Fort Matanzas National Monument in Florida has natural beauty and fascinating historical sites to explore on your next RV camping trip. Situated just south of St. Augustine, the park is home to a Spanish fort constructed in the 1740s that changed hands many times before being abandoned in ruins at the end of the 1700s. Fort Matanzas was an important installation in the 1700s when European nations sought to establish settlements and gain control on the east coast of the Americas. The fort guarded the southern river approach to the settlement at St. Augustine.
The park was established in 1924 to protect the remnants of the fort and the natural ecosystems in the area. Important ecosystems in the approximately 100 acre park region include a wild barrier island, salt marsh, the Matanzas river habitat, ocean beaches, and surrounding forested areas. There is a visitor center, picnic area, nature trail, and the historic fort located at this national monument which is administered by the National Park Service. You will need to take a shuttle boat to Rattlesnake Island where the fort is situated to tour this historic site. You can get free tickets for the shuttle boat at the visitor center, which is located on Anastasia Island on the other side of the Matanzas River.
The Fort Matanzas National Monument is located on the Atlantic coast approximately halfway between the two large centers of Jacksonville and Daytona Beach, Florida.
The park can be easily accessed from St. Augustine by traveling south on Highway A1A approximately 15 miles and entering the park on the right side of the road.
If you are traveling from the Daytona Beach area, take the A1A 40 miles north, and enter the park on the left side of the road, about half a mile past the Matanzas Inlet Bridge.
From Jacksonville you can take the A1A south to the park entrance, about 56 miles south of Jacksonville beach, or take I-95 south for just under 50 miles miles, then use exit 305 to take Route 206 east six miles to Highway A1A. Take A1A south for four miles to the park entrance on the right hand side of the road.
All roads are paved and easy to travel for all types of vehicles. The fort itself can only be accessed by passengers by shuttle boat as it is located on an island. Park your vehicle at the visitor center and obtain free tickets for the shuttle boat.
Parking at the visitor center is limited and there is no room for RVs. It is advisable to leave your RV at the nearby campgrounds and travel to the park by passenger vehicle.
Just under a 15 minute drive west from Fort Matanzas National Monument, the Cedar Creek Campground is located in Matanzas State Forest, a 4700 acre wood and wetland park. The campground provides access to hiking tails, and treed wilderness areas with abundant wildlife. This is a primitive campground with no serviced sites. The campground sites have room for tent camping, small RVs, 15 feet and under, and pop up campers. Each site has a fire ring, grills, and picnic tables. There is no electricity or water supply at the campground. There is a portable toilet on site for campers to use.
This beautiful natural campground is well treed and quiet, with only four sites that can be reserved ahead of time. Pets are welcome, but should be kept on a leash. Recreation activities at the campground include bicycle riding, horseback riding, fishing, hunting, bird watching, and hiking.
Thirty campsites are available in the Faver-Dykes State Park Campground, just a 22 minute drive from the Fort Matanzas National Monument. The campground is situated in a hardwood closed canopy forest referred to as a “hammock”. Natural vegetation between and around campsites provides privacy for visiting campers and keep campers cool with well shaded sites.
Campsites have 30 amp electric hook ups and water supply, although water hookups are not available. In ground fire rings, grills, and picnic tables are located at each campsite. There are hot showers and flush toilets with ADA accessible amenities and a sani-dump station available.
Pets are allowed, but must be kept under control and be well behaved. RV sites can accommodate vehicles from 25 to 35 feet in length. Activities at the campground, and in the state park, include bike riding, hiking, fishing, and boating. Canoe rentals are available and there is a boat ramp and launch as well as a dock.
Fort Matanzas National monument allows fishing from the river shore. You will need to obey Florida fishing regulations. This estuary with fresh and salt water is a popular spot for anglers to fish for the plentiful supply of fish species available.
Make sure you have the right gear, as tides and marshes provide soft footing on the river edge. Be aware of tidal activity and choose an appropriate time to try your luck at catching dinner. Keep in mind the park gates close at 10 PM. A variety of fish species can be harvested in the river during off season winter months due to the warm Florida climate. Freezing temperatures are not an issue.
Check out the coastal creatures revealed at low tide on the river or ocean beaches. There is a boardwalk that provides access to the ocean beach. A variety of interesting animals and their remnants can be discovered here. Keep an eye out for the shed parchment of a Parchment tube worm. Most people mistake this shed casing for litter. Look for whitish limp tubes about 1 foot in length that the worm leaves behind as it lies buried in the sand. You can also find oyster shells and see hundreds of small crabs scurrying across the sand.
Explore the historic Spanish fort built in 1740 to guard against intrusion by the British. While wandering about the fort, you will find interpretive information for viewing at exhibits. There are brochures and additional information available at the visitor center to help explain the interesting history of this unique site. A short eight minute movie at the visitor center outlines the fort's history and the natural features of the region. Rangers are also available to give informative talks and answer questions.
A variety of animals make this coastal ecosystem their home. There are 27 mammal species which include, opossum, white-tailed deer, and marsh rabbits. You might be lucky enough to see the occasional coyote, bobcat, black bear, mink, or fox.
Aquatic mammals like the river otter, West Indian manatee, and Atlantic bottlenose dolphin or even the northern right whale can also be spotted if you look off the coast at just the right time.
Unique to the park is the Anastasia Island Beach mouse, an endangered species. Fort Matanzas is one of two refuges for this rare species. You may also notice oddly shaped holes in the marshes. These are the burrows of local tortoises.
In addition to this wealth of animals there are nine species of frogs and toads in the area. During the fall, animals are active, and with less tourists around, wildlife are not as likely to be startled into hiding.
Over 200 species of bird either reside, or migrate through Fort Matanzas National Monument. Bird watchers will have the opportunity to see a variety of terrestrial, coastal, and aquatic species. The region is famous for its Great Horned Owl pair. These rare owls have built their nests near the visitor center in the past, allowing visitors to observe these special raptors including the raising of five owlets. The day to day lives of these rare birds is not usually accessible to the public. The pair have not nested near the visitor center since, however they are still in the area, if you are vigilant you might be able to spot them.
The park maintains not only the historic fort, but also the habitat on Rattlesnake and Anastasia Islands to preserve this unique barrier island ecosystem. Fort Matanzas National Monument contains maritime forests, dunes, scrub, salt marsh, ocean beaches, and river habitats
The coastal hammock forest, a hardwood canopy forest, is located on the highest point of a dune on the island. More dunes and beaches can be found on the ocean side of the island and there is maritime shrub between the forest and beaches that produce an abundance of wildflowers in the spring and summer. The estuary where saltwater and freshwater mix in the river provides a diverse habitat for various plant and animal life.