If you are visiting St. Augustine and love history, nature, wildlife, and water taxis – than we have the place for you. And best of all, it’s free! Fort Matanzas is one of Florida’s National Monument jewels. This fort is not as widely known as its counterpart, the Castillo de San Marcos. It is located about fifteen miles south of the Castillo de San Marcos, which resides in downtown St. Augustine. The National park itself spans three hundred acres and is a must see! The Spanish created both forts that are within St. Augustine and both were constructed from coquina, but Fort Matanzas was placed just south of the Castillo to prevent an attack from the south inlet of the Matanzas River.
Fort Matanzas Visitors Center
The visitor’s center is where your trip will begin! When you first arrive at the visitor center you will be able to:
- Watch a video – This lasts around eight minutes and helps to explain the history of this beautiful piece of history.
- Enjoy Nature – Hike a trail that is around a half mile long. It travels within trees such as live oaks, red bays, cabbage palms, magnolias, and a lot of other vegetation and wildlife. There is the possibility of seeing some of the resident great horned owls that have made this area their home. Within this park, there are many different ecosystems with a great variety of animal life such as birds, turtles, manatees, bottlenose dolphins, snakes, beach mice, deer and foxes, just to name a few. Some of the species that you might see are listed on the National endangered list.
- See Demonstrations and Reenactments – Often you will have the opportunity to see what it was like for those that lived during the time that this fort was in use, with reenactments and displays that will help bring history to life.
The Water Taxi
To reach fort mantanzas itself, you will have to board a water taxi to cross the river to the Island of Rattlesnake, which is just a rock skip away. Just know that you will have to obtain a pass for your entire group in the visitors center before you can board. The taxi leaves every half hour starting from nine thirty in the morning to four thirty in the afternoon. You will not be able to reserve a seat either, as it is based on a first come, first served system.
Once you step off the water taxi and you’re out on Rattlesnake Island, you can then experience the fort, which is over 275 years-old. You will be able to explore the following:
- Entrance – To enter the fort you will have to climb up a staircase onto the gun deck, where you will see cannons, the sentry box, the cistern and the soldier’s quarters.
- Officer’s Quarters -The next level up is the officer’s quarters, gunpowder room and food storage.
- Observation level – This level is only accessible via ladder, where you have an incredible view of the surrounding area.
Once you have completed your trek into the fort, you and the water taxi group that you went with will once again board the ferry back to the visitors center. The Rangers and staff welcome any questions that you might have about the fort itself or the area in which it is located. The time that it takes to view the fort and the surrounding area depends on how much you want to explore.
Once you are finished learning at the visitor’s center and immersing yourself in the history of the fort, you can cross the road to a quaint beach area where there are no vehicles allowed – this way you can enjoy all that nature has to offer and make a day of your visit! Guests at Beacher’s Lodge can experience this beautiful National Park, just four miles south on A1A. Even though this park does not take up a whole day, it is well worth seeing. If you can first go through the Castillo de San Marcos Fort, you will honestly understand the remarkable vision that the Spanish had for creating this small, but crucial Fort for the safety and livelihood of the area. So, what are you waiting for? Take some time out of your busy life and enjoy what there is to offer in and around St. Augustine!