Snorkeling Dry Tortugas National Park – Explore All Four Spots

Florida Keys

Snorkeling Dry Tortugas National Park is the best available from Key West, and it is pretty darn good! It is actually an entire day of fun, and well worth the trip and expense.

Snorkeling Dry Tortugas and Fort Jefferson

The boat trip was a pleasure and we had very calm seas both directions. The snorkeling waters are a perfect 5-12 feet deep and very warm. We spent about two hours straight having fun snorkeling Dry Tortugas.

This page will tell you how to find all four snorkel spots, your options for getting to the island and what else you can see around the fort.

2023 Coral Bleaching Event – Please note that very high water temperatures in the summer of 2023 have caused widespread coral bleaching and death in the Florida Keys. So the descriptions on this page are not accurate. If you wish to see healthy coral reefs we now recommend you visit the Coral Triangle.

Dry Tortugas location map in reference to the Florida Keys.

The park is located a good 70 miles west of Key West across open ocean, and being this remote it can only be accessed by ferry, seaplane, or private boat.

Once you get out there you are actually snorkeling Fort Jefferson. In fact you used to snorkel Fort Jefferson National Monument before the area was expanded to include seven islands and re-designated Dry Tortugas National Park.

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Where to Snorkel

There are four distinct snorkeling Dry Tortugas areas that are worth checking out. They are circled in red on this snorkeling map.

Dry Tortugas snorkeling map around Fort Jefferson

Snorkel Spot #1: Along the Moat Wall

The first snorkeling Dry Tortugas area is the easiest to find and explore. You simply follow the outside of the moat wall circled on the map. There is no snorkeling in the moat.

Snorkeling along the moat wall at the Dry Tortugas.

You enter the water from a wonderful white sand beach on the left side of the fort, looking inland from the ferry dock. On our map that is at the beginning of the lower yellow arrow, and the snorkel area is circled in red between the yellow arrows alongside the fort.

Snorkeling Sunburns Suck!

Check out the snorkeling rash guards, wetsuits, and reef safe sunscreen we use to protect ourselves and to protect fish and coral from sunscreen chemicals.

Beautiful white sand beach and lots of snorkelers at Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas.

The best snorkeling in this area is on the moat wall itself. There are a good number of small but healthy corals, both hard and soft, and some sponges. There is also a nice variety of small fish, mostly immature. There were also a wonderful variety of colors of Christmas Tree Worms.

School of snappers in the shade with corals next to the wall at the Dry Tortugas.

Maybe the best thing about snorkeling along the wall is actually that it is all small and a little sparse in sea life. It makes you focus on each small thing as it comes along and you check out smaller fish than you would normally pay attention to in a bigger snorkeling area.

Brain coral and Christmas Tree Worms.

Another nice thing is that if you have family who don’t snorkel they can walk along the moat wall right beside you snorkeling Dry Tortugas.

Walking along the moat wall at Fort Jefferson.

Snorkel Spot #2: A Bit of a Swim

The second Dry Tortugas snorkeling spot that offers much better snorkeling than the moat wall, is a series of 4-6 small patch reefs that are very healthy in shallow water. There are tons of fish around these patch reefs, from large to small. In fact Nicole saw a huge Tarpon, and it gave her a little startle.

Huge school of fish and nice corals on a patch reef while snorkeling Dry Tortugas.
Dry Tortugas Snorkeling Map

The guides will tell you to swim 50 to 80 yards straight out from the fort to find them. But if you are like us, it is pretty hard to know what 50 to 80 yards is in the water, and it can be kind of daunting to just swim out that far trying to find some small reef structures. But we did find them, and it was well worth it. And once we found them we figured out the best way for you to find them with ease.

Here is the sure way to find the patch reefs. Look at our snorkeling Dry Tortugas map. See the yellow arrows? Notice they are lined up perfectly with the two walls of the fort? Start swimming out from either side, keeping yourself in line with one of those walls. Once you get out and start seeing down the line of the other wall, the other yellow arrow on the map, you will be at the reef. Once there, the patch reefs run parallel to the fort wall. You can see the little dark dots on the map circled in red.

We like to swim along the moat wall until we reach the north wall, the top yellow arrow, then we swim out to the patch reefs and follow them back to the south. Then we like to swim back towards the beach and go to the third snorkeling Dry Tortugas spot.

Big corals, purple fan, sea rods, and fish.

Snorkel Spot #3: Southern Wharf Ruins

Old pilings to snorkel around at Fort Jefferson.

The third Dry Tortugas snorkeling area is in the circled section #3 at the bottom of our map. This is an area of pilings that used to support a wharf. Now they are just poles in the water. This is actually a pretty good snorkeling area. You have to be careful not to get hurt on the old rusty metal, but there are tons of fish and nice corals growing on the pilings.

Fish in the shade under a piling covered in coral.

Snorkel Spot #4: Northern Wharf Ruins

The fourth snorkeling Dry Tortugas spot, the upper right circled section #4 on our map, is the actually the same as #3, just in another area. It is another set of old wharf pilings and it is worth checking out if you have time.

Walk over to the beach to the west of the ruins to enter and swim around the point to them.

Big school of fish we saw while snorkeling at Dry Tortugas.

Note: Our suggestions are based on knowledge of the area. We hope you find them helpful. You can help us if you use the link(s) below. We may make a small commission, at no extra cost to you.

How to Get There

Snorkeling Dry Tortugas is accessed by boat or sea plane.

There is one ferry that makes this trip called the Yankee Freedom Ferry. We enjoyed our trip with them. You can walk around outside, and it is a heavy, stable boat which is good in case of big seas. Check out more reviews of the Yankee Freedom ferry on TripAdvisor.

Dry Tortugas Yankee Freedom II at the dock.

You can also reach the park by seaplane charter, although it is pretty expensive. Key West Seaplane Adventures is the company that flies to the Dry Tortugas. They get stellar reviews on TripAdvisor.

Read more about snorkeling Dry Tortugas on the National Park website.

Interesting Historical Tour

Along with the fun of snorkeling Dry Tortugas National Park, Fort Jefferson is a place of history for sure. Besides the amazing marine life and birds, the fort is really very interesting to walk around in.

Brick archways at Fort Jefferson.

Ponce de Leon first named this area Las Tortugas. Tortugas means turtle (there used to be a ton of them here). But the name dry was added not long afterward because of the lack of fresh water.

The fort itself was built in the 1800s to protect the waters into Florida but quickly became obsolete. Still, at one point there were over 1000 troops stationed on this tiny 16 acre plot of land.

Later the fort became well known as a prison, once holding Dr. Samuel Mudd, the doctor of John Wilkes Booth. The picture out the window below is from Mudd’s cell. The fort was abandoned in the late 1800s and was taken up by pirates at times.

View out Samuel Mudd's window cell at Fort Jefferson, with beautiful water and a sailboat.
Huge cannon at Fort Jefferson.

There it is. A great day snorkeling Dry Tortugas. Make sure and bring a book if you come by ferry, because it does take a couple of hours each way. And some medicine for sea sickness if you are prone.

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