It was finally time to move further south. The weather was just going to get colder and we had reservations for the next stop already. 180 miles, 5 degrees, and a new state for the year!
We have stopped in Fort Clinch State Park twice before, once as a stop over on our way to the Keys and once for a few days to get business done. Both times were in the Amelia River Campground, which we love. This time, we lucked into beachside when someone else canceled. The two campgrounds are exact opposites in personality. Amelia River feels small and intimate whereas the beachside site are wide open and airy. Sometimes Amelia River makes me feel claustrophobic but sometimes beachside feels cold and impersonal. You really can’t lose with either side though; both have a nice easy walk to water, bathrooms, and washing machines.
For a first timer with a tall bus or fifth wheel, the road into the park can seem daunting. None of the trees here grow straight nor in any particular direction. But, the rangers here are pretty good about marking low hanging branches and, if you stay close to the center when you can and take it slow, you should have no problem getting to the campgrounds. We made it with a foot to spare with a 12’10” clearance.
The highlight of the park is the fort and its museum; one can spend a couple of hours just wandering around. What amazed me was the brickwork. If one considers they were all made and laid by hand, a couple of hundred years ago, and then considers the scale, it is a massive undertaking, indeed.
Sunset is a great time to be out on the park pier. While it can be a little windy out there, the views are stunning. It is probably one of the longest piers I have ever walked, jutting way out into the Amelia River where it meets the Atlantic Ocean.
There are two walks in Fort Clinch; one is a short meandering 1/2 mile through woodland and swamp, the other a 6 mile multi-use trail around the park. Be careful of the quick moving bike riders on the second. The path is narrow and cyclists often like to ride fast. There is also an overlook from which one can see the lighthouse.
We really like the town of Fernandina Beach. It is small and not too busy, at least in January. While it does have some spread – most of the island is completely built up – the historic downtown is cute and restrained, more closely resembling Beaufort, SC than Myrtle Beach. There are a lot of really good restaurants, specialty shops, and places to just stop and watch the crowd go by. We tried Arte Pizza which has really good pizza and salads and great cannolis. We also stopped by Timoti‘s for lunch and had great blackened grouper and a salad. But, if you can only eat one thing while in Fernandina Beach, I highly suggest you make it the Hush Puppies at Timoti‘s. These are the best I remember ever having had, though Mike says we had some as good at The Dixie Pig in Rock Hill, SC.
Fort Clinch State Park is an excellent introduction to Florida. One gets a taste of Old Florida, the beach, New Florida, history, and good food, all in a small fairly uncrowded area. There is quite a bit to see and do and in the five days we were here, we didn’t get bored.