National Park Guides: Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, St. Augustine Florida

National Park Week: April 15-23, 2017

To celebrate both National Park Week and our kids being out for Spring Break, we took a trip down to one of my favorite historic cities: Saint Augustine Florida. No visit to St. Augie is complete without a trip to the grand old lady standing watch over the city for the past 300 + years: The Castillo de San Marcos National Monument.

The Castillo de San Marcos National Monument in St. Augustine Florida as seen from Castillo Drive
The Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, Guardian of St. Augustine, FL since 1695

The Basics

1 Castillo Drive St. Augustine, Florida 32084   904-829-6506

The Fort opens at 8:45 am and closes at 5:15 pm daily except major holidays. You can get a list from their website.

Normally the entry for 16 and older is $10 per person but during National Park week, it is FREE!

*If you have an America the Beautiful Pass, entry is always free.

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Help protect the monument sign at the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument in St Augustine, FL.
Please help protect and preserve the fragile monument.

Parking

There is lot in front of the fort but it fills up fast. It is metered and is $1.50 per hour. I prefer to park in the Visitor’s Information Center Parking Garage, it is $12 for the day and covered except for the very top deck. They also have free parking for oversized vehicles.

Visitor’s Information Center  10 S. Castillo Dr. St. Augustine, FL 32084

Best Times to Visit

Spring/Fall and Mornings

The Castillo is great year round but spring and fall are the best times to visit. The weather is usually cooler and the humidity is lower. I prefer to go in the mornings for several reasons. It is cooler, the sun is not as strong, and the crowds are smaller. It can get HOT up on the battlements during the middle of the day. Bring and wear plenty of sunscreen. There is no eating and drinking allowed to protect the fort, but there are numerous water fountains and bottle fill stations.

How Long

I recommend a minimum of 90 minutes to see the fort. 90 minutes will allow you to see the highlights and get a basic overview. If you have children with you or want to get a more complete experience, I would give it 2-3 hours.

The ravelin, structure that protects the sally port and entrance to the Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine, FL.
The ravelin the protects the sally port.
The sally port and draw bridge at the Castillo de San Marcos Natinal Monument in St. Augustine, Florida
Crossing the sally port!

Calling All Junior Rangers

The Castillo has a wonderful Junior Ranger program. If you are regulars to the blog, you know how much we love the Junior Ranger Program. It is a great activity for kids and families and it is free! Their program has both a badge and a patch. You get the badge for completing the marked activities in the booklet and a patch for completing them all. The books are rated for 4-14 but any age can participate. Younger kids will need lots of parental help but making a family affair adds to the fun. For the 4 and under kiddos, they have a worksheet they can complete. It takes 1-2 hours to complete depending on age, ability, and the number of visitors in the park.

Getting our Junior Ranger booklets for the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument in St. Augustine Florida.

Points of Interest

Powder Keg Room

Some of my favorite rooms are the cathedral and the powder keg room. To reach the powder keg room, you have to crawl under this little opening into the room. It was easier when I was a kid, but still just as fun now!

Informational sign for the Powder Room at the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument St Augustine Florida.

The powder keg room at the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument St. Augustine Florida.

The Lawn & Moat

I also love the lawn around the fort and walking the moat. We like to bring Nerf and/or water guns to play around the grounds. The lawn is a great place for a picnic and a nap if you’re lucky enough to snag a spot under a tree with shade. This can be a great break for little ones.

 

The History

*Remember this is an old and fragile landmark. Please treat it with respect and do not touch, sit, or stand on the walls, battlements and cannons. Treat her with care so she will be around for future generations.

The Oldest Masonry Fort in the Continental United States

St. Augustine has a colorful and varied history and the Castillo is a fitting example of that history. Construction began on the Castillo in 1672, 107 years after Pedro Menendez de Aviles discovered the city and founded the Spanish settlement. The settlement was founded on a former Native American site and protection for the people was needed. The Castillo is built on the western shore of Matanzas Bay, and was designed by Spanish Engineer Ignacio Daza. Its first round of construction was completed in 1695, making it the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States. Only the Castillo San Felipe del Morrow in San Juan Puerto Rico is older.

