A must-see attraction on Amelia Island is Fort Clinch State Park with its Civil-War era fortress overlooking the Cumberland Sound. The park sprawls across the island’s northern tip (over 1,400 acres) with extensive shoreline along the Atlantic Ocean, Cumberland Sound and Amelia River. The scenery is beautiful with panoramic waterfront views, extensive sand dunes, lovely moss-covered oak trees within the maritime forest, and the historic fortress itself, recognized as one of the “most well-preserved 19th century forts in America.”
The park’s 3-mile entry road from front gate to the fortress itself, shaded by lovely tree canopy, is a wonderful place for leisurely bike rides (visitors can also rent bicycles at the Fort). The park features campgrounds on the riverfront and oceanfront. Whether you enjoy hiking in the woods (six miles of off-road trails including wooded mountain bike trails), beachcombing, bird watching, fishing, picnicking, camping, or exploring American history, visitors to Amelia Island need to put Fort Clinch on their itinerary.
With park entry fee just $6 a vehicle (2 to 8 people or $4 for a single driver) and $2.50 per person if you wish to tour the fort itself, it’s one of the best bargains in northeast Florida for a daycation. The park grounds are open from 8 am until sunset 365 days, while the fort is available for touring from 9 am to 5 pm. Fort Clinch State Park is located at 2601 Atlantic Avenue, Fernandina Beach (entrance not far from Fernandina’s Main Beach). Have a question? For more information, call Fort Clinch at 904-277-7274.
Update: Pier Gone
Unfortunately, the Fort Clinch fishing pier suffered damage from Hurricane Matthew and has been removed. When funding is available, a new pier will be built, according to the state park’s 10-year management plan. See related article with lots of images of the pier and its removal process, “The Vanishing Pier at Fort Clinch.”
Union Garrisons — Living History Weekends
Life during the Civil War era is recreated at Fort Clinch State Park. The fortress features living history interpreters on a daily basis. However, the first weekend each month throughout the year are special Union Garrisons that really bring the fort to life. Living historians take up duty in the infirmary, blacksmith shop, jail, laundry, and kitchen. Walk over the draw bridge and through the brick “time tunnel” into life as it was in 1864 during the War between the States.
First weekend of the month activities may include black powder artillery demonstrations (including firing cannons), flag raising ceremony, marching drills, cooking on wood-fueled fires, and blacksmith demonstrations. Visitors can see these special living history “Union Garrisons” from 9 am to 5 pm on Saturday of the first weekend each month and 9 am until noon on the first weekend Sunday each month.
Watch Fort Clinch video below to see highlights of this wonderful Florida State Park.
MORE ABOUT THE BRICK FORTRESS
Fort Clinch was built in 1847 at the mouth of the St. Mary’s River (see aerial photo below) for protection of Fernandina Harbor’s deepwater port. Fort Clinch was a military post during the Civil War, Spanish-American War, and World War II. The fort is a third system fortification, and can be toured daily. From the park’s entrance at Atlantic Avenue in Fernandina Beach, it’s about a 3-mile drive through shady, wild tree canopy to reach the brick fortress. There’s plenty of parking, public restrooms and wooden dune walkovers to the beach.
Birding & Fishing
Fort Clinch is a favorite fishing destination for folks who cast off the shore. There’s also a birding kiosk with information located at the pier parking lot. The state park offers various habitats attracting many bird species, with its beaches, dunes, maritime hammock, salt marshes and rock jetty.
Note that parts of the Fort Clinch shoreline are seasonally bird nesting areas in spring/summer and roped off to public access (marked with signs). Read more about coastal nature, “Share The Shore With Wildlife.”
Note that no lifeguard towers are located within this state park’s beachfront. Signs warn of dangerous currents. Those intending to go swimming should consider instead checking out Amelia Island’s beach parks with lifeguard manned towers daily during summer beach season, Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day Weekend. See summary of Amelia Island beach parks.
The Fort’s gift shop/visitor’s center offers souvenirs, some supplies, snacks and beverages.
Fort Clinch hosts some events during Amelia Island’s Wild Amelia Nature Festival, taking place each year in May. It’s a good time to visit to learn more about local bioregion. For further Wild Amelia information, visit the festival’s official website at www.WildAmelia.com.
VETERAN’S DAY TRIBUTE
An excellent program at Fort Clinch is their annual tribute to Veterans in November each year. It’s a wonderful historic production featuring soldiers of different periods in American History and worth seeing. You’ll also experience soldiers from various American conflicts firing authentic guns of the time period. This is a great learning experience for adults and kids alike.
CAMPING AT FORT CLINCH
If you like camping, you’re in for a real treat! Pitch a tent at Fort Clinch, or bring your RV for a campsite near the shore at either the Atlantic beach campground or Amelia River campground. The Amelia River campground is especially lovely, shaded by oak trees. The Atlantic Campground is more open and faces the St. Mary’s inlet but in closer proximity to the Atlantic Ocean beachfront than the river camping. (Take a walk from the Atlantic campground along the shore heading south, just past the jetty rocks to reach the Atlantic Ocean beachfront).