The park entrance is on the western shore, near the southern tip of Anastasia Island. The fortress itself stands on Rattlesnake Island, in the Matanzas Inlet. Built in 1742, this outpost was positioned to protect the rear approach to St. Augustine.
Fort Matanzas is a tower-like structure, approximately 30 feet high. It is built of coquina, a shellstone substance commonly used around colonial St. Augustine. The fort housed a mere half dozen soldiers to guard against enemy approach. It must have seemed far removed from the protection of St. Augustine.
Admission to free and there’s a small visitor center. To reach the fort itself, a ferry takes you across the inlet. The water approach is interesting and, with imagination, one can picture how it might have been for those Spanish soldiers arriving for duty. The garrison at Castillo de San Marcos rotated men out to Fort Matanzas for one month stints.
At the fort, your guide will give you a brief lesson on the sight and the events of the time period. Afterwards, you may roam about the fortification. Roaming is probably not the best word, though. It’s a rather small fort. There’s a gun deck with a single sentry box. Inside are the soldier's quarters and a small officer’s quarters. A ladder goes straight up through the roof, which served as lookout deck. You may climb up to take in the view, too.
Since Fort Matanzas is not very big, it isn't a lengthy tour, even with ferrying back and forth. So, I would plan to tour the fort in conjunction with other activities. The best beach I found in the area is on this park’s property. If you’ve no interest in the historical sights, I'd still recommend driving out to their beach. It’s wider and more spacious than the beaches closer to St. Augustine and the sand was of a better consistency. Like other beaches in this part of Florida, you can drive right down on the sand.
There are hiking trails around the park, as well. In addition to being an historical monument, the park is also a wildlife preserve. Due to this fact, some areas are off limits to protect the turtles and other animals that nest here. Still, it’s interesting to trek around this barrier island ecosystem and take in the natural beauty.
Between the beach, hiking and exploring the fort, you could spend a full day at Fort Matanzas. I found it both an educational and relaxing spot. I actually had a person in St. Augustine advise me there was nothing worth seeing out at Fort Matanzas. I strongly disagree and I’m glad I ignored that advice. I hope you do, too. Make the short drive down A1A. I think you'll enjoy it.
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September 6, 2006
A ferry boat takes you from the mainland over to this National Monument island. I have been to the Castillo De San Marcos in St. Augustine several times throughout my life and every time it is crawling with people.
Fort Matanzas if off the beaten path, leaving you elbow room to explore... even during Florida's high tourist season. The fort, located on Rattlesnake Island, is made of coquina stone, same as the Castillo, placed on top of pine pilings driven into the marshy ground to give stability. There is an educational video at the office before you cross on the ferry, as well as a tour guide who can answer any questions that weren't covered in the video.
From journal St. Augustine, Oldest U.S. City
June 9, 2004
From journal Something Old, Something New