Fort De Soto Park has quickly become my go-to place to relax amongst the many white-sand beaches in Florida. If touristy beaches crowded with hotels and restaurants are not your idea of relaxation, consider parking your beach chair at Fort De Soto Park.
Location & Fees
3500 Pinellas Bayway S, Tierra Verde, FL 33715
Getting to Fort De Soto is easy once you’ve made it past the St.Pete traffic on I-275. It is important to note once off the interstate, there will be two toll booths along the way. If you’re driving a rental car or do not have a SunPass, rummage through your change cup for $1.75. You’re going to need it.
Entrance into Fort De Soto Park is an additional $5.00 per car. They take cash or credit card. If you’re visiting on a busy day, cash is the fastest way to expedite your way through the line. If you are not planning on going into the park, consider parking at the Fort De Soto Boat Ramp. Parking at the Boat Ramp is also $5.00 for the day. Once in the park, there are automated pay stations located in some of the parking lots; the parking fee is $5.00 for these areas.
Beaches – North Beach, East Beach, & The Dog Beach
There are three beaches within Fort De Soto Park; North Beach, East Beach, and the Dog Beach. The larger and more popular of the two is North Beach. If white sand melting into the turquoise blue water is your idea of paradise, look no further. Rather than rows of hotels and million-dollar mansions lining the beachfront, North Beach has a backdrop of preserved nature. Palm trees are circled in clusters, gentle waving in the sea breeze, while small dunes provide a natural barrier between the chaos of the world and the serenity of the waves crashing on the shoreline.
East Beach is more quaint in comparison to North Beach. The first thing I noticed was the density of palm trees. Unlike the neat clusters of manicured palms at North Beach, East Beach is a canopy of shade from the palms.
The Dog Beach is one of the only places in the bay area where dogs can freely run and enjoy a day at the beach with the whole family. In the dog days of summer, everyone is welcome to dip their toes, or paws, in the refreshing Gulf waters. There is also a fenced-in dog park where humans can sit in the shade while Fido runs with his newfound friends. After a long day of rolling in the sand and yelling, “Stop drinking the saltwater,” and “If that crab pinches you, I’m not going to feel bad,” take advantage of the dog showers. Your dog will leave cleaner than when they arrived and will be exhausted from their day at the beach.
Amenities – Restrooms, Picnic Shelters, Showers, Play Ground, Snack Bar, & Souvenir Shop
Fort De Soto has been relatively untouched by the commercialism plaguing nearby beaches. But that does mean it doesn’t have amenities. There are 15 shelters located throughout the park; shelters 1-10 are on North Beach between the parking lot and the beach. These shelters can be reserved up to a year in advance by calling 727-582-2100 or reserving a space on the Pinellas County Website.
If the shelters along the beach are full, the Arrowhead Picnic Area has many small picnic tables available along the water. This shaded area also has nature trails, where many native Florida plants and animals can be found.
Restrooms are located thought out the entirety of the park. including the Arrowhead Picnic area. Showers to rinse the salt and sand out of your hair are situated at each of the three main beaches. The county has updated many of the playgrounds to modern and kid-friendly facilities. No more burning your skin on the hot metal slide of the years past. Lastly, the snack bar and gift shop are located by the Fort. Stop in for a souvenir and ice cream to cool off from the summer heat.
The Historic Fort
The Fort that put the name in Fort De Soto. The cornerstone of the park. This reinforced concrete structure built in the late 1800s by the U.S Army Corps of Engineers as a defense structure during the Spanish-American War. Today, it sits empty, dotted with historic markers. Visitors can walk through the fort on a self-guided tour to learn about the history and purpose of this once domineering structure. There are two 12-inch coastal defense mortars and a 40-caliber Armstrong guns on display around the fort. As if they are frozen in time, this aggressive artillery gives a glimpse of the military presence from the past.
