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Fort Fisher State Historic Site (20+ Facts and How to Visit)

Published by Carl Hedinger. Last Updated on March 26, 2024.

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Fort Fisher State Historic Site in Kure Beach, North Carolina, preserves an essential piece of American Civil War history. Formerly a Confederate fort known as the “Gibraltar of the South,” Fort Fisher was the scene of two significant battles during the War Between the States’ final months.

Today, a small portion of the original fort remains, alongside recreations, exhibits, and markers to remind us of the war. You can also learn about nearby Wilmington and the Cape Fear Region of North Carolina before and after the First and Second Battle of Fort Fisher.

Our guide will take you around Fort Fisher, starting with its history before sharing how you can visit it today. If you’re ready to learn about all of the above, we’re happy to get started with this incredible place to visit in Eastern North Carolina.

We’ve divided our guide into the sections below:

  • 20+ Fort Fisher North Carolina Historic Facts
  • Visiting Today (+ Admission Info)
  • Things to Do at Fort Fisher State Historic Site
  • Ready to Visit?
  • More Things to Do Near Fort Fisher Historic Site

Read More: Things to Do with Kids in Wilmington (and Nearby!)

20+ Fort Fisher Historic Facts

Fort Fisher State Historic Site
  • Fort Fisher was built in 1861 and became one of the greatest fortresses in the world by 1862.
  • The fort was compared to a Russian-used tower during the Crimean War and was often called the “Malakoff of the South.”
  • Many sometimes referred to Fort Fisher as “Gibraltar of the South.”
  • The Confederate fort contributed to both sea and land defense of the Cape Fear River, encompassing one mile of sea defense and one-third mile of land.
  • Fort Fisher was a significant protector of Wilmington, which became the Confederacy’s central Atlantic port city in 1862 after Norfolk, Virginia, fell to the Union.
  • Wilmington was a point of arrival for blockade runners, boats that smuggled goods into the Southern states and supplied the army.
  • The Union eventually focused its attention on Wilmington and Fort Fisher, when both formed the last major Confederate stronghold on the coast.
  • Fort Fisher was so formidable that the Union needed two battles to conquer it.
  • The First Battle of Fort Fisher took place from December 23-27, 1864, leading to a Union withdrawal. However, the South’s victory was short-lived.
  • Union forces returned and attacked not long after, on January 13, 1865. During the Second Battle of Fort Fisher, the Union successfully defeated Confederate defenders of the fort after two days.
  • The attack on Fort Fisher was the largest amphibious attack by US forces until Normandy during World War II.
Fort Fisher plaque
  • Thus, the fall of Fort Fisher proved a massive blow to the Confederacy. Moreover, union control of Wilmington cut off the Southern states from any outside contact.
  • A marker was placed at Fort Fisher by the New Hanover County Historical Commission in 1921.
  • In 1931, the Fort Fisher Preservation Society was formed to try and prevent beach erosion of the site and gain public interest in overall preservation.
  • Fort Fisher was used for anti-aircraft operations during World War II, from 1941 to 1944.
  • The State of North Carolina leased 189 acres of federal land, including Fort Fisher, in 1958.
  • In 1960, the NC Department of Archives and History started the plan to develop the fort as part of a state historic site.
  • Fort Fisher was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1962. It was the first in North Carolina.
  • Afterward, the NC General Assembly appropriated funds to build a visitor center.
  • Today, the Fort Fisher Museum and Historic Site are managed by The Division of State Historic Sites, with help from the non-profit Friends of Fort Fisher.
  • It typically ranks as one of the most visited State Historic Sites each year.
  • About 10 percent of the original structure still stands.
  • About 180 yards of historic structures face the Cape Fear River, and 75 yards face the ocean.

Read More: 125+ Interesting Facts About North Carolina

Visiting Fort Fisher North Carolina Today (+ Admission Info)

Fort Fisher mounds

Address: 1610 Ft. Fisher Blvd South, Kure Beach, NC 28449

  • Fort Fisher is open on Tuesdays to Saturdays from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.
  • They are closed Sundays and Mondays and on most holidays.
  • Admission is free.

There are two different ways to reach the Fort Fisher State Historic Site today.

  • Drive to the Southern end of Pleasure Island and the terminus of US-421.
  • Take a ferry from Southport to Fort Fisher.

Read More: Eastern North Carolina Map (with 300+ Amazing Places Listed)

Things to Do at Fort Fisher State Historic Site

Park outside the visitor center and get started with these things to do at Fort Fisher State Historic Site.

