State parks are the unsung heroes of the domestic travel world here in the United States.
Much less grand than their cousins, the national parks, state parks still feature great locations around the country that might otherwise be missed. North Carolina has more than a few state parks that are perfect for that busy family looking to relax a little.
Fort Macon State Park is one of those gems, and it’s in one of our favorite parts of the world for relaxing as a family:
North Carolina’s Crystal Coast.
Fort Macon is a family favorite of ours, as you can see by the photos from the last seven years or so, scattered throughout this post.
Fort Macon State Park is located at the eastern most end of Bogue Banks – the barrier island just southwest across Beaufort Inlet from Shackleford Banks and Cape Lookout National Seashore.
The Park contains both a few miles of undeveloped shoreline, as well as a fort dating to antebellum times that was used by both sides in the War Between the States, and was a defense against possible invasion during World War II.
Besides that, it is just kinda cool.
We’ve been visiting Fort Macon State Park since Jennifer and I were kids. Now, our own kids enjoy it, and we think your family will as well.
When visiting you can slow down, take it easy, and maybe even do some fishing!
Why should you visit Fort Macon?
Here are 10 reasons:
1. It’s completely FREE!
Like almost all of the North Carolina State Parks, entrance to the Fort Macon State Park is completely FREE! The exceptions include Falls Lake, Jordan Lake and Kerr Lake State Recreational Areas.
2. The beach is great!
Fort Macon has a large parking area, bathhouse, and easy beach access along the road into the park.
The driveway to the parking area is on the right just after you enter the park. It’s well marked but easy to drive past, so be on the lookout.
The beach access is easy-going and includes both an extensive and partially covered deck/ramp access over the dunes, and a wide, well-marked spot to walk from the parking area, between the dunes, and onto the beach.
While all North Carolina beaches change and move with coastal conditions, the beach at Fort Macon is usually wide and easy to traverse. It’s a perfect spot for fishing, and we actually end up visiting the beach for fishing quite often. And, you can enjoy the beach and the Fort separately!
It runs for about a mile and a half east from the bathhouse/parking area all the way to Beaufort Inlet. You can experience both that familiar ocean side beach, as well as the less typical area around the Inlet. There’s a rock jetty that marks the change from ocean to Inlet.
Do stay out of the water around the inlet, though, as the currents are strong.
3. The history is important
History permeates the Fort Macon State Park.
From the moment you pass the welcome sign, you can sense the age of the area. Gone are the familiar commercial signs of a tourist beach destination, and all you see is the road ahead and the maritime environment.
Just before you get to final parking area close to the fort, you’ll pass a coast guard station on your left. The visitor center has interesting exhibits and you can read a detailed history of the fort here.
An interesting note, a young Robert E. Lee, then a member of the US Army Corps of Engineers, designed a system of erosion control to prevent the fort from being claimed by the ocean.
4. Family photo ops abound
We’ve been visiting Fort Macon since we were kids, and as you can see from the photos, we’ve been visiting as our own family for years.
The fort itself has some great spots for snapshots as the oftentimes bright beach sunshine creates interesting shadows and light within the fort.
5. The fishing is great
Fishing really is our favorite reason for heading to Fort Macon.
The surf fishing from the bathhouse down to the jetty is excellent. Fishing the jetty itself is an adventure and fishing around the inlet will give you a totally different experience. The whole family can join in and when the kids get bored of fishing – as they always do – there’s plenty of beach for them to explore. And again, access is free – but bait and tackle do cost.
Check out our favorite bait shop anywhere – Chasin’ Tails for all the goodies.
6. It can be secluded
While there are always folks checking out the fort, and the beach area around the bathhouse, the beach, from a few hundred yards past the bathhouse all the way to the jetty, is rarely, if ever, crowded.
Just take a walk of about a half a mile or less along the beach from either parking lot and you’ll likely find yourself some solitude.
7. The views are wonderful
On clear days from the top levels of the fort, you can easily see across the Inlet to Shackleford Banks and if you look closely to the east, you may even catch a glimpse of the Cape Lookout Lighthouse. The west end of Front Street in Beaufort is also visible, particularly the famous Duncan House.
Even on hazy days in summer the views of the ocean are great and you’re very likely to see interesting boats as well as a dolphin or two.
8. The Fort is just cool
Don’t you love this sign:
The fort is just a little dangerous, and for the 8- year- old boy in all of us…it’s just cool.
And…it has cannons:
9. It’s undeveloped
Quite a bit of the Carolina Coast is developed. Nothing particularly tacky but plenty of houses and businesses. Fort Macon is different. Just a few miles from the hustle and bustle of Atlantic Beach and the rest of Bogue Banks, you’ll find a few miles of completely undeveloped stretches of beach. Enjoy them!
10. It’s close to Amos Mosquitos
This is an added bonus.
Amos Mosquitos is one of our favorite family friendly restaurants anywhere.
They’ve welcomed us in on evenings after a whole day of fishing and beach going at Fort Macon – bathing suits, sun burned, sand, salt and all.
They’re extremely kid friendly, but adult-oriented enough to make everyone happy. The food is great, with regular fresh seafood specials, and don’t miss the s’mores after the meal – it’s the best deal in desserts on the Crystal Coast.
Thanks so much for reading through this post! If you’d like to learn more about Fort Macon and the surrounding areas, please drop us a line, and check out our sister site, Bringing Home Beaufort!
And never forget to: