Dry Tortugas National Park | BUSH KEY

The narrowest point marks the border of Garden and Bush Keys

Bush Key as seen from the top level of Fort Jefferson.

Located next to Dry Tortugas National Park’s Garden Key is Bush Key, an island approximately the same size as Garden Key, though it looks much smaller without a massive fort on it. It was formerly called Hog Island when the land was used to raise livestock to feed the soldiers and prisoners living at Fort Jefferson. Today it is a major rookery, home to 100,000 snooty terns and 10,000 brown noddies. The island is closed during the nesting season, usually from February through September. In addition to terns, frigatebirds, brown pelicans, cormorants, and green and loggerhead turtles use the island for nesting. While people can walk on Bush Key when it’s open, no swimming or fishing is ever allowed, even when birds are not nesting.

Bush Key is closed during nesting season

Bush Key is closed during nesting season

Birds at Bush Key during nesting season

Birds at Bush Key during nesting season

Cormorant

Cormorant

A narrow sandbar sometimes connects Bush and Garden keys together, making it appear as if the two are one, big island. However, even when connected, Bush Key is a separate entity. From time to time, large storms destroy the sandbar and blow a channel between the two keys, separating them once again.

When open and connected to Garden Key, visitors can walk all the way around Bush Key along the shore, a trip of a little over a mile. A leisurely stroll with time to take photos, enjoy the scenery, and exam the shells and corals that wash up on the shore takes about an hour. When I did the hike, I saw corals and shell artwork crafted by those who came before me. Because Dry Tortugas is a national park, nothing can be removed, including seashells. This differs from places like national seashores where shell collecting is legal as long as nothing is living in them.

Walk around Bush Key at Dry Tortugas National Park

Walk around Bush Key at Dry Tortugas National Park

A look back at Fort Jefferson from Bush Key at Dry Tortugas National Park

A look back at Fort Jefferson from Bush Key at Dry Tortugas National Park

Shell art on Bush Key

Shell art on Bush Key

Shell art on Bush Key

Shell art on Bush Key

Most of the shells and corals are found along the north shore of Garden and Bush keys, as that is the area where the strongest waves hit. The south side is more like a bay, and the water is much calmer. This is where all the boats anchor and the Yankee Freedom Ferry docks.

North shore of Bush Key at Dry Tortugas National Park

North shore of Bush Key at Dry Tortugas National Park

Coral washed up on the north shore of Bush Key

Coral washed up on the north shore of Bush Key

A third key in the area, Long Key, is located at the far end of Bush Key where it hooks around to the south. In the photo below it is the strip of land on the right side near the horizon with two lumps of trees on it.

View of Bush and Long keys at Dry Tortugas National Park

View of Bush and Long keys at Dry Tortugas National Park

Aerial view of Garden, Bush, and Long keys (photo by National Park Service)

Aerial view of Garden, Bush, and Long keys (photo by National Park Service)

Like the relationship between Bush and Garden keys, Long Key and Bush Key are sometimes connected. However, Long Key is always closed to the public. When I visited in 2021, it was not connected, but the channel between it and Bush Key was very narrow. If you walk around Bush Key, you can get to the point where the two connect.

Channel between Bush and Long keys at Dry Tortugas National Park

Channel between Bush and Long keys at Dry Tortugas National Park

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Last updated on February 26, 2021
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