With its huge brick battlements jutting up from white sand dunes and its labyrinth of arched tunnels, Fort Pickens is a favorite spot among history buffs, explorers and photographers. The Civil War fort is surrounded by beaches, campgrounds and hiking and biking trails. Enjoy history, nature and a little beach time in one stop!
Fort Pickens is the largest of four historic forts in the Pensacola Bay Area. A part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, the fort is surrounded by acres of undeveloped, wild beach with areas for fishing, camping, kayaking and more. Meandering trails are waiting to be hiked or biked and miles upon miles of wide-open, pristine shorelines are perfect for beach combing, wandering or planting a beach umbrella far from the crowds.
Built by slaves between 1829 and 1834, this massive hexagonal brick citadel was occupied by Union forces during the Civil War and is one of only four Southern forts that didn’t fall into Confederate hands. In fact, during the war, Union troops occupying the fort exchanged fire with Confederate troops occupying Fort Barrancas, just across the bay.
As the largest Union-controlled fortification in the deep south, it became a beacon of freedom, attracting hundreds of fugitive slaves.
After the Civil War, the fort housed captives from the Indian Wars who were transported to the East Coast. Between 1886 and 1888, Apache war chief Geronimo and more than a dozen Apache warriors from his tribe were imprisoned at Fort Pickens.
Abandoned as a military post following World War II, the fort was reopened by the National Park Service in 1976.
Today there are guided tours and other activities available on the site. Or visitors can just explore the fort and the park, experiencing and important piece of American history and the thriving, wild ecosystem that surrounds it. With beaches on both the Gulf of Mexico and quieter, family-friendly spots on Pensacola Bay, Fort Pickens and the surrounding park offer a full day of fun in the sun, history and exploration.
Gulf Islands National Seashore provides endless opportunity for solitude and relaxation and miles of unobstructed views and access to the Gulf.
Pensacola’s downtown is full of historic sites, but the truth is that with more than 450 years of history behind it, every step you take on its brick sidewalks or city parks is a part of our country’s earliest days and memories.
The rare wonder of watching dozens of baby sea turtles emerge from their nest and make their way to the shore is truly one of the most magical things you’ll ever see, and it’s all about timing.
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