Florida's Pinellas County Park System has some of the best parks in the nation and they offer a treasure trove of recreational opportunities. Fort DeSoto Park is its largest, made up of five interconnected islands consisting of 1,136 acres. While it was a diamond in the rough when it was dedicated in perpetuity as a public park in 1963, today it is certainly Pinellas County's sparkling centerpiece in a crown of jewels that also includes award-winning beaches — Caladesi Island, and Sand Key. Each year, more than 2.7 million people enjoy this spacious park.
Fort DeSoto Holds Historic Significance
Construction of the fort was begun in 1898 — the year of the Spanish-American War, but the fort never saw any major battles. While it is said that the weapons of Fort DeSoto never fired on an enemy, it was clear they played a significant part in the evolution of modern weaponry. In 1978, the 12-inch mortar battery, located at the fort for which the park was named was listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Fort DeSoto Park property changed hands several times in the 1930s and 40s. It was first purchased from the federal government in 1938. In 1941, the property was sold back to the federal government to be used as a gunnery and bombing range during World War II. It was repurchased from the U.S. government in 1948 and opened to the public on December 21, 1962.
See Pinellas County's Fort DeSoto Historic Guide for more details.
Fort DeSoto Park's Award-Winning Beaches
Pinellas County is home to some of the best and most popular beaches in the nation — Caladesi Island, Clearwater Beach and Sand Key among others. But, it is Fort DeSoto's North Beach that stands out among them all.
In 2005, Fort DeSoto's North Beach garnered national attention by ranking No. 1 on Dr. Beach's Top 10 list of America's Best Beaches. TripAdvisor, the world's largest online travel community, named Fort DeSoto Park America's Top Beach for two consecutive years (2008 and 2009). The popular online travel network cites a "spectacular combination of soft white sand, calm, clear water, and a laid-back atmosphere." North Beach's top ranking on the annual best-of list was based on TripAdvisor's Popularity Index.
Fort DeSoto is a top dog-friendly beach in the U.S. Fort DeSoto's unique "Paw Playground" features fenced-in areas for both big and small dogs, as well as a sandy dog beach, doggie showers, and availability of fresh drinking water.
Fort DeSoto is so much more than just great sand. Over the years, it has become an amenity-rich park popular with residents as well as visitors to the area. Just look at the amenities:
- Over seven miles of waterfront, including almost three miles of white sand beach.
- An 800-foot-long boat launch facility with 11 floating docks.
- A campground with 238-sites featuring modern facilities that include restrooms, showers, and laundry. Campsites include picnic tables, grills, water and electric. Dump stations are available.
- Two fishing piers — one 500-foot-long on Tampa Bay and the other 1,000-foot-long on the Gulf of Mexico.
- A 12-foot-wide, 6.8-mile asphalt trail connects the campground with the East and North Beaches and the historic fort. It's perfect for biking, skating, and jogging.
- A 2.25-mile canoe trail.
- Paws Playground, a dog park divided into two areas — one for large dogs and one for small dogs. A stretch of beach is also designated as pet-friendly.
- Two nature trails — a one-mile trail in the Arrowhead Picnic area and a 3/4-mile trail in the Soldiers' Hole area.
- A 2,200-foot self-guided, barrier-free nature trail open to all visitors, regardless of physical abilities.
- Quartermaster Museum.
- Numerous picnic tables in areas throughout the park, as well as 14 large group picnic shelters.
- Concessions and restrooms are available in all beach areas.
- A snack bar and souvenir shop are located at the fort.
Park Information and Directions
Fort DeSoto Park
3500 Pinellas Bayway South
Tierra Verde, FL 33715
Park Office Phone: 727-893-9185
Campground Office Phone: 727-893-9185
Directions: I-275/Hwy 19, Exit 17 Pinellas Bayway/54th Avenue So./Hwy 682. Turn left on Pinellas Bayway/Hwy 679 and follow to Fort DeSoto Park. There are no entrance fees to the park, but the Pinellas Bayway is a toll road — the toll is less than a dollar. Once entering the park, the boat ramp is on your right, and just a short distance on your right is the campground. Signs will direct you to the ferry, piers, dog park and beaches.