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Idyllic, Remote Loggerhead Key: Exploring Lesser-Known Dry Tortugas National Park
Do you have those moments while traveling where you just pinch yourself?? For me, there were several times during my 5-day sailing trip to Dry Tortugas National Park where I felt this way, but one of the most “WOW” moments was when Loggerhead Key came into view…
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We’d arrived in Dry Tortugas National Park the previous afternoon, and I spent a beautiful evening exploring historic Fort Jefferson—from snorkeling to architecture to sunset views.
The next morning my captain had set aside a day to explore nearby Loggerhead Key, which I’d never even heard of. Named after the frequently-spotted loggerhead sea turtles (an endangered species), it’s the largest of the keys in Dry Tortugas National Park, and home to the Loggerhead lighthouse (called Dry Tortugas Light).
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I went a different route than most people and had rented Captain John’s boat on Airbnb as a private charter on a 5-day trip from Key West, Florida, down to Dry Tortugas National Park and back (about 140 miles round trip). He does everything from just overnight staying on the boat to day trip charters and more (though not positive if he always offers this particular trip). Doing a private sailboat charter was definitely the way to go!!
I woke up bright and early and enjoyed a boozy rum french toast (and coffee with rum) while gazing at the awesome Fort Jefferson. The sea planes of day tours were just beginning to come in, so I watched the landings and enjoyed the light breeze swaying the sailboat.
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Then we set sail, enjoying a lovely 6-mile (due to how zig-zaggy we had to be) trip over to Loggerhead Key. The wind was strong and good for sailing (probably the only time in my entire trip!)…you couldn’t have asked for a nicer day or more gorgeous water.
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Sadly despite the nice winds, the seas were still too rough around the famous Windjammer shipwreck for me to snorkel. I’m a pretty novice snorkeler so it wasn’t worth the risk. Instead Captain John took me further in toward the reef and dropped anchor for lunch.
You can see how much of an angle the boat was resting at due to the waves pushing against it…not the most comfortable! And then picture fighting that while snorkeling.
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Since we were a little closer to the key, I decided to risk a spot of snorkeling along the reef. As you can see, I made a little friend! He followed me around the whole time and posed for pics…I think that’s his best Blue Steel look.
I also saw a manta ray but wasn’t quick enough for a pic! SO COOL. Due to the rougher seas, the water was a little less clear than normal here, so my video and photos weren’t quite as beautiful as over at Fort Jefferson.
It was also my second chance trying out my new prescription snorkel mask (you have to follow up with the company to get your actual prescription added & it ups the cost; Get Wet Store is the seller). As my eyes are crazy awful, this mask was a gamechanger.
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After pulling myself back on board, drying off a bit, and finishing up lunch, we hopped in the dinghy and headed over to Loggerhead Key.
My pictures don’t remotely do justice to what this view actually looks like…swaying on the water, sparkling crystal waves around, and that awesome lighthouse and broken building in the distance.
Just a reminder: Dry Tortugas National Park is fully off-the-grid…you won’t get any cell signal once you leave Key West.
OH MAN, now things get really good.
Again, my photos aren’t really doing justice to how gorgeous and clear and colorful the water was. Those paired with the pale white sand and then the super cool lighthouse, palm trees, and broken building were amazing.
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Captain John dropped me off, promising to come back in a few hours to get me. I walked the beach and snapped pics…LOOK AT HOW CLEAR THAT WATER IS!!!
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You might also notice that I have it entirely to myself. Loggerhead Key is technically uninhabited, though I believe a couple scientists or national park rangers live there on rotation. I saw two people total here (both rangers).
Because almost everyone visits Dry Tortugas by day trip tour from Key West and are only visiting Fort Jefferson, almost no one ever comes to Loggerhead…you get some private sailors but that’s about it. There are rules you have to abide by if you plan to sail over here, so make sure to check the NPS site beforehand.
