Fort Matanzas National Monument is located south of St. Augustine on the Atlantic coast of central Florida. Named for the small Spanish fort built on Rattlesnake Island that is made from rock consisting of crushed seashells (coquina), it also preserves a significant surrounding natural area, comprising 300 acres total. It was established in 1924 and is administered by the National Park Service. Matanzas, which is Spanish for ‘killings,’ marks the site where hundreds of French Huguenots were killed by the Spanish in 1565. The actual fort wasn’t built until 1740-1742, and was named for this earlier massacre. The fort protected the southern approach to St. Augustine via the Matanzas River, but was only involved in one actual confrontation, when a single cannon shot fired from the fort was ample to dissuade further incursion by a small fleet of English ships in 1742.
This site contains four primary habitats: salt marsh, hammock, sand dunes, and scrub. As such, the diversity of flora and fauna here is enormous. It’s a native habitat to such plant species as seaside oxeye daisy, prickly pear, and blanketflower, and home to the endangered Eastern indigo snake, the Atlantic ghost crab, and loggerhead turtles. This is a stop on the Great Florida Birding & Wildlife Trail, and the Matanzas River and Inlet have been designated an ‘Important Bird Area’ by the Audubon Society. Great horned owls have been known to nest near the visitor center, and there are least tern and wood stork rookeries within the monument.
A wide variety of activities are available, including: beach access, guided tours, birdwatching, fishing, and kayaking. There is a half-mile nature trail with maps, bird lists, and interpretive guides available at the visitor center. Access to the fort itself is by a free ferry which is out of operation as of this writing (February 2018) due to system damage sustained during Hurricane Irma in late 2017. I van-camped at a free spot on Rattlesnake Island just south of the monument and explored the inlet area in early May, 2017.
Entry to the monument is free; the visitor center is open every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas from 9a-5:30p. Check the official website or drop into the visitor center for the most current information regarding activities, closures, and alerts.
Scroll down to learn more about this site and for visitor resources!
- Fort Matanzas National Monument (NPS)
- Fort Matanzas National Monument (exploresouthernhistory.com)
- Audubon Important Bird Area: Matanzas Inlet & River
- Great Florida Birding & Wildlife Trail: Fort Matanzas National Monument
- Florida’s Pristine Parks: Fort Matanzas National Monument (National Geographic)
- Fort Matanzas National Monument (Atlas Obscura)