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fort de soto park

America’s Greatest Natural Beach – Fort DeSoto State Park

Anyone who’s a serious beach bum knows that no two beaches are exactly alike. There are party beaches, family beaches, and, if you really know your way around, the occasional quiet spot to spend a relaxed afternoon entirely away from the crowds.

One of the most unique beaches anywhere, though, has to be at Fort De Soto, a park maintained by Pinellas County on a handful of keys south of St. Petersburg. A trip to Fort De Soto is a rare opportunity to see a beach in a near-pristine state, without the background of high rise condos and hotels.

While that makes for a great beachgoing experience, it’s also offers a special opportunity to get an up-close look at mother nature. The estuaries and tide pools at Fort DeSoto are home to rafts of birds, plant life, and even dolphins that are harder to get close to at more developed beaches.

For history buffs, Fort DeSoto offers a big bonus attraction. The area was fortified early in the Civil War as part of the Union blockade of Tampa Bay, then developed further to defend the Bay starting around the time of the Spanish-American war. Though the military abandoned the installation by 1914, the earthworks, barracks, and even some of the mortars are still around.

Fort DeSoto is about a 45 minute drive from downtown St. Pete, so it’s worth committing a full day to the trip. Be prepared to pay tolls along the way to the park, and a small entry fee per car. The park also offers a variety of camping options, if you’re willing to get some sand in your socks and want to devote more than a day to exploring.