History meets nature at Fort Clinch State Park. Whether you’re a history buff, nature lover or a bit of both, enjoy exploring the unique natural and historic resources of this pristine park.
A row of cannons staring across the St. Mary’s River into Georgia are silent testimony to the strategic importance of Fort Clinch during the Civil War. Visitors can explore the fort’s many rooms, galleries and grounds and experience unparalleled living history programs as they learn about the life of a Union soldier. Make plans to visit on the first weekend of every month, a soldier garrison fires cannons and demonstrates other battlefield skills.
The historic fort is only one aspect of this diverse 1,400-acre park. Maritime hammocks with massive arching live oaks provide a striking backdrop for hiking and biking on the park’s many trails.
The park is known for its gopher tortoises, painting buntings and several other species of wildlife. Camping, fishing, shelling and shark-tooth hunting are also popular activities.
The park drive provides 3.3 miles of paved road for those wishing to ride a touring bicycle through the oak shaded canopy drive which terminates at the Visitor Center for historic Fort Clinch. Please stay in a single file line as the park drive is narrow and winding. Early morning and late afternoon are best suited for bicycle riding on the park drive as the park receives quite a bit of vehicle traffic between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.
A 6-mile off-road multi-use trail is located adjacent to the park drive and provides a more adventurous ride through the maritime forest as dune elevation changes provide rolling hills and turns. The trail is considered an intermediate level trail and caution should be used at all times. Helmets must be worn when bicycling the multi-use trail. The multi-use trail is one way for bicyclists and two way for hikers so please watch for hikers along the trail. Parking for the multi-use trail is located at the Visitor Center and the trail can be accessed from multiple points along the park drive.
There are several miles of beach with hard packed sand that can be ridden with large tire bicycles during low tides. Please walk bikes on boardwalks leading to beaches. Bicycle Rentals- Beach cruisers (bicycles) are available for rent at the Visitor Center for a nominal fee. Helmets are highly recommended for all cyclists and Florida law requires helmets for cyclists age 16 and under.
The park offers outstanding birding opportunities and is one of the first stops on the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail. The abundance of dunes, beaches, coastal strand, maritime hammock, and the park’s salt and fresh water marshes offer a variety of habitats that offer over 100 species of birds a place to call home permanently or for just a stop during the migratory season. Favorite viewing areas include the Egans Creek Overlook and directly south of the jetty. The Great Florida Birding Trail Exhibit is located at the beach parking area.
Woodpeckers abound in our forests include pileated, downy, red-bellied and redheaded woodpeckers. Red-tailed hawks and Red-shouldered hawks, Barred Owls, Great Horned Owls, Purple Sandpipers, Painted Buntings, warblers, vireos, wrens, and numerous wading birds make regular visits. Bald eagles, Northern Mockingbirds, Scarlet Tanagers, Rufous-sided Towhees, Indigo Buntings, Gull-billed Terns, Wood Storks, Roseate Spoonbills, Magnificent Frigate birds, Piping Plovers, Salt Marsh Skipper and Juniper Hairstreak have all been counted in the area.
Camping Full Facility
Visitors can enjoy the conveniences of modern camping while taking in the rich cultural and natural history of one of Florida's oldest and most diverse state parks. Nestled at Florida's most northeasterly tip, Fort Clinch State Park offers 69 campsites in two separate and unique campgrounds. The Amelia River campground is located at the north end of the park along the St. Mary’s River. Shady, Spanish moss-laden oak trees offer an old Florida ambience to the Amelia River Campground's 42 sites while providing a breathtaking view of the Amelia River just a short distance from each campsite. The Amelia River Campground bathroom is air conditioned during the warmer months.
Located along the northeast tip of the park, just steps from the ocean, Atlantic Beach Campground offers 21 RV and six tent-only sites which are typical of the Florida beach atmosphere surrounded by snow white sand dunes and sunny sites. Both campgrounds have a dump station, laundry machines and beautiful new accessible heated bathrooms with showers.
Each campsite has a fire ring, picnic table, potable water and a mixture of 30 and 50-amp electric hook-ups. Specific details about each site can be viewed on Reserve America. The dump station facilities are free of charge to registered campers, but are also available for day visitors who wish to utilize these services for a fee. Well-behaved and attended pets are welcome at both campgrounds.