The courtyard at the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument in St. Augustine, Florida.

Construction and Style

Masonry Star

The Castillo is a masonry star fort and made of a stone called coquina, which literally means “small shells” in Spanish. It was a common building material and is bonded together with a limestone like material. The coquina was quarried from the “King’s Quarry” on nearby Anastasia Island in what is now the State Park. The fort was constructed by local Native Americans and workers brought over from Havana, Cuba.

The Bastions, Ravelin, & Moat

The four “points” of the star are the bastions and are named San Pedro, San Augustin, San Carlos, & San Pablo. At the front of the fort is the ravelin, which protects the sally port and draw bridge. The fort is also surrounded by a moat. It was traditionally a dry moat which they would fill with livestock. The moat could also be flooded with sea water during with use of floodgates built into the coquina sea wall. The depth of the moat was about a foot deep.

San Pablo Bastion

Marker for the San Carlos bastion/signal at the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument St. Augustine Florida.
Signals were exchanged between this tower and the similar one at Fort Matanzas.
The interior of the San Carlos Bastion Lookout Tower at the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument in St Augustine Florida.
Interior of the San Carlos tower

The 2nd Construction

In 1798, the interior of the fort was redesigned and reconstructed to improve its safety features. The interior rooms were deepened and the ceilings vaulted. This gave better protection of the bombardments and allowed cannon placement along the gun decks instead of just at the corners. The exterior wall heights were raised from 26 feet to 33 feet.

Officer Quarters in the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument in St. Augustine Florida.
Officer’s Quarters

Under Siege

The first siege at the Castillo was in 1702. British colonists from the nearby Charles Town Settlement (Charleston, SC) sailed two days up the coast at the Governor’s request to capture St. Augustine. The town’s 1500 residents took shelter in the Castillo. The durable and tough coquina did it job by sufficiently absorbing cannon balls and blasts. The English were defeated but destroyed the town before leaving.

The Second siege was after the fort got an upgrade. In a rather comical story of a sore looser (Britain), the British declared war on Spain in 1739. (For more info read about The War of Jenkins Ear) In 1740, led by dashing General and Georgia founder James Oglethorpe, the British once again lay siege to St. Augustine. Once again the British failed. To protect their rear, the Spanish constructed Fort Matanzas to guard the entrance to the inlet.

A cannon sits on the battlement at the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument in St. Augustine Florida.

Never Taken By Force

Although occupied by the Spanish, British, US, and Confederates, the fort has never been taken by force. The British gained it in the Treaty of Paris, then it returned to the Spaniards when they regained control of Florida. The United States received the Castillo from the Spanish and renamed it Fort Marion after the Revolutionary War General Francis Marion. The Union basically abandoned the fort when Florida seceded from the Union and the one remaining caretaker put up little fuss when the Confederates took it over. The Confederates evacuated in 1862 allowing the Union to regain control without a single shot fired.

There were many Native Americans held prisoner in Fort Marion, including the famed Chief Osceola during the Second Seminole War. 20 Seminole prisoners escaped from the fort in 1837.

Courtyard View from battlements of the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument in St. Augustine Florida.

The Castillo de San Marcos National Monument

After 205 years of service, Fort Marion was taken out of active duty. It was designated a National Monument in 1924 and transferred to the National Park Service in 1933. To honor its Spanish heritage and history, her original name was restored in 1942.

The Matanzas Inlet viewed from the top of the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument St Augustine Florida.
A view from the top!

