How to Get to Fort Sumter & What to Expect on a Fort Sumter Tour

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Charleston, South Carolina, is a beautiful southern coastal city. History buffs will be thrilled to find Fort Sumter, here. We aren’t necessarily the biggest history enthusiasts, but always find these stops, including the one at Fort Sumter so interesting. Often, even more than anticipated! The historical significance of Fort Sumter makes it well worth a stop.

There aren’t a ton of options for how to get out to Fort Sumter. When you’re planning your trip, you’ll have to book a tour. The only decisions you’ll have to make are where to board your ferry and what time you’d like to go.

That’s where we come in! We’ll share the pros and cons of each location, so you can decide which departure point is best for your trip.

The Liberty Square location is where the official NPS Visitor Center is located. But for those who are interested in military history, you’ll find more to do at Patriot’s Point.

For those prone to motion sickness, especially on choppier days, be sure to have your motion sickness remedies on hand. I definitely did. I’m always happy that I have it out on the water.

Now let’s talk about how to get to Fort Sumter and what to do once you arrive.

Planning how to get to Fort Sumter requires a ferry ride, and as you approach you'll see this large fort with an American Flag flying high above.

How to Visit Fort Sumter: Fort Sumter Tours & the Ferry to Fort Sumter

If you’re a history buff or just looking to explore some of South Carolina’s rich past, a visit to Fort Sumter should definitely be on your bucket list. As the site where the first shots of the American Civil War were fired, Fort Sumter holds great historical significance and remains a must-see site.

To help you plan your visit and make the most of your time, Fort Sumter offers guided tours and ferry rides to ensure a safe and informative experience.

The adventure begins at either Liberty Park or Patriots Point, located on each side of the Charleston Harbor.

To ensure you have a way to get to the fort, book your tickets in advance. With a large number of people visiting this historic attraction, securing your spot ahead of time is a wise choice. You can purchase your tickets online or at the Visitor Center.

Depart from Liberty Square if:

  • You’re staying in downtown Charleston
  • You want to walk to other attractions
  • Shopping is on your to-do list!
  • You need to visit the official NPS Visitor Center

Depart from Patriots Point if:

  • You’re staying near Mount Pleasant
  • You want more history after the fort
  • You’re looking for cheaper parking
  • You’re not fond of tight city driving

As you board the ferry and set off on your boat ride, you’ll be greeted by great views of Charleston Harbor. The cruise itself is an opportunity to learn about the significance of the fort and the events that transpired there. An informative video plays on the lower decks. You’ll want to watch if you’re interested in the history!

Once you arrive at Fort Sumter, you’ll have about an hour to explore the site at your own pace. The fort features several exhibits detailing its history, including its role as a key strategic location during the Civil War.

Arrive at Fort Sumter and you will be greeted by a brick sign and lots of rocks to break the currents.

How to Get to Fort Sumter

To reach Fort Sumter, the only option is to take a guided tour that includes a ferry ride. Situated on a small island in the beautiful Charleston Harbor, this historic site is accessible only by boat. Private boats are not permitted to dock at Fort Sumter.

Ferries going to Fort Sumter depart from both Liberty Square and Patriots Point.

To secure your spot on the ferry, book your tickets in advance. With Fort Sumter being a must-see attraction in Charleston, tickets often sell out quickly. You can conveniently purchase your tickets online ahead of time. This way, you’ll be able to get on your preferred tour time.

The ferry ride itself provides scenic views of Charleston Harbor. National Park Rangers are also present on the ferry, and you can ask any questions you may have along the way.

If you’re on the first or the last tour of the day, you can help the rangers hoist the large flag over the fort or take it down for the night.

How to get to Fort Sumter Via Liberty Square

One place to hop on the ferry to Fort Sumter is Liberty Square, the hub and official Fort Sumter Visitor Center. In downtown Charleston, Liberty Square offers a convenient departure point if you’re staying in the city.

After arriving at Liberty Square, take some time to explore the visitor center. Here, you’ll find quite a few informative displays that will teach you about the significance of Fort Sumter. They’ll help you gain a deeper understanding of what you’re about to see out on the island.

Once you have familiarized yourself with a brief overview of what happened at Fort Sumter, you’ll head downstairs to get in the ferry boarding line.

During the ferry ride, you’ll be able to take in great views of Charleston from the harbor.

Getting to Liberty Square

Getting to Liberty Square can be a bit of a challenge due to the narrow streets in Charleston.

However, there is a convenient parking option available for visitors. The best place to park is in the parking garage located just across the park, which services both Fort Sumter Tours and the Aquarium next door.

This parking garage offers a convenient and easy way to access Liberty Square and begin your journey to Fort Sumter. The last known rates for this parking garage are $1 per half hour.