Reservations: Reservations may be made up to 11 months in advance through ReserveAmerica. Book Online or call (800) 326-3521 (8 a.m. to 8 p.m.) or TDD (888) 433-0287.
Camping, Primitive Group
Surrounded by wilderness and shaded by magnificent live oaks, the primitive group camp facility offers a great wilderness retreat and excellent hiking opportunities. Considered one of the best group camping facilities in the state park system, three spacious sites in the group campground accommodate up to 75 campers. Located adjacent to the Egan’s Creek Marsh, each site provides a group fire ring and access to potable water and restrooms within 100 feet of the sites. Very modern accessible restrooms with hot and cold water are provided. Reservations for primitive group camping can be made up to 11 months in advance for youth groups and 30 days in advance for adult groups (if the sites have not been reserved by youth groups) by calling the park at (904) 277-7274.
Visitors who want to launch a canoe or kayak from the park may use the East or West Inlet Parking areas accessed through the Fort Clinch Visitor Center parking lot. Visitors should exercise caution as this activity is discouraged for all but the most experienced sea kayakers. St Mary’s Inlet is known for extremely strong and unpredictable currents and is a very active shipping channel. A kayak cart is recommended due to the distance from these parking areas.
Day Visitors are not permitted to launch canoes or kayaks from the Amelia River Campground or Atlantic Beach Campground as these areas are reserved for registered campers only. Visitors may utilize two free public boat ramps adjacent to the park- Dee Dee Bartel's public boat ramp is available free of charge; there is minimal walking distance. Caution should be used - this access provides a bit more shelter, but dangerous currents and an active boat channel are still a concern. The Egans Creek public boat ramp provides direct access to Egans Creek and has less boat traffic and currents.
Fishing within the park is quite popular and the park provides multiple options for anglers to enjoy a full day of fishing. Popular locations within the park include surf fishing along the Atlantic shoreline and St. Mary’s Inlet as well as adjacent to the jetties near Fort Clinch which is accessible by the east and west inlet parking areas. Depending on the season, the most popular fish caught within the park are redfish, black drum, whiting, flounder, mullet, sheepshead, sea trout and an occasional grouper. Popular bait choices include dead or live shrimp, mud minnows, finger mullet and squid, along with a variety of lures. A small variety of fishing tackle and bait are available for purchase at the park's Visitor Center.
Fishing is permitted in accordance with Florida state law. Please go to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to obtain the most current saltwater fishing regulations and to obtain a fishing license online. The park does not sell fishing licenses. All fishing within the park must conform to the regulations concerning size, number, method of capture and season.
Free Fishing Clinics: Sponsored by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and many local businesses, an annual free Kids’ Fishing Clinic “Take A Kid Fishing Day” and a free Women’s fishing clinic are held at the park. These clinics teach participants how to be responsible anglers, tie knots, cast, safely release a fish and much more.
Explore the park in a new and challenging way. Experienced Geocachers have requested permission to hide caches containing trinkets, treasures, or information in various places around the park. Please check the Geocaching website for the most current and up-to-date information and clues to locate these caches.
Operation Recreation GeoTour
Fort Clinch offers a six-mile trail for hikers and off road bicyclists. Traffic is one way for bikers and helmets are required. Hikers may travel in either direction. The trail begins at the Fort parking lot and parallels the park drive for approximately three miles, then crosses the road and returns back toward the Fort on the opposite side. Parts of the trail are heavily forested and traverse ancient dunes that are very steep, offering a challenge to off road bicyclists and hikers as well.
Willow Pond Hiking Trail is located centrally along the park drive. Parking is available. Two loops encircle a series of fresh water ponds. The shorter loop takes around 20 minutes, and the longer loop takes 45-50 minutes to complete. Wildlife observation is very good on these trails. Alligators, deer, and a variety of bird life can be seen in this area. A guided nature walk is conducted on these trails every Saturday morning at 10:30 a.m., weather permitting.
A short quarter-mile hiking trail can also be accessed from the west inlet parking area. This short trail travels through the maritime hammock along the edges of steep dune elevations.
Hiking along the beaches of the Cumberland Sound, visitors can stand on the northernmost reaches of Florida and look over to Cumberland Island National Seashore where wild horses sometimes roam the beaches. Some of the largest dunes in the state loom over this section of coast, where rugged windblown oaks and gnarled cedar trees anchor the sands in steep inclines.
