Fort De Soto Florida
Family Travel,  Southeast,  Travel

The Ultimate Guide To Visiting Fort De Soto In St. Pete’s, FL

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 County Park is home to award-winning beaches, beautiful nature trails, and endless family-friendly fun.

A Guide To Fort De Soto
Fort De Soto


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. It 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, and 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, 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

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 daily 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. 

Where Do I Park?

Fort De Soto offers a variety of parking lots for guests to be able to park in. Patrons can pay the County’s $5 parking fee using either the Flowbird mobile app, pay-by-text, existing parking terminals, or an annual pass. Please note: If you use the app or pay-by-text option, there is a $0.35 cent convenience fee for submitting your payment using the app or pay-by-text option. Visa, Mastercard, and American Express are accepted.

The History Behind Fort De Soto

Historic Fort in Florida

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 is named 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 a mess hall with a kitchen, a bakery, and a storehouse. 

In 1910, most 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 federal government purchased the park 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 1962

Battery Laidley and Battery Bigelow served as a defense for Fort De Soto. The primary battery is Battery Laidley. Guests can walk through and explore Battery Laidley today. The fort’s batteries made the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.

A guide to Fort De Soto in St. Petersburg, Florida
Fort De Soto in St. Petersburg, Florida

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.
  • Quartermaster Museum 


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 remains. The Quartermaster Museums help guests better understand the history behind Fort De Soto and envision what the entire fort looked like in its prime. 

 The Quartermaster Storehouse building was originally 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

Explore The Batteries: Fort De Soto is a historic site.
Fort De Soto is a historic site.

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 breathtaking 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 have benches and a ramp to access the top of the battery.

Kayaking/ Canoeing

A popular way to see the sights and sounds of Fort De Soto is by a self-guided 2.25-mile recreational canoe trail. See manatees and dolphins along with tons of other local wildlife. 

Various canoe and kayak rental spots are available in the park from Topwater Kayak Outpost. Don’t forget to pick up your guidebook. 

There is a boat ramp if you bring your own boat or kayak.

Cost varies depending on the type of rental and how long you wish to keep your rental. Ensure to bring a valid driver’s license and that one member of your party is 18 or older. Alcohol and drugs are prohibited. 

Tip: Bring sunscreen, a hat, water, and fishing gear! 

Guided Canoe and Kayak Tours

There are a few guided kayak tours that will leave from State Park to see Shell Key and take guests on a guided tour through the mangroves. A few offer clear Kayak Tours so guests can see the wildlife in the clear water as they paddle.

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.

Rental Hours

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

The Beaches Of Fort De Soto: North Beach
Fort De Soto’s North Beach

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, and finding a wide assortment of shells and giant sand dollars. There is a reason this is one of the best beaches in St. Pete. 

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.  


There are two designated swim areas in Fort De Soto. One is at East Beach, where lifeguards are present during certain hours. The other is at North Beach in a shallow, protected lagoon, and the Gulf just past the lagoon. Our personal favorite is North Beach.

Dog Beach

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 visiting 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.


Fishing Pier In St. Petes Fl
Fort De Soto Beach and Fishing Pier

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 for wheelchairs to pass, and 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.


Fort De Soto is a birding paradise with over 328 species of birds spotted throughout the year. 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.


Picnic Area in Fort De Soto

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 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. 

View from the top of the fort.

Fort De Soto Campground

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. 

Camping Reservations

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. 


Ferry Service

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

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A Guide To  Fort De Soto

Things To Do In Fort De Soto
A Complete Guide To Fort De Soto