With more than seven miles of beaches along Santa Rosa Island, the Fort Pickens Unit of Gulf Islands National Seashore is a compelling destination for beachgoers to Pensacola Beach. But history buffs will have a blast here, too, with the vast labyrinth of Fort Pickens – where construction began in 1829 – and more than a dozen batteries to explore.
Lat-Lon: 30.328385, -87.289956
Fees: $8 per car (7 day pass) or $3 per individual
Open: Mon-Sat 9-5, Sun 12-5
On behalf of the US Army Corps of Engineers, Captain William H. Chase supervised construction of Fort Pickens between 1829 and 1834. Construction materials came from all over the world, including copper from Switzerland for the drains and granite from Sing-Sing. The fortress also contains 21.5 million locally made bricks.
The night before Florida seceded from the Union (Jan 10, 1860), Federal commander Lieutenant Adam J. Slemmer moved his men from the mainland to Fort Pickens to hold what President Lincoln considered a key position in coastal defenses. Confederate troops attempted to rout the entrenched Federals on Sep 2, 1861, during the Battle of Santa Rosa Island but failed, and subsequently turned the city over to the Union forces. Chase was promoted to Major General soon after his demand for surrender of the Fort.
In 1886 the Apache chief Geronimo was imprisoned at the fort as a tourist attraction. Fort Pickens came into play again during World War I with new defensive batteries constructed to protect Pensacola, but no shots were fired. It ceased military operation in 1949.
In addition to the fort and numerous batteries – gun emplacements built and never used during various wars, including World War II – Fort Pickens Unit has a popular campground and the terminus of the Florida Trail, which follows the beach for much of its length until reaching a crossover point not far from the campground.
Explore the park
- Every Kid in a Park - Got kids? If any of them are in fourth grade, they can get a free pass to ALL Federal public lands good for the whole family through the end of August. Here's how.
- Florida Trail, Fort Pickens - 6.9 miles. At the westernmost tip of Santa Rosa Island, the Florida Trail comes to its Northern Terminus in the shadow of the most important historic sites in Northwest Florida, Fort Pickens.