Hello and welcome back to my travel blog. For this trip, I’m going to talk about Fort Macon State Park in the Atlantic Beach area of North Carolina and why you should visit it.
I live 40 minutes away or so from Fort Macon and it is one of our favorite places to visit. We go a few times a year, especially during the summer.
First and foremost, the best reason to visit this State Park is that its free. You don’t have to pay for parking, and there’s no entrance fee to see the Fort. Donations are always welcomed though, and I recommend that you leave a little something because it helps with the Fort’s upkeep and the activities they put on for visitors.
Also, not only is there a Fort for your family to see, there’s free parking and free beach access to swim at with lifeguards, a shower facility, and a concession stand. This is hard to come by on North Carolina’s Crystal Coast and the Outer Banks during the tourist season.
You can fish on the surrounding beaches, take hikes on nature trails, and visit the Park year round. During the off season, you have to swim at your own risk, but you can still use the shower facilities and the Fort is still open for visitors.
Now back to the Fort itself, you can spend a few hours with the family just walking around the grounds. Fort Macon has been restored back to pristine condition, and you get to see a great example of how a 19th Century coastal fort looked like and how the soldiers garrisoning the place lived.
Fort Macon is interesting because it was built in the early 1800’s near the site where a British Fort stood when North Carolina was still a colony. Fort’s were necessary ever since the first Europeans stepped foot on North Carolina’s coast. North Carolina’s shores have been traversed by all manner of hostile forces such as Pirates; the most famous being Blackbeard, as well as the French, Spanish, and even the British during the Revolutionary War. The fort was the site of a major Civil War battle. Germany sunk many vessels off of North Carolina’s shores during WWII as well and the fort was a hive of activity during that time. If fell into disrepair after WWII, but it was restored and made into a State Park a decade or so later.
When first arriving at the State Park, you can visit the Coastal Education Center to use the bathroom and grab some cold drinks and snacks. Then you can tour the different museum exhibits and grab some souvenirs at the gift shop.
After you leave the Coastal Education Center, you can spend a few hours walking the grounds and see how 19th century coastal forts looked like in their heyday. Many of the rooms in the old fort are climate controlled, and there are interactive dioramas in them that connects visitors to its storied past.
You have to watch your step. Safety standards were different when the fort was originally constructed. As some of the signs point out, the fort was built for war, not safety!
Some of the rooms of the fort are empty, while others contain mock ups from different periods of the fort’s history. The fun part is that you can explore many of the subterranean rooms, if you don’t mind the dark.
You can climb over many of the defensive works and take in the view of the Atlantic Ocean. Over time, sand and soil built up and the waterfront made its way farther and farther from the fort’s protective walls.
The set up of the fort is interesting. There’s an outer dirt berm with a gradual slope with emplacements on top to fire from, a moat type area between the outer wall and the main building, and the main building has a defensive wall on top to fire from. The walls of the inner fortification building have slits or small windows to fire into the moat area from. The Fort seems impenetrable, but its history shows that even the most formidable defensive works can be overcome.
Fort Macon was garrisoned by a lone US Army soldier and his wife before the start of the Civil War. A local North Carolina Confederate Militia evicted them, and Confederate forces garrisoned it with a few hundred soldiers. A year later, the Fort was taken back by Union Forces after an intense 11 hour long artillery bombardment from ground forces, gun boats on the sound side, and naval ships on the ocean side.
I recommend a trip to Fort Macon State Park to everyone. You can turn a visit to the park into a whole weekend trip with all the things you can do around the local area. After visiting the park, you can head to the beach. You can also take the short drive over to Atlantic Beach’s boardwalk area. You can drive over the bridge and visit Morehead City or Beaufort and the NC Maritime Museum there. They both also have gorgeous water front board walks you can visit. Or you can stay on the island and drive down to the the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores. A further drive down the island will take you to Emerald Isle with its bike rentals, mini golf, go cart tracks, and pristine beach access areas.
You can also drive down the highway a bit to historic downtown Swansboro and take a trip to another NC Park called Hammocks Beach State Park. Hammocks Beach State Park is located on a barrier island in the Southern Outer Banks called Bear Island. The park is accessible by a short ferry ride, and there are no cars allowed. You can bring a stroller though, so little ones won’t get tired out from the walk across the island from the pier to the beach access area. That’s for another travel blog post though!