Fort Clinch State Park offers something for everyone and fall is the perfect season for being outside at the Florida-Georgia border.
Fort Clinch State Park is the largest area of Amelia Island least touched by development. It’s a pleasant, peaceful place to explore, wander around outdoors, and enjoy coastal nature on this northeast Florida barrier island.
The COVID-19 pandemic adds another layer of appreciation for places like Fort Clinch where people can be outdoors in nature and spread out.
Besides touring the historic fortress, the park is one of the best places to take a bike ride and a favorite place to go shore fishing. For birders, it’s the gateway to the Great Florida Birding Trail on the east coast.
Limited Visitation During Pandemic
Throughout Florida, as of early October 2020, daily visitor capacity limits continue at the state’s 175 parks. Fort Clinch has been operating with 50% capacity limit. The daily visitor limitations are for social distancing during the pandemic, to reduce crowds and density.
Like elsewhere around Amelia Island, special events at Fort Clinch have also been canceled due to COVID-19. (More info is further below about specific Fort Clinch fall 2020 events).
Where History & Nature Meet
The scenery is beautiful around the park with panoramic waterfront views, extensive sand dunes, and lovely oak trees covered in Spanish moss. The historic fortress is recognized as one of the “most well-preserved 19th century forts in America.” One doesn’t need to be a history buff to enjoy this fantastic coastal park with its beaches, maritime forest, wooded hiking and biking trails and campgrounds, besides the historic fortress itself.
Self-Guided Fortress Tours
The Civil-War era fortress is open daily for self-guided tours and there’s usually at least one soldier reenactor active on the grounds. The monthly garrisons (first weekend each month), a time when the fortress normally comes alive with many reenactors for “living history” weekends, are not being held during the pandemic. Also, the candlelight tours at Fort Clinch have been canceled.
Fort Clinch Fall 2020 Event Cancellations
The Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection, “to protect the health and safety of visitors, staff, volunteers and concessions,” according to the Fort Clinch State Park website, canceled two popular annual events normally held in autumn, “to support safe social distancing.” Hopefully, both of these annual events (detailed below) will be back next fall in 2021.
Cars & Cannons — Canceled
A fundraising event for the Friends of Fort Clinch, the fortress setting is an ideal venue to walk around admiring beautifully restored classic cars. Pictured above, last year’s 2nd annual Cars & Cannons event in 2019.
History Of The American Soldier — Canceled
Another excellent fall event is Fort Clinch’s annual Veterans tribute. This year, “The History of the American Soldier,” initially scheduled for November 14, 2020, is also canceled. It’s the biggest production each year at the fort, a wonderful living history presentation.
Fernandina’s Veterans Day Parade Nov. 7, 2020
Separately, we note that the annual Veteran’s Day Parade in downtown Fernandina Beach has recently gotten the green light to go ahead in November 2020. Hosted by American Legion Post 54, the Veterans Day Parade will be held in Fernandina November 7, 2020 at 11 a.m.
The Fort Clinch gates have been closing earlier than normal at 5 p.m. (instead of the usual pre-pandemic closing time at sundown). The state park also continues to note on its website, “Due to local orders, facial coverings or masks are required inside buildings for staff and visitor safety. Visitors are expected to maintain distances of at least six feet apart.”
Riding Bikes At Fort Clinch
An excellent place for bike riding, it’s a 3-mile pedal from the park’s entry gate to the fortress parking lot (at the far end of the park), staying on the main paved road. This route is heavily tree-lined (and shaded with overhead tree canopy as well), perfect for biking, running or walking.
Four Years Later, No Pier
October 2020 marks four years since Hurricane Matthew passed by Amelia Island out to sea on October 7, 2016, damaging the Fort Clinch fishing pier. Unfortunately, the pier was removed and has not been replaced. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection previously indicated it will replace the pier “as funding becomes available.” The pier replacement is an item in the “approved” Fort Clinch 10-year Unit Management Plan (2017).
The Fort Clinch pier had been the longest in the state of Florida and is sorely missed by many local residents and visitors alike. Before its demise, the Fort Clinch pier was 2,409 feet long, nearly half a mile. That was 864 feet longer than second longest pier in Florida at Navarre Beach (1,545).
Friends of Fort Clinch
There’s an easy way to show support for this gem of a park on Amelia Island. Join the “Friends of Fort Clinch,” a non-profit Citizen Support Organization. Money raised by “Friends” goes directly to fund projects at the Fort not funded by the State of Florida. An annual “Friends” membership is $30. Members receive an annual pass for 12 free entries into the park. Funds go toward restoration projects, special events, educational programming and more. Learn more, sign up online at the “Friends of Fort Clinch.”
Fort Clinch State Park Admission
Fort Clinch is one of the best bargains in northeast Florida for a day-cation. Fort Clinch State Park entry fees are $6 per vehicle (2 to 8 passengers or $4 for a single driver), and $2.50 per person to tour the fortress itself. If you ride a bike into the park, the fee is reduced to $2. The grounds are currently open from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. (closing earlier during the pandemic than the usual sundown time). The historic fortress is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (the Visitor’s Center 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.).
Fort Clinch State Park is located at 2601 Atlantic Avenue, Fernandina Beach (entrance is near Fernandina’s Main Beach). Have a question? For more information, call Fort Clinch at 904-277-7274.