Just a short drive from Jacksonville, on the south side of St. Augustine, sits Fort Matanzas National Monument. Free to visit, this site is part of the National Park Service and makes a great day trip for the family.
Fort Matanzas National Monument is split into two areas. There’s the visitor center, trails and picnic area that you can drive to, and then the actual fort which you have to access by National Park Service ferry.
The ferry is free and leaves every hour on the half hour. When you arrive at the visitor center be sure to pop in and get a ticket. While you wait for your ferry ride you can walk the grounds, watch a movie at the visitor center or look at exhibits. Be sure to ask for a Junior Ranger book while you’re there also, it will keep the kids busy and they can earn a Junior Ranger badge.
The ride over to Fort Matanzas only takes about 10 minutes and is very smooth. You might even see a dolphin or turtle on your way over. When you arrive at the fort a park ranger will give you a short introduction and then you’ll have time to explore the area.
As you explore Fort Matanzas you’ll have a chance to look around on all the different floors and see how soldiers lived when it was occupied. If your kids are completing the Junior Ranger book, take a second to look through it, there are a few questions that need to be answered while you’re at the fort.
Our favorite part of visiting Fort Matanzas was climbing through the small opening to the roof. The views and breeze were both great up top. The kids in particular had a blast climbing the ladder.
Back over by the visitor center there are plenty of picnic tables and lots of shade where you can have a snack or even pack a lunch. This is also where the only bathrooms at the park are located (so be sure to go before jumping on the ferry).
Don’t forget to stop back by the visitor center to turn in your Junior Ranger badge. There’s also a short video you can watch and a small gift shop.
Fort Matanzas National Monument makes a great day trip from Jacksonville. Be sure to pack some water and snacks, or even a lunch. You’ll also want to wear plenty of sunscreen and good walking shoes. If you’re interested in visiting another great fort, put Castillo de San Marcos on your list to explore next.