Fort De Soto Park is a large park in Pinellas County with over 1,100 acres of recreational facilities and magnificent beaches. It consists of several interconnected islands located on the southern-most tip of land south of St. Pete Beach and St. Petersburg, Florida.
The islands once served a fort for which the park is named. Fort De Soto, and nearby Fort Dade on Egmont key, protected the entrance to Tampa Bay from potential military threats during the early 1900s. Several of the large mortars and cannons are still present as are a number of the supporting fortifications. Visitors can walk among these remnants and imagine life as it was for the troops 100 years ago.
Today, however, Fort De Soto is all about recreation. People visit Fort De Soto to play on its beaches, fish the productive waters, picnic, swim, bicycle, camp, hike, boat, kayak, bird-watch and relax. With over a thousand acres of natural beauty, the park can host many interests.
Fort De Soto is probably best known for its beaches. It was named North America's best beach by "Dr. Beach" in 2005 and has received numerous other awards. The entire outer perimeter of the island is lined with beautiful, white sandy beaches. Several picnic areas with modern facilities are located around the island with ample parking. Additionally, there are many places where one can pull off the road and walk a short trail to the beaches. A food concession area is available at the North Beach Swim Center. The beach sand is clean, soft, very white and rock free. The sea-water is generally calm and quite inviting.
Two fishing and strolling piers are located on separate parts of the park. A 500 foot pier is located on the southern part of the island on Tampa Bay, and a 1,000 foot pier is located to the west facing the Gulf. Both piers have food and bait concessions. These piers are excellent means for those who wish to catch fish, or for those who just want to enjoy the view and surroundings.
There are fourteen large, covered, group picnic shelters as well as hundreds of picnic tables scattered at various locations throughout the park. An afternoon picnic among this tropical beach setting is hard to beat.
For those interested in bicycling, roller-blading, walking or jogging, Fort De Soto park offers a 6.8 mile, 12 foot wide, paved recreation trail. This trail meanders from one end of the park to the other and also to the park's campground. Bicycles and various pedal-power vechicles are available for rental. In addition to this paved trail, there are several nature trails up to a mile in length for those who wish to enjoy the Florida flora and fauna. These are popular with bird-watchers as well as those who just want to share the peaceful surroundings for a bit. There is also a 2,200 foot barrier-free, self-guided interpretive nature trail.
The backside of the park is particularly good for canoeing and kayaking. A 2.25 mile canoe/kayak trail in the "back waters" is on the opposite side from the beaches, and is surrounded by lush mangroves and wildlife. Canoe and kayak rentals are available.
Even our four-footed friends can enjoy Fort De Soto park. Dogs on leashes are permitted in many areas of the park except on the beaches. Additionally, there is the large, fenced "Paw Playground" where dogs can play and run free.
For boaters who need access to boat ramps, Fort De Soto is a dream. It has an 800 foot wide boat launching facility with well-built ramps between eleven floating docks. This is a very poplar launching facility, so even with its large parking area, it can fill to capacity during peak boating periods.
Campers will find the Fort De Soto campgrounds set in very natural surroundings yet with modern facilities. The 238 site camping areas can accommodate RV, van, pop-up and tent camping. Some sites are right on waterfronts. Campsites include picnic tables, water, grills and electricity. Camping area facilities include modern restrooms, showers, washers, dryers, disposal stations, play areas and a camp store. Pets are permitted in some areas. The camp office can be contacted at 727-582-2267.
From the south pier (Tampa Bay side), a ferry service is available to go over to Egmont Key. Egmont Key sits at the mouth of Tampa Bay. This beautiful natural island is only accessible by boat. Plan to enjoy Egmont Key's beaches and sparkling waters, a picnic, or a walk among the remnants of Fort Dade.
Fort De Soto is a park model that offers considerable recreational
activities while preserving much of the natural state of this beautiful
Florida area. For many locals, this is a favorite.