Where is Fort Macon State Park?
- Visitor Center Address
2303 E. Fort Macon Road
Atlantic Beach, NC 28512
GPS: 34.6979, -76.6783
Fort Macon State Park is located in the southeastern region of the United States, on the coast of North Carolina. Less than three miles east of Atlantic Beach, this state park is in the prime location for many summer activities. Jacksonville, a medium-sized city, lies less than 50 miles west of the park, and the well-known historic city of Wilmington, NC is around two hours southwest, further down the NC coast.
How Big is Fort Macon State Park?
Fort Macon is a relatively small park, encompassing only 424 acres of the coastlands. Despite its small size, the park completely surrounds the United State Coast Guard Station Fort Macon. The restored historical Fort Macon US State Park also resides in the park and among its many features, it is known for its staggering number of bricks - 2,379,546 bricks to be exact, which is a number well above any other fort in the United States. The size of the park should not be a deterrent when visiting, as many opportunities for visitors exist, including trails and an education center.
Fort Macon State Park Weather
This park experiences warm summers and relatively mild winters. The average temperatures in the summer months range in the low to mid-80s for its highs, while the winter lows typically remain above the freezing point. January is the coldest month historically, with an average low of 36 degrees.
The area receives just under 27 inches of rain each year, with August typically the wettest month. During this time, Fort Macon State Park gets around four inches of water.
As a coastal point on the Atlantic Ocean, this park, like other regions along the Eastern seaboard, are occasionally the sites of hurricanes. Hurricane season in North Carolina lasts from June 1 to November 30 each year, and it is not unusual for the area to experience heavy rain and winds from Atlantic storms every few years.
When Did Fort Macon Become a State Park?
Fort Macon has a long history, involving subjects like the famous pirate, Blackbeard, the War of 1812, and the Civil War. In 1903, the United States Army stopped using the fort, and the area gradually transitioned into a more peaceful area. In 1924, the state of North Carolina officially bought the land (for just $1) from the military, and the site was later renovated as a state park by the industrious Civilian Conservation Corps.
Things to Do in Fort Macon State Park
Our State Park Visitors Guide outlines below the adventures and activities you can take advantage of in For Macon State Park.
For avid fishers, this site can be enjoyed any time of the year due to the abundance of fish living in the coastal waters. Depending on the season, expect to catch anything from flounder and pompano to whiting and dogfish. Be sure to purchase a fishing license beforehand.
The beach is about one and a half miles long and is the perfect way to get exercise while also seeing some of the beautiful wildlife in the area. Scan the shore for seashells or enjoy a sunrise or sunset on the beach.
The park has a few designated picnic areas visitors can use to enjoy a meal during their stay. Pack food that doesn’t need to be refrigerated and be sure to pack out all of your trash (including food scraps and packaging).
Elliot Coues Trail
This trail is relatively new and is a 3.2-mile roundtrip walk. When walking along this trail, you will pass through the marshlands and many sand dunes. Be sure to plan your trip around the closing times of the parking lots to prevent your car from being locked in the parking lot.
Fort Macon State Park is the home to over 302 species of birds. Birdwatchers will have plenty of opportunities for observing the range of birds that make their homes in the marsh and sand dunes. You also may have the opportunity to see dolphins that frequent the coastland as well.
Sea oats predominately line the beach, just along the border of sand dunes. Further inland, visitors can get the chance to view plant life like wax myrtle, yaupon, and live oak. A variety of grasses including cordgrass are found in the marshes.
Due to the complex history of the fort, tours are offered to give visitors the chance to understand the events that happened prior to the park opening. Tours take you through the fully restored Fort Macon, which give you the chance to get a glimpse into the life of soldiers who inhabited the fort throughout the years. You can also do a self-guided tour as tour maps are available in the visitor center.
Swimming is one of the most popular activities at the park. Lifeguards are sometimes on-duty from 10:00 AM through 5:45 PM, dependent on the time of year and availability of staff. Be aware that strong currents do exist, and that surfing is not allowed.
