Nestled between Fernandina Beach and a historic military fort dating from the mid 19th century, Fort Clinch State Park is a glimpse into the pristine natural beauty of North Florida. Fort Clinch is the perfect place to truly immerse yourself in the native flora, fauna and history of our region. You can make your adventure in the park a day trip or extend it a couple days at the on-site campgrounds, allowing yourself the time to hike the many trails, ride your bike through the six-mile off-road course or fish along the 2,400-foot pier that juts out into the ocean off the north end of Amelia Island.
Once you enter the park you are greeted by a winding road, shaded by a canopy of oak trees, which leads to the actual fort itself. Construction began in 1847 and the fort was named in honor of General Duncan Lamont Clinch, a respected officer who fought in the Second Seminole War. During the Civil War the Confederates briefly held control of the facility until Robert E. Lee ordered an evacuation as Union forces pounded their way down the coast. The fort was briefly deactivated and then reoccupied during the Spanish-American War, however troops were removed in 1898. Finally the fort was used again during World War II by the United States Coast Guard, but a couple years later the State of Florida stepped in to buy the fort and surrounding property in order to preserve this national treasure for future generations.
The fort itself is spectacularly preserved and is staffed by a very knowledgeable collection of history aficionados. During the first weekend of every month, the fort is transported back to the 19th century as soldiers re-enact day-to-day fort operations from the era.
Hours: 8 a.m. until sunset, 365 days a year
Fees: $6 per vehicle; $4 for single occupant vehicle; $2 per person fort admission fee; $26 per night camping fee
Directions: Take I-95 to the Fernandina/Callahan exit 373. Proceed 16 miles east on highway A1A (follow the brown park signs). Turn right on Atlantic Avenue. Parking is on the left within two miles. Alternatively, instead of taking I-95, you could take a more scenic route along the coast on A1A North. From the Jacksonville Beaches you would need to take the Mayport Ferry across the river.
The surrounding natural landscape carries its own allure. The park encompasses over 1,427 acres where several natural communities cohabitate. Maritime hammocks, large moss-draped oaks are prevalent, hugging the coastline, bumping up against coastal grasslands that stretch behind sand dunes on the Atlantic Ocean and Cumberland Sound. All natural environments offer great wildlife viewing opportunities and are home to gopher tortoises, deer, raccoons, bobcats and a wide spectrum of bird species.
The Willow Pond Trail is another fantastic opportunity to view alligators or turtles in the many freshwater ponds that sit along the path. Eagan’s Creek Marsh is on the edge of the west boundary of the park, providing a saltwater estuary for a profusion of marine life. The salt marsh offers spectacular panoramas of the shore, which provide an essential habitat for nesting and foraging by colonial shorebirds and sea turtles.
Next weekend, be sure to spend it at Fort Clinch. You won’t regret the opportunity to truly immerse yourself in Florida’s authentic expression of itself.