Of course it's Fort De Soto!
Great beaches, fishing, camping
and much, much more
If you love beaches, water and camping, this place is for you! Fort De Soto is a huge county park. It sits in the Gulf of Mexico at the mouth of Tampa Bay. The park has five islands with a total of 1100 acres. If you enjoy the Florida outdoors, you will love this place. It is really unbelievable. It fact it is by far our favorite place to see real Florida.
This park is all about water and nature. It has fantastic beaches. In fact, they have been recognized many times. They are listed as the Best in Florida, as well as the Top Beaches in the Nation.
There are two main beach areas. One is on Tampa Bay. It has the best land view there is of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. The other is on the Gulf of Mexico. It is the perfect place to view evening sunsets.
Unlike almost all other beaches in Florida, these have been preserved. You can see what other Florida beaches used to be like. They have no hotels or condos. In other words, not like everywhere else in the state.
Three miles of undeveloped beaches in Florida
If you have a boat, this is a great place to launch from. The boat ramp is huge - 800 feet - with 11 floating docks. The parking lot has enough parking to handle all the tow vehicles on a busy weekend.
This is a great place to bring any size motor boat. You can quickly get into the Gulf of Mexico or Tampa Bay from here. If you have a smaller boat and you just want to putter around, you can stay in the backwaters of the park. There are several small islands you can visit without getting into the larger bodies of water.
An 800 feet boat ramp with 11 floating docks and a parking lot large enough to handle the crowd on a busy weekend!
Florida has lots of great campgrounds and RV parks. In fact, we've traveled the U.S. in our small travel trailer and have found Florida State Parks to be among the best. However, nowhere beats Fort De Soto. It is clearly our favorite campground in the state.
There are well over 200 heavily wooded campsites. About half of them are right on the water. All the sites have water and electric hookups. There are also two separate dump stations. For the kids, there is a playground. They can also go fishing at several places within the campground. In addition, there is a well stocked camp store. The store even rents bikes that can be ridden through the entire park.
Be sure to check out our personal review of the Fort De Soto campground too. It has more info and a lot more details and photos.
The campground is heavily shaded with plenty of waterfront sites. Clearly our favorite campground in Florida.
Plenty of fishing from right within the campground.
You can certainly fish Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico if you have a boat. You can also fish from the seawalls in the campground. But the main attraction for fishing in the park are the large piers.
The first pier heads south into Tampa Bay. Another one, goes west into the Gulf of Mexico. Both of the them have bait and tackle shops.
For more serious fishing, there are two great fishing piers.
Getting some exercise
...in the water or on the land
So when it comes to exercise, I must be admit that I'm not very good at it! I have to do something that I really enjoy. In other words, something that helps me forget that I'm exercising. This is one of the many reasons I like this place so much.
For anyone that likes to kayak or canoe, this is a great place. Just look at all the water in the satellite images at the top of this article. There is actually a 2.25 mile self-guided canoe trail. You can spend hours in the backwaters observing the nature that surrounds you.
If you'd prefer to stay on land, there is a 7 mile bike trail. Besides providing a great view, the entire path is paved. It's a great way to see the entire park. You can discover places you may wish to come back to and explore further.
In addition to the bike path, there are several trails for you to hike or take a walk. One of them is a 2,200 foot nature trail. You will learn about the salt-dependent plants that populate the park, as well as see lots of beautiful birds. You might even get a glimpse of some dolphins swimming in the bay.
Like to kayak? Bring your own or rent one and paddle throughout the bay waters surrounding the back side of the park.
When you want to stay on land, you can enjoy the seven mile bike trail or two nature trails.
Don't forget the dog!
Not only is there a fenced in dog park, but also a dedicated dog beach. If you have a dog (or many), they will have a great time here too!
They didn't forget man's best friend. A nice dog park with plenty of room to play and run.
Fort De Soto Park is at the southern most part of Pinellas County. Take I-275 to the south end of St. Pete, then head west towards the Gulf of Mexico on the Pinellas Bayway. Just before the last bridge going over to St. Pete Beach, you will see the signs to turn left and head out to the park.
Fort De Soto is at the southern end of St. Pete, Florida and extends into the Gulf of Mexico at the mouth of Tampa Bay.
Finding your way around
The map below gives you an idea of what you're in for. Being a string of islands, it's really easy to find your way around...you can't get lost!
Map of Fort De Soto park
See Real Florida
Florida is full of fun things for the entire family. Unfortunately, most of them are expensive, man made, and exhausting. So many people come to Florida and need a vacation to rest up when they get back home. They never relax and see the natural parts of the state.
