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). This Florida park features extensive shoreline along the Atlantic Ocean, Cumberland Sound and Amelia River.
Fort Clinch was built in 1847 at the mouth of the St. Mary’s River for protection of Fernandina Harbor’s deep water 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.
The scenery is beautiful with panoramic waterfront views, extensive sand dunes, lovely moss-covered oak trees, and the historic fortress itself, recognized as one of the “most well-preserved 19th century forts in America.”
Riding Bikes At Fort Clinch
The park’s 3-mile entry road from front gate to the fortress itself, shaded by lovely tree canopy (pictured above), is a wonderful place for leisurely bike rides. Visitors can also rent bicycles at Fort Clinch.
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. The park also features very popular campgrounds on the riverfront and oceanfront.
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. Single occupant vehicle costs $4. Those who ride their bicycle into Fort Clinch pay $2 entry fee. 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. There’s plenty of parking, public restrooms, and wooden dune walkovers to the beach.
Union Garrisons — Living History Weekends
Life during the Civil War era is recreated at Fort Clinch State Park. The fortress features living history interpreters. The first weekend each month throughout the year are special Union Garrisons that really bring the fort to life. Living historians and volunteers take up duty in the infirmary, blacksmith shop, jail, laundry, and kitchen. Walk over the drawbridge 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.
Great Florida Birding Trail
There’s also a birding kiosk with information located at the pier parking lot. Fort Clinch State Park is the gateway to the eastern section of the Great Florida Birding Trail. Note that parts of the Fort Clinch shoreline are seasonally bird nesting areas and roped off at times to public access. Read more about respecting coastal nature, “Share The Shore With Wildlife.”
Fishing At Fort Clinch
Fort Clinch is a favorite fishing destination for those who cast off the shore outside the fortress walls at east and west inlets and near the jetty (where the Fort Clinch pier once stood).
Fishing Pier Gone
Unfortunately, the Fort Clinch fishing pier suffered damage from Hurricane Matthew back in October 2016, and was removed. When funding is available, a new pier will be built, according to the Florida State Park’s 10-year management plan.
The Fort’s gift shop/visitor’s center offers souvenirs, some supplies, snacks and beverages.
Veterans Day Tribute Annual Event
An excellent program at Fort Clinch is their annual tribute to veterans in November each year, “History of the American Solider.” It’s a wonderful historic production held in early evening featuring soldiers of different periods in American History and music. Watch a timeline of history with soldiers from various American conflicts firing authentic guns of the time period. It’s 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). With the popularity of the Fort Clinch campgrounds, it’s become more challenging over the years to get a campsite, so try booking well in advance via Reserve America.
Note that no lifeguard towers are located within Fort Clinch State Park’s beachfront. Signs warn of dangerous currents. Those intending to go swimming, consider Amelia Island’s beach parks with lifeguard manned towers during summer beach season, Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day Weekend.
Friends Of Fort Clinch
Are you a fan of Fort Clinch? A way to show support for this wonderful park is by donating $30 for an annual “Friends of Fort Clinch” membership, learn more. “Friends” receive an annual membership card that provides 12 PARK ENTRIES per year (each entry for a car load of up to eight people).
Where Is Fort Clinch?
Fort Clinch State Park is located at 2601 Atlantic Avenue, Fernandina Beach (entrance not far from Fernandina’s Main Beach, just a few blocks west). Have a question? For more information, call Fort Clinch at 904-277-7274.
Amelia Island Living has published numerous articles about Fort Clinch State Park, browse collection here.