Are you looking for places you can take your kids that you don’t need to constantly say “no, no…don’t do that, don’t climb on that, don’t go over there, don’t touch that… don’t, don’t, don’t…”? Would you rather say… “What’s under there? Can you climb this? What does that feel like? Can you guess what that does?” There are many destinations around Jacksonville where we can spend quality time with our families while learning, exploring, and moving our bodies. When visiting the incredible collection of forts that we have in and around the Jacksonville area, history lessons, exercise, and exploration all come together to form a unique learning experience.
With trails, several river views, and a family/pet-friendly park, Fort Caroline is great for kids of any age. Fort Caroline was established by French explorers in the 1560s. Though the actual location of the original Fort Caroline remains a mystery (and a source of archaeological drama), the fort that we can visit today is a re-creation based on drawings of the real thing. I love that I can take my kids to this fort either to run crazy within the confines of the small fort or get our energy out on the trails. Fort Caroline is located at 12713 Fort Caroline Road, Jacksonville, FL 32225. Hours of operation for this fort are 9 am – 5 pm. There is no fee to visit Fort Caroline.
Located in Fernandina Beach, Fort Clinch sits surrounded by beautiful beaches, hiking trails, campgrounds, playgrounds, and more. This fort dates back to 1847. It was an important base of operations for the Union Army during the Civil War. This large fort has many tunnels, steps, and rooms to explore. “Soldiers” are situated around the fort to offer historical information to visitors. Fort Clinch state park also offers many events and ranger programs including soldier re-enactments on the first Saturday and Sunday of every month. Fort Clinch is located at 2601 Atlantic Avenue, Fernandina Beach, Florida 32034. Park hours are 8 am to sundown. The fort is open 9 am – 5 pm. Entry into the park is $6 per vehicle. The fee to explore the fort is an additional $2 per person.
Construction of Castillo de San Marcos began in 1672 by the Spanish and today it boasts the title of being the oldest masonry fort in North America. This large fort has a rich history due to its possession changing hands 6 times among 4 different governments. It also has many rooms to explore, many of which are set up with exhibits, on several levels. You will come across re-enactors who can provide historical facts about the fort and often give weapons demonstrations. Outside of the fort you can find plenty more to see and do and places to eat all within walking distance from the fort, particularly along St. George Street. The fort is located at 1 S Castillo Dr, St Augustine, FL 32084. The fee to enter the park is $7 for adults, and free for kids 15 and under. Park hours are 8:45 to 5:15 daily. Public parking is available within walking distance to the fort at the St. Augustine Visitor Center at 10 W. Castillo Drive, St. Augustine, FL, 32084. The fee to park is $1.50 per hour (max $7.50 per day).
Situated 15 miles south of Castillo de San Marcos is Fort Matanzas. This fort was built by the Spanish in 1742 to serve as a lookout tower to protect the city of St. Augustine from boat approaching via the Matanzas River. This park makes for a great morning trip with the family. This small fort is accessed by a short ferry ride across the river from the park. When you arrive, check-in at the visitor center to get your boarding passes. If you have time before or after your ferry ride you can explore the 1/2 mile boardwalk trail, walk on the beach, or have a picnic. Fort Matanzas is located at 8635 A1A South, St. Augustine, FL 32080. The park is open at 9 am – 5:30 pm daily. There are no fees to enter the park and ride the ferry.
Have you visited any of these Jacksonville & First Coast forts with your family?