Fort De Soto is clearly one of the best. It's certainly our personal favorite. If you've never been, be sure to put it on your "must see" places to visit when you can!
Have you been to Fort De Soto? If so, please add a comment below and tell us about it!
Fort De Soto...Real Florida at it's finest
(photo courtesy of Lee Sommie)
There just wasn't enough room here to include all the photos I shot of Fort De Soto Park. I created a shared photo album on Google where you can see 40 photos I shot in total.
I hope you'll add Fort De Soto to one of your future trips. And as always, drop me a note if you have any questions. - Denny
In case you don't know it, Central Florida is the lightning capital of the world. Most damage from lightning strikes are not from direct hits, but are from surges they create in the area's electrical system. Having spent most of my life living in Florida, I've lost unprotected computers and other electronic devices from these surges several times over the years.
If you are going to camp in Florida, be sure you are aware of the electrical risks for your RV or travel trailer. Especially if you camp during the summer. Check out this other article I wrote entitled Dangerous Electrical Problems when Camping. It explains the problem and how to minimize the risks. The article also discusses bad power connections at campgrounds and how to help protect against them. This is important information to understand for everywhere you camp.
Denny JohnsonAfter having spent most of our adult life in Orlando, my wife Fay and I moved to Knoxville, TN in 2020. We are loving the change of seasons and being near the mountains. Plus, this part of the country is loaded with great places to camp.
We camped years ago with a pop-up camper, but got serious about it when we purchased our Casita in 2014. There was a lot to learn as we started traveling with it, and a lot of conflicting opinions on line. That's when I decided that creating a website would be a good retirement project. I started tinyTowable.com to share things we've learned along the way that have worked well for us in hopes that the information would be of help to others.
What it is
JoeShade-Portable Sun Shade Umbrella
Why I like it
Being from Florida for most of the past 50 years, I know how easy it is to get burned up by the sun down there. (Please don't ruin your time enjoying the Florida outdoors. Be sure to take some good sunscreen with you when you head to Fort De Soto.)
Fay and I love to sit outdoors and found this portable umbrella to work out really well. We use it for shade beside our trailer when camping, but also take it other places when we need to get out of the sun. It's lightweight, sets up and takes down quickly, and is perfect for the beach.
- A great, low-cost solution to some shade when we are camping
- Quick and easy to setup and take down
- Light weight and easy to store
For more information, check out this other article I wrote all about it.
Ive lived in Florida for 20+ years and never been here. It seems like this Park has everything! I see why you like it and I’ll tell my friends who have a black Lab…
So what are you waiting for Eric??? 🙂
Been camping in our ‘05 Casita Freedom Deluxe for three seasons now. We have camped over130 nights in campgrounds in nearly 10 states. Fort Desoto is probably our FAVORITE campground! Book and book often! 🙂
So glad to hear that Dean. So it’s our #2 favorite, topped only by Honeycomb Campground on Lake Guntersville in northern Alabama. We have our own personal review of Honeycomb, with quite a few photos here: https://tinytowable.com/campground-reviews/campground/?d=42
We love the dog beach there. It’s like going to a dog show!
Been to Fort Desoto on several occasion and this report certainly shows what a great place it is… Thanks for the great presentation Denny. Looking forward to your stopping by for a bit.
Love that park! My friends Gail and George Sutche are camp hosts!
Great article and beautiful photos! I spent a lot of my childhood on those beautiful beaches and I agree that Fort DeSoto Park is one of Florida’s finest places to visit!
You know, it’s one of the very few places in Florida that’s hardly changed at all since we were kids!
We just got back and LOVED every aspect of the park! We traveled in a big rig and fit fine in site 174. We had a water site. It was shaded and private. The bike trails are paved and fabulous! Miles and miles of untouched land. We ate out at Billys in Tierra Verde right down the riad and it was fabulous! We are Floridians and loved this beach! A manatee swam right up to us! The beach was not crowded. We WILL be back!
What great comments Geistfeldsonthego Thanks for taking the time to add them!
What a great suggestion RJ. It’s so hard to find places to stargaze in Florida without driving out into the middle of nowhere!
Been there many times. Spending Thanksgiving there. Decent stargazing beyond the Gulf Pier parking lot.
What a great idea RJ! It so hard to find good stargazing places in Florida without driving out to the middle of nowhere! 🙂
I spent my teenage years in St Pete and enjoyed going to Ft DeSoto to enjoy the beach. I have fond memories.
