Santa Rosa Island is the barrier island that’s home to Pensacola Beach, Florida. On the far western point of this giant sandbar is a must see attraction for history buffs.
If this sounds intriguing to you, we suggest you sacrifice some precious vacation time, tear yourself away from the pool at your beachfront hotel, and drive west to the end of the island. You’ll pass through the Gulf Island National Seashore with mile upon mile of pristine white sand beaches, dunes and water on either side of the road.
When the road ends you’ll find Fort Pickens. It’s definitely a place worth exploring.
Fort Pickens was the largest of four forts built to defend Pensacola Bay. Centuries of history can be felt from the moment you step out of the car. Plan to spend hours exploring the atmospheric brick tunnels, cannons, and rooms once occupied by soldiers defending their turf and going about their daily lives.
Construction began in 1829 and was completed in 1834. It’s an important Civil War site and notorious in that it was occupied by Union troops. In fact it’s one of only four forts in the south that was never occupied by Confederate troops. Fort Pickens also gained notoriety by imprisoning the Apache leader, Geronimo.
There are several tours offered to help you make the most of your time there. During the summer season there are daily ranger-led tours as well as themed specialty tours like full-moon walks, stargazing and candle-lit. There’s also a comprehensive self-guided tour. All are free of charge. The fort is open 7am-10pm daily. Don’t miss the little gift shop if you want to take some history home with you.
Fort Pickens is especially beautiful at sunset, and the Gulf of Mexico vistas from the top of the fort, make the perfect backdrop for family photos during the ‘magic hour.’ The old brick arches inside the fort are photogenic any time of day, with or without your family.
Nature lovers will also find more then enough to fill a day in the Gulf Island National Seashore surrounding the fort. Keep an eye out for wildlife such as rabbits, red foxes, birds, and other local creatures as you explore the nature trails. Bring your beach gear because the area has miles of beautiful wild uncrowded beaches.
Fort Pickens also offers some of the best local spots to cast a line. Locals in the know fish off the main pier, the new observation pier, or The Point. The Point is at the far tip of the island, and is a bit of a walk, but is worth the trip for both fishing and sunsets. Don’t forget your camera.
Entry to the park costs $8 for a carload. The pass is good for all Gulf Island National Seashore entries and lasts a week. Check out the Fort Pickens website for more information.