Discover Fort Clinch State Park
As you approach Fort Clinch State Park, put aside the tense memories of traffic lights, strip malls, and fast food joints that lead up to the park gates, and start to relax as you travel down the three winding miles under a majestic canopy of live oaks draped in Spanish moss. If not camping, a six-dollar entry fee buys you a day of coastal swimming, birding, hiking, fishing, off-road biking, sharktooth hunting, and shelling.
Historic Fort Clinch
Rich in both natural and historical resources, you have to hand it to the State of Florida for preserving Fort Clinch in both capacities. The land itself has been through many owners (including private ownership), but was finally purchased by the state in 1935. From the year 1937-42, the Civilian Conservation Corps repaired the fort and built a visitor center - adding roads, campsites, restrooms, and picnic areas to become one of Florida’s first eight state parks.
Named for General Duncan Clinch who fought in both the War of 1812 and the Seminole War (and later went on to become a Georgia congressman), the pentagon-shaped Fort Clinch is a visual delight. Having played a part in three wars – Civil War, Spanish-American War, and World War II – its riverfront location, huge cannon-topped stone walls, and various furnished rooms help transport you back to the 1800's.
"The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page."
~St. Augustine of Hippo
Fort Clinch Museum and Tour
The self-guided tour (additional $2.50/person) begins at the Fort Clinch Museum. A short looping film, various visual displays, weapons, and artifact collections aid in your introduction to the historic site and to what the life of a Union Soldier would have been like in the mid-19th century. Because of its well-preserved thick masonry walls, Fort Clinch is considered one of the finest examples of a Third System of Fortification. Construction on the fort began in 1847, and it was designed to garrison up to 500 soldiers.
The tour takes you through finished guard rooms, prison, barracks, storehouses, and kitchens that help re-create an 1864 era. Walk the large ramp and get close to the enormous cannons that point out over the Cumberland Sound awaiting an impending invasion. As part of the living history experience, a soldier in Civil War period uniform welcomes questions from visitors to the fort.
Architecturally speaking, Fort Clinch is an impressive site and you are free to explore the extensive grounds, rooms, tunnels, and nooks with very few areas roped off. Examine winding stairwells, graceful arches, gun ports, and turrets - some in original brick. Watch out for historical graffiti carved into the walls. Where newer reconstruction occurs, the craftsmen have stayed true to period aesthetic principles.
Other events and reenactments at Fort Clinch that might be of interest:
- Candlelight Tours – First Saturday evening Oct-May (excluding Dec); Friday & Saturday evenings, May – Labor Day
- Federal Garrisons – First full weekend of every month
- Confederate Garrisons – 3rd weekend of Mar; 2nd weekend of Oct
- World War II Garrison – Memorial Day weekend
- Spanish American War Garrisons –3rd weekend April & Sept
- History of American Soldier – 2nd Saturday of November
- Federal Holiday Jollification – 1st Saturday of December
Willow Pond Nature Trail
We could see where it would be easy to get all caught up in the historic features of Fort Clinch State Park. Do make sure to include a hike or two. Looking for a trail recommendation? Consider Willow Pond Nature Trail. Twist your way through the maritime hammock ecosystem and look for numbered markers indicating unique features along this family-friendly hike. It is a perfect habitat for wildlife observation so look out for: alligators, gopher tortoises, bobcats, raccoons, and a variety of migratory and resident avian species. Guided nature walks are also available. See the park website for dates and times.
Fort Clinch State Park Beach
From the parking area, boardwalks lead you through the dunes, past the rest rooms, and on to the glorious white sand beaches at Fort Clinch State Park. The undeveloped shoreline adds to the remote feeling of the park and makes for a perfect location from which to spend the day playing in the Atlantic ---hunting for shells, fishing from the pier, or searching for sharks' teeth. A very welcome array of outdoor showers are available as you leave to help wash the sand and salt away before returning to camp.