Garden Key

Garden Key, Dry Tortugas National Park: Address, Phone Number, Garden Key Reviews: 5/5

Main island in the Dry Tortugas National Park.
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30 reviews
Very good

Pocatello, ID8 contributions
Well worth the price
Aug 2020
Would definitely do again. Lots of interesting history, very nice secluded beaches, snorkeling, breakfast and lunch provided. Very good, all inclusive full day tour.
Written October 22, 2020
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

Kevin B
Florida13 contributions
Dark Sky - Stargazing Worth All the Effort in this Primitive Camping Spot
Jul 2019
Primitive camping at Garden Key was totally worth the night sky. Billions of stars and the milky way were visible with the naked eye. Do stay more than 1 night in case there is cloud cover that obscures the sky. The park rangers, especially Rangers Tree and Jeremy were especially helpful. Primitive camping at Garden Key in order to see the nigh sky is definitely not for everyone. It requires a serious amount of "prep work," as there is no fresh water except what you bring yourself and there are no showers on the island, unless it rains (seldom) and you stand outside. Literally - if you want something, you have to haul it onto the island and then you have to haul it off the island. So - thinking ahead and planning for meals, water, clothing, is critical. We read ahead about some reviews on trip advisor about pitching a tent under the few shady mangrove (?) trees, but the rats are in the trees and brown recluse spiders, so not the best place to camp; not to mention, in the evening little air gets in there so it was a broiling oven. From 11 to 4 PM, the sun is brutal. No amount of sunscreen will do - so seeking shelter during those hot hours became our salvation. We stayed 3 nights and 4 days - but I think like other reviewers 2 nights would have been better. We rented a kayak at a steep priced but wished we had saved our $ on that because we didn't use it but an hour or two. But, despite all the effort involved in camping there -- the night sky is worth all of it!
Written July 7, 2019
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

Robert B
Soldotna463 contributions
Mar 2019 • Couples
You are stunned by the breathless beauty of this remote landmark. The park system has done a wonderful job!
Written March 13, 2019
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

Stock Island, FL14 contributions
Dry Tortugas and Ft Jefferson
Mar 2019 • Couples
“Garden Key” is the home of Ft Jefferson. The fort is amazing! The work, and what they had to endure makes it all the more astounding. The snorkeling is fun, need to wander through the museum before, so you get an idea of what your are looking at. I saw a “mermaids” necklace which is the egg case of the whelk! Very cool! Plus the juvenile barracuda, and clouds of just hatched baby fish. The ride over was very nice and the crew were attentive, professional and very personable! They know their stuff.
Written March 6, 2019
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

melissa w
Cincinnati, OH1,024 contributions
Garden Key Campground
Feb 2019 • Couples
What a unique experience camping on a deserted island! 10 first, come, first serve camp sites. No electricity, no cell signal. As advertised, you must bring your water. We took the yankee freedom which does not allow compressed fuel. We flew there so we didn't bother with a cooler but most people did (we ate MRE's and PB&J). Each site has a bbq, picnic table, and a pole to hang up your trash. We had no problem with a campsite but we camped going into a holiday weekend and on Friday night there was a group of people in the "overflow" (I think they were fishers that came in late on a private boat). You do need some type of hard plastic to put your food in (we grabbed a bin from target for 8$ when we landed). Our trash was not hung up high enough and the rats did get into it on the first night (If you come on the yankee freedom they will take your trash everyday). If you take the yankee freedom, the maximum number of nights you can stay is 3. We stayed for 2 nights and almost everyone we talked to agreed that 2 nights is probably perfect (by day 3 you may begin to get a little bored but 1 night just isn't enough). We met some amazing people and even had an imaginary "campfire" on our second night (no fires allowed) with people from all over the US. The composting toilets are clean but are only open when the Yankee Freedom isn’t docked (otherwise, everyone on the island uses the Yankee Freedom lavatories during the day). The campsites themselves are pretty small and none truly offer a view of the ocean from your campsite. I think all except for 1 have some shade during the middle of the day. If you take the Yankee Freedom, you can use their snorkel gear (or bring your own). The first of the day visitors begin arriving at 8:30am on sea plane. The yankee freedom is docked from about 10:30am-3:00pm everyday. You get one lunch with your yankee freedom ticket but I believe you can buy lunch from them the other days if you’d like. The last sea plane leaves at 5:30pm and then it’s just you, the other campers, and a few rangers left. Several times, private boats would start their engine and leave in the very early morning (4 or 5am) which woke us (and the other campers) up (I didn’t mind looking at the stars and waiting for the sunrise). Overall, it’s an amazing experience that I’d love to do again someday.
Written February 26, 2019
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

Natalie P
Swisher, IA155 contributions
Jan 2019 • Couples
Wonderful place. Try to visit if you can. Birds, beaches, solitude. It was so much nicer than I expected, I wish we could have stayed longer.
Written February 7, 2019
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

