Fort De Soto Park is named after a centuries-old Fort in the park that served as a military hub and a Spanish explorer, Hernando De Soto. It is one of the most beautiful beach parks in Central Florida, close to St. Petersburg, and the most significant green space within the Pinellas County Park System. Visiting Fort De Soto Park is a must for locals and visitors.
Fort De Soto Park has been named America’s Top Beach in 2009 but outside of the beaches, there is so much more to do here. Visiting Fort De Soto Park is great for families, fishermen and adventure seekers with picnic tables, playgrounds, fishing piers, a dog beach, and a 7-mile recreation trail.
History of Fort De Soto Park
In 1849, it was recommended by U.S. Army Engineers that Egmont and Mullet key be used by the military for coastal defense. The construction began in 1898 and was completed in 1900. The military fort on Mullet Key was named Fort De Soto after Hernando De Soto, a Spanish explorer.
However, Fort De Soto never saw combat and in 1923 the fort was abandoned except for one caretaker.
Now the fort has been turned into a museum that most visitors are unaware of.
Where is Fort De Soto Park
Fort De Soto Park is located South-southwest of St. Petersburg, Florida and is operated by Pinellas County.
How Much Does it Cost to Visit Fort De Soto Park
Access to Fort De Soto Park is $5 per vehicle. The park is open from 7 a.m. to dusk every day.
Things to Do in Fort De Soto Park
Beaches, picnic tables & playgrounds
Beaches in Fort De Soto have been dubbed as some of the best beaches in the state of Florida. With 7 miles of beaches, you can pick where you would like to set up and enjoy the sun rays. The beaches also have easy access to picnic tables/shelters and playgrounds. This makes Fort De Soto Park, a great spot for family events.
During the fall through spring season, if you are interested in using
Dog Beach and Dog Park
Fort De Soto has the only dog park where dogs are allowed on the beach in a designated area in St. Petersburg. There are also two fenced-in areas near the beach for large and small dogs with water stations where you can fill up with water for the doggies or rinse them off before leaving the beach.
Be aware that this is a dog beach. There will be dogs that will step on your towels, sniff your bag for food, and roam around without a leash. For the most part, they all behave well but we usually look for a spot away from anyone else as our own dog can be a little territorial.
Paved and Natural Trails
Seven miles of paved trail connects North Beach, East Beach, the historic fort, the boat ramp, and the camping area. On the trail, you can walk, ride a bike or skate and get from one area to the other. The paved trail parallels park roadways but is separated from vehicle traffic. No motorized vehicles are allowed.
There is also a 2,200-foot Barrier-Free Nature Trail providing access to nature for all visitors to Fort De Soto Park, regardless of their physical abilities. The idea behind creating this trail was to allow all visitors to use their senses – touch, smell, sight, and sound – to fully enjoy the experience. Interpretive stations have signs and touch-activated speakers to provide information about the trail. Rest areas have benches and water fountains.
Kayaking and Canoeing
If just hanging out on the beach is not enough for you, you can enjoy 2.25 miles of kayaking/canoeing recreational trail. On a calm day, you can even paddle all the way out to Shell Key.
Kayak and canoe rentals are available in the campground, near the park office and at Soldiers Hole, across from Dog Beach.
Fishing piers are usually packed with enthusiastic fishermen. Each pier has a food and bait concession. During the winter to spring season, the piers are usually packed so get there early.
A saltwater fishing license is required to fish anywhere in Fort De Soto Park. A shore license, which is free to Florida residents, can be used when fishing off the piers, beaches and other shorelines.
UPDATE: Bay Pier will be closed to the public through Winter 2023 due to construction.
The camping area has 238 sites for family camping. Divided into three Areas, only Area 2 allows pets, other two do not. Facilities include picnic tables, grills, water, electricity, washers, dryers, sanitary disposal stations, modern restrooms, showers, play areas and a campground store.
Nightly rates for the 2023 season vary between $40.12 to $48.03 depending on the site you stay at.
Even though it sounds like there are a lot of camping sites available, it is one of the hardest campgrounds to book. Pinellas County residents are allowed to book one month ahead of non-county residents.
Ferry Services from Fort De Soto Park
From Fort De Soto Park, you can take a ferry to Shell Key or Egmont Key.
Shell Key is a pristine uninhabited island where overnight primitive camping is allowed with a permit. Dogs are not allowed on the shore and you will get a citation if you bring your four-legged friend along.
Return trip to Shell Key for adults is $35 and kids (ages 3-11) $20.
Egmont Key is a stunning island encircled by beaches and only accessible by boat. It has a lighthouse built in 1858, one of the attractions on the island, Fort Dade was built in the 18th century and was a site where Seminole Indians were held before they were moved to reservations. Currently, a big portion of the island is closed to visitors as a wildlife reserve. Don’t be surprised to see many gopher tortoises and wild birds.
Return trip to Egmont Key for adults is $45 and kids (ages 3-11) $25.
Both of these locations have no cars, no drinking water, and no bathrooms. If you are coming over on a ferry, make sure to use the bathroom on the ferry.
Visiting the Fort De Soto Historic Site
This is one of the park’s attractions that often gets missed by the visitors. Tucked away behind Gulf Pier beach is the fort with two original mortar batteries with four of its guns still in place.
It’s a great little area for kids to run around and explore.
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