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During our search for an easy, beach camping spring vacation this last winter, we happened to stumble upon this crazy, magical place. Since we were looking for something within a reasonable drive of Virginia, it seemed terribly far, maybe even unattainable. Upon a closer look, though, it turned out to be a fairly accessible vacation that was even better than we imagined. Luckily, we were able to snag 2 last minute seats on the Yankee Freedom ferry and a camping permit for Dry Tortugas – these typically get completely booked a few months in advance, but there are sometimes cancellations or open spots on less popular days.
Our adventure began with booking our pet sitter, packing our summer clothes and camping gear, and starting on the first day of driving. Since Josh is in the National Guard, we booked a hotel room at the Patrick Air Force Base on the cheap and stayed there overnight. We arrived late but stuck around the next morning to check out the beautiful beach adjacent to the beach before driving down to Key West. We decided it was well worth stopping again on the way back to take advantage of the quiet beaches, proximity to some nearby attractions and excellent price (especially compared to Key West!).
The next afternoon we arrived in Key West. Key West is an incredible cultural experience: it is so different from all of Florida, and we heard over 7 different languages being spoken in one evening alone. The weather was pleasant and we enjoyed looking at the beautiful architecture as we wandered the streets. We had planned one fancy meal during our trip, and asked some locals for their recommendations. We ended up eating at a small restaurant called “Seven Fish.” It was an incredible culinary experience! I enjoyed a rich seafood gnocci in a creamy vegetable sauce with a hint of blue cheese, while Josh had a lovely and fresh Pad Thai topped with the catch of the day. The atmosphere was intimate and I highly recommend stopping there for a more sophisticated and original meal.
The next day, we woke up at about 5am to load our camping gear onto the Yankee Freedom Ferry and meet the people who were renting us a sea kayak to bring to the island. While waiting I grabbed us some much needed and delicious caffeine from the Cuban Coffee Queen, conveniently open early!
Soon we were on our way. The ferry ride itself was very enjoyable, with great views of the coast as well as flying fish, turtles and a multitude of bird species.
When we got to the fort, we ran off as fast as we could to snag an ideal campground. Because there aren’t very many, it can be a little bit competitive. After hauling our bags, kayaks and gallon jugs of water (there is no fresh water on this island, you have to pack everything you need in!) we got to putting up some shade:
It was hot out, and even regular application of SPF 50 just wasn’t going to cut it for our wintery complexions, so we were glad to have a tarp, long sleeved shirts and awesome hats.
Then we got to exploring!
When the Yankee Freedom left at 3:30, there were less than 20 people left on the island. Everything got very quiet- or at least relatively: we could still hear the waves gently washing against the island, and the birds nesting and feeding on the other side of the island. Dry Tortugas seems to transform in the afternoon. We had the chance to meet our neighbor campers, and some other visitors!
On day 2, we took off for Loggerhead Key on our sea kayaks. It’s 3.5 miles of open ocean, so we were sure to check in with the ranger and monitor the wind speed before taking off.
This past November, though at that time Virginia was still brand new, Josh and I got the itch to explore the Appalachian Trail just a little further away from the usual spots and crowds. So, after some quick research we decided Grayson Highlands State Park […]