Explore American military history at Fort Pickens

January 18, 2012

Step back in time at historic barrier island fort

Located at the western end of Santa Rosa Island, Fort Pickens is an American military history relic. The largest of four forts built to defend Pensacola Bay and its navy yard from 1829 – 1947,  the fort is located within magnificent Gulf Islands National Seashore, located in Mississippi and Florida.

Fort Pickens was built using a state-of-the-art European castle design, which was already proven successful along the east coast during the war of 1812. Built with skilled masons and slave labor with more than 2 ½ million locally supplied bricks, the fort held its defenses from wooden warships and cannons firing round balls. However, even the best design could not keep up with the swift development of weapon technology. Ten concrete gun batteries were built from the 1890s through the 1940s, each a response to a new threat. Atomic bombs, guided missiles, and long-range bombers made such forts obsolete by the end of World War II and the Army eventually abandoned the fort.

Moisture forms stalactites on the interior bricks of Fort Pickens. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

Fort Pickens became part of a popular Florida State Park until the creation of Gulf Islands National Seashore in 1971. Following extensive repairs by the National Park Service, the fort was reopened in 1976. Click here for map.

Fort Pickens Area is open daily 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. The fort has ranger-guided tours at 2 p.m. daily. Self-guided tours are from 8 a.m. until sunset. The Fort Pickens Area also boasts beautiful hiking trails.

There are 200 campsites in the Fort Pickens campground, and one group tent site. To access the reservation system online, go to www.recreation.gov. To make a reservation by phone, call Reserve America at 1-877-444-6777. Walk-ins may reserve a site at the Fort Pickens campground office between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Explore Gulf Islands National Seashore. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

About Gulf Islands National Seashore:
Gulf Islands National Seashore is a 12-unit park located in Mississippi and Florida. More than 80 percent of the park is submerged lands teeming with marine life. Marshes collect fresh rainwater and support diverse communities of plants and animals. Live oak forests are home to resident and migrating bird populations at America’s largest National Seashore.

The two districts are about a two-hour drive apart.  You can drive to some park areas and take a boat to others. Both districts offer developed campgrounds and primitive island camping. The park operates four visitor centers in both states for you to stop at and plan your visit. Gulf Islands is a great place for outdoor activities like bicycling, swimming, snorkeling, fishing, hiking, beach combing, bird watching, and boating.

For more information, go to: nps.gov/guis/index.htm

Fees and reservations: Click here. Discounts are available for seniors and groups. For information about the campground call (850) 934-2622.

For map of entire Gulf Islands National Seashore, click here.