You can call it a beach, but Fort De Soto Park is much more than a beach. This much-praised county park - part of the boating community of Tierra Verde - covers five islands and 1,136 acres on the Gulf of Mexico and Tampa Bay, and offers activities and amenities to entertain you for a day or more (campsites and abundant hotels nearby enable extended stays).
With so many possibilities, set an agenda that’s full or freewheeling: Rent a canoe, kayak or bike to explore the park’s trails; fish from a pier; visit the historic fort; or simply lounge on the beach named "Best Beach for Families" by USA Today in 2014.
A Beach the Whole Family Will Love
For years, Parents Magazine and other national media outlets have proclaimed Fort De Soto’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 Fort DeSoto’s namesake fort. At ground level, 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 these cool, mysterious rooms. Climb to the top of the fort where cannons point at Tampa Bay for sweeping views of the park and beyond. You can also visit the small Quartermaster Museum within the park.
Watch this video about Fort De Soto’s rich history.
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
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 that teem with wildlife. You may catch glimpses of turtles, cormorants, leaping mullet and other wildlife on this serene paddling trail in the mangroves. If you haven’t paddled a canoe or kayak before - no worries, it’s an easy paddle and no experience is necessary.
Dog-Friendly Beach & Paw Playground
Locals love Fort DeSoto 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. If your pup gets messy, the Paw Playground has hoses so you can wash the sand out of those paws on your way out.
Your toughest decision may be where to fish – Gulf-side or bay-side? Try both - starting with 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 here will entertain you as you wait for a bite.
Florida’s Best Waterfront Camping
If you camp anywhere in Florida, camp here 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. All 238 sites have water, electricity, charcoal grills and picnic tables. Campsites get snapped up quickly here (particularly the prized waterfront ones), so check for availability well in advance of your visit.
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 at Fort De Soto. Here, a small lighthouse reaches above coastal foliage as well as 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’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 that sits between North Beach and the historic fort, or the bait shop on the fishing pier, which sells food and mementos.