Palos Heights, IL7,204 contributions
Fun snorkeling, pristine beaches with fine white sands, tropical sea birds soaring overhead
Jan 2019 • Family
Garden Key is one of 3 inter-connected islands - Garden, Bush, and Long - that compromise the core of the Dry Tortugas National Park, at least the terrestrial part. The National Park has a total surface area of 64, 700 acres but all the islands in the park have a land surface area of only 104 acres and these 3 islands together represent about 74 acres. For visitors arriving by seaplane or ferry, only Garden Key is open year-round. immediately east of Garden Key, Bush Key is is closed to all visitors from mid-January to mid-October to protect the nesting of Sooty Terns (up to 100, 000) and Brown Noddies (10,000). Further east, Long Key is the nesting ground of Magnificent Frigate birds and remains closed all-year.

Garden Key is where Fort Jefferson was built. This review focuses on the island and waters around it. We came in by seaplane and spent the about 6 hours on the island; those that take the ferry have about 4 hours, Regardless of your means of travel you need to remember that there are no stores/concession stands on the island and you will be reminded of this by the ferry or seaplane company. Accordingly:
1. Bring your own water/drinks, especially if coming by seaplane (and they will include that in the fare). Drinks can be bought on the ferry
2. Bring reef-safe sunblock, a hat, sunglasses
3. Bring a camera; a waterproof one would be advised, such as a GoPro
4. if you are an avid birder bring binoculars (and maybe a camera with a long zoom lens)
5. Towels; there are no showers so this will be just to dry off.
6. A change of dry clothing if you plan to swim / snorkel (and you should)
7. Large beach towel to lie down on (could double as your drying-off towel)
8. Consider wearing a rash guard to protect your arms when swimming by the coaling dock ruins

I would start off snorkeling by the moat wall by South Beach. Find the gap in the base of the wall which provides a direct connection between the ocean and the moat waters. There will a lot of fish just hanging out in that shady gap. Try not to stir up too much sand from the sea floor when snorkeling as this clouds the view.

Definitely swim and snorkel by the South Coaling Dock ruins but you need to be pretty confident in your swimming skills because there isn't much space between the piers which are covered with corals, sea fans, and sponges and one should really not stand on or grab these delicate and slow-growing creatures. There were a lot of fish, schools of juveniles. The coral heads further out west from South Beach were difficult to find but were worth it for the many sergeant-major fish.

Take time to walk around Bush Key between October and January when it is open to visitors. Pelicans will fly around, diving into the water to feed. We were visiting just before the island was closed for the annual nesting of 100,000 Sooty Terns and 10,000 Brown Noddies. There were Sooty Terns already flying in and also diving into the water. Magnificent frigate birds were frequently overhead on Garden and Bush Key, but a flock of them were constantly circling over the mangroves of the off-limits Long Key.
Written January 27, 2019
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

Rafaella D
8 contributions
The whole key is filled with nature
Aug 2018 • Couples
Mostly covered by Fort Jefferson, this key nonetheless hosts thousands of nesting birds and a plethora of sea life roams the shores from sharks to conch. The beaches are lovely and walking the moat is a MUST!
Written September 18, 2018
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

Chicago, IL29,714 contributions
Garden Key was there long before Fort Jefferson
Feb 2018 • Couples
Originally, Garden Key was first called Bush Key. That tiny key was selected for a lighthouse known as the Garden Key Light. Construction of the 65 ft. lighthouse was completed in 1826. As it was the biggest key of the Dry Tortugas eleven keys, the Navy decided to build Fort Jefferson on it. There are only three ways to cross the 70 miles to Garden Key. They are seaplane, by ferry or by private boat. There are no accommodations on Garden Key, so if you want to stay, you will be camping out. Campers bring most of their own supplies with them, though they can eat lunch on the ferry daily. There is plenty of snorkeling around Garden Key and the water can be warm and crystal clear.
Written April 7, 2018
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

S/V Kuma Too
Largo, Florida, United States106 contributions
If you're considering a day trip from Key West, DO IT!
Dec 2016 • Friends
We got to Garden Key on Christmas day and spent 3 days/nights there on our catamaran. We anchored in the bay where the ferry and seaplanes come in; although, it's not the official anchorage, the rangers have no problem with boats there. Walking through the Fort was like stepping back in time. We enjoyed reading about the history and seeing the attention to detail in the architecture. It's surreal at night after the ferry and planes leave for the day - it was a beautiful sunset from atop the fort. It advertises wifi, but we found it basically non-existent, which was fine with us. The price is very reasonable, $10 per person, and you pay at a drop box using the honor system. The beaches around the anchorage are calm with turquoises blue water; not a whole to see snorkeling but still an enjoyable swim. The area is patchy with seagrass - Double and triple check your anchor and use extra scope! We look forward to returning in a few months! If you're considering a day trip from Key West, DO IT!
Written January 29, 2017
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

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