Note: We’ve had a rough go lately with moving around a lot (stressful) + our daughter being sick and not sleeping well, hence the break in blog posts. Anyway – hopefully, we’re back! I say “hopefully” because kids are just so unpredictable!
After our weeklong stay in the lap of luxury at Hilton Head Island Motorcoach Resort, it was time to come back to reality and visit some state parks. After not finding many appealing options on the Georgia coast (we will have to get our GA state sticker some other time!), we decided to head to north Florida. We did a few quick stops (2, 3, 4 night type stops) in some Florida State Parks. Why such short stops? Mainly because the state parks in FL fill up very quickly. The state park system was also carved out 60 or so years ago, when big motorhomes/fifth wheels/travel trailers didn’t exist. So the limited big rig spots at FL state parks, along with the fact that they’re so popular, meant that we could only snag a couple nights in a row at each one. Ideally, we would have stayed for at least a week.
Our first stop was Fort Clinch State Park, just south of Jacksonville, on the northernmost part of Amelia Island. It’s actually in a town called Fernandina Beach, which I had never heard of. One thing that has surprised us so far about FL state parks is how spread out they are. You may check in at the ranger station, then still have a 15 minute drive to the campground. Most of the time, this means that the park is very secluded, which we love – it’s just not something that we were used to up until this point. It can also make for some longer drives to get out of the park – google maps may show something is 10 minutes away, but when you add on the 15 mins to get out of the park, it takes a lot longer.
We loved Fort Clinch. Like way more than we expected to. We were so enamored with our little 2 day stay at this gem of a park that I think it will always be in our minds as one of our favorites. We ended up with a site in the beach loop. The sites were pretty tight and there was no shade, but that is the price you pay to have the beach within a 5 minute walk. Our neighbors switched a lot over the two days, so any time a neighbor would leave, we had an ocean view. The sites at Fort Clinch (and at all FL state parks we’ve been to so far) are electric and water only. We also only had 30 amp power at Fort Clinch, but if we are careful, we can still run both air conditioners on 30 amps. A RV heats up SUPER fast, so it was important that we had AC while in the direct sun. There was a larger loop of campsites back in the woods at Fort Clinch – this campground is called Amelia River. I liked these sites better from a shade, space, and privacy perspective, but you would have had to drive to the beach. Pros and cons to each.
The beach at Fort Clinch State Park was nothing short of spectacular. We are getting to be beach snobs, now that we’ve seen so many in such a short period of time. This beach ticked all the boxes for me. First of all, it was EMPTY. There were never more than a handful of other people out there with us, and a lot of times, we were alone. The beach was incredibly wide, the widest I’ve ever seen, and low tide left behind tons of tidepools for Calla to play in. It was impeccabily clean, but there were tons of large seashells – the most I’ve ever seen at any beach. It was so much fun to sit in the tide pools and sift for shells. When we checked in, the ranger told us about the amount of shark teeth in the sand at the park. We spent our whole visit searching for shark teeth, but never could find one! Other people we talked to seemed to have an easier time finding them. Maybe we weren’t looking in the right places!
The park’s namesake is…well, Fort Clinch itself. A visit to the fort was an awesome way to spend a Saturday morning, especially because once a month they have Garrison days. There were volunteers dressed up in costumes and they played their parts just as if they were living in the fort. It was a neat way to learn history, and we got to see them set off a cannon.
The kind park ranger also mentioned that we should check out downtown Fernandina Beach. He said that it had a lot of character, a marina, shops, etc. Sold! We went to downtown Fernandina Beach one evening and were pleasantly surprised by the quaintness. Beautiful historical buildings, tree-lined streets with wide sidewalks, tons of restaurants and shops – and a marina with a sunset backdrop. We ate dinner at a “seafood shack” that had a playground in the outside seating area – genius! There was also live music in the middle of downtown with performances by various artists, dance groups, etc. I was really glad that he had suggested this. We didn’t even know downtown Fernandina Beach existed, let alone were planning to visit it.
One thing I will mention – Fort Clinch, being our first of many FL state parks, was my introduction to “Florida adds on a bunch of fees and taxes to get more tourist money”. So although the nightly rates are decent, the addition of taxes and fees (some of which have been even higher at subsequent parks) make the final nightly rate a lot more than what you see at first online. This rubs me the wrong way because I think everything should just be included up front in the nightly rate – enough of the “surprises”!
We were disappointed that we only had two days to enjoy this beautiful place, but we certainly did a lot in those two days – it helped that the days were over the weekend. It remains one of the best beaches I have ever been to. I was able to squeeze in a couple of beach runs that were absolutely beautiful – I didn’t see another soul – just me and the waves. The only negative was that the camp hosts were trying to push us out of our site before the 1pm checkout time. They said “someone is waiting for your site”. Well, checkin is at 3, so this meant that the next people were 2 hours early. No one let us in 2 hours early to our site, and we paid for 2 days there. So that small negative interaction was the only complaint we had about our stay at Fort Clinch. If you like quiet, big, beautiful beaches, and an option for a historic experiences (downtown + Fort Clinch itself) we think you should put Fort Clinch State Park on your “must visit” list!