The beaches of Fort Desoto Park consistently rank among the best beaches in America, and campers love the park’s campground with half of its 233 sites on the water.
This public park, managed by Pinellas County, is spread over 900 acres on five interconnected islands with seven miles of waterfront, including three miles of some of the prettiest sandy beaches in Florida.
There is a 2.25-mile designated paddle trail, but the real fun is exploring Shell Key and the other offshore islands.
If you have a larger boat, a full-facility boat ramp is located near the entrance to the park with plenty of launch ramps and more-than-ample trailer parking. Campers in Area Three (Sites 166-195) are allowed to anchor off the seawall. (There is an overflow parking area in the campground where you can leave your trailer during your stay.)
You’ll also find a 6.3-mile paved bicycle trail, nature trails, two fishing piers and the ruins of the park’s namesake fort, which was built during the Spanish-American War.
Tenters can escape the RV crowd on their own island, where 85 sites are set aside for tents, pop-ups, vans and trailers shorter than 16 feet.
My wife and I have been visiting this park for years. In addition to the park amenities, we enjoy its proximity to Tampa, St. Petersburg and lovely nearby beachfront communities.
The Fort DeSoto’s multi-use trail connects to the popular Pinellas Trail, which extends your ride 54 miles atop a long-abandoned railroad bed from Tarpon Springs to downtown St. Petersburg, with a spur that shoots out across the Dunedin Causeway to Honeymoon Island State Park.
This trail is the granddaddy of rail trails in Florida, and its creation set off a flurry of redevelopment of idle railroad beds across the state to preserve greenways while affording safe recreational opportunities for residents and visitors.
The campsites at Fort De Soto
Although there are 233 sites, they fill up in peak season (January to April), so campers should plan ahead and take advantage of “off season” lulls. Rates are modestly lower during the off-season, as well.
The best time to find a campsite at Fort DeSoto is in the fall, when the weather is ideal for camping, biking and kayaking, and waterfront sites are more available.
Tent campers get special treatment: 85 campsites are set aside on their own little island with its own beach.
Pets are welcome only in designated camping Area Two (Sites 86-164) near the entrance.
The park sets aside an undisclosed number of sites for walk-ups, but don’t count on any being available in peak season. RVers near the end of their reserved stay, flock to the park office promptly at 8 a.m., first in line for open sites to extend their visit.
By design, locals have the advantage because they can drive over to the park and reserve before packing up their gear at home. Pinellas County residents also benefit from a park policy that allows them to reserve a site up to seven months in advance.
The reservation window for non-residents is six months, and the phones start buzzing on the mark, so call early and call often.
Fort De Soto Campground, 3500 Pinellas Bayway S., Tierra Verde, FL 33715. Phone: (727) 582-2100. A 236-site campground with picnic tables, grills, water, electricity, washers, dryers, sanitary disposal stations, modern restrooms, showers, play areas and a campground store. Sites for camping with pets. For reservations, call 727-582-2100 or book online through the Pinellas County web site.
Fort De Soto Campground Reservations:
Pinellas County residents get first dibs on campsites up to 7 months in advance while the reservations window doesn’t open until 6 months in advance for non-residents. You must create an account before making a reservation. For reservations, call 727-582-2100 or book online through the Pinellas County web site.
Rates, including taxes, as of April 2023
Tent sites (Sites 1-85): Waterfront, $43; Interior, $40.
RV sites (Sites 86-236): Waterfront, $48; Interior, $46.
Maximum stay: 14 days. During the off-season, it’s possible to extend for another 14 days if sites are available. Cancellations: There are no refunds, but if you cancel, the park will give you a credit valid up to one year after the cancellation.
Related articles on Florida Rambler
- Fort De Soto Park is Tampa Bay treasure
- Best Camping Near Tampa: 9 Choice Campgrounds
- Great camping can be found in Florida’s little-known county parks
- St Petersburg: City of the Arts
- Shell Key Preserve — Accessible only by boat.
- Fort De Soto park map — Download PDF file
- Pinellas Trail — Official Pinellas County site
- Pinellas Trail — Rails To Trails
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Bob Rountree is a beach bum, angler and camper who has explored Florida for decades. No adventure is complete without a scenic paddle trail or unpaved road to nowhere. Bob co-founded FloridaRambler.com with fellow journalist Bonnie Gross 14 years ago.