The sun had begun to set over northeast Florida, casting a warm, golden light on the bricks of Fort Clinch, the namesake of Fort Clinch State Park.
Facing the Cumberland Sound, I watched small waves crash against the sandy shore as the last visitors of the day cast long shadows next to the fort itself. Brown Pelicans flocked together and soared across the sky, their black silhouettes contrasting with the orange and gold of the fading sun. The fort itself turned a deep russet, its black cannons poised, ready, and facing the water.
Named for General Duncan Lamont Clinch, construction on Fort Clinch began in 1847. Built of brick, it was meant to protect the port of Fernandina. Because this port was the eastern destination of Florida’s one and only cross-country railroad, the fort was expected to play an important role if any attacks occurred. Though it was never actually completed, it was used in the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and World War II. Today, the fort is open for visitors, and on the first weekend of every month the park hosts demonstrations of carpentry, masonry, cannon firing, and more.
My husband and I were able to see the sunset as part of our two day camping trip within the park. The weekend counted as my very first camping trip in a Florida State Park, and as we pitched our tent the air sang with bird calls, campfire crackling, and busy families cooking dinner.
Our campsite had plenty of space for our tent, a drying line, picnic table, and fire pit, all underneath a roof of Live Oaks, Spanish Moss, and stars. Of course we brought chocolate, graham crackers, and marshmallows to create masterful s’mores before falling into a deep sleep.
Camping was a blast, especially because we were so close to everything the park has to offer. We walked the Magnolia Trail in the early morning (on Saturdays the park offers 10 a.m. tours), tracing green freshwater ponds and weaving through palmettos stands and hanging moss. We strode down the long fishing pier, leaning over the side to see the sandy beach as well as the deep blue waves. Dunes bordered the sand, covered in grasses and the occasional cactus. Next time I visit I want to bring my bike, as the park has a six mile trail that carries cyclists through various ecosystems. It would be easy to spend days within Fort Clinch’s 1,427 acres.
Spending the night in the park allowed us to completely immerse ourselves not only in the local ecosystems, but also the available recreation opportunities. I am definitely looking forward to future Florida State Park camping opportunities!
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About Erika: Erika Z. is a writer, birder and photographer living and working along the Emerald Coast of Florida. Her love of the outdoors and sense of adventure leads her to explore Florida’s state parks, state trails and historic sites in her free time.