The largest park within the Pinellas County Park System, Fort De Soto
park consists of 1,136 acres made up of five interconnected
islands (keys). These keys are home to beach plants, mangroves,
wetlands, palm hammocks, hardwoods and scores of native plants. Each of
these species plays a vital role in the preservation and protection of
the natural environment.
Whether you are sitting on the beach or kayaking near the still water's edge at Fort De Soto, you find yourself absorbed in the abundance of natural beauty for as far as the eye can see. The complexity of the ecology is not immediately apparent, but the park offers the greatest diversity of systems just about anywhere. Emerging from the wealth of bird life, sea life, wild life and plant life is the majestic tapestry called Fort De Soto.
Another amazing example of the importance of the park's natural ecosystems is the more than 290 species of birds that have been documented by ornithologist. The beach also provides refuge to the loggerhead sea turtle, which nests between April and September.
Fort De Soto was named America’s Top Beach for 2009 by Trip Advisor, the world's largest online travel community. In 2005, “Dr. Beach,” named Fort De Soto the nation’s #1 Beach.
Annual park attendance averages more than 2.7 million visitors.
Ft. De Soto campground is now taking camping reservations for Pinellas County residents outside the usual reservation window. Reservations are taken seven (7) months in advance and can be made in person or by phone if have previously reserved at either Ft. De Soto campground office or the Parks & Conservation Resources Administration office. The campsite must be occupied by the Pinellas County resident making the reservation. For verification of residency, a current Florida Drivers license or Florida valid ID along with a current utility bill will be required at the time of reservation. For further information call 582-2267 or 552-1862. See Campground information for rates.
The islands that are know now as Fort De Soto Park are Mullet,(fort site), St. Christopher, St. Jean, Madelaine and Bonne Fortune keys. The earliest known inhabitants of the Tampa Bay area were the Tocobaga Indians, who disappeared within eighty years of the arrival of Spanish explorers in the early 1500's. Fort De Soto Historic Guide
The park property was first purchased from the federal government in 1938 for $12,500. In 1941 the property was sold back to the federal government for $18,404 to be used as a gunnery and bombing range during World War II. The property was repurchased from the United States in 1948 for $26,500.
The 12-inch mortar battery, located at the fort for which the park was named, was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. Adding to the historical interest at Fort De Soto, two British breech-loading, rapid-fire rifles of 1890 vintage were installed in March 1982. Markers showing the original building locations and a Quartermaster Storehouse Museum add to the park's historic interest.