Located off the St. Petersburg coast, near the mouth of Florida’s Tampa Bay, the tiny islands that make up Fort De Soto County Park have a long and storied history. More than 1,000 years ago, the islands were home to the Tocobaga peoples, who sustained themselves on local plants and seafood. In the 1500s, Spanish conquistadors began exploring Florida’s barrier islands and mainland, among them, Hernando de Soto. From the Civil War in the 1860s until the conclusion of World War II in the 1940s, the islands were used as military emplacements, first as a Union blockade, then as coastal defensive batteries. The islands finally became a state park in 1963 as an effort to preserve their long history, and provide a recreation area for locals and visitors. The park was designated America’s Top Beach in 2009, and sees more than 2.7 million annual visitors.
Fort DeSoto County Park reservations offer 238 sites for tent and RV campers. It is located on the St. Christopher and St. Jean Keys, approximately 10 miles southwest of St. Petersburg. The campground is mostly wooded, and divided up into three areas: Area 1 for tents, vans, and small campers, and Areas 2 and 3 for larger RVs. All sites are equipped with electrical and water hookups, picnic tables and cooking grills. Comfort stations with restrooms, showers and laundry facilities are located in each area; a dump station is located near Area 2. The campground also features a small store, dayroom, two playgrounds, and Wifi service; bike and kayak rentals are available. Dogs are permitted in Area 2 and the designated dog park only. Alcoholic beverages and gas-powered generators are not permitted in the park. Reservations are recommended, and can be made up to six months in advance; seven months for locals. Campsite rates are $36–$42/night.
There are plenty of activities to enjoy on a visit to Fort DeSoto County Park, including visiting Fort DeSoto. Located on the southernmost point of Mullet Key, the historic military emplacement is open to the public for self-guided tours. Explore officers’ quarters, the bakery, the hospital and various other facilities. Look out across the Gulf of Mexico for the lighthouse, constructed in 1858, on neighboring Egmont Key. The park also features more than 7 miles of sparkling, white sand beaches, including East Beach and North Beach, for sunning and swimming. These can be reached via a paved, multi-use path from the campground. There are also boat launches, a fishing pier and a snack bar. As part of the Pinellas National Wildlife Refuge, bird watchers can scan for some of the more than 300 species of resident and migratory birds, including waterfowl, shorebirds, songbirds, woodpeckers, and raptors.
Stayed two nights here. Arrived in the afternoon and found site number (38) easily. The tent sites on the outer side of the loops are bedded in sand, and the ones on the inner side are bedded in crushed shells and are nearer the restrooms and facilities. The back side of number 38 leads to a grassy area lined by trees on the far side that block the sunset. Recommend site 30 or below so that the back side of your site leads to the water and beautiful sunsets. Be prepared to deal with mosquitoes and raccoons. On the first night, a raccoon approached the table without regard and tried to open the portable trash can! They're active and large, and can be seen at night throughout the campground raiding the trash bins. Went on a bike ride the following day, and upon returning saw that a raccoon had opened the Coleman 52-gallon cooler, taken out the carton of eggs, cracked all six eggs, and eaten each egg yolk, leaving the whites and the shells strewn about the picnic table and ground nearby. Thankful that it had not touched the Ferrero Rocher chocolates. Resolved to put the cooler inside the car when absent henceforth. There is a campground store near the entrance with everything from ice to wood to tuna, milk, fishing supplies… it's a mini-market. There is a souvenir shop and food shop near the fort part. Didn't go to the fort or museum. Had a delicious fish and chips meal at the food shop. The bike paths are wide along the main vehicular roads. The highlight of the site is the North Beach. It's ample and clean. White sands. Shallow shores. Pleasant, perfect.
Great park with days worth of activities! The historic fort, scenic beaches, trails for hiking or biking, etc made for a great visit! Tons of wildlife - we saw raccoons, dolphin, manatee, tons oftons of Birds!
