Fort Pickens is the eastern most section of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, the largest national seashore in the United States. It spans from the panhandle of Florida through Alabama to the shores of Mississippi. You’ll find gorgeous sugar-sand beaches, birdwatching, an estuarium (in Alabama, it’s great!) and wonderful seafood.
We stayed at the Fort Pickens campground, right in the National Park. If you are going for the fort, the campground is a great location. Before you make a reservation be sure to check the height and length restrictions! We just squeaked in. The campground was clean, quiet, and worked well for us for two nights.
We had just spent a couple of weeks enjoying the beach, so on this visit we were there to tour the fort. Fort Pickens is a part of the third system of forts that were erected before the civil war. We had toured another one in the Boston Harbor Islands and it was fascinating to see the similarities and differences between the two. Long halls and dark corridors were around every turn. Be sure to bring a flashlight to be able to see them all!
The first informational placard we came across informed us that this fort was built in very difficult conditions by slave labor. Each brick was perfectly placed to create this massive structure of tunnels and arches. The craftsmanship is still there, almost 200 years later.
The arches you walk underneath hold up immense weight of the fort, and are mimicked below the ground to displace all of that weight in the soft sand.
My family had a blast exploring. We used flashlights to move through large rooms with cannons and tiny tunnels. Two of these tunnels led to small 3’x3’x4’ rooms that, we found out later, were stocked with ammunition and saved as an emergency way to blow up the fort in the event of a takeover. That never happened here, of course. But wow were they creepy to crawl through!
The fort is a large outer circle that used to enclose an open area, but in the early 1930s a concrete and steel fort was erected within the center. The new guns were were not high enough to clear the walls, so some history was lost as roofs were intentionally blown off. An accidental explosion left another huge hole in the opposite side of the fort, where they used the newly cleared space to ease the building of the new fort within. It’s a fort within a fort, and the craftsmanship between a quick build in the 1930s and brick-by-brick construction of the 1830s is so apparent.
Once the fort exploration was over, the urban exploration began as all along the shore there are smaller bunkers, cannons, and large storage areas from all different time periods and made of all different materials. A really interesting place to spend the day!