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America’s Wild Spaces - Part 5 - Orlando / Florida Guide

Florida Guide > Travelling

DRY TORTUGAS is in the state of Florida and has an area 262 sq km

It was created in 1992 and is good for swimming with turtles, camping and some remarkable history.

Dry Tortugas is the dominion of the sea turtle; the creature even gave the archipelago its name as Tortuga is Spanish for turtle. The area has five species that can normally be seen, loggerhead, Kemp’s ridley, hawksbill, green sea and leatherback; as they frequent the warm waves of this underwater national park. They can sometimes be seen, breaking the surface to breathe. The park is reef studded and scattered across the Gulf of Mexico, in fact, it’s closer to Cuba than the US. The park comprises seven islands that are only accessible by boat or seaplane. This isolated marine paradise is ideal for water lovers, as you can snorkel and dive in its crystal-clear waters. You will also find that boating and hiking tours are available as well. The park is also home to Fort Jefferson, the largest masonry fort in the Americas. It was built between 1846 and 1875 to protect the USA’s access to the Gulf. Take a tour of the fort and then camp right by the fort for magnificent sunsets.

What’s the best time to go? Well, the park is open year-round, though some keys close during certain months. The rainier summer season of May to October is the best time to visit. You have warmer, calmer waters and good visibility for snorkelling and diving.

You get here by flying to Key West via Miami. Boats then depart from Key West Ferry Terminal to Dry Tortugas daily. You should plan to include the park in a wider south Florida trip with stops in Key West, Miami and the Everglades.

SHENANDOAH is in the state of Virginia and has an area 806 sq km

It was created in 1935 and is good for fall colours, dramatic driving, lots of hikes,

Shenandoah is a capital escape as this protected piece of the Blue Ridge Mountains is less than 100km from Washington DC. The fresh, forested wilderness is the perfect antidote to all those hot and stuffy offices. This handy location means that Shenandoah has abundant facilities like lodges, restaurants and campsites. However, this means that it can get crowded at times. In the fall, the show-stopping Skyline Drive, which follows the mountain ridge, gets congested with leaf-peepers. However there are 800km of trails, including a section of the 3, 500km Appalachian Trail, so it’s easy to lose the masses. Most of the trailheads are off of Skyline Drive. If you want something not to hard then try the popular scramble up Old Rag Mountain or the 13km Cedar Run/Whiteoak Circuit, for lots of waterfalls.

What’s the best time to go? Well, the park is open year-round. Autumn is busy. Spring brings wildflowers. Both times I have driven here it was mid-May and the park was empty. The park is 90km west of Washington Dulles airport. After you have been here follow the Blue Ridge Parkway to Great Smokey Mountains NP. Then finish in Charleston or further south in charming Savannah, Georgia both of which you can easily spend a few days exploring.

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