Other Sites to See

Complete you visit to St. Augustine with a visit to these other great locations

               The City Gate              St. George St.            Fort Matanzas

The Lightner Museum              Flagler College               The Pirate Museum

The Oldest Wooden School    Oldest Store Museum    Old Jail Museum

Anastasia Island State Park & Lighthouse       Fountain of Youth

If you’re looking for how to spend the perfect day in St. Augustine with the kids, check back this week for the post!

The Castillo de San Marcos National Monument Guide from adventuredawgs.com.
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Have you been to St. Augustine? If so what was your favorite thing to do there? Are you planning to head to a NPS site for National Park Week? Share with us in the comments please!

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The adventuredawgs.com guide to the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument in St. Augustine Florida.
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39 thoughts on “National Park Guides: Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, St. Augustine Florida

  1. I visited there as a kid but hardly remember anything about it. Guess I should go back and refresh my memory!

    1. The fort is pretty much the same as when I visited as a kid. The town has changed considerably though. It’s still a fun place to visit. Thanks for connecting.

  2. My dad would have loved to visit this place. As a child we visited a lot of battle fields

    1. It’s really cool. I went as a child here too. I think it’s awesome to take your kids to our National sites, parks, and monuments. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Wow I had no idea the Castillo de San Marcos existed. I know that’s bad, but now that I know it’s going to be on my list of places to go on my florida trip soon. Such history!

    1. St Augustine is an incredible town, so full of history. If you need any tips on other things to see, hit us up! Thanks for visiting and we’re thrilled we could share something new with you.

  4. I would love to visit there – it look very much my thing. I bet it has some amazing stories to tell. xx

    1. If walls could talk! The stories would be amazing. I know it sounds crazy, but I had a paranormal experience here as a teenager. I’ll have to do a post on it. I love ghost stories 😀.

  5. Another must see places in Florida. Especially when you want to learn more about history, this ones perfect to visit.

    1. What a great travel tip! I completely agree too. You beat the crowds and get to see it from a completely different perspective.

  6. I’ve never been to Florida, but if I ever do I really want to make it here. I love old places like this, it looks beautiful.

  7. Castillo de San Marcos looks like a really great place to visit and the views are amazing! I love places that think on kids too! The Junior Ranger program sounds like a lot of fun!

    1. The Junior Ranger programs are the best! Most of the NPS sites have them. It helps pass protection and love of our parks to the next generation. Thanks for following our adventures.

  8. My kids would love to visit these locations! I, too, love visiting national parks and learning about the history of the place. I love all of your photographs!

    1. I think visiting National and state parks is one of the best things you can do with your kids! It’s also as much fun for the adults. We’re glad you like the pics. Thanks so much!

  9. I LOVE visiting national parks! There is always so much history and they are an amazing way to step back in time! It’s neat to see how things happened for us (the USA) to get to where it is today!

  10. My husband would love to visit the Castillo de San Marcos National Park. He is such a history buff and he would really make sure he gets a full tour of the place. Thanks for letting me know. We’ll make sure to take a side trip to the place when we travel to Florida

    1. Awesome! So glad we could help you out. St. Augustine is a great city for history. I’d add an overnight there.

    1. It is an amazing place full of so
      Much history. If you make it that way, hit us up. We will send you some tips on what to see. Thanks for stopping by.

    1. We love it, I never get tired of visiting. If you need tips for other things to see in St Augie, let us know. Thanks for commenting.

  11. I have been to this park before. It is such a beautiful place to visit and it offers such a great history lesson.

  12. Looks like a great place to take the family while on vacation. Will have to remember this if we ever make our way over there.

  13. I love visiting historical places and I think it’s amazing that you shared this with us. I’d love to go and visit someday. It would be nice to explore and just take in the whole site!

    1. It’s definitely worth a trip. You could easily spend a weekend in St Augustine and barely scratch the surface. Thanks for reading!

  14. I’ve seen this place! It’s very interesting, and there are so many other amazing things to do in the area too.

    1. Most definitely, St. Augustine has something for everyone! Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

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