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Tampa Bay Day Trip: Fort De Soto

Fort De Soto Park encompasses five islands off the Gulf Coast. It’s accessible from the mainland via a toll road and just $5 to get in. Also, it’s arguably America’s best beach.

For me, as far as the best beach argument goes, it’s a toss up between Clearwater Beach and Fort De Soto’s North Beach. I love them both and they each bring something to the table. Clearwater has that buzzing beach town vibe. Fort De Soto is un-commercialized and natural. Each of them has held the title of America’s Best Beach.

But let’s talk about Fort De Soto…

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Fort De Soto contains one of the finest beaches I’ve ever encountered–North Beach.

First off, the fine sand is soft on the feet and is good for building sand castles and digging holes (important if you have a young son). Next, I loved the swim area. The sand continues the soft theme and very gradually descends into the ocean, meaning, there is a fairly large and shallow swim area for my kid to splash around in before it plunges over his head. Farther out is a sand bar to play on. You can see it in the picture up above.

Pinellas County does a great job preserving the beach in its natural state. Even though millions of people visit every year…yes, millions.

And the best part: no condominiums, no McMansions, no high-rise hotels polluting the skyline. And for this, Pinellas County should be applauded. It is a rare thing these days to see a pretty beach undeveloped.

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There are a few beach spots that I like best. The area directly by the parking lot is not one of those spots. It gets too crowded for my tastes. I like to walk down the beach a ways before I settle in. When you do that, you get away from the crowds and see the most beautiful parts of the park.

Below is the old timer crowd, who has much better real estate than the other crowd near the parking lot, which in this picture is farther up the beach. Farther down the beach is where I like to go. It’s more secluded and more enjoyable.

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I snuck up on the native beach population to capture this rare picture.

Fort De Soto

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Yes, there is an actual fort at Fort De Soto, not just a beach. The fort has a very long and varied history. If you want to know all about, click here for a Pinellas County pdf file that explains it in depth. For history buffs, it will be a very interesting read. For those of you who just want the bullet points continue on…

  • People have been visiting Mullet Key (which is the main Fort De Soto Park key) for over 400 years. The earliest visitors were the Tocobaga Indians.
  • In 1849, the U.S. Army Engineers surveyed the area and recommended Mullet Key and Egmont Key to be fortified. One of the members of the party was Brevet Colonel Robert E. Lee, who would later go on to become the famous Civil War general.
  • Union soldiers were stationed on Mullet and Egmont Keys throughout the entire Civil War.
  • Construction on Fort De Soto began in 1898 and was completed in 1906.
  • In 1923, the Army closed and abandoned the fort. In 1938, Pinellas County bought the areas on Mullet Key from the army for $12,500. Two years later, the army bought the key back for use as a bombing range.
  • Pinellas County permanently bought the key back in 1948. In 1962, a toll road was completed that connected the key to the mainland. On December 21 of the same year, Fort De Soto Park officially opened.

Camping

For those of you who have been following this blog, you know I love tent camping throughout Florida. And luckily for me, Fort De Soto boasts some excellent camping options. Including sites that back right up to the water.

There are 238 camping spots. They come with a grill, picnic table, electric for RVers, and has access to bathrooms, showers, and a playground. Not all of them border the water. To reserve a camping spot or to learn more, click here.

My son and I, chillin’ at our campsite.

Roasting marshmallows over the grill's hot coals.

Roasting marshmallows over the grill’s hot coals.

There’s a bunch of other things to do at Fort De Soto Park, more than one visit can encompass, unless you plan on spending at least a week there camping out. There are hiking and biking trails. Triathlons throughout the year. A fishing pier. A museum. And a ferry (pricey) to Egmont Key. Fort De Soto is something that must be checked out.

Further Information

Location: 3500 Pinellas Bayway S, St. Petersburg, FL 33715

Hours: Fishing Pier open from 7:00am-11:00pm.

Admission: $5 per vehicle │ Free for foot and bike traffic

Website: http://www.pinellascounty.org/park/05_ft_desoto.htm

Phone: 727-552-1862

The popular fishing pier.

The popular fishing pier.

Egmont Key viewed from Mullet Key, the main key in Fort De Soto park.

Egmont Key viewed from Mullet Key, the main key in Fort De Soto park.

 

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