A beautiful Pinellas County park, Fort De Soto Park is comprised of a string of five islands at the southern tip of Tierra Verde, just south of St. Petersburg, Florida. Campgrounds are few and far between on the Pinellas Peninsula, and this park’s proximity to downtown St. Pete (20 minutes) and the Gulf Coast Beaches and beach towns (12+ minutes) makes it a great base camp for exploring the area.
Yet this park isn’t just a good camping choice for its convenient location, but also for its beautiful beaches and bays, diverse wildlife, a large variety of outdoor activities, and gorgeous lush, shady campground. Fort De Soto is a very popular day-use park as well, yet the campground is separated from the day-use areas, so camping here is quiet and private.
Before we start our campground tour, would you like to know a little more about visiting Fort De Soto Park? Ok, here you go…
What to See and Do in Fort De Soto Park
There is a lot to see and do in Fort De Soto Park. Activities include: Swimming, sunbathing, picnicking, pier fishing & surf fishing, canoeing and kayaking, sailing, power-boating, birding (328 species documented), walking & hiking, biking, touring the 19th century fort, taking the ferry to Edgemont Key State Park or Shell Key Preserve (seasonal), and of course camping.
Within the boundaries of Fort De Soto Park are 7 miles of waterfront, featuring 3 miles of narrow but beautiful sandy beaches. Amenities include a boat launch with floating docks, restrooms and beach showers, 15 large atomic-inspired concrete picnic shelters, 7 miles of paved paths for walking and biking, hiking trails, a concession area and gift shop (seasonal), and a designated dog beach and fenced off-leash area.
This historic guide provides lots detailed information about the history of the area, particularly about the fort, as well as general info on the park.
Getting Around the Park
The campground is a couple of miles from the closest beach, and recreation areas (with facilities) along the beach are a mile or two away from each other. As such, most campers choose to drive to the beach. The park’s five islands are connected by bridges and short causeways. To get a better idea of the park’s layout, download a copy of the park map.
Day Use Fee: There is a $5 per car parking fee to access any area of the park. If you are camping, this is included in your nightly campsite fee.
Camping Fees: Campsite prices range from $33.90 to $45.77 per night (including tax) depending on the season, site, and whether you are staying in a tent or an RV.
Tolls: To access Fort De Soto Park, you will have to pay a $1 toll to cross the Boca Ciega Bridge to Tierra Verde. If you are coming from the west (gulf-front beaches), there is also a 75 cent toll on Pinellas Bayway. If you plan on coming and going from the park quite a bit, you may choose to purchase a SunPass at Publix, CVS, or Walgreens while you are stocking up on sunscreen.
Food: Whether you are visiting for the day or camping, I recommend that you load up on beverages, snacks, meal fixings, charcoal, sunscreen, and other supplies before you cross the toll bridge into the park. Aside from one teeny-tiny convenience store in Tierra Verde and the campground’s camp store, there are no other places within 10 minutes of the park campground to buy groceries. A visit to the closest grocery store requires crossing the Boca Ciega bridge and paying the $1 toll to return. There are, however, a half dozen restaurants in Tierra Verde.
Gear rental: Kayaks, beach cruiser bikes, and other peddle-powered rentals are available for rent in several areas within the park.
Camping in Fort De Soto Park
Now that you know a bit about Fort De Soto Park, let’s take a look around the Campground.
Fort De Soto Park has 238 family campsites spread over three loops, named Areas 1, 2, and 3. Each campground loop has restrooms with flush toilets, hot showers, and a couple of washers and dryers. All family sites have electric and water hookups. Area 1 also has a nice community building for hanging out – quite convenient if it’s really hot, cold, windy, or rainy.
I have have only included images of Area 1 because during our two stays this winter we only walked around the other loops after dark. Camping Areas 2 and 3 are geared more toward RV’s and campers, although there is good tent camping in those loops as well. Area 1 is restricted to tent and van campers, and is my favorite loop for camping.
Pet Policy: No pets are allowed in camping Area 1 or Area 3 (perhaps because of the raccoons and cats – more on that later). Area 2 allows up to 2 pets per site.
Above is a waterfront site across from our site. Our interior site is pictured below.
Site #14 is one of the smaller sites. See how deep and how private it is?
Site #14 has a grill but no fire ring. Other sites have a fire ring with a grill grate. I believe that such details are noted on the park website’s individual site descriptions.
This is site #11 right next to ours, probably the smallest in the campground. Cozy. I love the way it is surrounded by a palm grove. So tranquil and private.
The waterfront sites are amazing, with the bayfront sites providing gorgeous sunset views. A lot of those sites have direct access to the water, so the camper may launch a kayak directly from his/her site.
The downside is that wind can be an issue. During our January visit, temperatures were down to forty at night, with sustained winds up to 37 mph, blowing straight in from the bay. Although the campground was fully booked, a lot of the waterfront campsites sat empty. The one issue I have with this park is that because a lot of campers reside within the county, and there is only a $5 cancellation or modification fee, there are a large number of last minute cancellations and sites go unoccupied while there may be dozens of people turned away because the campground is “full”.
The images below were shot from or behind the bayfront campsites in Area 1.
The bathrooms are architecturally interesting and in our experience are kept quite clean. Showers are semi-private/communal, meaning that you have your own shower stall but a common dressing area. Each convenience station has at least one washing machine and one dryer.
There are some food-aggressive wild animals at the campground, so do not leave food or coolers unattended. When we were camping here in 2013, a raccoon jumped in the front driver seat of our car when we were standing just a few feet away. The raccoons are far smaller in numbers now because sadly some irresponsible pet owner brought an unvaccinated dog into the park and the raccoons have all become sick with canine distemper. The park caught as many raccoons as they could to treat them, however most have not made it. Pet owners, please please please vaccinate your pets before you travel with them!
There is also a colony of feral cats that live in the campground. Pinellas County has an interesting law that applies to feral “community” cats, and has done a nice job in trying to both save them and keep their populations in check with a capture/spay/neuter program. Although the campground cats are shy, they will still look for food scraps at your campsite. Please do not feed them people food, as campground cats are fed dry cat food daily by volunteers and they appear to be quite healthy.
Good to Know
Reservations: It’s not easy to get a last-minute camping reservation at Fort De Soto Park, so I strongly suggest that you book early. If you are looking for a last-minute reservation, you may have better luck calling the park office at (727) 582-2100 than by trying to book through the reservation system on the park’s website, which is a bit clunky.
Cell Service/Wifi: In spite of the park’s location close to a huge metro area, cell service is terrible to nonexistent in many parts of the park, particularly in the densely forested campground. Free wifi is available at the park office and the camp store.
Noteworthy Restrictions: There are a couple of park rules that keep the campground the quiet, serene place that we quieter campers really appreciate: No gas-powered generators are allowed, and there is a strict no-alcohol policy. There is a hefty fine if you are caught with booze.
For a complete list of park policies and more detailed information about camping at Fort De Soto Park, click here.