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Covering five interconnecting islands and 1,136 acres of waterfront oasis on the Gulf of Mexico, Fort De Soto Park is a diverse coastal habitat that is surrounded by miles of sugary sand. Located in Tierra Verde, it’s earned its reputation as a family-friendly destination and is considered a mecca for outdoor recreation.
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It’s a great place to take the entire family, where you can spend the day out on the water in a kayak, cruise your way through the paved trail on two wheels, or cast a line off the fishing pier. The beautiful beach area is popular for swimming and kite surfing, while those looking for a unique souvenir can find colorful seashell treasures found along its wide stretch of sand. You can often find sand dollar shells, lightning whelk shells and jingle shells that have washed up ashore.
North Beach in Fort De Soto Park has won top awards as one of the best family-friendly beaches in Florida, known as a treasure trove for kids with its large pirate ship playground, wide tidal pool and the chance to run between the lagoon and the Gulf. Parents can lounge under the shade of an umbrella along the pristine white sand, or head to the historic fort and Fort De Soto Batteries that give the park its name.
History enthusiasts of all ages will enjoy exploring the coquina-shell fort on Mullet Key, as its old artillery holds and firing galleys are fascinating pieces of Florida’s history serving as a military outpost since the Civil War. View the mortar battery cannons pointed at Tampa Bay where enemies once approached, then climb the steep stairs to the overlook to capture views of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, the world’s longest cable-stayed concrete bridge. If you want to dig deeper into the fort’s history, browse through the historic photographs, military documents and Spanish-American War artifacts at the Quartermaster Museum.
Afterwards, take a stroll or hop on a beach cruiser to explore the scenic seven-mile trail, or rent a canoe or kayak to navigate your way through mangroves in the two-mile paddling trail. The park offers a great diversity of ecosystems, where you can spot an abundance of unique bird life, sea life and plant life. In fact, there are over 300 species of birds that have been documented in the park.
Those looking for an overnight adventure should book a spot in the tree-covered family campground, which offers 238 campsites and plenty of stargazing spots. Half of these are sites are waterfront, which means you can launch your kayak from your backyard and let the sound of the gentle waves lull you to sleep.
Traveling with your furry four-legged friend? Fort De Soto is home to Dog Beach and Paw Playground, offering the only dog park where your pups are allowed on the beach in a designated area. There are also two fenced in areas near the beach that offer water stations.
Fort De Soto Park:
Address: 3500 Pinellas Bayway S., Tierra Verde, FL 33715
Phone: (727) 582-2267