If you moved to Pensacola post Hurricane Ivan, you may not have made it out to Ft. Pickens yet. After Hurricane Ivan swept through the area, this section of the Gulf Islands National Seashore had to be closed for several years. It was eventually reopened to foot, bike, and boat traffic, but recently it was opened up to car traffic as well. Ft. Pickens is the largest of four forts that were built to help defend the Pensacola Bay. The fort was finished in 1834 and was used until the 1940s ( this was a little fact I did not know!). The fort is a great place to take the kids because there are so many nooks and crannies to explore. There are stairs to climb and cannons to check out (no climbing on the cannons though!). There is a visitor center and a small shop. Fort Pickens area is open from 7am to 1opm but the fort itself can only be explored from sunup to sundown. Guided tours of the fort are given at 2pm daily.
The Fort Pickens campground is open but only for primitive camping at this time. There are several parking lots around the beach so that you can go for a swim and cool off after hiking around the fort. As far as I know, Langdon Beach (the beach parking closest to the fort) is the only beach with lifeguards on duty from 9:30am to 6pm (times according to the website-please check website before you go). There are also several fishing spots available on Ft. Pickens.
The entrance fee is $8.00 but for only $25, you can purchase an annual pass to the Gulf Islands National Seashore. This pass pays for itself in just 3-4 trips. Check out the schedule of events as well. There are candlelight tours, full moon walks and campfire programs.
Hints before you go:
- Make sure you bring closed toe shoes for your kids to wear. You will be walking through dirt and grass as well as over things that can stub little toes sticking out of flip flops.
- Bring a flashlight. There are some lighted corridors, but there are lots of other little spots that you won’t be able to explore without some light to lead the way!
- Bring a picnic lunch and don’t forget a garbage bag to pack all your trash in. There are spots all over Fort Pickens to have a picnic but trash cans are not found in many spots. We always pack a garbage bag so that we can take all of our trash home with us in an efficient manner (leaving the minivan covered with only sand!).
- Be sure to adhere to the 15mh speed limit posted. Not only is it for the safety of the nesting birds, but every time we have gone to Ft. Pickens someone has been pulled over!