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The forts in Florida prove that the state offers more than princess castles, roller coasters, and sandy beaches. These unique structures tell stories older than any fairytale Walt Disney wrote.
If you want to break away from the chaos of tourist hotspots, these are fantastic options, especially for history lovers. They can be a phenomenal opportunity to do some hands-on learning.
Today, we’re sharing with you some of the must-see forts in Florida.
Let’s get started!
What Are Forts?
A fort is a military installation or other defensive structure designed to defend and protect an area. In Florida, they date back to the 16th and 17th centuries when the Spanish ruled the land. They played significant roles throughout history.
In the early 16th century, the Spanish used them to defend their colonies from British and French attacks. These strategically placed defense structures also allowed them to fend off attacks from indigenous groups. However, they also became critical for trading and commerce in the colonies.
The British took over Florida and the forts in the 18th century. However, the land became a U.S. territory during the 19th century. The government used the structures against the Seminole Native Americans during the Seminole Wars. They planned and prepared the attacks that coerced the Seminoles to leave their lands.
How Many Forts Are in Florida?
The Sunshine State has been home to over 100 forts, mostly along its coasts. However, they differ in size, shape, and construction materials. Most used a combination of earth and wood, but many of those that remain today used brick or stone materials.
Some sources claim there have been more than 300 forts. However, this typically includes camps, batteries, and redoubts, which differ significantly.
These three structures were more temporary compared to permanent fortifications. So while they may have had similar functions, they were very different.
7 Historic Forts in Florida You Need to Experience
So, what forts in Florida are worth your time? We’ve found seven must-see locations, especially for anyone who loves learning about history.
Castillo de San Marcos (St. Augustine)
Castillo de San Marcos is one of Florida’s oldest and most famous forts. The Spanish constructed it in the late 17th century. It received its designation as a national monument in late 1924.
Visitors can walk in, on, and around the fort. It allows guests to experience what life would have been like for those who called it home. You can see exhibits and artifacts to learn about the structure’s impressive past.
If you’re lucky, you may even witness a live demonstration of musket or cannon firings. Everything about this fort will capture the attention of those young and old. It’s a great way to learn about Florida’s history without feeling like you’re in school.
Fort Jefferson (Dry Tortugas National Park)
To visit Fort Jefferson, you must board a boat and head to Dry Tortugas National Park. This 100-acre national park sits approximately 70 miles west of Key West. While it may not be easy to get to, it’s a remarkable experience for all who make the trip.
Fort Jefferson protected the United States’ endeavors in the Gulf of Mexico. Enemies wanting to disrupt shipping routes to and from America encountered severe force. They’d have to battle more than 450 cannons and 1,500 soldiers ready to defend their country.
This six-sided structure was constructed with over 16 million bricks. It’s one of the most significant masonry structures in the Western Hemisphere. To use the word impressive is an understatement for this structure.
While it may have done the job in the past, it’s still open for visitors to experience today. Guests can walk the parade grounds, peak inside casemates, and see the moat that served as a last layer of defense. Many may come to Dry Tortugas for snorkeling and clear waters, but its rich history is equally remarkable.
Fort Pickens (Pensacola)
Fort Pickens sits in Florida’s panhandle. It was constructed between 1829 and 1834 to protect the Gulf Coast, primarily Pensacola Bay. The fort is a massive masonry structure that once featured heavy artillery.
This fort was actively used during the Civil War and occupied by Union forces. It served as an outpost and base for their naval operations. This prevented equipment and supplies from reaching Confederate-run ports.
Visitors to the Gulf Islands National Seashore can explore the passageways, barracks, and artillery batteries here. Its incredible location makes it ideal for scenic views and wildlife sightings. Whether you come for the landscape or the history, this is one Fort in Florida you’ll want to take advantage of.
Keep in Mind: While in Florida, make sure you add these Stunning Caves to your itinerary!
Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park (Key West)
Fort Zachary Taylor is a coastal defense fort in Key West. Construction took place from 1845 to 1866. It played a significant role during the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and World War I. Despite the amount of battle it saw, the fort stands today as a well-preserved example of Florida’s incredible history.
The casemates, gun rooms, and incredible views will transport you back in time. You’ll be able to picture what it would have been like for soldiers and military personnel residing at the fort. This National Historic Landmark houses artifacts and exhibits that spotlight its importance.
When you leave, you’ll understand why these defenses were essential during the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Fort Clinch (Fernandina Beach)
Sitting on Fernandina Beach in Amelia Island is Fort Clinch. This 19th-century fort is named after General Duncan Lamont Clinch. It protected the Cumberland Sound, which helped secure the southern Atlantic coast.
More than five million bricks combine to form its hexagonal shape. These bricks provided tremendous protection for the gun rooms and artillery batteries. However, construction experienced one delay after another, including the Civil War. During the Civil War, this was a Union-controlled fort.
Today, Fort Clinch State Park visitors can witness live demonstrations and reenactments. The park showcases the daily lives of soldiers at the fort in an incredibly immersive experience. You’ll see and hear what it would have been like inside the fort when it was operating. Luckily, you won’t have to worry about incoming cannonballs or other artillery during your visit.
Fort Matanzas National Monument (St. Augustine)
While Castillo de San Marcos steals the show in St. Augustine, Fort Matanzas National Monument is still worth a visit. This fort was constructed in 1740 by the Spanish to protect against British attacks. It remained under Spanish control until the United States took over Florida in 1821.
A visit to the monument requires a short ferry ride. Once there, you’ll explore the fort, inside and out. You can get a hands-on look at the gun deck, barracks, and watchtower used by military personnel. The views of the Matanzas River help create remarkable views.
This is a must-visit destination for history enthusiasts, families, and nature lovers. It experiences significantly fewer visitors than Castillo de San Marcos. So, if you’re tired of battling crowds, head to Fort Matanzas National Monument.
Keep in Mind: Have you heard? America’s Newest National Monument Has Been Announced!
Fort Christmas Historical Park (Christmas)
While many of the Florida forts on our list are on the coast, Fort Christmas Historical Park is not. It sits approximately 25 miles from the Space Coast of Central Florida. This historical park features a full-scale replica of the original Fort Christmas, built in 1837 and used during the Second Seminole War.
Visiting the park is an opportunity to see historic buildings, exhibits, and artifacts from life in Florida during the 19th century. Walk through the bunkhouses, watchtowers, and other structures to understand how tough early settlers here had it.
In addition to the fort, you can also see a pioneer-era schoolhouse, a sugar cane mill, and a homesteader’s cabin. While they may not be initially from the site, they came from nearby Orange County.
Walk the wooden walkways and witness live demonstrations as you gain an appreciation for the resilience and innovation of the people. Those who lived here lived challenging lives.
Can you imagine living in the Florida heat without the benefits of air conditioning? However, that was just one of the many challenges they faced throughout the Sunshine State’s history.
History Lovers Will Love These Forts in Florida
These forts in Florida provide an incredible educational opportunity for all ages. Whether you’re a history buff or not, they can be a remarkable experience.
They bring to life the lessons that typically get taught from pages in classrooms across the country. However, there’s something special about visiting in person. Do yourself a favor, and don’t pass by these spots!
Have you visited these forts in Florida?