Cheapest Way To Get To Dry Tortugas National Park in 2024

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Embarking on a trip to Dry Tortugas National Park is a dream for many, but the cost can sometimes be a large roadblock. With even the most budget-friendly tickets priced around $200, the prospect of exploring this gem 70 miles off of the tip of Key West seems financially daunting.

Even the cheapest way to get to Dry Tortugas isn’t all that cheap in our book.

However, don’t let the initial sticker shock deter you. In this guide, we’ll share our tips to help make the most out of your Dry Tortugas adventure without compromising your wallet.

Book a Ticket on the Yankee Freedom III Ferry to Dry Tortugas

From strategic planning to maximizing every moment on the island, we’re here to show you that an unforgettable experience awaits, and it’s worth the price tag.

A view of Dry Tortugas and the white sandy beaches from above.
Dry Tortugas National Park is a stunning collection of 7 small islands and Fort Jefferson, as seen from above.

What is the Cheapest Way to Get to Dry Tortugas National Park?

If you’re looking for the most cost-effective way to get to Dry Tortugas National Park, the Yankee Freedom III ferry service is the transportation option with the lowest price tag.

Book a Ticket on the Yankee Freedom III Ferry to Dry Tortugas

This daily ferry service departs from Key West, making it convenient for visitors staying in the Key West area. Not only is it the most budget-friendly option, but it also provides unforgettable views.

The Yankee Freedom III ferry service offers an all-inclusive package that includes park entrance fees, a guided tour of Fort Jefferson, breakfast, lunch, and snorkeling gear rentals.

This means you don’t have to worry about any additional costs once you’ve purchased your ticket.

The ferry departs early in the morning, and you’ll typically be on the water for more than 2 hours each way. If you get even a little bit of motion sickness on the water, take proper precautions that work for you, before boarding the ferry. It’s a long ride, and it can be rough!

The cheapest way to get to Dry Tortugas is aboard this ferry, the Yankee Freedom III.

Once you arrive at Dry Tortugas National Park, you are free to explore at your own pace, but there is a guided tour if you are interested in learning more about the fort.

We always learn at least one thing on these guided tours, and they’re usually not overly long. You’ll still have plenty of time to explore the rest of the island on your own.

The guided tour provides informative commentary about the park’s history, including the famous Fort Jefferson. You’ll have the opportunity to explore the historic fort and take in the amazing views of those beautiful turquoise waters surrounding it from multiple vantage points.

Snorkeling enthusiasts, you’ll be delighted to know that the ferry provides complimentary snorkeling gear! With its crystal-clear waters and abundant marine life, Dry Tortugas National Park can be a snorkeler’s paradise.

We didn’t have the best water conditions during our visit, though, so we enjoyed exploring on land much more. It was pretty rough with low visibility in the water around the fort.

Other Ways to Get to Dry Tortugas National Park

While the Yankee Freedom III ferry service is a popular and convenient option, holding 175 guests, there are other ways to reach Dry Tortugas National Park.

For those seeking a more adventurous transportation option, Key West Seaplane Adventures offers seaplane service to the park. This unique experience not only provides breathtaking aerial views but also reduces travel time significantly. The flight only takes about 40 minutes!

Another alternative is to arrange a private boat charter from Key West, allowing for a more customized and flexible itinerary. This typically comes with the most expensive price tag, though!

A seaplane sits parked on the beach at Dry Tortugas National Park.

Dry Tortugas by Seaplane

If you’re looking for the cheapest way to get to Dry Tortugas National Park, taking a seaplane is not your best option.

However, if you’re seeking an unforgettable experience and don’t mind spending a bit more (about double the price for half the time, in our experience), then a seaplane trip to Dry Tortugas is worth considering.

While the cost of a seaplane trip can be higher compared to other transportation options, the price still includes snorkeling gear and a cooler for your group filled with ice and drinks. This can help to offset the overall expense.

One advantage of taking a seaplane is the shorter travel time. The flight from the Key West airport to Dry Tortugas National Park takes approximately 40 minutes, allowing you to maximize your time at the park and in Key West.

Additionally, the seaplane provides a unique and scenic perspective. Watch out the window for marine life as you fly over the water. We were able to spot dolphins, sea turtles, sharks, and rays!

Private Charter to Dry Tortugas

If you’re looking for a more exclusive and personalized experience, private charters are a great option for getting to Dry Tortugas National Park, but they’re not budget-friendly!

While the ferry and seaplane are the only public transportation options, there are several charter services available that can cater to your specific needs.

Private charters offer a variety of options, including catamaran yachts and high-speed powerboats, which can take you to the park. These charters often specialize in activities such as fishing or SCUBA diving, allowing you to customize your trip according to your interests.

One of the advantages of opting for a private charter is the flexibility it offers. You can choose your own departure time and itinerary, giving you more control over your trip.

This allows you to spend as much time as you want exploring the beautiful beaches, snorkeling in the turquoise waters, and visiting the historic Fort Jefferson.

A view of the sandy beaches from the top of Fort Jefferson on a bright sunny day.

Should you take the Ferry or Seaplane?

When planning a trip to Dry Tortugas National Park, one important decision to make is how to get there. Will you travel from Key West by ferry or seaplane?

Each option has its own advantages and considerations, so it’s important to weigh them against your preferences and needs.

Ferry Advantages:

If you’re looking for the cheapest way to get to Dry Tortugas National Park, taking the ferry is your best bet. Not only is it affordable, but it also offers several advantages.

Firstly, the ferry provides a convenient transportation option, with a round-trip ticket costing less than other travel methods like seaplanes or private boats. This makes it an ideal choice for budget-conscious travelers.