Getting a camping spot at the Fort DeSoto Campground can be summed up in one iconic phrase, “Leeets Get Ready to Ruumbell!!!”. There are 238 camping spots available. Reserving a spot at the campground can be booked up to six months in advance and you would be served well to do so as soon as you’ve made plans to camp; spots fill up fast! Competition is especially stiff for those campsites that allow pets and have waterfront access. As far as camping in Pinellas County goes, this is the Disney World of campsites.
Rates vary between campsites, between $37-$48 a night. All sites have water and electrical hookups (30-50 amp), a picnic table, and a charcoal grill. Restroom and shower facilities are centrally located amongst the campsites. If it’s necessary to throw in a load of laundry during your stay, washers and driers are located outside of the restroom facilities. Just make sure to have your quarters handy, both machines are coin-operated.
Outdoor Activities – Biking, Water Activities & Nature Trail
If you are like me, sitting on the beach all day isn’t my idea of fun. I can enjoy the water and looking for shells for an hour or so before I become restless. This is why Fort De Soto has become my go-to place to hang out; all of my favorite outdoor activities can be achieved in one spot.
Running from one end of the park to the other is a 12 foot wide, 7-mile long bike path. This path connects the campground, North Beach, East Beach, and the historic Fort. This well-maintained asphalt path is great for anything on wheels. I’ve ridden the path on my bike several times and would like to try it on my roller skates the next time I’m out there. It is important to note, this path gets direct sun and offers very little shade; bring plenty of water or stop at the concession stand for a snack and a cold drink. If you’re visiting the area from out of town and hauling a bike around isn’t ideal, don’t worry. Bike rentals are available at the Gift Shop/Concessions located next to the Fort.
Water-related activities such as Kayaks and Stand Up Paddleboards can be rented from the vendors within the park or scheduled with a company that will deliver directly to you in the park. Once you’ve picked up your kayak or paddleboard, follow the self-guided 2.25-mile Canoe Trail around the bayou. This will give you the best opportunity to see the Florida wildlife up close. Depending on the time of year, manatees, dolphins, sea turtles, and stingrays call this area home.
If a casual walk through the pines and palms of Florida is more your speed the Barrier-Free Nature Trail is perfect for a quiet stroll through the woods. This 2,200-foot loop is wheelchair accessible. Making it inclusive for anyone wanting to enjoy the outdoors.
Docks for Boat Launch
The Boat Launch for Fort De Soto is outside of the main entrance. Dare I say it is of the nicest boat ramps I’ve seen. It is central to the many small keys surrounding the area, making it easy to hop from place to place in a short amount of time. Boating around Fort De Soto is an entirely different perspective to the beauty of the park. You can’t beat the white sand surrounding the beaches and the dolphins playing under the piers.
For those who are looking to sail the high seas for the afternoon, there is 800-ft of space to launch a boat and acres of space to park your vehicle and trailer. Parking is $6 for vehicles with a trailer.
There are two Fishing Piers within the park; the Gulf Pier and the Bay Pier. Both piers have food and bait; concessions and are open from 7 am to sunset. Fishing licenses are required throughout the park including the piers. The piers really come alive in the afternoon as the sea breeze starts to pick up and the tide rolls in. For me, being a spectator on the pier is just as fun as fishing. Dolphins are often found using the piers to their advantage using the area to fish for food themselves.
Ferry to Egmont Key & Shell Key
Having been to both keys recently, I can stay taking the ferry to either of the keys is worth it. Each key offers something unique. Egmont Key is great for those who want to explore a bit of history and then relax on the beach for a bit. Shell Key is perfect for those who want a secluded beach with a rainbow of shells lining the short line.
For both ferries out to Egmont and Shell Key, I took the Hubbard’s Marina Ferry. Weekend and holiday reservations can fill up quickly so make sure to schedule early. Purchasing a ticket for the ferry is a breeze, their online reservation system updates in real-time and there are several drop-off and pick-up times to choose from.
The information in this article was accurate when published but can change without notice. Please confirm rates and details when planning your trip by following the links in this article.
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