Lay of the Land: Year round residents include pelicans, herons, egrets and plovers. Sea turtles nest along the beach in summer and you'll often see dolphins from the Gulf fishing pier. Soft sand, emerald waters and shady pines await you at Fort De Soto park, which is made up of five separate islands. Ride, skate or jog on the 7-mile paved trail, or canoe and kayak through lush mangroves. Rover can roam at the Paw Playground and frolic in the surf at Dog Beach, while the kids explore the canons and jail cells of the old fort.
An 800 foot long boat launch facility provides easy access to this park's waterfront and beaches. The facility also includes eleven floating docks. Other amenities: showers, lifeguards, camping and fishing.
Little Known Facts: Built for the Spanish-American War, the fort was finished after the war ended and never fired a hostile shot. Fans of the old television series "Prison Break" might recognize the park, since it acted as a stand in for the country of Panama for several episodes. Fort De Soto is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Why You Should Go: Fort De Soto has consistently received top rankings over time. In June 2011, it was named America's best family beach by the editors of Parents. The magazine praised the natural sandbar off the coast which acts as a lagoon-like pool for younger swimmers. The expansive Fort De Soto park also took top honors by TripAdvisor and was named America's Best Beach by Dr. Beach. Other benefits: you can camp directly on the water, fish from two free piers 24 hours a day, splash in calm waters, rent bikes and kayaks---you name it. Just go!