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I was low-key obsessed with this broken building (which I know basically nothing about). I’m assuming it was a little dock building attached to a jetty?
But erosion got to it, totally undercutting the foundation and eventually causing the building to break in half.
After I took a bunch of pics, I plopped myself down on the beach to get some sun, but the capricious thunderstorms rolled through and I got SOAKED. So I grabbed my bag and headed up toward the middle of the island…but made the mistake of walking the path barefoot.
That went okay until the last few steps before pavement, when I managed to step on a DEVIL PLANT FULL OF STICKERS. They were giant burrs that embedded themselves in my feet and hurt soooo bad. I hobbled the last few steps and sat down, covered in sand and wearing only my soaking swimsuit, and slowly but surely tried to get them out. Lesson learned—wear shoes!
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Before hitting up the lighthouse area, I followed the path over toward Little Africa coral reef, a protected area that’s great for snorkeling (which I know now, but didn’t then). It’s home to spiny lobster and various types of tropical fish in addition to the coral.
Though I’m bummed I missed a great snorkeling option, I loved this stretch of beach, and the stormy colors of the water.
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The Loggerhead lighthouse (officially named “Dry Tortugas Light”) is really cool looking…I actually ended up just plopping down for a while and reading my Kindle in the shade here, as I desperately needed a break from the sun.
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There were a few little charming details, but since it’s not really a place tourists come there isn’t any info to tell you what you’re looking at. If you’re planning a visit, you should do some digging ahead of time (I didn’t know I’d be coming here).
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You must stick to the marked paths, as significant portions of the key are protected wildlife and plant areas.
I headed back down to my original stretch of beach to soak up some sun and wait for Captain John. I couldn’t resist taking approximately 230 more photos of the broken building though…
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But maybe 10 minutes after I laid down, the storm clouds came again. I figured I’d just wait out another little shower, so zipped up my beach bag to protect my camera and keep my swimsuit cover-up dry, but it ended up being a CRAZY torrential downpour with wind and everything.
Thankfully Captain John saw it coming and so he came back for me a little early…just in time, because the dinghy ride back in absolute sideways rain (like wet bullets) was fairly uncomfortable and I was a little nervous for my nice camera! Thankfully it stayed dry enough to be fine.
SO did I convince you that—despite the extra planning, work, and possibly expense involved in getting here—coming to remote Loggerhead Key is a super unique experience and completely worth the work?? I had no idea what I was in for, but this was one of the best parts of my amazing multi-day sailing charter.
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May 18, 2023 at 8:28 am
Thanks for writing this. Sounds fantastic. The link to the boat doesnt seem to work? It goes go to airbnb but not specifically to the boat you chartered. Any chance you can email me a new link or contact for Captain John?
May 21, 2023 at 9:09 am
Hi Ben! Yes, it seems like Captain John pulled down his listing a while ago. I don’t know if he’s still offering tours. I’ve reached out to his private email to ask, but haven’t received a response. I’ll definitely update here if I do!
June 9, 2022 at 7:43 pm
Loved your article on Loggerhead Key. I visited and stayed there back in 1991 and am sad to see how much it has changed. When we were there (for lighthouse duty with the Coast Guard Auxiliary) the lighthouse was a beautiful white and black. There was a caretakers cottage and a guest house. We routinely cut the grass, picked up coconuts and limbs and manned the radio. We did have time for snorkeling, looking at Little Africa from the lighthouse and other chores to keep the island ship-shape. It was covered in pines with lots of shelter for the many birds, stopping off during migration.
It was a magical 10 days. No phones, very limited satellite tv, no fast food. It’s one of my very favorite memories. Have always wanted to go back, but you really ‘can’t go home again’. Thank you for the lovely photos and reminding me of precious memories.
June 9, 2022 at 8:20 pm
Wow, that sounds absolutely AMAZING! Thank you so much for the note and your recollections, that sounds like such a unique and memorable experience.