Fort De Soto Park

Fort De Soto Park
photo courtesy of www.pinellascounty.org

Located near the area of Clearwater, Fort De Soto Park is a beautiful place to take the children to play in the sand or walk the shore line with a significant other. The sands are sugary white and waters are blue, it really does make for the perfect setting for something special. The grounds are just over 1,100 acres full of natural beauty. With a wonderful beach, play area for the kids, and so much to explore, this is the perfect sunny day outing for a group of friends or a family. 

Fort De Soto Park
Photo Credits
Photo courtesy of Friends of Fort De Soto Park / Facebook
 

When you think of Florida, what you think about? Big cities and with tall buildings and bustling crowds always in a hurry? Hot and humid weather with palm trees and little lizards crawling all around? Disney World, maybe?

What about sandy white beaches with pretty blue waters? Or natural wetlands and sinkholes that are preserved for their natural beauty? Florida is so much more than just Walt Disney World and crowded cities. Yes, those things are there but so is the natural beauty that has always been in Florida. 

For instance, have you ever been to Fort De Soto Park? It’s located in Clearwater so it’s right on the western edge of the state. It has beautiful white sands that are perfect for building awesome sandcastles, lying on the beach for that epic summer suntan, or looking for whole seashells to take home as souvenirs. The waters are blue and with all of the palm trees on the property, it makes the perfect natural area to explore. There are over 328 species of birds that have been documented here, as well as a variety of sea life, wild life, and plant life. People have been known to spot dolphins, turtles, and starfish during their time here.  

A Little History

What is essentially five interconnected islands, there are 1,136 acres that make up the Fort De Soto property. The land was originally home to the Tocobaga Native Americans from about 1000 to 1500 A.D. They lived off the land and the animals they found in the Gulf of Mexico. But it was taken over by Hernando De Soto around 1539, hence the name “Fort De Soto.”

The property was also used for military purposes starting in the middle of the 1800s. The islands that are a part of the grounds were the perfect place to hide since they were only accessible by boat, so Union troops were stationed here during the Civil War. They were once again abandoned until 1882 when the military decided they wanted to use the grounds more permanently, although it was still a few years before they started construction on any buildings. The Fort De Soto wasn’t completed until 1906. After a few short years of using the grounds, they were abandoned in 1923. While some of the buildings still remain, others were knocked down over the years from the weather. 

The Quartermaster museum, or the building that was the sleeping quarters for the higher military men, on the grounds goes into more detail of the history of the lands, so be sure to check it out when you visit. It describes what the fort is made up of as well as the history of the barracks, the hospital, the guardhouse, the mess hall, the storehouse, and various other buildings that sat on the property. Also inside the museum is different items that once belonged to the soldiers, like different equipment they used and items from the time period, like the military uniforms and even an old deck of playing cards.

Fort De Soto
Photo courtesy of Kristen Burke Coffman / Facebook

 

What to do Here

There are plenty of things to do in this area. Besides laying on the beach or viewing the historic fort, there is a camping area with facilities for those who wish to spend a few days here. There are showers here as well, so you don’t have to go without if you don’t want to.  

Here you will also find a few different trails to take for those who are a little adventurous: A nearly 7-mile paved trail connects the campground with the North and East swim centers as well as the historic fort, a two and a quarter mile canoe trail for those that love being in the water, a one mile nature trail in the Arrowhead picnic area, a ¾ mile nature trail in the Soldier’s Hole area, and a 2,2000 foot Barrier-Free nature trail is a self-guided trail that is great for everyone who loves nature, even those with walking devices.  

A dog park within the park is available for those who want to bring their little four-legged friends with them. Dogs are only allowed on certain parts of the beach, and in two different areas, visitors can find a fenced-in area for their pets to run loose. There are water stations here if you forget to bring a bowl to fill with water for your dog. 

To keep the kids entertained at this park, there is playground equipment for them to enjoy, although many kids just love playing in the soft sand here. They may not be too interested in the history of the area, but they could enjoy viewing the different wildlife species that roam the grounds. 

Fort De Soto
Photo courtesy of Lynne Harding / Facebook