Once you’ve parked your car, you can enjoy a nice little walk to the visitor center through Liberty Square. 

Liberty Square is conveniently located a few blocks from hotels in downtown Charleston. If you’re staying in the city, you’ll want to get to Fort Sumter from Liberty Square.

How to get to Fort Sumter Via Patriots Point 

Patriots Point is the second ferry departure location for a visit to Fort Sumter. It’s located just across the Cooper River. Patriots Point is home to the Naval and Maritime Museum, where you can see multiple retired Navy ships, including the USS Yorktown and USS Laffey.

If you’re looking for a day full of military history, you’ll want to plan to take your Fort Sumter tour from Patriots Point.

Parking is easier to find at Patriots Point. You can park your car in the large guest parking lot next to the museum. From there, you can make your way to the museum for your tour.

Patriots Point offers a more in-depth experience for history buffs and those interested in maritime history.

Getting to Patriots Point

Getting to Patriots Point is easier for those who are stressed out by tight city driving, with its convenient location on the Mount Pleasant side of Charleston Harbor.

To reach Patriots Point, you can easily drive there and park your car in the large parking lot beside the museum.

While walking to Patriots Point is not as easy as walking to Liberty Square, you’ll have better luck finding cheaper hotel prices on this side of Charleston Harbor. Many of the hotels are within 1-2 miles of Patriots Point.

Once you’ve parked your car, make your way to the museum where you’ll find the ferry boarding line. As you approach, you’ll be greeted by the majestic and iconic USS Yorktown aircraft carrier, which proudly sits as the centerpiece of Patriots Point.

Before or after your adventure to Fort Sumter, take some time to explore the exhibits at Patriots Point. Step aboard the USS Yorktown or the USS Laffey, both retired Navy ships that served in World War II.

Tips for the Ferry Ride to Fort Sumter

To help you enjoy the ferry ride to Fort Sumter, we have a few tips to ensure you have a pleasant time on the trip. Follow these suggestions to make the most of your experience:

1. Arrive early: To secure your spot on the ferry boat and guarantee a departure time that suits your schedule, plan to arrive at the ferry dock at least a half hour before your desired departure time. This will give you plenty of time to check in, purchase or present your pre-purchased tickets, and get settled before the boat sets sail. We’d recommend arriving even earlier to enjoy the displays before your tour.

2. Dress appropriately: The ferry ride to Fort Sumter can be quite breezy, especially if you choose to sit on the open deck and enjoy the views of Charleston Harbor. Be sure to dress in comfortable layers and don’t forget a light jacket or windbreaker, especially if you take an early morning tour. Learn from my mistake so you can enjoy the views! Also, wear comfortable shoes, as you’ll want to do some walking to see all of Fort Sumter.

3. Wear sunscreen and/or bring a hat: Since you’ll be spending plenty of time outside on the ferry deck and at Fort Sumter, you’ll want to protect yourself from the sun’s rays. Apply sunscreen before boarding the boat. A wide-brimmed hat will provide additional shade and keep you cool, especially during the hot summer months.

4. Bring snacks and water: While there is a small snack bar on the ferry, it’s always a good idea to have a few snacks of your own and a refillable water bottle. There are fountains at the visitor center to refill.

5. Enjoy the scenery: As you sail across Charleston Harbor, soak in the views of the city’s skyline and waterfront park. Keep your camera handy!

6. Remember your motion sickness remedies: Even though I love being on the water, I have a terrible time with motion sickness. Dramamine is my go-to and works well for me. Some swear by sea bands. Others have plenty of mints. Whatever works for you, come prepared.

7. Listen to the guides: During the ferry ride, the National Park Service provides informative commentary on the history and significance of the fort. You just might learn something new! I know we both learned a lot more about the Civil War during our visit.

8. Keep Your Eyes Peeled for Dolphins!: While there is no guarantee that you will see any during your boat ride, it is definitely a possibility while traveling through the harbor. 

We hope you can use these tips to have a great time getting to Fort Sumter.

A view of the Charleston Harbor from the top of the Battery Huger includes the brick arches of the fort below with the ferry in the background and to the right.

What to See at Fort Sumter National Monument

Fort Sumter National Monument is a must-see attraction for any history buff or visitor to South Carolina. You can’t get much more historical significance! This fort played a pivotal role in the American Civil War, known as the spot where it all began.

While the experience is much different than the one you’d have at other forts, like Fort Jefferson at Dry Tortugas, there is lots to learn during the fairly short tour.

Here are some of the key sights to see while visiting Fort Sumter National Monument.

1. Visit the Exhibits: The visitor center on the mainland at Fort Sumter National Monument houses exhibits to tell the story of the fort and its significance in the Civil War. From artifacts and photographs to interactive displays, these exhibits will help you really appreciate what you’re about to see during your visit to the fort.

