Camping at Fort De Soto – A Dog Friendly Park With Beaches & Kayaking

Camping in Fort De Soto, Florida, is an incredible experience because of the diverse landscapes and scenery that the park has to offer. Located on the southernmost tip of St. Petersburg, this park consists of several connected islands and is a true nature-lovers paradise.

The Fort De Soto Campground is made up of 1,136 acres divided into five islands or keys. There are 236 units that offer full hookup RVs and other campers, as well as a dump station and fresh water fill-up station. There are also primitive campsites available for those who want to get away from it all.

Fort De Soto visitors can find freshwater marshes, mangrove forests, sandy beaches, and even a historic fort to explore. The nearby beaches are also some of the most beautiful in the state, offering plenty of opportunities for swimming, fishing, and kayaking. This article will explore the Fort De Soto park, as well as the Campground so that you can make the most of your visit and discover why it’s one of our favorite places for RV camping in Florida!

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Camping in Florida

Florida is a great state for camping because of the year-round warm weather and the abundance of natural beauty. There are many different types of campgrounds to choose from, including those that offer full hookups for RVs and primitive sites for those who want to get back to nature.

When camping in Florida, it is important to consider the weather and the local wildlife. The summer months can be very hot and humid, so it is important to have a plan for staying cool and comfortable. There are also many different types of insects in Florida, so it is important to pack bug spray and be aware of your surroundings.

Camping on the water is a popular activity in Florida, and there are many different ways to do it. You can camp on the beach, on a river, or even on a lake. Wetlands provide a unique opportunity to see wildlife up close, and you can also find some great fishing spots.

fort de soto campsite on the water
Waterfront campsites are available across Florida, including this one at Fort De Soto.

There are many different state and local parks that offer camping in Florida. Some of the most popular include:

  • Myakka River State Park
  • Fort De Soto Park, and
  • O’Leno State Park
  • Silver Springs State Park
  • Blue Spring State Park, and
  • Ichetucknee Springs State Park, among others

There are also many different National Parks and landmarks in Florida, as well. Some of the most popular include:

  • Everglades National Park
  • The Ocala National Forest
  • The Big Cypress National Preserve
  • Dry Tortugas National Park
  • Biscayne National Park, and
  • Several National Seashores and Ecological & Historic Preserves.

Many of Florida’s State Parks offer a diverse array of camping experiences. Some, like Myakka River State Park, have full hookup RV sites available, as well as primitive sites for those who want to get away from it all. Others, like O’Leno State Park, have cabins and lodges for those who want a roof over their heads.

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Where is Fort de Soto?

Fort De Soto, though not an official Florida State Park, is a public park with a campground, beaches, canals, kayak, and canoe rental facilities, a fishing pier, bike trails, and several historic sites, including a fort from the Spanish-American War.

location map with pin for fort de soto location

Fort De Soto is located on the southernmost tip of Florida, South of St. Petersburg in Pinellas County, specifically at 3500 Pinellas Bayway South in Tierra Verde, FL. Fort Desoto consists of five offshore keys or islands:

  • Madelaine Key
  • Jean Key
  • Christopher Key
  • Bonne Fortune Key, and
  • Mullet Key

About Fort de Soto

Fort De Soto has a long and varied history. The Tocobagas inhabited the area around the park and its adjacent barrier islands from 1,000 AD to about 1,500 AD, and in 1528, Pánfilo de Narváez and his men became the first Europeans to set foot in the area.

The Spanish explorer mistook the bay for the Gulf of Mexico and named it “Bay of Horses” because of the many horses that were grazing on the island.

fort de soto history sign and building

Fort De Soto was named after the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto, who led the first European expedition deep into the southeastern United States in the 1500s.  In 1539, Hernando de Soto landed on Mullet Key with a group of 800 soldiers and 600 horses in search of gold. The group spent the next four years exploring Florida but never found the treasure they were looking for.

The fort was built in 1898 during the Spanish-American War to protect Tampa Bay from a possible attack by the Spanish navy. The fort was used as a training ground for troops during World War II and was decommissioned in 1947. The site was then turned into a park, and the fort itself was restored.