Meetings and Retreats
The park's concession, American Parks provides a small conference/meeting room suitable for small wedding receptions or meetings. The room has a 40-person capacity and is furnished with tables and chairs. Please Call 904-277-7221 for additional information concerning the meeting room.
A six-mile off-road multi-use trail is located adjacent to the park drive and provides a more adventurous ride through the maritime forest as dune elevation changes provide rolling hills and turns. The trail is considered an intermediate level trail and caution should be used at all times. Helmets must be worn when bicycling the multi-use trail. The multi-use trail is one way for bicyclists and two way for hikers, so please watch for hikers along the trail. Parking for the multi-use trail is located at the Visitor Center and the trail can be accessed from multiple points along the park drive.
The Visitor Center picnic area is located in a maritime hammock area surrounded by relic dunes and oak trees. Freestanding grills and picnic tables are located there. There is a playground available for children to play on. An accessible parking area is also available with a sidewalk leading to this picnic area.A beach picnic area is located adjacent to the main beach boardwalk. Tables are provided. Please note this is an open sunny picnic area with limited shade.
Beach combing or shelling is a favorite pastime of many visitors. Collectors can find a multitude of shells along with a variety of fossilized sharks’ teeth. Plan your shelling around the low phase of the tide, which exposes the most beach area. Please be aware that most everything you find on the beach was, is, or still could be alive and should be returned to the water if an animal is still using it. Favorite shelling locations include the areas north and south of the jetty rocks. Favorite shark tooth areas are along the shoreline adjacent to the Fort where beach sand has been re-nourished.
Come surf the pristine Atlantic shoreline of Fort Clinch State Park. The beach break here is good on the right swell and wind. Please be careful when surfing at Fort Clinch. There are no lifeguards on duty and this is a popular swimming beach.
Swimming is available in the Atlantic Ocean south of the jetty. No Lifeguards are on duty, swim at your own risk. Visitors to the park are reminded to pay close attention to the Beach Warning Flag Signs posted at welcome station and at the Atlantic Beach Access Boardwalk. These flags indicate the swimming conditions at the beach. Swimming in all other areas of the park is prohibited due to dangerous currents and steep slopes.
Park Rangers and Volunteers provide a wide variety of programs and activities that are sure to entice the adventurous side of you. Join us for programs that will immerse you into the park. Visit our events section for a list of upcoming activities and events. Contact the park today for more information on upcoming programs, events, and projects or group tours at 904-277-7274.
The secret to viewing wildlife at Fort Clinch is learning where and when to look, from the beaches to the nature trails. Here are a few suggestions to increase your likelihood of viewing wildlife in the park:
The Jetty boardwalk provides great opportunities for viewing shorebirds, osprey, pelican, dolphin and sea turtles. Deer are regularly seen foraging in the dunes during early morning and late afternoon hours.
The Bird Pavilion provides a great location for viewing songbirds and other migratory birds such as the painted bunting. Occasionally bald eagles, cooper's hawks and American kestrels are seen around the beach parking area borders.
Willow Pond Nature trail provides a wide variety of habitat for alligators, raccoons, songbirds and an occasional bobcat sighting.
Egan’s Creek Overlook provides an open vista of the marsh habitat which is popular for wading birds including great blue heron, great white egrets, roseate spoonbills as well as an occasional alligator sighting … not to mention the beautiful view of the Amelia Island lighthouse.
The shoreline along the St. Mary’s Inlet provides great opportunities for viewing dolphin, and an occasional Right Whale. In addition to this, visitors can use binoculars to view the wild horses on Cumberland Island shoreline just to the north of the park. Deer are also popular in this area and are seen grazing in the grasslands adjacent to the Fort during early morning and late afternoon. Gopher tortoise are also seen along the dune ridges in this area during the warmer months.
The best times for viewing most animals is when they are more active in early morning and prior to sunset.
Three distinct sections of beach shoreline provide a wide variety of activities for visitors to enjoy.