So I hope you haven’t stopped going there as you’ve gotten older Cheryl!
It’s our fav place to stay when we visit the Mister’s sister in St. Pete.
We’ve been several times, both before and after Miss Skye Diva Gypsy Dog began to travel with us. There are waterfront sites on the dog loop, but they fill up fast.
I don’t know if they still do, but when we had our 16′, they allowed us to stay on the tent / pop-up loop because we were so small. You’d have to check to see if they have changed that.
One of the things I love about this park is that you don’t have to leave your campsite to see the birds. If you are on a water site they stroll by, and even park themselves for a while, all day.
Yes Josie. Last I knew they would still allow small trailers in the tent area. If you have kids, one thing that’s great about that is the big open areas by the water for them to play.
Yes, they are. You feel as if you intrude less on your neighbors. I doubt our 21′ Escape will be allowed in there once Miss Skye Diva passes…she’s 14 1/2.
This was an EXCELLENT review – we will definitely go there!!!
Thanks so much Claudia. Really glad you liked it!
We camped there in January 2018 and LOVED it!! Please note: Only one of the loops is pet friendly, so be sure to book the correct loop to take your pets along!! We did take our little Maltese to the doggy beach. He wasn’t too sure what to make of the waves ☺️
Thanks for mentioning it Laura, about making sure you reserve the right location if you are bringing a dog.
Fort De Soto is an wonderful place to go. We loved exploring the old fort, “scouping” for live sand dollars and wading across the water cut around the bend of the park on the north end to look for shells. That little portion of beach does not get many visitors and the shells are plentiful. If you go back toward St. Petersburg, you will find the Don CeSar hotel. It is a historic pink colored hotel that looks a like a castle and was built in the 1920’s. If you like to explore, Fort De Soto is an excellent place to start.
Love your additional thoughts Chuck. Thanks so much for sharing!
I have spent my maximum 14 days here each of the past 5 winters (MN resident). This year was the first time in my 1997 Scamp 13. One of the main reasons I bought a Scamp is to be able to camp in Area 1, as I see you do also! Favorite site is 48 but it is usually reserved by Pinellas County residents every weekend. The only place I have enjoyed more privacy at my campsite is the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.Thanks for the Florida Rambler links also!
Yes, the Florida Rambler is great and full of a lot of great Florida ideas!
I LOVE Fort DeSoto.Its jyst like going to The Keys,without the long drive! One of my favorite places to camp in Florida
What a great comparison to the keys Debbi! 🙂
What a helpful and informative review. We are from upstate SC but travel to play pickleball in Naples. We definitely will put this place on our “must camp here” list.
Fort DeSoto park is one of our favorites! Hard to believe its a county park! Our last trip there we stayed ten days. We didn’t take our kayak with us on that trip, but the next time we go we will certainly bring it with us.
If you’re staying at Fort DeSoto Park, make sure to arrange a ferry ride over to Egmont Key State Park. We did that and spent the day exploring the ghost town and naval fort that is there. The brick-pave streets are amazing and go on and on. Wildlife is also abundant. Take plenty of water and pack a lunch (no facilities were there when we went, but that may have changed).
Thanks for mentioning Egmont Key James. I thought about it, but didn’t have any photos to go along with it. It really is a great add-on to a visit to Fort De Soto!
Sounds wonderful. We’re adding it to our bucket list
No one has to sell me on Ft DeSoto, it is my back door. I live on Tierra Verde island and you have to
cross over our island to get to Ft DeSoto. It is one of the main reasons we built a house here and lived for 31 years! Anyone who visits me, will absolutely get side trips to Ft DeSoto, site of many picnics, fishing outings, beach days, camp outs, runs, walks, even a Boy Scout camp week.
What a great article! I grew up here in St Pete in the 50’s & 60’s and can remember when the only way to get to Ft DeSoto was by boat. My parents had a motor home in the 70’s & 80’s and would camp out over Thanksgiving weekends with friends who also had motor homes. What a fabulous place!
So do you remember Nancy if they had a campground back when you had to get there by boat?
– Obviously I’m thinking tent camping here! 🙂
Great Article! Thank you for giving it the praise it so deserves. Sometimes we forget how much of a hidden jewel we have here, until someone like you comes along to notice the absolute true beauty Ft. DeSoto has to offer to all ages.
With thanks! Valuable information!
Our favorite place too, been going there for five years and will be there soon.
That’s great! Enjoy your time there Jon.