Fort De Soto Camping Sites

One of the best things about camping in Fort De Soto is that there are no crowds. The park is huge, and there are plenty of places to set up camp away from the main thoroughfares. This means that you can enjoy the peace and quiet of nature without having to worry about being disturbed by large groups of people.

Fort de soto campsite with truck and trailer

That being said, it is a very popular park for camping. So you need to make your Fort de Soto campsite reservations ASAP to ensure you have a place to stay. 

Open year-round, Fort De Soto Campground offers both full hookup RV sites and primitive tent sites. Fort De Soto is open all seven days of the week from 7 am to sunset. The park’s office hours are Friday, 9 am to 9 pm, and Saturday thru Thursday, 9 am – 6 pm.

The campsites are all located in a lush, tropical setting, and many of them have views of the water. The sites are well-spaced out, so you’ll never feel like you’re on top of your neighbors. There are snack bars at both beaches and a deli in Tierra Verde.

fort de soto campground in florida has waterviews and waterfront sites

Though Fort De Soto is open year-round for camping, the best time to go is from October through April. The weather is cooler during this time, and you’ll avoid the mosquitoes and humidity of summer. Reservations are recommended, especially during peak season. You can make them up to 3 months in advance.

What Facilities are at Fort de Soto Campground?

Fort De Soto Campground has all the amenities you need for a comfortable stay. There are restrooms with flush toilets and showers, a dump station, a laundry facility, and a camp store. The store sells basic camping supplies, as well as souvenirs and snacks.

At the park’s developed campground, sites 1-85 are for tents, motor homes, pop-up campers, and trailers with a maximum length of 16 feet. Sites 86-236 can accommodate all camping units. All sites feature a picnic table and a barbecue grill.

waterfront campsite at fort de soto in florida
Waterfront campsites are available where you can even launch your kayaks!

For your convenience, there are also dump stations as well as modern restrooms with showers and other amenities. Primitive campsites are also available for those who want to get away from it all.

For primitive camping on Shell Key, a permit is required and can be purchased at the camp office, by phone, mail, email, or online. A $6 daily fee will be charged, with a maximum of six people per permit. The permit and necessary boat registration must be accompanied by the person who uses it.

walking path to restrooms at fort de soto campground
The campground is very well maintained, including these nice paths to the restrooms and facilities.

Fun Things to Do / Activities at Fort De Soto & Nearby Area

There’s no shortage of things to do at Fort De Soto Park. The park has two incredible white sand beaches, North Beach and East Beach, two fishing piers, boat ramps, and kayak and canoe rentals.

Fort de soto white sand beaches for visitors

Visiting the historic fort and museum is a must-do while you’re here. The fort was built in 1898 and played an important role in the Spanish-American War. Today, it’s a National Historic Landmark, and the museum is full of interesting artifacts from the fort’s past.

If you’re looking for something more active to do, the park has over seven miles of biking trails that pass by both scenic beaches and the historic fort. You can also go bird watching, as the park is home to over 320 species of birds.

Hiking, fishing, and kayaking are also popular activities in the park. The Barrier-Free Nature Trail is an easy trail, at just 2,200 feet long, and is located just south of the headquarters building. The Arrowhead Nature Trail is a slightly tougher trail at 1 mile and is located across from North Beach, while the Soldier’s Hole Nature Trail is a 3/4 mile trail located just before the historic fort.

bike rentals are available at fort de soto

Nearby, you can visit the Salvador Dali Museum, the Chihuly Collection, and the Florida Aquarium. There are also plenty of shopping and dining options in the area. The town of Tierra Verde is just a short drive away and is home to several restaurants, shops, and a marina. St. Petersburg is just a short drive away, and Tampa is about an hour’s drive.

How Much Does it Cost to Camp at Fort De Soto?

To make a reservation at Fort De Soto, you’ll need to create a Pinellas County Parks Account by visiting their website. You’ll select the Fort De Soto Campground Rentals tab, input your dates, and choose your campground. The reservation system is easy to use, and you can even view a map of the campground to see which site you’d like to stay at.

Fort de soto campsite ground and picnic table

Sites 1-85 are for tents, motor homes, pop-up campers, and trailers with a maximum length of 16 feet. They’ll cost between $33.50 and $37.50 per night, depending on if the campground is waterfront. Sites 86-236 can accommodate all camping units and cost between $38.50 and $42.50 nightly.

