National Park Getaway: Fort Monroe National Monument

Arial view of a five-point fort surrounded by a moat and residential area
A clear day aerial view of Fort Monroe, an irregular shaped fort with six sides and seven bastions, located in the heart of the spit of land known as Old Point Comfort surrounded by the Chesapeake Bay.

NPS Photo

Located in southeastern Virginia, Fort Monroe National Monument stands at the heart of Hampton Roads on the Chesapeake Bay. Immerse yourself in the history of Old Point Comfort, from American Indians to Captain John Smith and early English colonists through modern-day military advancements. Connect with the natural world with a stroll along Mill Creek and miles of beaches. Witness a revitalization of once-threatened or endangered species or perhaps engage in family-friendly recreational activities along the Chesapeake Bay. Fort Monroe offers something for every enthusiast in the family.

Explore the grounds where the first “20. and odd” enslaved Africans landed in August 1619. Touch the very walls of the largest masonry fortification built in the United States. It was designed to defend the waters of the Chesapeake Bay and Hampton Roads from foreign advisories and constructed by a workforce that included contracted enslaved labor. Wander the grounds of the fort that once saw service by people such as Harriet Tubman, Robert E. Lee, and Ulysses Grant; was visited by many US presidents such as Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Harry S Truman; and was the place of imprisonment for many Confederate soldiers and officials including Jefferson Davis. Witness the evolution of coastal defense positions from brick and mortar casemates to external concrete Endicott Batteries that greatly extended the range and effectiveness of this bastion of defense.

Beach at sunset
Skies of blue, pink, orange, and purple at sunrise with small white clouds, dark sand, and calm waves on the beach at Fort Monroe.

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Fancy a walk on the wild side? Enjoy paved boardwalks adjacent to miles of beaches. Located opposite the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, the surrounding waters provide habitats for a diverse selection of wildlife. From birds of prey to waterfowl, from crustaceans to reptiles and amphibians, from schools of fish to pods of bottlenose dolphins, this wildlife can be found on a trek along the largest estuary in the United States.

On the Parade Ground stands sentinel the Algernourne Oak. Approximately 500 years old, this oak is named for the first fortification at Old Point Comfort. Of the many events the Algernourne Oak witnessed, the landmark 1861 “Contraband Decision” paved the way for tens of thousands of freedom seekers to find sanctuary with the US military at the fort and millions more across the nation during the American Civil War. This marks a transitional moment within the United States, earning Fort Monroe the nickname "Freedom's Fortress.” In recognition of this significance, Fort Monroe is part of the Underground Railroad Network to Freedom, encouraging further exploration these themes of self-emancipation.

Battery inside a historic fort
Golden orange sunrise over Endicott period batteries at Fort Monroe, Dark green trees and light green grass in the foreground  and background, with the Chesapeake Bay visible in the distance.

NPS Photo

Walk along the top of the fort walls where the remains of some 400 beloved furry family members of soldiers, War Dogs, and unit mascots are laid to rest in the pet cemetery.

Outside the fort, jump in your kayak and explore the many waterways of Hampton Roads on the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail. Water exploration not for you? Enjoy kite flying, fishing, camping, jogging, and bike riding for your recreational fix.

Whether your interest lies in history, culture, the natural world, or recreational activities, Fort Monroe and the surrounding area provide much to experience!

The National Park Getaways series helps people find new places to connect with nature, history, family, and friends. Explore more than 400 unique national parks across the country sharing the nation's diverse natural and cultural heritage and recreational opportunities.

Last updated: August 4, 2020