The first beach in the Sunshine State (Florida) clinches the unrivaled achievement of sandy shores. It’s that beach, all 4,000 feet of it on the Atlantic Ocean, along with another beach of 8,400 feet in the Cumberland Sound area which both are right in the Fort Clinch State Park, just north of famous Fernandina Beach.
This is one of Florida’s oldest state parks with 1,121 acres of salt marsh, tidal estuaries, a coastal hardwood hammock (picture oak limbs draped in Spanish moss,) and majestic sand dunes with 2.3 miles of ocean and sound beaches.
All this beauty is centered around a pre-Civil War fortress of sorts that is still so remarkably intact that the park rangers, in full pre-Civil War dress, give regular programs to show how the daily life of a Union garrison may have been in 1864.
Built in 1847, the fort was named for General Duncan Lamont Clinch, quite the hero of the Seminole War of the 1830’s. And in 1861, Confederate troops occupied the fort, leaving it in 1862, when it was taken over by Union troops.
Believe it or not, Fort Clinch even had a minor role in World War II. Beach patrols kept a lookout for invading Germans and there was a navigational beacon that guided seaplanes home from training runs.
Fort Clinch State Park has an interesting history in and of itself. The state government purchased the old fort and 256 acres in 1935 and kept buying surround land as the money was available.
Today there are 62 campsites in two areas (Cumberland Sound and the Intracoastal Waterway), hiking trails, restrooms, showers, a fishing pier, and a beautiful jetty that sticks out into the sound. From here you can see the breathtaking south end of Georgia’s Cumberland Island, and if you look carefully you can spot an occasional manatee.
The beach here at Fort Clinch is a textbook case of a healthy barrier-island affair with wide, hard-packed sand backed by vegetation-covered sand dunes. There are no lifeguards on duty here as the water is generally calm and the beach sloping gently into the water. If you have young kids, go north of the jetty where the sound is calm and shallow. In fact, the water is so clear you can see the bottom about a hundred yards out.
This is a beautiful beach and well worth the effort to visit.
How to get here: From Fernandina Beach, follow Atlantic Avenue (Highway A1A) north into the park.
Parking: $3.25 entrance fee per vehicle. An additional $1 per person (free for children under 6) is charged for touring the fort.
Hours: 8 AM to sunset
Facilities: restrooms, picnic tables, showers, visitor center. 62 campsites in two areas (beach camping on the Cumberland Sound and river camping near the Intracoastal Waterway.) Fees are $17 per night plus a $2 hookup if needed.