Escape to one of Florida’s best-hidden gems by planning a visit to historic Fort De Soto Park. Located in St. Petersburg, Florida, Fort De Soto Park is home to award-winning beaches, beautiful trails and tons of family-friendly fun.
Fort De Soto consists of five interconnected islands or keys: Bonne Fortune Key, St. Christopher Key, St. Jean Key, Madelaine Key, and the main island, Mullet Key. Fort De Soto is the largest park in the Pinellas County Park System at 1,136 acres and is maintained by the county. Spend the day paddling along a canoe trail, spot a few feathered friends while hiking or exploring the historic batteries. We have put together a complete guide to planning the perfect day at Fort De Soto.
How To Get To Fort De Soto Park
Fort De Soto Park
3500 Pinellas Bayway South
Tierra Verde, FL 33715
Hop on I-275 south until you reach the exit for Pinellas Bayway/54th Avenue (Exit 17). Continue west and turn left at the second stoplight on Pinellas Bayway/Hwy 679, and follow that to Fort DeSoto Park. Keep in mind that there is a toll road on route to the park, so have a few dollars in change with you because the tolls do not accept credit.
From the Gulf beaches, proceed south on Gulf Boulevard until you reach St. Pete Beach. Turn left on the Pinellas Bayway and then turn right on State Road 679.
How Much Does It Cost To Enter Fort De Soto
Fort De Soto is open seven days per week from 7 am to dusk. Entrance to the park is free; however, there is a $5.00 fee for a parking permit. You pay at the entrance booth, and they do accept credit cards. Persons entering the park on foot or bike are free.
What Are The Hours
Fort De Soto is open seven days per week from 7 am to dusk.
Fishing pier hours are 7 am to 11 pm daily.
Quartermaster Museum is open seven days a week from 9 am to 4 pm.
Gift Shop/ Concessions is open from 10 am to 5 pm daily.
As always, please check the official site as hours may change.
The History Behind Fort De Soto
Fort De Soto has a fun and fascinating history dating back to the Civil War. Strategically located on Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, these keys were used to block Tampa Bay during the Civil War only to be abandoned until the Spanish American War. A fort was built to protect the citizens and the nearby ports of Tampa Bay. The fort was completed in 1900 and named Fort De Soto, after the famous Spanish explorer, Hernando De Soto. The Fort Desoto post consisted of 29 buildings, including a large barracks, a hospital, and carpenter shop, a guardhouse, a blacksmith, an administration building, and mess hall with a kitchen, a bakery, and a storehouse.
In 1910 the majority of the troops stationed at Fort Desoto were moved to Fort Morgan. Shortly after, the government announced that it would be closing Fort Desoto. In 1923, the fort was abandoned.
The park was first purchased from the federal government in 1938 for only $12,500. In 1941 the federal government wanted to utilize the property as a bombing range during World War II and repurchased the property. After the war, the U.S. Armed Forces did not need the land and sold it back to Pinellas County.
Pinellas County turned the keys into a public park that opened to the public in December of 1962
Battery Laidley and Battery Bigelow served as a defense for Fort De Soto. The primary battery being Battery Laidley. Guests can walk through and explore Battery Laidley today. The batteries of Fort De Soto made the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.
Historic Artifacts Of Interest
–Two British breech-loading, rapid-fire 6-inch Armstrong guns -these were installed in March of 1982
-The last four surviving carriage-mounted 12-inch seacoast M1890 mortars in the continental United States.
Visit The Quartermaster Museum
Hours: Open seven days a week from 9 am to 4 pm.
Admission is free; however, they accept donations, so bring a few dollars to keep this museum going strong!
Many visitors think that the fort consists only of Battery Laidley, as that is all that currently remains. The Quartermaster Museums help guests gain a better understanding of the history behind Fort De Soto and envision what the entire fort looked like in its prime.
The Quartermaster Storehouse building originally was built as a Post Exchange that was active until 1910. As hurricanes damaged the premises, they eventually were torn down. A fun fact is that the park staff rebuilt the Quartermaster Storehouse Museum using historical photographs, Army engineering condition reports, and government documents.
Today guests can visit the museum to see relics from the Spanish-American War, learn about the history of the Tocobaga Indians, and even see a practice bomb from when it was a bombing range. Many panels and interactive displays tell the history of the land, the fort, and the daily operations that took place. A visit to the museum will help give guests a better understanding of the significance of Fort De Soto.
Things To Do In Fort De Soto Park
Explore Battery Leidlay
The empty battery is a delight to explore. The 12-inch thick battery walls are quite an accomplishment. Bring a flashlight to explore the ins and outs of each one.
For a spectacular view climb the stairs to get a breath-taking panoramic view of the coast. Walking along the top of the battery will give guests a birds-eye view of the batteries, nearby beaches and fishing pier. They do have benches and a ramp to access the top of the battery.
A popular way to see take in the sights and sounds of Fort De Soto is by a self-guided 2.25-mile recreational canoe trail. See manatee, dolphins along with tons of other local wildlife.
A variety of kayak and canoe rentals are available in the park from Topwater Kayak Outpost. Don’t forget to pick up your guidebook.
Cost varies depending on the type of rental and how long you wish to keep your rental. Keep in mind that a valid driver’s license is needed, in addition to one member of your party is 18 or older. Alcohol and drugs are prohibited.
