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.
The large campground at Fort DeSoto County Park features 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.
Been here a few times rent camping.plan to return with our new unit soon. Clean facilities. Family friendly. Can bike around campground. Fish off bridge. Kayak from campsites.
This park/campground is beautiful. The grounds are kept immaculate. The camp sites are large and most provide shade and privacy. What I love about this park is the pristine beaches. There is a fort which is very impressive. If you like to bike, this park has plenty of area to ride.
Fort De Soto Park is amazing. It offers something for everyone whether you are there camping or simply for the day. The beaches are amazing with TONS and TONS of parking. Great cycling, paddling, walking, exploring, fishing, kiting, or anything you want to do. It can get busy in season but the area is designed to accommodate the crowds except for the one lane road to and from so plan your visit according to your threshold for traffic and crowds.
I'm a Florida local from Sarasota and have visited many times but never to camp. We came with a small travel trailer and were lucky enough to get a site right on the water as many are which by itself is rare. Great weekend and honestly one of the nicest parks I have ever been to.
Its great that possibly the most valuable real estate in all of Florida's Gulf Coast was reserved for a county park in lieu of private condos and resorts. The park has a no alcohol policy which honestly is fine. Being such an urban destination I could imagine things getting way out of hand there to the detriment of more chill folks without the ban. Even though I like a cocktail as much as the next guy, i'll take the pleasant environment over the beer any day.
Thanks Pinellas Parks for such a great place for locals and guests to visit.
I used an RV site last year and booked a tent site this year. It is technically within walking distance to the beach.
This is one of the best parks anywhere. It’s not a National Park surrounding a national treasure but it might as well be. The park has three loops. All have waterfront sites and inner loop sites. One is set up for tents, folding campers and small teardrop style trailers. One is conducive to big rigs but it’s a tight fit and one handles all, but allows pets. There’s lots of wildlife, particularly raccoons. A short drive or bike ride from the campground lands you at the old fort, or a ferry to Egmont Key for the day, or a beach with a view of Tampa Bay and the Skyway bridge, or the amazing north beach which has been listed several times as the best beach in America. It’s a truly gorgeous park. Kayaking, SUP, dog parks, dog beach as well as coyote, rattlesnakes, amazing shore birding, white pelicans, eagles, ospreys, roseates, manatees, dolphins… hard to get reservations but well worth it.
Our return to this park year after year resulted in us building a home in the area for our endless summer adventures.
Campground Review: Fort Desoto
I camped with my family Fort Desoto – a Pinellas County park over memorial day 2019. While I’ve been to the beach at Fort Desoto may times over the years, this was my first time camping at the campground (my family who lives in Florida camps here every year).
I booked the site well in advance of the trip, and must have lucked out with a cancellation because I got a site on the water side in the camping loop over the holiday weekend. When I arrived I learned that some of the water side sites are actually against the mangroves, while others have an open view of the bay and are perfect for watching the sunset form your campground. Unfortunately, our site looked at the mangroves, not the sunset, but It was just a short walk to the open area. We were at site 40. If I were going again, I’d book even further in advance and aim to get a site in the lower 30s for the view. Residents can book further in advance.
All of the sites in the tent area are equipped with a picnic table and grill and an electrical hookup. There is a water point at each site.
When my sister showed up with her camping gear, I was surprised that they’d brought two giant fans to plug in – they are very experienced Florida campers. It kept the site cool, mosquitos away, and most importantly it blocked out the noise from the very large group celebrating at the site next to us.
There are lots of trees in each site, and we were easily able to hang up 3 hammocks. The view of the neighbors on each side was blocked about 80% which is great for a FL campground in my experience.
Fires are permitted, but you have to bring your own firepit if you want to build one. There is a small campstore on site, and a grocery and convenience store in Tierra Verde just a mile or so up the road outside the park (there is a toll bridge that you have to pass going in and out).
The campground is gated and locked after 9pm with a code. There is a limit to 2 cars per campsite. If you park outside of the campsite, there is a 5$ parking fee per car at Fort Desoto. You’ll need your camping pass in your car in order to drive down to the beach to park.
There were bathrooms and showers in the loop as well as a day use “house” with a fireplace and chairs and some books. Trash receptacles were a short walk away and we used them often to keep the trash out of the campground because the campground is notorious for racoons.
We brought out kayaks and fishing poles and spent most of the day in the water near the campsite. This is a no swimming area, however, so if you want to swim you have to head to the beach. There are lots of bike trails here as well if you’re camping with bikes.
