If you are looking for some hidden gems amongst the best things to do in Key West then visiting Fort Zachary Taylor State Park should absolutely be on your list! This Florida State Park has a unique blend of natural beauty and Florida history.
Located in the Florida Keys, Fort Zach has the beautiful blue water associated with the Gulf of Mexico, making it an excellent spot for swimming and snorkeling.
The fort itself was built in the 1840s as part of a series of forts meant to protect the southern coast after the conflict of the War of 1812. It was named after US President Zachary Taylor after he died in office in 1850.
Fort Zachary Taylor was used in both the American Civil war and the Spanish-American War, before becoming a National Historic Landmark almost a hundred years later in 1973.
Today, you can explore its cannon-lined brick and stone corridors, learn from knowledgeable tour guides, and discover the country’s largest collection of Civil War armaments.
Before you tour this hidden gem in Key West, check out our tips for visiting Fort Zachary Taylor State Park below.
Where is Fort Zachary Taylor State Park located?
Fort Zachary Taylor State Park is located all the way at the southwestern tip of Key West, Florida. Key West is the most western of the Florida Keys, the string of islands off of Southern Florida.
The official address for Fort Zachary Taylor State Park is: 601 Howard England Way
Key West FL 33040 (It can easily be found by typing into any GPS system or app.)
Although it’s not the only fort in Key West, it’s one of the more easy forts to get to!
Fort Zach is about a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Miami. Driving from Miami to Key West makes for a fun road trip!
Within the Florida Keys, as you drive along US-1, Fort Zachary Taylor State Park is a little over a two-hour drive from Key Largo, and 45 minutes from Big Pine Key.
The closest airport is Key West International Airport, located just 15 minutes away.
How much does it cost to visit Fort Zachary Taylor State Park?
In general, it costs $6 per vehicle to enter Fort Zachary Taylor State Park, but there is a 50-cent Monroe County surcharge per person.
A single-occupant vehicle is only $4.50, and that includes the county surcharge.
Meanwhile, pedestrians and bicyclists have to pay $2.50.
If you visit Florida State Parks often, consider buying an Individual Annual Entrance Pass for $60. Then anyone who goes with you, the pass holder, only has to pay $2.50.
Single-use day passes and annual passes can be paid for online before you go!
How late is Fort Zachary Taylor State Park open?
Fort Zachary Taylor State Park opens at 8 am every day, 365 days a year!
However, the park closes at “sundown”, which obviously changes throughout the year. If you visit in the summer, the park will be open later than if you visit in the winter. Make sure to keep an eye on what time sunset is when go!
The fort is open from 8 am-5 pm daily.
Snorkeling in Fort Zachary Taylor State Park
Fort Zach is an excellent place to go snorkeling! Like many beaches in Key West, the beach at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park is a coral reef beach. This means shallow, clear waters perfect for spotting wildlife under the surface.
Be aware that the Fort Zach beach is rockier than other South Florida beaches, so you will want to bring some water shoes for your snorkeling excursion. (If you forget to pack them, water shoes are sold in the gift shop.)
When snorkeling at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park you’ll be able to see a variety of tropical fish like yellowtail snapper as well as crabs and lobsters.
Fins, masks, and snorkels can all be rented from the Chickee Hut! They close at 4:45 pm though, so keep an eye on the time if you’re snorkeling in the afternoon.
Best Beaches in Fort Zachary Taylor State Park
Fort Zachary Taylor State Park technically only has one beach, and it is considered to be one of the best beaches in Key West!
As mentioned above, Fort Zachary Taylor doesn’t import soft white sand like other beaches, so you will want to keep your sandals or water shoes on when walking the beach.
However, Fort Zachary Taylor Beach is still stunning with clear, blue water and palm trees. The warm gulf water makes it an excellent place to swim.
There is no additional cost to use the beach, but you can rent lounge chairs and umbrellas if you’d like. (Grab them early though, as they may sell out!)
If you get hungry, grab some lunch from the Cayo Hueso Café. Open from 10 am until 5 pm, the cafe serves up local beach cuisine as well as both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks.
There are also restroom and shower amenities available.
Best Things to Do in Fort Zachary Taylor State Park
Take a Fort Tour
Explore Fort Zachary Taylor itself and learn about its significance throughout the past few centuries. You can walk around on your own and ask a local park ranger any questions you may have or you can take a guided tour. Interpretive panels and a guidebook provide lots of information.
You’ll be able to see the largest collection of Civil War cannons in the US as well as other Civil War artifacts.
Hit the Trails
Fort Zachary Taylor State Park has some great trails for either hiking or biking. Fort Zach is extremely accomodating for cyclists with bike racks, bike trails, and an entry lane specifically for cyclists and pedestrians.
If you want to explore on foot, try the Tropical Hammock Trail and learn about Key West’s native plants, with different informative plaques along the way. Then walk the aptly-named Fort View nature trail for views of the fort and moat.
If you’re looking to try your luck, fishing is allowed in Fort Zachary Taylor State Park. Head to the rock wall adjacent to the main shipping channel. You might catch grouper, snapper, or tarpon!
Wildlife at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park
Bird-watchers rejoice! Fort Zachary Taylor State Park is part of the Great Florida Birding Trail, making it a wonderful place for birding.
During the spring and fall, you’ll be able to see migratory birds as the park is either the first or last land birds see on their journeys. You might see warblers, yellow-billed cuckoos, and rose-breasted grosbeaks.
Year-round of course there are a variety of shore and seabirds flying overhead.
If you are visiting Key West, we hope that you take the time to visit Fort Zachary Taylor State Park. Come for the fort and the Florida history, but stay for natural wonders and beautiful waters of this corner of the US.