Fort Pickens is a historic military fort on Santa Rosa Island in Florida that was completed in 1834 and used until 1947. The fort was built to fortify Pensacola Harbor and was later used to house captives from the Indian Wars in the West, such as the Apache war chief Geronimo. Today, visitors can take a self-guided tour of the buildings of the fort, hike around the dunes on the sandy beach, camp overnight, or even fish from a nearby pier.
What Makes It Great
Fort Pickens is a great place for history buffs to visit. It's the largest fort in the area, made with more than 21 million bricks, and was one of four forts in the South that was never taken by the Confederate Army during the Civil War! It is surprisingly well-preserved, and visitors can explore the tunnels and secret passages at their own pace on a self-guided tour.
But that's not all the fort has to offer.
Fort Pickens is located on Santa Rosa Island, part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, and has sandy beaches, warm water, and wonderful camping. The sand dunes are great for a hike, or go closer to the water for a sunset walk. Near the picnic pavilions, there is a fishing pier that can be used by visitors without a Florida fishing license.
Visitors can bike around Santa Rosa Island for gorgeous views of the beach and Gulf of Mexico. Fort Pickens is just less than 10 miles from downtown Pensacola Beach if you decide to camp and want to use your bike to get around.
There is a large campground with 180 sites with electric and water hookups for those who want to stay for a night or two (though campers are allowed to stay up to 14 nights at a time). The campsite also features flush toilets, showers, drinking water, and a dump station.
Who is Going to Love It
This is a great place for families. There are tons of nooks and crannies around the fort that kids will love exploring. There's also things to do for more active visitors, such as biking around the park and on the island, hiking the sand dunes, enjoying the water, or fishing off the pier. There isn't anything terribly extreme to do here, but it does offer a bit more than a historic fort and a day relaxing at the beach —though you could definitely do that, too!.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
The campground is close to restaurants and nightlife in downtown Pensacola Beach, and is about 19 miles from Pensacola.
From recreation.gov: Campers can stay a maximum of 14 nights from March 1 through Labor Day, and a two-night absence is required between camping stays. Campers are limited to 42 nights per calendar year. Make reservation in advance and note that there is a no-show fee.