In addition to these base fees, there is a 6% tourist development tax and a 7% state tax. Additionally, you’ll be charged a $5 per day parking fee. A campsite can only be reserved for a maximum of 14 nights. Reservations are limited to one person per day. Before a reservation can be recorded payment for the full amount is required. You can make a payment by:

  • MasterCard
  • VISA
  • Cash
  • Money order, or
  • Personal check

How to Get to Fort De Soto

Fort De Soto is located at 3500 Pinellas Bayway South in Tierra Verde, Florida. The best way to get to the park is by car. Keep in mind that there is a toll road leading to the park, so bring some change with you since credit cards are not accepted at the tolls.

If you’re coming from St. Petersburg:

  • Take I-275 south towards Bradenton.
  • Take exit 17 for 54th Avenue South and continue onto 54th Avenue SE.
  • Turn right at the first cross street onto Pinellas Bayway/FL-687 W and continue to follow FL-687 W.
  • Take the exit towards Fort De Soto Park and continue onto Tierra Verde Causeway.
  • The park will be on your left.

From the Gulf beaches, head south on Gulf Boulevard until you reach St. Petersburg Beach. Turn left onto the Pinellas Bayway and then right onto State Road 679.

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Tips for Camping in Florida and Fort De Soto

Here are a few tips to make your camping trip to Fort De Soto as enjoyable as possible:

  1. A Leave No Trace ethic should be practiced while camping in Fort De Soto
  2. Be prepared for the Florida heat and humidity by bringing sunscreen, insect repellent, and plenty of water
  3. Be aware of the tides and take care not to camp too close to the water’s edge
  4. Be sure to pack all food securely to avoid attracting animals and do not feed the wildlife
  5. Be considerate of your fellow campers and make sure to keep noise to a minimum, especially at night
  6. Alcoholic beverages, swimming in the camp area, and the use of gasoline-powered generators are prohibited within the camp.
  7. Pets are allowed in the park (only in sites 1-84) but must be on a leash at all times and cannot be left unattended.
  8. Canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards can be launched from any of the beaches in the park and are available for rent.
  9. If you’re short on food, don’t worry! A grocery store is located just across the bridge from Fort De Soto in Tierra Verde.
  10. Bike rentals are also available in the park. However, if you’re a nearby resident or have a way of transporting bikes, you can save a good chunk of money by bringing your own.
walking our dog in fort de soto campground in florida, a very dog friendly place to stay
Walking our dog around the campground in Fort de Soto – she loved staying here!

Camping at Fort De Soto is a great way to experience all that Florida has to offer. With its beautiful beaches, warm weather, and diverse wildlife, there’s something for everyone to enjoy. So pack your bags, grab your camping gear, and get ready for an unforgettable camping trip! No matter what issues you may run into, the camp and surrounding area will have you covered.

Fort De Soto is Extremely Dog Friendly With a Dog Park and Dog Beach!

Yes, you read that correctly. Fort de Soto has a designated dog beach area where you can let your dog run and play in the sand and in the water.  You do not need to have your dog on a leash, but they should be well-behaved and under voice control at all times. We discovered years ago that our pup was a huge fan of the beach, so we always try to visit great dog beaches whenever we travel.

dog laying on the dog beach at fort de soto in florida
Our dog, relaxing on the dog beach here at Fort de Soto park.

That’s one of the reasons we actually came to Fort de Soto, because we knew that we could take our dog to the beach with us. 

Also, just next to the parking area for the dog beach at Fort de Soto is a large, fully-fenced in grassy dog park where your dog can run and play in a safe environment. In fact, it’s a fantastic dog park in general but it’s really great to have it near the dog beach too. 

Fort De Soto is Honestly One of Our Favorite Places to Camp in Florida!

Fort De Soto is a great place to camp because it’s beautiful, has plenty of amenities, and is close to both St. Petersburg and Tampa. It’s the perfect spot for a weekend getaway or a longer vacation. Along with a lengthy history, the park offers pristine beaches, fishing piers, kayak rentals, miles of biking trails, and so much more. There’s something for everyone at Fort De Soto (even your dog!), and it really is one of our absolute favorite places to camp here in Florida. 

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