Nothing says natural beauty like Fort DeSoto

In 1938, what park was purchased from the federal government, bought back in 1941 for a gunnery and bombing range during World War II, and then resold in 1948, and is visited by an astounding 2.7 million visitors each year? If you guessed the 1,136 acres, beautiful Fort DeSoto Park in the Pinellas County Park System, you are correct!


Fort DeSoto is a historical and natural place of beauty with five interconnected islands, also referred to as keys. While visiting the area, you’ll find yourself absorbed in the pristine beauty, whether relaxing on the beach or actively kayaking. This park is home to a diverse and complex ecology surrounding the region. Visitors will discover various native plant species – mangroves, palm hammocks, hardwoods, and more. In addition, beach, wetland, and mangrove systems are represented, along with a great variety of birds, sea, and wildlife. Each one plays an essential role in preserving and protecting this natural environment for all to enjoy!


Amazingly, more than 328 species of birds have been documented at Fort DeSoto Park, with new species added each year! In addition, the beach is the nesting home and refuge between April and September for the Loggerhead sea turtle. And those are just two examples of the park’s natural ecosystems!


Besides the natural beauty, there are many things to do at America’s Top Beach, as named by Trip Advisor in 2009. Among the seven miles of waterfront, three of those miles consist of beautiful, white, sandy beaches. In addition, two large swim areas include food concessions for snacks and refreshments.  


Boaters will like the launching facility, complete with eleven floating docks. Fishing is by permit only throughout the park and at the two fishing piers. Each of these piers has food and bait concession areas. Perfect for feeding hungry visitors and fish! Enjoy the pier daily from 7:00 a.m. until sunset.


Camping enthusiasts will love the facilities within the 238-site family camping area. Bring your tent, van, pop-up camper, travel trailer, or motorhome! All sites come with a picnic table and charcoal grill and have water and electrical hook-ups. Trash stations, restrooms, showers, and laundry facilities are also provided. For organized youth groups, there is a primitive camping area. What a great experience no matter how you decide to camp!


Hikers, walkers, bikers, and rollerbladers can enjoy a seven-mile paved multipurpose trail connecting the two beach areas, boat ramp, and camping areas. No motorized vehicles are permitted on this trail to offer you a great experience. Additionally, a 6-mile asphalt recreation trail connects the campground with both beaches and a historic fort.


For those looking for more of a rustic nature hike, you’ll love getting a look at some of the native fauna and flora on the 3/4 mile nature trail in the Soldiers’ Hole area or take in the 1-mile nature trail in the Arrowhead Picnic area. Regardless of your physical abilities, all can partake in exploring the 2,200 foot barrier-free nature trail. This self-guided interpretive trail provides access to nature for all visitors to Fort DeSoto Park. In addition, canoe enthusiasts will enjoy spotting the wonders of the park on the 2.25 mile recreational canoe trail.


Listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1977, history buffs will want to visit the 12-inch mortar battery building located at the fort within the park. Additionally, in March 1982, two British breech-loading, rapid-fire rifles from 1890 were installed. The Quartermaster’s Museum also adds to the park’s historical interest and makes quite an informative trip!


Other Fort DeSoto Park amenities include 15 picnic shelters, playgrounds, and ferry services to Egmont Key and Shell Key. 


If you are looking for a place to get away from the hustle and bustle of life, see native flora and fauna, or learn more about the region’s history, then visiting Fort DeSoto Park is a perfect way to spend a day or more!