I've been camping here for 30 years. Never needed a reservation. Now, it seems people plant roots down at the waterfront sites and never leave goving anyone else a chance to enjoy this beautiful campground. We were lucky enough to get a reservation during the week & had to split the qeek between 2 different sites. Packing up & moving across the campground is annoying but we did what we had to do to be able to stay here. Absolutely love this campground. Will always be my 2nd home.
Great Campsite for the Family. Nice Clean campsite. North Beach is beautiful and clean. Very spacious and quite after dark. Dumb site was clean and roomy. Playground was right across from us and had great shade. I highly recommend going to Crabby Bills for a great evening dinner on the beach about 7 miles away. We stayed in a pull through 234 which was great to get in and out without backing in. Can’t wait to go again.
Busy campground … RV sites on the water are lovely for watching the sunset … and being within feet of dolphin is quite amazing. But a few words to the wise here:
The RV spots front to mucky, muddy waterfront and there are large signs sporadically displayed saying "NO SWIMMING … DEEP SINK HOLES" - although they are not visible from many of the RV locations. (We were told though that the sinkhole warning applies to all "beachfront" RV spots).
And,do cross your fingers that your reservation will be honored … because the staff can do little when the people who are supposed to be vacating your reserved spot, don't. They thought they paid for and reserved another night and indicated that the truck that dropped their trailer off wasn't coming back to move them until the following day.
All in all, this was our least favorite campground … although the children LOVED the mud .
This is a great campground near the beach and bay. Many sites are right on the water which is beautiful. This campground is kept super clean. They don’t allow alcohol and you have to have a bin to have a fire. There’s a great little store and snack shop where you can rent bins if you don’t have one. It’s great for birdwatching and nature. The raccoons are around, so don’t leave food out. We went in Feb 2019 on a last minute reservation. Otherwise it’s next to impossible to get a site here on the weekends. The bathrooms are old, but clean. Overall, a great Florida campground!
If you want to camp by the water, then Fort De Soto may be the best spot on the west coast of Florida south of the Panhandle. Having said that, if you want the best experience at Fort De Soto there are a few things you should know before booking your site.
Fort De Soto Campground is extremely popular making it difficult to get reservations. Plan way ahead to get a decent selection of sites. Weekends, as you might imagine, are packed. So, if you can camp during the week it will increase your chances of getting reservations within a month or two.
Be prepared for rain especially in the summer months, and know that the rain will drain toward the water.
There are 3 distinct areas for camping at Fort De Soto. All 3 are beautiful and have great campsite but #1 (sites 1-85) is the least desirable. Area #2 is pet friendly. If you're bringing your dog this is where you'll need to camp. However, if you don't have a dog you may want to avoid this area as the barking is non-stop. Area #3 is the most beautiful and most quiet of the 3 areas.
There is no alcohol allowed so prepare accordingly.
Spend time at Fort De Soto Park a few miles down the road. Bring your bikes or rent them at the campground and take the paved bike path along the highway into the Park. There are 2 fishing piers, a dog beach, a long humans-only beach, the Historic Fort De Soto, kayaking, beautiful views, and more.
You can also take a ferry to Shell Key Island or Egmont Key State Park. If you bring your tent and gear onto the ferry, you can camp at Shell Key with a permit. Egmont has a large population of Gopher Tortoise. You can't touch them as they are endangered, but you can get great photos.
See our more detailed review at https://lifestyleover50.com/fort-de-soto-campground-review-and-tips/. You'll also be able to see articles on other Florida Road Trips and more! Happy road trippin' and camping!
Many activities to do. Fishing, swimming, boat ramp. Nice store, and the best beaches, white sand and perfect for kids
You can see dolphins in the water while you swim. Dog beach. ❤️
We have camped at Fort DeSoto many times with our 38” travel trailer. The campground is clean but could use some tree trimming. The spots we have rented we kind of tight for our side trailer and our large truck. The branches are low so watch out! The neighbors are very close. We are used to larger campsites where we can spread out. Overall the campground is tightly packed but clean and convenient. Fort DeSoto Park and beach are a five minute drive. Our dogs loved the dog beach and the dog park. Very nice bike trails also.