The .75-mile section of Atlantic Beach just south of the jetty provides opportunities for swimming, surfing, sunbathing and surf fishing. Please pay attention to ocean conditions at all times, as the ocean always presents some degree of danger. The park displays a beach warning flag system at the designated entrance of the park which provides general conditions of the surf. Lifeguards are not on duty and swimming is at your own risk. Restrooms, dressing rooms and outdoor showers are located in both beach access boardwalks.
The shoreline just north of the jetty provides for more relaxing activities such as sunbathing, shell collecting and surf fishing. Shell collecting is popular near the jetty rocks and along this section of shoreline. Visitors can also view a wide variety of wildlife including resting shorebirds, dolphins and deer foraging in the dunes. Please avoid disturbing resting shorebirds as this causes them to utilize much needed energy for their migratory journeys and reduces natural habitat that they can use for resting and nesting activities. Swimming is not permitted north of the fishing pier due to dangerous currents of the St Mary’s Inlet.
The shoreline near historic Fort Clinch provides ample opportunities for fishing, shark tooth hunting, nature and wildlife viewing and more. Bring your binoculars and you might be able to catch a view of the wild horses foraging along the shoreline of Cumberland Island National Seashore which lies directly to the north. Fishing opportunities are popular in this area adjacent to the jetty rocks for redfish, flounder, spotted trout and whiting. Shark tooth hunting is popular in this area as they are usually pumped onto the beach during dredging of the St. Mary’s Inlet. Swimming is prohibited in this area due to dangerous currents and steep drop offs associated with the inlet.
Well-behaved dogs are welcome at Fort Clinch State Park on all nature trails, hiking trails, along the park drive and within the camping areas. They must be kept on a 6-foot leash at all times and cannot be left unattended. Dogs are not permitted in buildings including the fort, boardwalks or on the beach.
A small historic herb garden is located around the museum building adjacent to the visitor center which provides examples of medicinal herbs and plants used during the Civil War.
Fort Clinch State Park is in various stages of accessibility. All beach access boardwalks and buildings are ADA accessible and there are several accessible viewing platforms along the boardwalks. The park provides additional mobility equipment for visitors with mobility needs including standard, and all-terrain wheelchairs to enjoy the beach and other areas of the park. Please contact the park in advance at 904-277-7274 in order to make arrangements to reserve and utilize this equipment.
The park offers two fully accessible campsites in the River Campground. The River Campsites are #35 and #25, which include concrete pads, water service and grills as well as accessible walkways to the restroom. All Atlantic Beach campsites consist of solid surfacing and accessible routes to the restroom facility. Both campground restrooms are fully accessible.
Due to the historic nature of the Fort Clinch historic structure, certain portions of the Fort are not accessible, however, Please make contact with Ranger Station and Visitor Center Staff upon arrival. We offer all terrain wheelchairs, and access to lower level fort structures with the use of ramps installed upon request. You may also contact the Soldier on duty in the fort for additional assistance. Sign language interpreters are also available for the fort programs with a minimum of two weeks’ notice. A wide variety of large print brochures are also available upon request.
The Visitor Center, operated by American Parks of Florida, offers a variety of prepackaged snacks and refreshments including ice cream, cookies, candy, granola, soda, water and chips. Visitors can purchase a variety of supplies and souvenirs including firewood, ice, bait, clothing such as t-shirts and hats, educational supplies including Civil War items, books and more!
The Visitor Center is open daily from 9 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. and is located at the northern end of the park approximately 3 miles from the park entrance and approximately 1/2 mile from the River Campground. Visitors who wish to visit Historic Fort Clinch, must purchase tickets at the Visitor Center, $2.50 per person- children under 6 are free. A brochure is provided with a diagram and detailed history of the fort. Please be sure to read important safety information before entering the Fort! A Museum building is located adjacent to the Visitor Center which provides visitors with an introduction into the history of Fort Clinch, as well as a variety of artifacts and displays including personal collections of 1st Sergeant George D. Hughes, who served at the Fort during the Civil War, as well as restored Gatling Gun, a wide variety of historic weapons, fort artifacts and a short video introduction of the life of a Union Soldier.
