Is your family ready to conquer the fort? That is the fort at Fort Macon State Park on North Carolina’s Crystal Coast! With 1.3 million visitors annually, Fort Macon is North Carolina’s second most popular state park. Go for the history and stay for the beach views. There are so many things to do at Fort Macon State Park and great reasons why kids love it. It’s the perfect family destination and it’s absolutely FREE! Check out our top reasons to visit this Atlantic Beach attraction.
Fort Macon is home to a restored pre-Civil War fort that offers daily guided tours and live weapons demonstrations. The fort is the gem of the park, but there’s so much more than that! There’s a visitors center that doubles as a museum and environmental education center, and there’s public beach access with trails. Whether you’re a history buff or beach bum, there’s something for everyone.
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Things To Do With Kids At Fort Macon State Park (N.C.)
If you’re touring the fort and want several hours at the beach, carve out a half day on your vacation itinerary. I’d suggest wearing swimsuits under your clothes and touring the visitors center first. Wear comfortable shoes for walking if you plan to hit the trails or appropriate beach shoes, if you’re headed straight to the sand.
A Visitor Center That Doubles As A Museum
It’s hard for kids to visualize what a fort was actually like when it was used as a fort! Fortunately, the visitor center does a great job at bringing history to life, to help kids understand.
The museum exhibits range from hands-on environmental learning stations to full-size models displaying fort life during pre-Civil War years. There’s also a “parade of uniforms” with video and murals to accurately depict life in the fort.
Kids love how the exhibits reach them on all senses. My kids were really blown away by the medical tools that the doctors used in the fort and loved listening to the recorded animal sounds from the creatures who call the park home.
Touring Fort Macon With Kids
Completed in 1834 after 8 years of construction, Fort Macon, NC is one fort in a series that was built along the eastern coast of the USA following the War of 1812. Fort Macon was initially purchased by the state of North Carolina in 1924, and with the exception of being garrisoned during World War II, it has been a state park ever since.
In total, there are twenty-six vaulted rooms that are enclosed by outer walls that are 4.5-feet thick. Kids love seeing the cannons, powder magazines and counterfire rooms.
There are two different ways you can experience walking through the actual fort – with a park ranger on a guided tour or on your own. If you want to tour on your own, but want more information, pick up a printed guide where you can read information as you walk through the fort.
With kids, I recommend touring the fort yourself. There’s plenty of sights to see and information you can read to the kids. I love the rooms, inside the fort, that showcase how the room was originally used – with real artifacts.
Strollers are easily maneuvered throughout the fort, but there are steep stairs to be aware of. The fort was built for war and there’s many uneven surfaces. Younger kids might need assistance on the stairs, but they’ll still love running through the fort.
Live Weapon Demonstrations
Fort Macon offers weekly live weapon demonstrations that are performed by a Park Ranger. Look at their event calendar or call ahead if you’d like to experience one. Kids love to see the Civil War period weapons and how they’re maintained to still function today.
Hiking at Fort Macon State Park
There are trails for hiking and biking at the park. In total, there are 5 miles of trails and beach combined. The trails range from easy to moderate in difficulty and offer great views of the fort, which is surrounded by three sides of water.
Yarrow’s Loop is a short, quarter-mile nature trail that includes information signs about some of the common plants and animals that can be found in the park. This is your best option with kids who aren’t trained for longer distance.
The Elliott Coues Nature Trail is the longest at 3.2 miles roundtrip. It connects the fort area with the swim beach area. You’ll see the marsh, walk through the maritime forest, and walk near the sand dunes.
Lastly, there’s 1.5 miles along the beach that’s available for walking. Pets are allowed at the park, but must be on a leash at all times. Check the status of the trails, before your visit, to see if they’re open – which is dependent on the weather conditions.
Fishing At Fort Macon State Park
Like much of coastal North Carolina, fishing is year around activity, and that’s equally true for Fort Macon as well. From bluefish to flounder, there’s plenty of great catches at the park. The jetties offer slow-moving water and a sturdy foundation for fishing. Read the best tips, for fishing at the fort, from North Carolina fishing experts. It’s a great family-friendly activity and the outdoor grills are the perfect spot to cook your fresh catch!
Plan For A Fort Macon State Park Family Beach Day
If your main goal is hitting the beach, you’re in for a real treat. The beach at Fort Macon is everything you hope for in a North Carolina beach: sandy and clean, with rolling waves, beautiful sand dunes, and excellent sunrises and sunsets.
The beach restrooms are seasonal and closed in the winter, but open during the peak season of spring and summer. The visitors center always has bathrooms available, but it’ll be a further walk.
Lifeguards are on duty at Fort Macon State Park from 10:00 AM to 5:45 PM, Memorial Day through Labor Day. The currents at Fort Macon can get very strong–for that reason, it’s recommended to only swim in the protected areas. Surfing is not permitted.
The beach is open year-round, but outside the summer months, swimming is only at your own risk. I’d plan to pack the food and drink you’ll need and use the picnic areas. There’s a snack shack, but it’s only open during peak times and the offerings are limited.
There’s plenty to do at Fort Macon State Park and the kids will love spending the day there. It fits into any traveler’s budget and I love the variety that the park offers. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, check out the best restaurants on the Crystal Coast. The fort is a fantastic way to spend a relaxing vacation day with the kids and a Crystal Coast must-do!
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