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A list of the stops on the self-guided tour of Fort Pickens

Like many mid-19th century forts in the United States, Fort Pickens belongs to the Third System of Fortifications. This system emphasized brick and masonry construction over older earthen designs, making them more resistant to cannon fire. You can see the sturdy brick walls and bastions of Fort Pickens, similar to those found in Fort Jefferson in Dry Tortugas National Park or Fort Pulaski near Savannah.

Casements at Fort Pickens appear as a tunnel

Fort Pickens Adventure Awaits: Travel Tips and Transportation Options

Getting to Fort Pickens in Pensacola can be done in various ways, depending on your preferences and budget. As part of our Texas/New Mexico road-trip, we arrived by passenger vehicle towing our travel trailer. This was the most convenient option. Take Exit 12 off Interstate 10 for I-110 South, then continue onto Exit 1A-1B towards Gregory St/US-98/Beaches/Gulf Breeze/Gulf Islands National Seashore. Follow signs for Pensacola Beach Rd and then turn right onto Fort Pickens road.

Note: Do not take 17th street railroad bridge known as the Graffiti bridge, only has 10 foot clearance. We cleared it, but just barely.

View out the cannon embracure Fort Pickens Guld Islands National Seashore
View out the cannon embrasure Fort Pickens Gulf Islands National Seashore

If time permits, take the ferry just for the scenery. The Pensacola Bay City Ferry from the historic waterfront in downtown Pensacola to the Fort Pickens Ferry Plaza. The ferry runs seasonally, typically from March to October. There is also a Gulf Islands National Seashore tram. Once you arrive at the Fort Pickens Ferry Plaza, you can take the free Fort Pickens Tram to various points within the area, including the Fort, Langdon Beach, and the campground. In season, the tram operates on the same schedule as the ferry boats.

Santa Rosa Beach Sunset

Fort Pickens Must-Knows: Maximize Your Trip

  • We noted that there was ample parking available at the Fort Pickens area. Be aware that parking fills up quickly on weekends and holidays, so arrive early or consider alternative transportation options.
  • There is an entrance fee to access the Fort Pickens area. You can purchase a pass at the entrance station (credit card only) or online in advance.
  • Consider purchasing an interagency annual pass if you plan on visiting other National Park Units during your trip.
  • The Fort Pickens tram and some areas of the park are accessible for people with disabilities. However, the fort itself has uneven terrain and may be difficult to navigate for some.
  • Pets are not allowed on the ferry or within the Fort Pickens area, except for service animals.
  • We noticed that during the off season (November-February) some services and amenities may be limited.
Map of the slf-guided tour Fort Pickens
Stop #1-Sallyport Entrance
Stop #1-Sallyport Entrance

Stop #1-Sally Port-Complete Self-Guided Tour Fort Pickens

The Officers Quarters Stop 2-Fort Pickens
The Officers Quarters Stop 2-Fort Pickens

Stop #2 Officers’ Quarters-Complete Self-Guided Tour Fort Pickens

Casement and cannon Embrasure Fort Pickens
Casement and cannon Embrasure Fort Pickens

Stop #3-Casements-Complete Self-Guided Tour Fort Pickens

As the morning sun climbed higher, so did the temperature. Seeking relief from the blazing Florida heat, we found sanctuary in the casements. These brick-vaulted chambers worked like magic, bringing the temperature down dramatically. Casements, more than just storage spaces, had a range of uses. These tunnels were versatile, serving purposes like storing cannons, ammunition, and even providing shelter for soldiers. In these refreshing casemates, frozen in time since the 1800s, it felt almost natural to envision sturdy soldiers swapping stories and sharing laughter after a day packed with drills.

Stop 4 Mine Battery Room
Stop 4 Mine Battery Room
  • Man, peering through the tunnel to the mine Storage Room
  • Stop 5 Mine Chamber Room Fort Pickens
STop 6 the Poweder magazine Fort Pickens
Stop 6 the Powder Magazine Fort Pickens

Stop #6 the Powder Magazine-Complete Self-Guided Tour Fort Pickens

Even though it’s not holding any explosive stuff anymore, the Powder Magazine is like a quiet observer of Fort Pickens’ history. It’s a constant reminder of how firepower was crucial for defending forts and how it played a huge role in keeping the fort always ready for action. This tough structure is no joke – thick brick walls, a vaulted brick ceiling – all built to take on cannon fire and potential explosions. They even lined it with wood to keep the powder dry and used copper and brass hardware to keep sparks away.

Standing in there, it’s almost like you can hear the whispers of history. Picture soldiers handling the gunpowder, getting it ready for action, fully aware that the fate of the fort relied on their attention to detail. It’s like stepping back in time, right inside the Powder Magazine.

Stop 7 Shelf Supports Storage area-Fort Pickens
Stop 7 Shelf Supports Storage area-Fort Pickens

Stop #7-Shelf Supports: just around the corner. Feel the weight of history as you walk through these passageways.