2. Explore the Fort: From the brick walls to the out-of-place looking large black Battery Huger structure, there is plenty to see during your hour at the fort. Walk in the footsteps of those Civil War soldiers. Imagine getting all those bricks out to the island to build that structure! Discover the various rooms and quarters as you get an idea of what daily life was like in the fort.

3. Enjoy the Scenic Views: You’ll get to enjoy beautiful views both as you approach and then again as you explore Fort Sumter. Make sure you head to the top of Battery Huger (remember, that big black thing?) where you can overlook all of Charleston Harbor. There are some info boards and displays up there along the edge of the fort and around the flag pole.

4. Learn from National Park Rangers: Fort Sumter National Monument is staffed by extremely knowledgeable National Park Rangers who are passionate about the history of the fort. Take advantage of their expertise by attending one of the brief ranger-led programs. After getting off the ferry, you can attend a brief introduction to the fort, which only lasts about 10 minutes. Then, you can be free to explore on your own with a deeper appreciation for what you’re seeing.

5. Discover the Historical Significance: Fort Sumter witnessed the first shots of the American Civil War. We’d say that’s pretty significant, right? This doesn’t really require any more explanation.

Battered brick walls of Fort Sumter show what is left after cannon balls were launched to begin the Civil War.

6. Browse the Gift Shop: Before leaving, be sure to stop in the museum gift shop either on the second floor of the Battery Huger at the fort or at the visitor center. Grab your national parks passport stamp or a souvenir to remember your trip. 

A visit to Fort Sumter National Monument is a great way to experience a pivotal point in US history. By exploring the fort, taking in the exhibits, and enjoying the scenic views, you’ll have a deeper understanding of the historical significance of this iconic site.

Whether you’re a history buff or simply enjoy learning the highlights of America’s past, a trip to Fort Sumter is a worthwhile experience.

Why Visit Fort Sumter, Anyway?

Fort Sumter holds immense historical significance as the place where the American Civil War began. 

You’ll be able to learn more about the beginning of the Civil War during a visit to Fort Sumter than just about anywhere else. It is where the first shots were fired, after all. 

A cannon faces out over the Charleston Harbor.

Visiting Fort Sumter: Know Before You Go

Before you begin your journey to this fort in Charleston Harbor, there are a few things you should know to make the most of your visit.

After you visit Fort Sumter, continue north to Congaree National Park or south to Cumberland Island National Seashore and visit the wild horses. There is always another NPS site to visit.

How long is the tour of Fort Sumter?

The Fort Sumter tour is an experience that lasts just over 2 hours, allowing you to fully explore the historical significance of the fort at your own pace. Once you reach the island, you’ll have about 1 hour of time within the walls of the fort itself to explore.

You’ll spend about 1 hour and 15 minutes total on the ferry to and from Fort Sumter.

During the hour of exploration, you’ll have plenty of opportunity to dive deep into the rich history within Fort Sumter. From the barracks and cannons to the officers’ quarters and the American flag flying over the fort, each corner tells a story of the American Civil War.

If you’re eager to learn before you explore, take advantage of the ranger talk as soon as you get off the ferry at the fort. Then, you can ask any questions you have before exploring on your own.

While the ferry ride takes about 1 hour and 15 minutes, you’ll have time to enjoy the views of the fort and the surrounding Charleston Harbor. Points of interest are pointed out along the way. 

How much does it cost to visit Fort Sumter?

To visit Fort Sumter, you’ll need to purchase a ferry ticket, which includes a tour of the fort. This is $35 per person. However, seniors, active military personnel, and children have reduced ticket prices.

It’s important to note that while America the Beautiful Passes are a great way to access many national parks and federal recreation sites, they are not accepted for ferry tickets to Fort Sumter.

So, when planning your visit, keep these ticket details in mind to make the most of your trip to this historically significant landmark.

Book your ferry and tour tickets early to get a tour time that best fits your schedule.

The ferry to Fort Sumter sits in the water at the edge of a brick walkway with Charleston skyline far off in the distance.

More Charleston Boat Tours

When it comes to exploring Charleston Harbor in style, the city offers remarkable boat tours.

Whether you’re in the mood for a relaxing sunset cruise or a history-rich journey, Charleston’s boat tours can provide great experiences.

We’d recommend taking a beautiful sunset cruise, traveling by both Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie, as you take in a colorful sunset.

Reaching Fort Sumter, whether from Liberty Square or Patriots Point, is easy, especially if you book ahead of time. From Charleston’s historic streets to the boat rides out into the harbor, this destination has so much to offer for both history buffs and curious travelers.

As you explore the fort, take in the views, and learn about its significance, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of the events leading up to the first shots of the Civil War. Fort Sumter is a must-visit on your Charleston itinerary.