Check out is at 11am and check in is at 1pm. This is strictly enforced. The office is at the entrance.
Product Review: The Rovr RollR 60 Quart Cooler
As a Ranger for The Dyrt I sometimes get to test and evaluate quality products from amazing sponsors. On this campgin trip, we put the Rovr Roller 60 cooler to the test. https://rovrproducts.com/product/505229344820/6841244385332
When I read about the Rovr cooler’s claim to keep things cold for up to 11 days, I decided that FL camping in Memorial Day temperatures of 95+ was the perfect place to give this cooler a real test. Plus my family in Florida runs a brewery, so I had access to an unlimited supply of beverages and ice for the experiment.
Three days before the camping trip I filled up the cooler with 55 cans and ice. The cans were from the warehouse (not cold) and the cooler had been driving around in the 100 degree car – so the cooler had some hard work to do in the beginning. After one day, the ice had melted, but the inside of the cooler and the drinks were cold. I emptied the water and then left in my car for 2 more days until the trip – the drinks were still cold. I added more ice before the camping trip. The cooler won’t keep your ice frozen for 11 days, but I can say for a fact it will keep your drinks cold for at least 5 or 6 (and cool for more beyond that– 7 das was all the time I had to experiment).
Capacity: I was able to easily fit 55 cans and 10 pounds of ice in the cooler without even trying to Tetris pack the Rovr.
Racoon Proof: We didn’t have any bears in Fort Desoto to test that it’s bear proof, but we did have raccoons. The cooler my family camped with at Fort Desoto the last time was destroyed by raccoons, but the Rovr wasn’t even bothered.
Durability: The cooler is really incredibly durable, we tested it by standing on it to hang the hammocks as high as possible in the trees.
Smooth: Despite its weight (see cons below), the Rovr is really smooth and easy to roll with it’s big wheels even when it’s full. We rolled it through parking lots, over beach, and through grass down a trail. The double handle is great – but full of cans, it was still easy to roll with just one person.
Responsive: In shipping my box got a bit banged up and the cooler arrived with one of its Velcro straps missing. I sent a quick email to support and they responded immediately with instructions on how to get a replacement through the product warranty. This could have easily been a con for a $400 cooler, but the customer service was great and fast and conveyed the attitude that they want me to love my Rovr.
Color: the cooler comes in several color choices including orange which is my favorite color. The top bin comes in white or can be upgraded to a printed color I like the way the white looks but it gets dirty pretty quickly)
Keeps things cool: The Rovr totally passed my extreme heat test and really did what a cooler is meant to do – keep things really cold.
Weight: Because the Rovr 60 is heavy duty, it’s also HEAVY. Without anything food or drink in it the cooler is heavy -- yet manageable. Full of beer, I could barely get the thing in and out of my car. If you fill it up, the average person will need to have help lifting it up. (Thankfully with the wheels, you don’t have to lift it often – just in and out of the car.)
Until you get used to the size and capacity it’s easy to overstuff – for me, this meant that the ice kept overflowing into the dry area where there is no drainage. This is more operator error than a negative about the product. If you don't need the capacity of the larger cooler, the 45 would be a good choice.
Extra Cost of Accessories: I love that this cooler has a lot of extra accessories that you can add on, but I didn’t opt to get any of them for the test since they’re all around 20-40$ a piece and I wasn’t sure how much I’d like the cooler. If you want the accessories, you can easily add another $100 on top of the $400 the cooler price. After testing the cooler I think that the cutting board or the bike pull accessories would be fun to have, but with the weight of the cooler already, I think I’ll skip adding anything to it for the future.
Overall, the Rovr is a really impressive cooler. It’s perfect for car camping, a short hike in camping trip, and day trips when you’re on the go – and it looks really fun as a bonus! The Rovr definitely passed the test. The next test for my Rovr is going to be flying back to Oregon with me (although my family in Florida is begging me to leave it here with them—at least until after their next camping trip).
Reservations months in advance required. Nice dog beach. No alcohol allowed so keep it inside along with music. No hookups.
Great activities, fishing, beach, and plenty of sun and water. Shells and sharks teeth always plentiful.
great campground. right on the water. doggy beach. full shade for most RV sites. best sites are reserved for tent campers. close th st. Petersburg. very busy reserve way ahead.
Great place- some of the sites are more shady than others. Well maintained. Multiple loops for tents, small campers/RVs and large RVs. Campground pass also provides access to beach portion of park.