Coastal Education Center
This center features several exhibits which detail both the environmental history of the park along with the cultural history. The center was developed in part by the Friends of Fort Macon, a non-profit group that promotes education of the park’s resources.
Additional Educational Opportunities
Be on the lookout for events in the park during your stay. You can check the Events Calendar on the NCParks.gov site for events that are taking place when you visit. These events are usually led by park rangers and are free.
When to Go to Fort Macon State Park
The best time to go to Fort Macon depends on the activities that you want to do. Typically, people visit this area in hopes of enjoying an afternoon swimming on the beach, so summer is a popular option. However, summer can also bring large groups of tourists, so visitors looking for a quieter visit may want to plan their trips around off-season times. Water temperatures are sometimes warm enough for swimming in spring and late fall, so these seasons may offer a bit more seclusion. Local universities let out for a spring break typically in March or April, so these dates may also affect hotel availability and crowds.
If you are looking to fish, you can come virtually any time of the year and expect to go home with an abundance of fish, as many species are available year-round.
Must-Have Things to Bring to Fort Macon State Park
List of Parks has created a list of must-have items for you to consider bringing as to be prepared for a fun day.
Sunscreen is a must no matter what time of the year you visit the park. Shade on the beach is obviously very limited, so make sure to prevent a sunburn and other skin damage by applying sunscreen regularly.
Dehydration can occur quickly, especially in the hottest summer months. Be sure to pack plenty of water for your trip and hydrate often. It is easy to forget to drink water when you are swimming, but be sure to take water breaks frequently.
A hat can help to protect both your eyes and your skin from damage from the sun’s rays. As you will likely be spending much of your time outdoors, pack a hat to prevent yourself from unnecessary sun exposure.
Binoculars will come in handy when catching glimpses of the dolphins that sometimes appear in the coastal waters. You can also get an up-close view of the hundreds of types of birds that live within the park.
Hot beach sand can quickly scorch your feet. Make sure to pack a good pair of walking shoes, like sturdy sandals, that let you walk in loose sand without burning the soles of your feet. You will want to make sure you can easily remove them in case you decide to wade in the water.
Don’t forget to pack a swimsuit. Even if you don’t think you will swim, it is always a good idea to pack a swimsuit just in case you change your mind. There are bath houses where you can change into the suit if you decide to go out for a swim.
A high-quality camera can help you to preserve your memories of the park. History buffs will want to take pictures of Fort Macon, as this site is around 200 years old. Quality cameras can get better focus and steadier shots than many cell phone cameras.
You will still want to make sure you have a cell phone with you handy in the event of an emergency. While lifeguards are occasionally on duty at the beach, don’t assume there will be one during your stay.
As you will be walking around during most of your stay, you will want to remember to bring a lightweight daypack for your visit. You can use this small pack to carry your water, snacks, and any maps you pick up along the way.
Don’t forget to bring a towel. You can always use your towel to sunbathe on the beach or as a last-minute picnic blanket. You will also want to have something to dry off with after a long day of swimming.
Where to Stay in Fort Macon State Park
There are a few hotels sprinkled around Atlantic Beach, just a few miles west of Fort Macon State Park. Be sure to call ahead to ensure availability, as certain times of the year can be very crowded with tourists. Prices also vary with the season and can increase dramatically during the most popular times of the year. If the hotels on Atlantic Beach are full, there are several coastal towns nearby that offer lodging as well.
Food Nearby Fort Macon State Park
There is no shortage of food nearby the park. Atlantic Beach will be your best bet for finding food quickly. You will have your choice of seafood restaurants offering fresh catches of the day from local fishers. Floyd’s 1921 Restaurant, the Shark Shack, and On the Rocks are just a couple of popular staples in the area for enjoying a meal.
Airports Near Fort Macon State Park
While there are a couple of regional airports in the area, the best prices and selection of flights are most likely going to be offered through Wilmington International Airport, which is located approximately two hours southwest of Fort Macon State Park. Alternately, you can check into Raleigh-Durham International Airport which is just under three hours northwest of the park.