Fort De Soto Park
Incomparable beaches draw you in, and historic sites and other treasures make for a memorable day of exploring.
With miles of serene, sandy shoreline, this much-loved county park covers five islands and 1,136 acres on the Gulf of Mexico and Tampa Bay. Explore on land or water, visit a Spanish-America War-era fort, splash with your pups at the water’s edge or just lounge on sun-soaked beaches. Learn more about Fort De Soto Park.
A Beach the Whole Family Will Love
For years, Parents Magazine and other national media outlets have proclaimed Fort De Soto Park’s North Beach as perfect for families (the adventure starts with the pirate ship playground you’ll see on the way in). The real treasure here is the beach, however, where the kiddos will have a blast splashing around in the large tidal pool and looking for colorful seashells and white sand dollars.
Fort De Soto Park’s Historic Fort and Museum
At the heart of the park lies its namesake fort. Artillery holds and firing galleys make up the coquina shell fort’s base. Here, kids of all ages can have a little fun with the echoes their voices make in the cool, mysterious rooms. Climb to the top of the fort, where cannons point at Tampa Bay, and sweeping views extend beyond the park. You can also visit the small Quartermaster Museum within the park.
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Fort De Soto Park’s Paved and Natural Trails
The park's seven-mile paved trail draws avid runners, cyclists and strollers alike. Walk, run, push a stroller or snap on your rollerblades. Or, load up to eight people on a covered surrey bike (rent one near the concession area). On foot? Start at North Beach and make your way south, and explore the shorter nature trails that meander off the main paved one.
Paddling Fun at Fort De Soto Park
The best way to spot Florida manatees, graceful wading birds and other native creatures? Rent a canoe or kayak at the park, and explore the tidal waters, which teem with wildlife. You may catch glimpses of turtles, cormorants, leaping mullet and other wildlife on serene paddling trails in the mangroves. Don't worry if you haven’t paddled a canoe or kayak before – it’s an easy paddle, and no experience is necessary.
Dog Beach & Paw Playground
Locals and visitors love Fort De Soto Park because it’s one of the only places in the area where you can let your dog play off-leash at the beach. Here, there’s plenty of room for them to run and splash, and the Paw Playground has hoses so you can wash off the sand before you head out.
Your toughest decision may be where to fish. Start on the fishing pier that juts out into the Gulf near the dog beach. It’s a favorite spot for locals, and there’s a bait and tackle shop right on the pier in case you run out of essentials. The pelicans that hang out there will entertain you as you wait for a bite.
Florida’s Best Waterfront Camping
If you camp anywhere in Florida, camp at Fort De Soto Park, easily one of the most beautiful camping spots in the state. The campsites have views of blue-green water, mangrove-lined islands and scenic bridges, and all 238 sites have water, electricity, charcoal grills and picnic tables. Campsites get snapped up quickly (particularly the prized waterfront ones), so check for availability well in advance of your visit.
Accessibility at Fort De Soto Park
Fort De Soto Park is quite accessible to wheelchair users and other people with mobility challenges. The paved, multi-use trail is great for wheelchair users, as well as bicyclists, rollerbladers, runners and walkers. Other accessible areas of the park include the gift shop, snack shop, fort, Gulf pier, bait shop and 2,200-foot barrier-free nature trail. All parking lots have disability parking spots with access lines. The park has switched to a kiosk or app-based paid parking system, but visitors with disability plates or placards can park in a disability spot for free. As far as beach access is concerned, there are ramps from the parking lots to the sidewalk. There aren’t any Mobi-Mats on the beaches, but there are five beach wheelchairs available for use. During the week, visitors can call 727-582-2100, ext. 2 to request a beach wheelchair. On weekends, you must go to the campground office to request one.
Explore More at Egmont Key
If you really want a beachy, away-from-it-all experience, catch the ferry to Egmont Key from the fishing pier in Fort De Soto Park. On Egmont Key, a small lighthouse reaches above coastal foliage and the ruins of Fort Dade (built in 1899). There’s great snorkeling on the key, and plenty of nearly empty beachfront for you to enjoy. As you explore the island, look for gopher tortoises and their burrows. The ferry ride takes 20 minutes and runs multiple times a day (happy fact: dolphins are often spotted along the way).
Gift Shop & Snack Bars Have Everything You Need
Fort De Soto Park’s expansive beaches and long trails can make you feel far away from civilization – and don’t we all crave that sometimes? – yet you’re never far from essentials here. Out of reef-safe sunscreen? Need a snack? Seeking a souvenir? Head to the snack bar/gift shop, which sits between North Beach and the historic fort, or go to the bait shop on the fishing pier, which sells food and mementos.