Secondly, the ferry offers a scenic journey, allowing you to fully enjoy the turquoise waters and breathtaking views, searching for marine life along the way. The travel time is approximately 2.5 hours, giving you plenty of time to soak up the subtropical climate.

If you plan to camp or kayak at Dry Tortugas, you will not be able to take the seaplane. The ferry is your only transportation option because it is the only way to accommodate all of that extra gear.

Book a Ticket on the Yankee Freedom III Ferry to Dry Tortugas

Ferry Disadvantages:

While the ferry to Dry Tortugas National Park may provide a budget-friendly transportation option, there are some disadvantages to consider.

The travel time of approximately 2.5 hours each way means that you’ll be spending a total of 5 hours on the ferry. This can be quite a long time for some, especially those who get easily bored, restless, or worst of all, seasick.

The ferry ride to Dry Tortugas National Park can be quite bumpy, especially if there are rougher sea conditions. It’s important to consider whether you or anyone in your group may be prone to seasickness and take necessary precautions, such as taking medication or bringing sea bands.

Another potential drawback is the possibility of overcrowding on the ferry. During peak travel seasons, the ferry can get quite busy, resulting in a more crowded experience. There is room for 175 guests on the ferry, so you’ll be exploring the fort and the park with 175 other people on days when tickets are sold out.

A woman sits in an opening in Fort Jefferson, admiring the turquoise blue water.

How Long to Visit Dry Tortugas

When planning a visit to Dry Tortugas National Park, it’s important to consider how long you want to spend exploring this unique destination.

While most visitors opt for a quick full-day trip, others may choose to stay for a longer duration for a remote island camping experience. The ideal length of stay will depend on your preferences and interests.

For those looking for a brief glimpse of the park, a half-day trip by seaplane can be a good option. This allows you to explore the main attractions, including Fort Jefferson and the turquoise waters surrounding it, without spending too much time in the sun.

However, if you have more time to explore, a full-day excursion or even a camping trip can provide more time to experience the park.

Dry Tortugas Ferry Day Trip

A Dry Tortugas Ferry day trip is a fantastic and the most affordable way to experience the beauty of the Dry Tortugas National Park. Departing from the Key West Ferry Terminal, this excursion offers a convenient option for visitors to explore this remote destination.

Book a Ticket on the Yankee Freedom III Ferry to Dry Tortugas

The ferry trip takes approximately 2.5 hours each way, providing you with about 5 hours to explore the fort and the beaches on your own. Departure times are early in the morning, and you’ll have to check in about an hour before departure. This means an early morning for you!

The ferry trip includes a snack for breakfast and a boxed lunch, but you can bring more of your own snacks to ensure you stay well-fed throughout the day.

Snorkeling gear is also provided, allowing you to discover the vibrant marine life and colorful coral reefs that flourish in the shallow waters surrounding the island.

Guided tour options are available for those who wish to learn more about the history and ecology of the area. Park rangers are on hand to provide commentary, only enhancing your visit to the historic Fort Jefferson and its surrounding grounds.

Dry Tortugas Ferry Camping Trip

If you want to spend more time exploring Dry Tortugas, then you’ll want to camp on the island near the fort. This is the only way to stay overnight at Dry Tortugas and the most cost-effective way to get more time on the beaches there!

Camping at Dry Tortugas National Park offers a truly unique experience that sets you apart from the day-trippers. Imagine falling asleep to the gentle lapping of waves against the historic Fort Jefferson’s walls and waking up to the sun casting its first golden rays over the turquoise waters.

The park provides a limited number of campsites nestled amid the small patches of lush vegetation near those pristine beaches. These sites are equipped with basic amenities such as picnic tables, elevated grills, hooks for hanging gear, and composting toilets.

As you set up camp, keep in mind that the park operates on a ‘pack it in, pack it out’ policy, requiring campers to take all their trash and belongings with them, preserving the island’s pristine environment. Tents are also required because of the wildlife on the island, including rats and crabs. 

While camping at Dry Tortugas provides a remarkable opportunity to escape modernity, it’s important to note that amenities are intentionally limited. There’s no fresh water available on the island, so campers must bring their own or have a reliable means of desalinating water.

Additionally, the park’s isolation means that weather conditions can change rapidly, so being prepared with sturdy camping gear and a flexible attitude is crucial. You’ll want to make sure you have an extra day of food and water in case the ferry would be canceled on your planned return day.

A woman walks through the stone arches in Fort Jefferson on Garden Key in Dry Tortugas National Park.

Why is Dry Tortugas so expensive?

Visiting the Dry Tortugas is expensive due to a few reasons.

It is a remote location located about 70 miles west of Key West, Florida, which makes it difficult and costly to access.

The only way to reach the Dry Tortugas is by boat or seaplane, which adds to the overall expense.

Additionally, the Dry Tortugas National Park is a protected area with limited facilities and amenities. The cost of maintaining and operating the park, including providing services such as transportation, accommodations, and guided tours, contributes to the higher prices.

The limited number of visitors allowed in the area at a time also affects the price, as it creates a sense of exclusivity and demand.

Why is Dry Tortugas least visited?

Dry Tortugas is one of the least visited national parks in the United States due to its remote location and limited accessibility. Being about 70 miles west of Key West, Florida, it can only be reached by boat or seaplane. This automatically limits the number of visitors who can reach the islands each day.

The park is also relatively small, covering only about 100 square miles, and is mainly composed of open water and seven small islands.

These factors make it less accessible and less known to tourists compared to other national parks in more easily accessible locations. 

If you’re looking for the most affordable adventure to Dry Tortugas, taking the ferry is the way to go. Not only will you save money compared to the other transportation options, but you’ll also get to enjoy the scenic journey across the gulf and arrive at your destination ready to explore. 

Book the Ferry for the Cheapest Way to Get to Dry Tortugas.