Fort Clinch State Park is yet another state park that has a lot of very diverse things to do. What can I say, Florida state parks are pretty awesome as a whole. As is the norm, we visited this park on a whim. I’m already planning a longer stay though.
There was a Sunday night opening for camping at the park, and since it’s so hard to get a reservation we jumped on it. I couldn’t actually sleep there as I had to work in the morning. However, this park closes at 5 pm (so early!), and having a reservation allows you to stay as late as you’d like. Nothing beats walking on the beach at night; that alone was worth the drive.
We left pretty early so we could make a pit stop at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park and still have plenty of time to explore Fort Clinch State Park. Spoiler alert: we needed more time. Need is a strong word, but I most definitely could have explored a lot more than I had time for.
The first thing on the to-do list was to check out the fort. It’s the one thing I wanted to do that would close. There’s a museum that you can visit as part of your park fee, and the fort which is a couple of dollars to access. The fort is much more elaborate than most of the ones I’ve previously visited. There are several buildings, and you can look inside to see everything set up as if the fort was still in use. It’s really cool and I think it would be a great place to get kids interested in history.
We spent over an hour looking around the fort. There are lots of nooks and crannies to explore, and a great view of the ocean from the top. It didn’t hurt that when it inevitably started pouring we were able to duck into a covered hall and watch the rain without getting drenched!
What if you aren’t all that into forts? No worries, there was plenty more to see. Fort Clinch State Park is on the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail. If we’re being honest I would swear the birding trail covers all of Florida, no matter where I go I see signs for it. I guess Florida is just great for bird watchers. You can see multiple types of woodpeckers, hawks, and owls at this park. There are, of course, lots of wading birds. There are also painted buntings, which I did not see but would love to. The only one I ever saw was on my grandpa’s grave (weird but true), but I have been on the lookout for a painted bunting since the first picture I saw of one. Google an image of one, they are beautiful!
There are also walking and biking trails to explore. I did a little bit of hiking and really wished I had brought a bike. It was actually irrelevant since I didn’t have any extra time anyways. Next time! I will say, some of the bike trails we passed looked pretty intense, with lots of big tree roots and inclines/declines to maneuver. The part of the trail I did hike was nice, with lots of birds for you birders.
I’ll be honest, after all of that driving and then exploring I ate then took a nap. You have to recharge your batteries on occasion!
The beach at Fort Clinch is amazing. It’s known to be a great place for shelling and for shark tooth hunting. I didn’t find any shark teeth, but I DID see a shell or two. the park is directly across the water from Cumberland Island. I had made reservations to take a boat ride past the island, but it was canceled due to bad weather. Cumberland Island is actually in Georgia, but it’s a great place to visit if you want to see wild horses up close enough to be a bit scary. You may be able to see some of the horses from Fort Clinch State Park, so bring binoculars!
As I mentioned, we reserved an RV campground even though we didn’t intend to stay all night. In addition to being able to stay until well after dark it allowed us to have a home base for meals and naps and deciding what to explore next. The campgrounds are nice and clean. We didn’t use them but there are electric and water hookups available as well as a fire ring and picnic table. There are also places to shower and do laundry if you need to. I’m hoping to get a reservation next fall for a few days to explore more of the park, see and get a great photo of a painted bunting, and maybe take that boat ride past Cumberland Island!