Monday, July 24, 2017

a camper's guide to dry tortugas national park

With our trip through the sunshine state, we visited all 3 of Florida's national parks. We spotted alligators in the everglades and went boating in biscyane, but by far our favorite was our visit to Dry Tortugas National Park.
This national park is actually an island off the coast of Florida that just so happens to be surrounded by the world's 3rd largest coral barrier reef. Even though the island is closer to Cuba than it is to the US, it used to serve as a major line of defense in the 1800's so it's chalked full of history. 

Dry Tortugas is one of the least visited national parks. This isn't because it's not worth visiting. Trust me, it is. But the only way to access the park is by boat or by seaplane. Add in the fact that the island has no electricity, no internet, no fresh water---most people only visit as a day trip. But Tom and I pride ourselves on not being most people. And a night of dry camping on a secluded island sounded like paradise to us. We spent our time laying out on the beach and searching the fort for hidden treasures. So I thought it would be a fun idea to share what we learned. 

Getting There  
If you're camping, you have to travel by boat in order to accommodate all your gear. We decided to play it safe and travel with the Yankee Freedom III, the only licensed vendor with the national park service. It's a pretty luxurious ferry ride that includes both breakfast and lunch. Campers have to arrive earlier than day-trippers in order to load all your gear, but the process is fairly simple. You're allowed up to 60lbs of gear, not counting water. Plus, there are carts available to help load and unload. 
Pro Tip: As soon as the boat docks, send someone in your party to scout out the best campsite possible, while everyone listens to the ranger's talk on camping guidelines. 

What to Pack 
Packing for this camping trip was surprisingly easy. We followed this packing list and made sure to keep our gear in these to keep it dry during transportation. Be sure to overpack water. It's easy to underestimate the amount needed, but when you're being active in the heat all day, it's essential to stay hydrated. Husband thought I was crazy and going overboard with how much water I packed, but we ended up needing to share with some other less prepared, albeit grateful campers.
Pro Tip: Bring your own snorkeling gear. The ferry provides snorkeling equipment while the ship is docked, but the best time to go snorkeling is first thing in the morning before the ferry docks the next day. This way, you have the beach all to yourself. 

Essential Info
  • Round-trip transportation for campers via Yankee Freedom Ferry is $195. This includes the national park entrance fee, so if you have a national park pass be sure to show this at the ranger's station when you dock to get your entrance fee refunded. 
  • A maximum of 10 campers can travel on the ferry each day, so book a spot on the ferry early. Cost of camping is $15 a night, which you pay when you land. 
  • If campers decide to bring kayaks to explore surrounding islands, you must check in with the park ranger's when leaving and returning. This is for your own safety. 
  • Sanitation Services: All trash has to be packed out, the ferry service provide's campers which specially marked trash bags that they will collect for you each day. But in between pick-ups, be sure to store your trash in a sealed bin to keep it away from wildlife. 
  • Restrooms: When the ferry is docked, camper's may use the restrooms on the boat. After the ferry leaves, compost toilets are available. Warm water rinse showers are also available on the ferry, but they are not private and use of soap is permitted. 
  • Access to the surrounding islands may be limited during certain points in the year to protect nesting species of birds. 
  • No fuel sources are allowed on the island. Cooking can be done with self-starting charcoal on grills provided. We personally used this system for cooking, which also is a great source for electricity.  

The Legend of the Great American Crocodile 
We had heard about the crocodile that inhabits the island before our visit, but didn't expect to actually encounter her. Oh were we wrong. Legend has it that she washed up here after a major storm and has stayed because there is no competition for food. 
Thankfully, she tends to avoid people and you should avoid her. If you're in the water early or late in the evening when the island is pretty much deserted...keep an extra eye out. We accidentally ended up taking an evening swim with her. 
Stay safe and don't seek out the crocodile, this is a wild animal. If you see her, do it from afar. 

Things to Do
I assure you, there is no way that you will run out of things to do. There are daily tours of Fort Jefferson, we spent an entire day exploring the fort and still didn't see it all. I definitely recommend snorkeling around the pylons, you will not be disappointed. Bring along kayaks and visit the nearby islands, star gaze at night thanks to zero light pollution, or take a bird watching tour. 
From snorkeling to fort exploring to star gazing to crocodile watching, I'm definitely voting Dry Tortugas as one our most unique national park experiences we've ever had. See all are other national park visits here

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  1. This looks SO awesome!!! I love finding neat and new spots!

    1. this is definitely one of those hidden gems that is so amazing, but still unheard of and unspoiled