Stand in the middle of American history at Fort Zachary Taylor Key West. Gaze out onto the turquoise blanket ocean, its shores lined with the natural barrier of sturdy, immovable stones. Walk through the fortress corridors with their brick and mortar archways and mighty cannons overlooking the sea in defense. Learn the history of this grandiose fort and its role in numerous monumental moments throughout American history. This hidden gem is large and in charge, with no shortage of fun activities for all kinds of tourists, thrill seekers and sunbathers alike. Spend the day between the action of Havana and Nassau without missing an ounce of the fun at Fort Zachary Taylor Key West.
The History of Fort Zachary Taylor Key West
Built by the United States to protect Key West Harbor and located on the southern edge of Key West, Fort Zachary Taylor predates the Civil War. Fort Zachary Key West is a National Historic Monument housing the largest cache of Civil War armament in the world. This fortress was a major deterrent for Confederate ships looking to fund their war effort by selling cotton overseas, as well as smuggling in artillery from foreign aid. Over 300 Confederate blockade runners were accosted at Fort Zachary Taylor, the cargoes of which were seized and put up for auction. Completed in 1866, the grand structure of Fort Zachary Key West stands 50 feet above the shore, looming heavily over those Confederate ships, as well as Spanish boots on Cuban soil during the Spanish–American War of 1898. Named in November of 1850 for President Zachary Taylor months after his untimely death in office, this National Historic Monument is the grandest nod to the 12th president of these United States. Deactivated for military use in 1947 after World War II and briefly brought out of retirement during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, it was officially deeded to the State of Florida as Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park in 1979. Since, the over 50 acres of shore-lined property has brought joyful, informative experiences to tourists from all over.
What to Know Before You Go
Parking and Beach Access Points
Fort Zachary Taylor Key West overlooks some of the finest beaches in all of South Florida. The western shoreline is lined with rocks that serve as popular seating for a view of a cinematic sunset, while the southern and eastern shorelines, while rocky, are sand beaches right at the meeting point of the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean. Water shoes are recommended and available for purchase in the gift shop. Parking is ample!
So close to the ocean, the picnic facilities are perfect for grilling a fresh catch for lunch. Picnic tables and charcoal grills are provided for guests’ convenience, and guests are permitted to bring their own as well. Guests using the picnic facilities are expected to take any trash with them off of park grounds.
Canoe and Kayak Launch
When canoeing and kayaking at Fort Zachary Key West, it is important to be mindful of the particularly rocky shorelines. On the west side of the park is the Key West Shipping Channel and the western rock jetty. There are no lifeguards on duty, so launch at your own risk.
Public restrooms are available throughout Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park.
Fishing at Fort Zachary Taylor Key West is most popular on the west side of the park off of the western rock jetty. This is into the Key West Shipping Channel. Some licensing may be required to fish at Fort Zachary Key West.
The southernmost hikes in the continental United States, Fort Zachary Taylor Key West offers the Point Trail, the Fort View Trail and the fort itself. The Point Trail is open to bicycles.
Tour of Fort Zachary Key West
Key West’s hidden gem for the history buff offers tours daily. Learn all about the history of the structure, as well as the military history that bolstered Fort Zachary Key West into historical significance. Guided by experts of the history of the fort, these guided tours are filled with all kinds of fun factoids about the structure itself and bring an unparalleled level of expertise. Free brochures are also available with information on Fort Zachary Key West for guests who prefer to embark on a self-guided experience.
Fort Zachary Key West is home to the southernmost hike in the continental United States. Here, guests can walk amongst the shade of the exotic Australian pines, as well as the iconic mangroves. Teeming with the wildlife you’d hope to see on a nature hike, the three most popular hiking trails at Fort Zachary Key West are the Point Trail, the Fort View Trail and a trail through the fortress itself. Walk amongst some of the most exciting nature trails South Florida has to offer, riddled with lush canopies, bird-watching opportunities and more!
Swimming at Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park Beach
Home to the best beaches in all of Key West, Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park’s beach is a can’t miss destination. Situated right where the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean meet, Fort Zachary Key West is a perfect place to set off on a snorkeling adventure. Look below the surface at the bustling marine life weaving between the large banks of coral. With snorkel equipment available to rent on-site and water shoes available for purchase, swimming at Fort Zachary Key West is an experience for the ages.
The pièce de résistance — the sunsets over the west end of Fort Zachary Key West — are to die for. Every evening, tourists and locals alike enjoy the naturally occurring bleachers of rock that line the western coast to gaze upon the most magnificent array of colors lighting up the sky as the sun dips behind the aquamarine horizon. Count the sunset sailboats as they cruise by with their sails at full mast. With a few picnic tables available offering a view of the spectacle, most park goers elect a seat on the rocks to hear the shore gently crashing. Once the sun has been tucked away for the evening, a park ranger will show you to the exits and close the park until the following morning.
Make Memories to Last a Lifetime at Fort Zachary Key West
A historic state park full of exciting and educational experiences, Fort Zachary Key West is the ideal excursion for your next trip to Key West. Go swimming where the Gulf of Mexico meets the Atlantic Ocean and mingle with the creatures under the sea. Or, take a tour of a United States military structure that has stood proudly for nearly two centuries and learn all about the history that comes with it. You’re not going to want to miss out on the best beaches in all of Key West, so make sure to include Fort Zachary Taylor on your next visit to the southernmost point of these United States.
Where do you park?
Fort Zachary Taylor Key West facilities offer abundant parking for guests at no additional charge than the price of park admission.
How do you get there?
Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park is located at 601 Howard England Way and is accessible by car, bike or on foot. If coming by foot, be prepared for a long walk on the entrance road. Fort Zachary Taylor is located at the end of Southard Street on Truman Annex in Key West.
Are there public restrooms?
Indeed! Public restrooms are available for use in the fort itself, as well as on the beach.
Are there walking trails?
Yes! Fort Zachary Key West is accessible by foot and also has hiking trails such as Point Trail, Fort View Trail and a walking trail through the fort itself.
Is there a playground?
While there aren’t any playgrounds in this historic state park, the grounds are full of other amenities to ensure people of all ages have a great time.
Fort Zachary Key West has a number of accessible amenities, such as ground-level tours of the fort and beach wheelchairs, available upon request and free of charge. Public restrooms, parking and shower facilities are also all accessible.
Are there places to have a picnic?
Yes! There are multiple picnic stations throughout Fort Zachary Taylor Key West. Charcoal grills and picnic tables are available on park grounds, and guests are also welcome to bring their own. Park facilities require that whatever picnickers bring, their trash must be taken off of park grounds.
Is Fort Zachary Taylor Dog Friendly?
Fort Zachary Taylor is dog friendly. It is required that your dog be maintained on a leash six feet or shorter at all times. It is also required that your dog is well-behaved (standards are determined by park rangers). It is also required that owners clean up after their dogs.