Stop 8 Generator Room-Fort Pickens
Stop 8 Generator Room-Fort Pickens

Stop #8-Generator Room-Complete Self-Guided Tour Fort Pickens

Counterscrap  Wall and Moat Stop 9 Fort Pickens
Counterscarp Wall and Moat Stop 9 Fort Pickens

Stop #9-Counterscarp Wall and Moat-Complete Self-Guided Tour Fort Pickens

Teaming up, the counterscarp wall and its buddies played a key role in safeguarding the fort from enemy onslaughts. Picture this – standing on the counterscarp wall, you feel like you’re one of those soldiers standing guard, strong and resolute. The counterscarp wall, standing tall and bold, was like the fort’s ultimate defense line. They built these tough walls with bricks and granite, absorbing cannon hits like a boss to keep those foes at bay. And hey, they even filled up the moat with water, making it a real headache for any wannabe attackers trying to get across.

Stop 10 Bastion A casements
Stop 10 Bastion A

Stop 10-Bastion A-Complete Self-Guided Tour Fort Pickens

In these fort bastions, there’s this tall sentinel–a pentagonal structure that sticks out from the fort’s main wall. When you climb up the bastion’s walls, it’s like you can almost sense the spirits of soldiers from way back when walking the walls and keeping a watchful eye on the horizon for any possible dangers.

Stop 11-Tunnel through Battery Pensacola-Fort Pickens
Stop 11-Tunnel through Battery Pensacola-Fort Pickens

Stop 11-Tunnel through Battery Pensacola-Complete Self-Guided Tour Fort Pickens

Stop12-Water Cistern-Fort Pickens
Stop12-Water Cistern-Fort Pickens

Stop #12-Water Cisterns-Complete Self-Guided Tour Fort Pickens

Stop13-Reverse Arch-Fort Pickens
Stop13-Reverse Arch-Fort Pickens

Stop #13-Reverse Arch-Complete Self-Guided Tour Fort Pickens

  • Tower Stop14-Battery Pensacola Wall
  • Women standing against the 15 inch Rodman Cannon-Fort Pickens Gulf Islands NS
  • Panoramic of the firing range of the 15 inch rodman gun at Fort Pickens

Tower Stop14-Battery Pensacola Wall-Complete Self-Guided Tour Fort Pickens

  • Stop Parade Ground Fort Pickens
  • Munitions Apparatus Battery Pensacola
  • Ominous black painted battery Pensacola
  • Gates to the munitions Battery Pensacola
  • Bastion D exploded wall missing tower view
  • Bastion D stop 16 Ground level view

Stop #15 Parade Ground-Complete Self-Guided Tour Fort Pickens

Bastion D stop 16 Ground level view
Bastion D stop 16

Stop #16 -Bastion D-Complete Self-Guided Tour Fort Pickens

Bastion D was built in 1834 and finished in 1844. With 24-pound cannons, the bastion could fire 360 degrees. Currently, all that remains of the magazine are its skeletal ruins. These remind us of the dangers soldiers faced at Fort Pickens. The bastion caught fire in 1899, and it spread to the magazine.  Igniting a bunch of black powder. As a result, the magazine and much of the bastion walls were destroyed. The debris flew miles inland. Two soldiers were also killed and several others were injured in the explosion.

Driftwood along the trail Fort Pickens

Here are some additional tips for doing a self-guided tour of Fort Pickens:

  • Wear comfortable shoes, as you’ll be doing a lot of walking.
  • Bring water and sunscreen, especially if you’re visiting during the summer months.
  • Be sure to read the signs at each stop on the tour to learn about the history of the fort.
  • Take your time to be in the moment and enjoy the scenery. Fort Pickens is a beautiful place, and there’s a lot to see.
I was born on the prairies where the wind blew free and there was nothing to break the light of the sun. I was born where there were no enclosures.-Geronimo

Exploring the Many Batteries of Fort Pickens in the Gulf Islands

Civil War eara mines used to protect the harbor
Civil War era mines used to protect the harbor
The Vanishing Guns of Fort Pickens
The Vanishing Guns of Fort Pickens
Man with Dog in front of the entrance to Battery Langdon Fort Pickens
Battery Langdon

Exploring History in Stone: Battery Langdon at Fort Pickens

We climb to the top of Battery Langdon, the highest point in the park. Below us it was strategically fortified with tremendous guns during World War II, conceals its massive artillery beneath protective bunkers. The weaponry housed here represented the cutting-edge advancements of its time. With our dog, Sage in tow, we soak in the breath-taking views of the Gulf of Mexico and Pensacola Bay. Unfortunately, the churning surf generated by an offshore storm renders the search for playful dolphins in the waves futile today. Nonetheless, I find solace in appreciating the captivating beauty of the landscape that surrounds us.

Person standing in front of the Gulf Islands National Seashore park sign at Fort Pickens

Final Thoughts-Fort Pickens Self-Guided Tour

The self-guided tour provided us with an engaging yet educational experience. As we walked through the gates of Fort Pickens, it felt like stepping back in time. Off season, we practically had the well-preserved fort to ourselves. The fort is strategic layout makes it easy to follow the self-guided stops. You will become immediately immersed in the military history of the 19th century. From the imposing walls to the many cannons placed to guard against potential invaders, every corner spoke of a bygone era. As we concluded our self-guided tour, I couldn’t help but reflect on the layers of history Fort Pickens encapsulates. The Fort is only one aspect of this national seashore. There is more to see, including the beach, the nature trails that make this a must see destination.

Have you visited Fort Pickens in the Gulf Islands National Seashore? What surprised you most about the fort? What resonated with you the most deeply?