Despite how small this state historic site looks from the outside, San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park occupies an oversized role in Florida’s early history.
Sitting at the very tip of the peninsula where the St. Marks and Wakulla Rivers meet, it has been the site of waves of occupation over the past five centuries.
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Location: St. Marks
Address: 148 Old Fort Rd, St. Marks FL 32355
Fees: Free. $2 per person charge to visit the museum
Restroom: at the museum
Land manager: Florida State Parks
Open Thu-Mon 9-5, except major holidays.
From Tallahassee, drive south on Woodville Hwy (SR 363) for 20 miles to St. Marks. Once you’ve reached the restaurants and marina, follow the road around along the St. Marks River, crossing in front of the end of the Tallahassee-St. Marks Trail and the water treatment plant, and stay with it through the marshes. A sign points left onto Old Fort Rd and the state park is at the end of the road adjoining the boat ramp.
In 1526, Pánfilo de Narváez was granted Florida by the Spanish emperor Charles V. Leading an expeditionary force to the New World in April 1528, Narváez landed near Tampa Bay and claimed the land for Spain.
Stranded with his men by the ship’s captain, Narváez, Cabaza De Vaca, and others made their way along the coast. It is thought from Cabaza De Vaca’s writings that they came to this peninsula.
Here they they built rafts with intent of reaching colonial Spanish settlements in Mexico, using their clothing as sails. Only 15 survived the journey, and Narváez was not among them.
It would be another 150 years before the Spanish set foot on these shores. In 1679, they built a wooden fort, Fort San Marcos de Apalache. The name “St. Marks” is derived from this fortress.
The ruins you see now on the grounds are of the stone fort the Spanish built during a later occupation in the mid-1700s.
This peninsula has also served the military purposes of the British, the Confederate Army, and the U.S. Marines.
For a brief while, it was under the flag of the independent state of Muskogee, led by William Augustus Bowles.
Take the time to browse through the museum exhibits and watch the film on the history of San Marcos de Apalache before exploring the grounds.
The short interpretive trail leads you around the ruins of the Spanish Fort and points out the Confederate earthworks.
The site of the first coastal fortress in Northwest Florida, San Marcos de Apalache has a 0.6-mile interpretive trail at the confluence of two major rivers
Outside the gates of this state park is a heavily-used boat ramp for public access to both the St. Marks and Wakulla Rivers.
Across the parking area from the state park you’ll find St. Marks River Park, a pleasant waterfront park with picnic tables and an observation platform.
The paved trail and boardwalk at this park lead back to services in St. Marks and connect you with the Tallahassee-St. Marks Trail.
See our photos of San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
Stretching across 70,000 acres in Florida’s Big Bend, St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge protects one of Florida’s longest wild shorelines, more than 43 miles in three counties.