Visitor Center

Fort Fisher State Historic Site Visitor Center

You don’t have to start at the Visitor Center, but I highly recommend walking through this building. Inside, there are exhibits and artifacts recovered from sunken blockade runners.

You can also watch a ten-minute audiovisual program that details the fort’s story.

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Scenic Trail

Fort Fisher tour trail

The Scenic Trail at Fort Fisher State Historic Site is a quarter-mile path encircles the fort toward its rear. The trail is framed by live oaks and complete with exhibit panels and signs that provide historical orientation.

You’ll see a restored gun emplacement at the top of one of the batteries.

Across US-421 on the ocean side, there’s a monument for fallen Confederate soldiers and a pavilion displaying underwater archaeology.

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Guided Tours

Fort Fisher boardwalk

A great way to understand the importance of Fort Fisher is by embarking on one of the site’s guided tours. On special days throughout the year, costumed tour guides tell the story of Fort Fisher and the battles that ensued there.

Tour participants can learn the artillery drill with a bronze 12-pounder gun. It truly is an engaging experience.

If you plan to travel with a group, reservations are required.

Read More: Visiting Airlie Gardens in Wilmington (+ 10 Things We Love!)

Special Events

Fort Fisher State Historic Site also hosts regular special events throughout the year. You can book the site for weddings, parties, and any other special occasions you’ll like to pull off.

The non-profit Friends of Fort Fisher also hosts events, including Living History Programs, demonstrations, and more.

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Support Fort Fisher

Support the Fort Fisher State Historic Site and its operation by grabbing a souvenir or two from the gift shop. In addition, the shop inside the Visitor Center offers flags, books, CDs, attire, and more!

You can also donate to the site or any other State Historic Sites here.

Read More: Why and How to Support Amazing Local Businesses Every Day

Ready to Visit Fort Fisher State Historic Site?

We think Fort Fisher State Historic Site is one of the most exciting places to visit in North Carolina, especially in the Wilmington area. Of course, its historical significance is never to be forgotten, but overall, it’s just a nice place to take a walk along the Cape Fear River and the Atlantic Ocean.

If you’ve been lucky enough to visit, we’d love to know what you think of Fort Fisher. Let us know in the comments or by email.

Don’t forget to share your experiences in our North Carolina Travel Facebook Group!

More Things to Do Near Fort Fisher Historic Site

Wilmington is an easy 30-minute drive away from Fort Fisher State Historic Site, but these places are even closer.

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NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher

NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher things to do in Wilmington

The NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher is near Fort Fisher State Historic Site and is one of the best things to do in Wilmington’s surroundings.

The first thing you’ll see when you enter is the freshwater exhibits. The whole family will enjoy watching the otters play, learning about the freshwater species of North Carolina, and even spotting the Aquarium’s resident albino alligator!

Moving through the Aquarium, you’ll see multi-story saltwater tanks, a “touch tank” home to sea stars, horseshoe crabs, and more!

Read More: 20+ Amazing Children’s Museums in North Carolina for All

Fort Fisher State Recreation Area

Fort Fisher inside Museum

The identically-named Fort Fisher State Recreation Area is close to the Aquarium and the Fort Fisher State Historic Site. This NC State Parks-managed site has several highlights, including the mile-long Basin Trail, the fort fisher beach access, and a 4×4 beach.

You may even spot loggerhead sea turtles and other remarkable species on rare occasions. There’s also an excellent visitor center with interactive exhibits commemorating the area.

Read More: Amazing Beaches Near Wilmington (Which One is the Best?)

Kure Beach

Things to Do With Kids in Wilmington Kure Beach Fishing Pier

Unless you take the ferry from Southport to Fort Fisher, you’ll pass through Kure Beach.

Start with their relatively less crowded beaches and fishing pier, and you’ll quickly fall in love with this town. Speaking of the pier, grab a meal at Jack Mackerel’s, which isn’t too far away!

Read More: 25 of the Best Restaurants in Wilmington (and Surrounding Beach Towns)

Carolina Beach

Things to Do With Kids in Wilmington Carolina Beach State Park Boat Intracoastal Waterway

Before Kure Beach, you’ll pass through Carolina Beach, and we highly recommend some time here. The Carolina Beach Boardwalk is usually the first place we start.

It’s home to great restaurants, including Nauti Dog and the North Carolina institution we know and love—Britt’s Donuts.

Carolina Beach’s strand is roomy, especially if you’re staying within walking distance.

Lake Park is another place we love to visit in Carolina Beach, especially to walk off a meal. Speaking of a walk, you’ll love Carolina Beach State Park. It is full of excellent hiking trails and scenic paths, and is the home of the Venus Flytrap.

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