Fort Clinch Campfire Programs are an excellent opportunity to get up close and personal with real Florida Park Rangers! Programs are held every Saturday evening November through April – weather permitting. Campfire programs are fun, free and open to all registered campers. Program topics are selected by the staff and vary from Ranger to Ranger and week to week. Past topics have ranged from Florida Animals, Florida Cooking, How to Start a Campfire, Reptiles, and Evening Nature Trail Hikes, just to name a few. Special hikes are also held at varying times. Program topics and times are typically posted a week in advance by flyer in both campgrounds and at the Ranger Station. For more information about Fort Clinch Campfire Programs contact the Ranger Station at (904) 277-7274.
The Fort Clinch Museum is located adjacent to the Visitor’s Center and is provided free of charge with park admission and is open from 9 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. every day of the year including holidays. Entrance to the actual Fort is $2.50 per person. The museum displays many of the artifacts associated with Fort Clinch and supplements the unique Living History experience given the visitors by the soldiers in the fort.
A 10-minute introductory video details the history of Fort Clinch while giving visitors a primer to the experience they will encounter inside the Fort itself. The video provides panoramic views of the rooms displayed in the Fort as well as commentary from the soldiers for any visitor with an accessibility concern.
A timeline display explains the importance and history of third system forts including Fort Clinch. A large wall display explains the unique brickwork used in the construction of the site. A flanking wall display explains armaments and projectiles from the Civil War time period. Projectiles are arranged so that visitors can touch and compare. The museum contains two large freestanding displays devoted to later periods in the military life of Fort Clinch. The first is a restored Gatling gun and carriage and the second is a display of Fort Clinch in the World War II period when the site served as a naval surveillance and communication station. Dozens of photographs line the walls showing different stages in the Fort’s construction as well as different military events. The museum houses many smaller artifacts from Fort Clinch during the Civil War period.
Children can enjoy a modern park playground that is located adjacent to the Visitor Center picnic area. This shaded playground offers swings, slides and a few interactive panels for the children to enjoy. Children must be accompanied by an adult at all times.
Fort Clinch is one of the most well-preserved 19th century forts in the country. Although no battles were fought here, it was garrisoned during both the Civil and Spanish-American wars. Fort Clinch is one in a series of masonry forts constructed between 1816 and 1867 known as the Third System of Fortifications. Fort Clinch was built at the mouth of the St. Mary’s River to protect the natural deep-water port of Fernandina from becoming a point of invasion by a foreign power. In addition to serving as a sentinel against invasion, Fort Clinch also protected the eastern link of Florida’s only cross-state railroad.
After being abandoned for war purposes the fort fell into disrepair and sand accumulated throughout the fort. A “New Deal” was in the works for Fort Clinch. In 1933, during the midst of the Great Depression when more than 25 percent of the nation was unemployed, Franklin D. Roosevelt initiated the Civilian Conservation Corps Program to put men back to work and simultaneously preserve and protect our nation’s natural and cultural treasures. Now recognized as the single greatest conservation program in America, more than 800 parks were constructed nationwide. CCC Company 1420 worked at Fort Clinch State Park constructing the Museum, Campground and park roads as well as beginning the restoration of Historic Fort Clinch by removing an extensive amount of sand and debris from the Fort. Today, visitors can see how Fort Clinch may have looked in 1864.
Staff and volunteers in period Civil War uniforms depict daily life in the Fort allowing visitors to take a step back in time. There is a museum adjacent to the Fort that is free with park admission. All visitors are encouraged to tour the museum before entering Fort Clinch. A $2.50 per person fee is charged to enter the Fort.
Inside Fort Clinch, visitors can tour five Bastions, Guard Rooms, a Prison, Enlisted Men’s Barracks, Bakery, Blacksmith Shop, Storehouses, Hospital, Kitchens, Lumber Sheds and Galleries. Every room inside Fort Clinch is furnished to re-create a depiction of the site as garrisoned by the 1st New York Volunteer Engineers in 1864. Two large ramps give visitors access to the rampart and gun deck with its 10-inch smoothbore cannon. Standing on the gun deck provides the visitor with breath-taking 360° views of Cumberland Sound, Cumberland Island, the mouth of the St Mary’s River, the Atlantic Ocean and Fort Clinch State Park.
Fort Clinch offers a unique Living History experience. A soldier is on duty every day of the year, including holidays. All visitors are encouraged to ask questions and interact with the soldier as he goes about his daily activities.
Showers Day Visitors
Outdoor showers are available at both Atlantic Beach Boardwalks near the restrooms for rinsing off sand and saltwater.