individual campsites may be in for a rough (few) night(s).
When you camp at Dry Tortugas National Park you will be camping on a sandy area near the beach. You’ll need to be able to anchor your tent down securely in case the winds kick up especially if you are in one of the exposed camping areas. As mentioned before you’ll need to bring EVERYTHING with you – including fresh water. Unlike camping at other island parks like Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior, camping on Dry Tortugas is NOT a backpacking trip. You will have to haul your gear a couple hundred yards or so but there are carts you can use to transport your gear.
Fishing is permitted out on Dry Tortugas and can be one of your sources of food while out on the island, however, if you don’t catch anything you’ll want to bring a sufficient food supply to get you through your stay. When you camp at Dry Tortugas you will not be able to use a backpacking stove if you travel on the Yankee Freedom III. Wood fires are also prohibited out on Dry Tortugas at Fort Jefferson. If you want to cook you can bring Sterno canisters or self starting charcoal.
Each campsite will have a picnic table, a grill where you can use charcoal and a place to hang your food to keep it out of the reach of any rats out on the island. If you don’t want to hand your food you will need to bring a hard sided food container like the bear canisters required for back country camping out at Olympic National Park and other areas around the country. Along with no running or potable water available out on Dry Tortugas, there are no flush toilets or showers.
When you need to use a bathroom you’ll have access to a row of composting toilets located right near the campground. Between the hours of 10am and 3pm when the Yankee Freedom III (the boat you will take out to Dry Tortugas) is docked out at Dry Tortugas the composting toilets will be closed and you’ll need to use the facilities on the Yankee Freedom III. Water, soft drinks and food are available for purchase on the Yankee Freedom III so if you run low on food you’ll be able to pick up some snacks from the boat.
Camping out on Dry Tortugas is a unique experience. You’ll feel like you’re out on Gilligan’s Island with less comforts than were present on Gilligan’s Island. Be sure to prepare for inclimate weather, rain, waves crashing up on shore as well as bright beautiful sunny days. Be sure to bring snorkeling gear, a kayak (along with proper emergency gear since it can be dangerous kayaking out at Dry Tortugas), camera gear and a dry bag to keep all of your electronics safe while out at Dry Tortugas and a sense of adventure.
If you go you’ll need to make reservations early. The number of campsites out on Dry Tortugas is very limited and the folks at the Yankee Freedom III seem to sometimes tell you there are no camping spots available when in fact the campground is nowhere near full for some reason. The only other thing you’ll need to worry about when camping out at Dry Tortugas is parking for your car in Key West. This will run you somewhere between $10.00 and $15.00 per day as there is no free parking down there. At some garages you may have to go find someone in order to park there for more than 24 hours and make special arrangements so that you do not get ticketed or towed.