The Florida Keys are the only place you can cruise within the continental United States with Caribbean-like climate and conditions- and around this area, the farthest point of all the keys is the Dry Tortugas, best accessed from Key West at a distance of 70 nautical miles/80 land miles. The Dry Tortugas is a collection of reefs, shoals, and islands founded by conquistador Juan Ponce de Leon, including Loggerhead Key, Bush Key, Garden Key, Middle Key, Hospital Key, Long Key, and East Key.
Heading to the Tortugas is a great day trip, but night time trips are not recommended as there are lobster pots. Marquesas Key is a convenient anchorage for the Tortugas, since it provides protection against the prevailing easterlies. Visual bottom navigation is crucial for this journey!
Those sailing to the Dry Tortugas find that every imaginable vessel seems to end up here: most of the visitors are sailing vessels followed by commercial fishing ships, and it is not uncommon to see tall ships, sea planes, ferries from Key West, and shuttles of the National Park Service. Depending on the weather, the anchorage can be extremely crowded or nearly vacant.
The main attraction at Garden Key is the richly historical Fort Jefferson, the largest all- masonry fort in the United States, which stands incomplete due to interruptions by the Civil War. Touring the moat, snorkeling around the fort, and climbing to the top of the fort to get a close-up view of the lighthouse are obligatory expeditions once you enter this territory. East of the fort, on the sandy Bush and Long Keys, is a bird sanctuary closed to visitors during the terns’ nesting season, February through September. Spectacular sunrises and sunsets, clear waters with tropical fish and birds, and this National Park remind those out at sea why this quick trip to the most remote Key continues to be delightful.