Tip: Bring sunscreen, a hat, water, and fishing gear!
Go For A Bike Ride
The paved paths that wind through Fort De Soto make for the ideal spot for a bike ride. Tour the entire park with stops at the beach, Battery Laidley, and more. Bring your bike or rent one through the Pedaling Pelican.
Bike rental hourly rates range from $8 per hour for a beach cruiser to $27 per hour for a deluxe double train bike.
DST: 9am – 6pm, last rental at 4:30pm
Winter: Last rental at 3:30, close at 5 pm
Fort De Soto’s Award-Winning Beaches
A highlight of any visit to Fort De Soto is a trip to North Beach. While many of Pinellas County parks offer beautiful white sandy beaches, North Beach is a real gem. It comes as no surprise that this beach won many awards as it is simply stunning.
With nearly three miles of white sand beaches, kids will enjoy discovering the tidal pool, finding a wide-assortment of shells and giant sand dollars.
A fun pirate ship playground is nearby, which is always a popular choice. This is one of many playgrounds in the park.
The beach has plenty of picnic areas and restrooms nearby as well.
Two large swim centers are at the North Beach Swim Center.
Known as one of the top dog-friendly beaches in the U.S., bring your furry friend to the “Paw Playground.” There is a whole area of the park dedicated to the dogs! From fenced-in play areas to a dog-friendly beach, your canine companion will love a visit to Fort De Soto. Dog showers and fresh drinking water are also available. Please see the rules for the Paw Playground on Fort De Soto’s website before visiting.
Tips For Visiting The Beach
- The Loggerhead Sea Turtles are known to make their nests on the beach of Fort De Soto between April-September. Be mindful of this.
- It is illegal to take live shells and sand dollars. As long as the shells and sand dollars are not alive, you can take as many as you wish. There are so many beautiful shells along the beaches; it is easy to spend hours searching for just the right one to add to your collection.
- There is a gift shop near the beach to grab that perfect souvenir.
Another popular activity at Fort De Soto is fishing. There are are two fishing piers in the park, one going into the Gulf of Mexico and the other into Tampa Bay. Each pier offers food and bait for sale.
Fishing pier hours are 7 am to 11 pm daily.
Hit The Trails
Whether you are looking to connect with nature or see the sights at Fort De Soto, there are plenty of trail options available. One of the most popular is a seven-mile paved trail that connects North Beach, East Beach, and the camping area. Rollerbladers, bikers, and joggers are always enjoying this fun trail.
Bike rentals are available as well.
Barrier-Free Nature Trail
The Barrier-Free Nature Trail is a trail that allows all visitors, regardless of their physical abilities, to enjoy the beauty of Fort De Soto. This self-guided interpretive nature trail is wide enough wheelchairs to pass, signs with interpretive messages and recorded on touch-activated speaker boxes. Other great amenities to enhance the guest’s experience are benches, restrooms, water fountains, and more.
There are other trails throughout the park, such as a 1-mile nature trail located near the Arrowhead picnic area.
Fort De Soto has an 800-foot-long boat launching facility with eleven floating docks.
With over 328 species of birds spotted throughout the year, Fort De Soto is a birding paradise. Many avid birders add this to their bucket list as it is a popular birding destination.
Swing into the visitors center to check the recent sighting log, pick up a map, a bird finding guide and rent binoculars if you forgot yours. Don’t forget your camera as this is a wildlife photographer’s wonderland.
There are plenty of picnic shelters and tables throughout the park. Fourteen large group picnic shelters are available.
Twenty storm-resistant public restroom buildings are unique in their design and structure are scattered throughout the park.
Reserving Picnic Areas At Fort De Soto Park
Are you planning a large party or family reunion? Renting a picnic area is simple. To rent a picnic area or pavilion, you can call (727) 582-2100 or visit their website at www.pinellascounty.org/park. Make your reservations up to one year in advance. Keep in mind that small charcoal grills are not allowed to be in the beach area.
Camping at Fort De Soto
Fort De Soto has a 238-site family camping area with facilities. It is the perfect way to spend a few days exploring the park. The facilities at the campground include picnic tables, grills, water, electricity, washers, dryers, sanitary disposal stations, modern restrooms, showers, play areas, and a camp store.
The campsites do have a charcoal grill for cooking, but they do not have a fire pit as campfires must be in a container. You can rent a firepit at the camp store or bring a portable fireplace.
Set up your camping reservation today online or by calling the Fort De Soto Camp Office at 727-582-2100, Monday to Friday, from 8 am to 5 pm.
Rates can vary depending on the location of the campsite and the season. You can make reservations up to six months in advance. Note that you are allowed to camp with your pet but will need a particular site reserved.
A ferry to Egmont Key from Fort De Soto transfers guests to and from this beautiful island paradise. The Egmont Key Ferry ride is roughly twenty-five to thirty minutes and drops off visitors to explore the island. Fort Dade can be found here along with beautiful beaches for swimming and shelling. A good portion of the island is a nature preserve that off-limits to the general public.
Sarasota Day Trip
Looking for a great day trip from Fort De Soto? Consider a visit to Sarasota. Check out our one-day Sarasota family fun itinerary.