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Explore Florida's Fort Desoto Park in Pinellas County

Updated on August 24, 2016

Welcome to Fort Desoto Park

Fort Desoto Park

Location

Fort De Soto is located on Florida's Gulf coast in Pinellas county. The address is 3500 Pinellas Bayway S.,Tierra Verde, FL 33715.

Bayway S. is a long windy road with bike trails that run almost the entire distance. You must stop at the guard stand before entering the park to pay a $5 entrance fee. Only cash is accepted and price is per car.

The park consists of five islands. They are Madelaine Key, St. Jean Key, St. Christopher Key, Bonne Fortune Key and Mullet Key. Mullet Key is the largest and houses most of the beaches and activities. The park is 1,136 acres total.

History - A Quick Overview

Fort De Soto is rich with history that begins around 1,000 A.D. when the Tocobaga Indians called this location home. For around 500 years they lived in this area with bountiful sea food. Artifacts have been found in areas where they worked and cooked in and around Mullet Key. You can see some of these items in the museum on site.

In the early 1500's Spanish explorers began arriving and exploring these parts. One of them was Hernando De Soto who came ashore on the south side of Tampa Bay.

In 1849 Mullet Key and Egmont Key were utilized by the military because they sat at the entrance to Tampa Bay.

In 1861 when the Civil War began Union troops used these two Keys to watch for Confederates, utilizing the lighthouse on Egmont Key.

In 1898 the Keys were used again during the Spanish-American war because of close proximity to Cuba. This is the time that construction began on the military post.

In 1900 Fort De Soto was officially named. It is the sub-fort of Fort Dade, on Egmont Key.

In 1923 after many years of the Forts changing hands they were left with only one man at each post.

In 1948 Fort De Soto was sold back to Pinellas County and in 1963 was officially named Fort De Soto Park.

For a detailed description of the history from Pinellas county: http://www.pinellascounty.org/park/pdf/Fort_DeSoto_historic_guide.pdf

Around the Fort Area

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Mortars at Fort De Soto.Me in front of Gulf pier.View from on top of the motar battery.Barge leaving Tampa Bay.
Mortars at Fort De Soto.
Mortars at Fort De Soto.
Me in front of Gulf pier.
Me in front of Gulf pier.
View from on top of the motar battery.
View from on top of the motar battery.
Barge leaving Tampa Bay.
Barge leaving Tampa Bay.

The Fort, Gulf Pier & Museum

The Fort, Gulf pier and museum all sit in close proximity to each other when parking by the entrance to the Gulf pier.

Gulf pier is double the size of Bay pier at 1000 ft. You can fish off either pier and both have food and bait available for purchase. The waters are such a beautiful blue and you can see big barges entering and leaving the Tampa Bay area.

The museum is open 7 days a week from 9am to 4pm. Admission is free but donations are accepted. Panels on the wall depict scenes from the time when the Tocobaga Indians called this land their home, the Spanish-American war and other scenes throughout history. See what items were issued to the soldiers who were stationed at this location and recovered artifacts from the park have been uncovered and added to the museum.

Dog Beach

Bay Pier, Ferry, Dog Park & Beach

Bay pier is 500 ft and is where you will catch the ferry to Shell and Egmont Key. There is fishing off this pier and no license is required while on the pier. There is a small bait shop with souvenirs too. The video below is from this pier.

Some people set up on the beach area below the pier though the beach area is much smaller than the North and East beaches.

There is a dog park located beside Bay Pier. You will see two fenced areas, one for large dogs and the other for small as you pull into the parking lot. There are benches, shade and fresh water available inside the fence. Outside of this area is a path and a sign that will lead you to the only beach area acceptable for your furry friend. For dog park info and rules check the link : http://www.pinellascounty.org/park/dog_parks.htm#rules

The North & East Beaches

You will see signs that point the way to each beach. There are two main beaches, the North and East. There are also many places to park and follow trails down to the water if you are looking for a more secluded area, although there was only one other car at the entire East beach when I was there!

The white sandy beaches are beautiful here. The blue waters are clear enough that you can see schools of little white fish racing along the shore lines. I was digging in the sand underwater and found many large shells with the snails still inside. See picture of this below. Take a long stroll and go shelling. I also found a tiny sand dollar completely intact.

You can find life guards at the designated beaches from March through September. If you check the life guard towers it will tell you information regarding the strength of the currents and hours of the life guards on duty. Bring an umbrella if you would like some shade on the beach.

The beach areas have playgrounds, bathrooms, showers, picnic areas and grills. There are concession stands at the North beach and pier areas. The North beach has a large concession that includs beach accessories.

The Beach & Shells

Click thumbnail to view full-size

Snorkeling

Snorkeling

I brought my own snorkeling equipment with me out to the park. There is not a lot of under water action where I was but if you take the ferry out to the islands you will have a lot more to see. I will be heading out there soon and will definitely add a link to that post in this location. Although, there is more info on that below.

I just purchased the new full face snorkel mask and was trying it out for the first time. Have you seen these yet? They look a little crazy but are supposed to have a ton of benefits. Before trying it out I thought this new type would definitely replace the traditional kind for sure but now I think they may have a little more work to do. The part I struggled with was the influx of air in and out needs to flow easier. I will definitely still keep it and really do like it but it takes some getting used to. Read my full review of the mask at www.DivingandSnorkeling.com

Fort DeSoto Ferry to Shell Key or Egmont Key

Snorkeling, exploring, shelling and so much more can be done on these two islands. The ferry location is at Bay Pier and during winter season can also be boarded at the boat ramp area.

Egmont Key is home to Fort Dade, the abandoned Spanish-American War Fort. There is a working lighthouse located here, though it is not the original. Narrated tours are also available.

Ferry ride is $20 for adults and $10 for children under 11 years old. They also offer snorkel equipment rental for $5, a snorkel excursion for $15 and a box lunch for $9.95.

There are no restrooms and concessions on these islands so be sure to plan accordingly.

Check departure and return times as they are subject to change throughout the year. www.tampabayferry.com


Other things to do.

There is a 238-site campgrounds. They have grills, laundry machines, updated restrooms and much more. They also have dog friendly areas so bring Fido! http://www.pinellascounty.org/park/camping.htm

There are many trails. 7 miles of paved trails connecting the beaches to the camp sites and other areas within the park. Unpaved nature trails that cover 2,200 feet and then there are water trails too. Rent a bike, canoe, kayak or paddle board to explore these places. You can also bring your own.

Boating. Launch a boat off of the 800ft. boat ramp.

Boating and Fishing

Have you been here? What was your experience?

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