Fort Clinch State Park is the largest natural area remaining on Amelia Island. As of May 21, 2020, this state parks’s riverfront and oceanfront campgrounds are back open, taking camping reservations (after being closed for over two months).
A very popular place for day use as well, an afternoon spent at this Florida State Park on May 23, 2020, during Memorial Day weekend, was a pleasure.
Besides overnight camping, it’s a beautiful park for local residents and day trippers to spend time relaxing or fishing along the coast, take a bike ride or a hike, and explore coastal nature.
Social Distancing & Entry Fees
Note that social distancing guidelines still apply. According to the park, “visitors are expected to maintain distances of at least six feet apart and limit group size to ten or fewer people.” In addition, “to reduce risk, cash transactions for park admission are limited to exact change.” Admission to Fort Clinch State Park is $6 per car load at the ranger entrance booth (2 to 8 passengers). $4 per vehicle, single occupant. Bicycle riders gain entrance for $2. For those who want to enter the historic fortress, the fee is an additional $2.50 per person.
While state park hours are daily between 8 a.m. to sundown, be aware that daily capacity limits, during the Coronavirus pandemic, can close the entry gate early. On this holiday weekend, we were pleasantly surprised to be able to enter Fort Clinch State Park in the afternoon around 2:30 p.m.
Fort Clinch State Park had reopened back on May 13, 2020 for “active recreation only,” after being closed down due to the Coronavirus pandemic for nearly two months. At the time of reopening, the campgrounds had remained closed. Since then various restrictions have been lifted. The historic fortress and Visitor’s Center are also open.
Beach Chairs, Umbrellas Now Allowed
For those wanting to spend time along Fort Clinch’s miles of shoreline, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Cumberland Sound and riverfront, bringing beach chairs, umbrellas and coolers is now permitted on the beaches. Thus, people can sit and relax (instead of the former status of “active recreation only.”)
Daily Visitor Limit 50% Capacity
Daily visitor capacity limits are intended to reduce crowds and density. The park is currently allowing visitor admittance at 50%. Arriving early (entry gate opens at 8 a.m.), provides better odds of gaining access (especially on weekends and summer holidays). Prior to Fort Clinch shutting down (back in March), the daily capacity limit meant some visitors arrived to find the entry gate was closed by around 11 to 11:30 am. The gate signage indicated the gate would not reopen until the next day.
Gate Reopened Saturday Afternoon
According to the ranger station, the entry gate actually had been shut earlier on Saturday, May 23rd (reaching daily capacity limit). However, park management reopened the gate after some early visitors had left. (This was a departure from keeping the gate shut for remainder of the day, as was the case back in March). So it seems timing is everything, especially on the weekends during the pandemic summer of 2020 (as long as capacity limits remain in place).
This particular afternoon, a holiday weekend kicking off the summer of 2020, there were spacious stretches of Fort Clinch’s shoreline with people widely dispersed (not crowded at all). Note that “swimming is at your own risk,” (there are no lifeguards at the state park). Also, dogs are not allowed on the beach at Florida State Parks.
The Atlantic coast beach parking lot with the dune walkover and beach restrooms had plenty of empty parking spaces (more available than occupied). And the connected (former) pier parking lot area was largely empty, as well (pictured below). The parking lot at the fortress Visitor’s Center also had plenty of parking spaces available.
On Saturday afternoon, even the small east and west inlet areas favored by fishermen, had parking spots available.
This was in stark contrast to Amelia Island’s other beach parks within the city of Fernandina Beach and Nassau County on this Saturday afternoon, Memorial Day weekend. Elsewhere, beach parking lots were filled to the maximum, with overflow. Just up the street from the entry gate to Fort Clinch, is Fernandina’s Main Beach Park. The paved parking lots were full, with vehicles circulating up and down lanes, waiting for a space to open when a car departed. But some beach goers decided instead to park their vehicles all over the grass at Main Beach.
State Park News & Updates
Check Florida State Parks’ website for potential future Fort Clinch updates (since the status of state parks can fluctuate during the Coronavirus pandemic). For those unfamiliar with Amelia Island, Fort Clinch is located at 2601 Atlantic Avenue, Fernandina Beach. To contact the Fort Clinch State Park ranger station, call 904-277-7274.
Previous article about opening day, May 13, 2020, at Fort Clinch State Park with additional photos, “Fort Clinch Reopens For Active Recreation.”