Fort Pickens can be found nestled on the tip of Santa Rosa Island where it overlooks the entrance to Pensacola Bay. Originally designed to protect access to the bay and the surrounding area, construction on the fort began in 1829, was completed in 1934, and has since provided defenses during the Civil War through World War II. The fort remains as an important piece of American history, allowing visitors to take a step back in time and explore the past.
The architecture of the fort was cutting edge for its time. Huge brick arches supported the weight of the battlements above while providing ample protection for the interior cannons. Two cisterns provided fresh water for a fort surrounded by saltwater, and as a last line of defense, long narrow passages leading to mine chambers wound into the depths of the fort.
Visitors can tour the fort on their own or take the guided tour given daily at 2 p.m. For the self-guided tour a brochure and map can be obtained from the visitor’s center after 8 a.m. A flashlight is recommended for exploring some of the unlit rooms and passages.
Beyond the Fort
Exploring the fort and surrounding batteries isn’t the only thing to do at Fort Pickens. Visitors to the park can enjoy fishing, swimming, kayaking, hiking, cycling, camping, bird watching and other outdoor activities. The park has two picnic areas, nature trails, fishing pier and several beach access points where visitors can enjoy the sugar-white sands and emerald green waters that the area is famous for.
The western most section of the Florida Trail begins at the Fort and travels 29 miles to the east. The trail travels through coastal scrub, wetlands and even passes the ruins of Langdon Battery within the park. This is a multi-use trail suitable for hiking or off-road bicycling. Visitors can expect to see osprey, brown pelicans, blue herons and eagles on their wanderings and may even see some of the more secretive animals that reside here such as the opossum, armadillo and water dwelling river otters that inhabit the brackish canals of the island.
Camping at Fort Pickens
The campground is nestled a comfortable .08 miles from the fort and has 200 campsites available with water, electricity, grill/fire rings, bathhouse and a nearby dump station. For convenience there is even a camp store nearby for those essential supplies that may be needed. As of 2017 campsites were $26 per night. Reservations can be made through Reserve America or Recreation.gov.
Campers should also be aware that during extreme weather the road leading into the park may be subject to flooding, essentially stranding campers until the water recedes. For current road conditions visitors are advised to call the Road Condition & Flood Forecast Hotline: (850) 934-2656.
Visiting the Park
Fort Pickens is open year-round from 7 a.m until sunset. Admission is currently set at $15.00 per vehicle which includes free admission to the Fort/Museum. The park pass is good for seven days.