Well this is it – our very last Florida adventure. Can you believe we spent nearly four straight months in one state? One hundred and eleven nights to be exact, which officially puts Florida in a three way tie with Arizona and New Mexico for our third most visited state. It’s been a fantastic winter filled with white sand beaches, palm trees and sparkling turquoise water, mouth-watering local cuisine, and even a visit with some famous mice, but the time has come to bid adieu and start the journey north. There might be one more blog post in the works comparing our winter in Florida with the previous two in southwest…but more on that later. Let’s talk about this fort.
To get to Fort Clinch State Park we traveled all the way up to the very northern tip of the Florida’s east coast. In an effort to make the journey a bit more scenic we bypassed I-95 and took A1A up the coast. This route was indeed more scenic then your typical six lane highway, but probably not the best choice if you’re looking to get anywhere in a reasonable amount of time. First there was the St. Patrick’s Day Parade that we ran into while driving through downtown St. Augustine. Oops. Then there was the side street that I detoured us down which ended up being a tab bit too narrow, resulting in me having to ask the cars behind us to move so we could back up and make the turn. Oops again. Then we made it to St. John’s River Ferry only to have to wait an hour while two ferries left without us due to the heavy amount of traffic on this fine Saturday morning. Triple oops. Finally, we got stuck in the middle of a traffic jam caused by a classic car show on Amelia Island only miles from our destination. All this meant that it took us four hours to drive about 60 miles. Somehow we made still made it to the park with plenty of time left to explore.
The main attraction at Fort Clinch State Park is the fort of course. This Civil War era fort was built at the mouth of St. Mary’s River to protect the port of Fernandina. While it did serve as a military post during the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and World War II, construction of the fort was never fully completed, and the fort itself never saw any notable action.
As is often the case with these old military structures, after it was deemed to have no military value, the fort and surrounding property were purchased by the state and turned into a state park. In fact, along with Highlands Hammock and Myakka River State Park, this is one of the oldest Florida State Parks. The fort and surrounding property were purchased in 1935, and only two years later the CCC got to work buildings roads and a campground while restoring the buildings at the fort.
Today the fort has been restored to what it may have looked like back in 1864, only a few years before it was deactivated. While we missed the reenactment of fort operations that occurs during the first weekend of every month, we did enjoy a glimpse into the past as we climbed the winding stairs to the top of the Bastions, strolled down the long brick tunnels, and peaked in the windows of the barracks and various other buildings.
While the fort may be the main attraction, there is much more to discover at this park. There’s a beach…
And two campgrounds. One is located on the ocean side and looks more like a typical private RV park then a state park. The sites are cramped and wide open with only a few palm trees for vegetation. But…you’re only steps from the beach. The other campground is tucked into the forest on the river side of the park. The sites are large with plenty of trees. Both were completely full that night, and while we didn’t spend the night I would love to go back if we could get a site on the river side.
We also took advantage of the long daylight hours to fit in a late afternoon bike ride on the 6-mile off road path. The narrow, twisting, up and down trail was by far the most challenging bike ride we’ve been on here in flat, flat Florida. While not a technically a mountain bike trail (because Florida is missing the key ingredient for that kind of trail), it was still fun to ride on something other than pavement or a wide flat dirt path that has been the norm for the past few months.
Our day at Fort Clinch State Park was a fitting end to our tour through Florida. A little history, a nice beach, and a bike path. Thanks Florida for showing us the eastern version of winter RVing. It might be a few years, but I have no doubt that we’ll be back.