Fort Matanzas National Monument, Saint Augustine
Fort Matanzas is a small but beautifully located Spanish fort that was built in the 18th century, and the area has colonial history dating back to the 16th century. A free guided ferry tour can be undertaken from the visitor's center. There is also a short boardwalk nature trail here.
We opted to approach the fort via Kayak, putting in at a parking lot a few hundred yards from the park entrance on A1A. We kayaked against the weak current up to the fort, enjoying the slow scenic approach. One caveat is that you are not allowed to access the fort from any means other than the ferry!
On the way back down the river, we beached our kayaks on the bank opposite the parking lot, and got a private beach and swam with the dolphins! (okay, the dolphins wouldn't let us within a 100 feet ;)
There are several places in the area to rent Kayaks, and many other places to enjoy them!
From St. Augustine: Follow Highway A1A south for approximately 15 miles to the park entrance on the right side of the road.
the spanish built a wooden watch tower on this site in 1569. the current masonary fort was built in 1740 by governor manuel de montiano to protect st. augustine's southern flank from british attack. the fort is located on a small island on the matanzas river and you take a ferry from the park headquarters on U.S. AIA. admission is free. from st. augustine go over the bridge of the lions to anastasia island and follow U.S. AIA about 15 miles to the park headquarters.
Fort Matanzas National Monument is quite near to St. Augustine, and is free. There is a small visitor's center with a video tape of the history of the fort, and then there is a ranger led boat trip to the fort and a presentation.
The fort is tied in to the history of the Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine, and Fort Caroline in Jacksonville.
We finally managed to actually get to the visitor's center (we pass the fort each time we go up and down the ICW), but it was so cold and windy that Bob refused to take the boat out to the fort. (The ranger said they had a fire in the fireplace out there-that's how cold it was.)
So this sign is as close as I got to seeing the fort.
Fort Matanzas National Monument is open to the public from 9:00 am to 5:30 pm every day of the year except December 25. The ferry to the fort leaves the Visitor Center dock 9:30 to 4:30 on the "thirty" (half-past the hour). The usual tour is 45-50 minutes, including a ranger presentation.
From St. Augustine: Follow Highway A1A south for approximately 14 miles to the park entrance on the right side of the road.
Boat ride to small outpost south of St. Augustine. Has nice boardwalk nature trail thru the dunes. Nice place to picnic in the shade. Great beaches nearby without all the hsutle and bustle of tourist traps.
This old fort is tiny and unimpressive in itself. The Spanish built it on Rattlesnake Island, about fifteen miles south of the port at St. Augustine. It guards the small inlet (still "unimproved") that is the Matanzas River and forms the "Back Door to the Port."
The name Matanzas means slaughter, referring to what Pedro Menendez did there to a group of Hugenot attackers from Fort Caroline (sixty miles north).
What's neat about this place is experiencing its intimacy. You board a small boat at the ranger station and ride with eighteen others across the river. You can then listen to a nicely-presented narration and begin exploring the fort. The final ascent is on a narrow, rustic ladder, but the view from the top is very rewarding. You can see a stretch of Intracoastal Waterway and marsh that stretches more than three miles north to the highway 206 bridge, or you can look east along the Matanzas River to the A1A bridge and the inlet beyond. You are likely to see bald eagles, osprey, dozens of terns and gull species, and perhaps even dolphins.
Back on shore, take the short habitat walk through a hammock environment on a handicap-accessible boardwalk. The whole thing is free. Picnic tables are available, and so are clean rest rooms.
So is the ocean. Across from the park entrance, there's a ramp through the dunes. You can park free and walk down, or you can pay a toll to the County (most parts of the year) and drive on the wide, clean beach. There is a bird sanctuary adjoining, and sea turtles sometimes use this area for nesting. Two popular ways of fishing in this area are surf casting and dropping a line from the bridge.