De Soto National Memorial, located 5 miles west of Bradenton, Florida, commemorates the 1539 landing of Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto in “La Florida.” Start your visit at the visitor center, open 7 days a week from 9a.m. to 5p.m. Here you can see a video about the De Soto expedition as well as view displays of historic Spanish and Native American artifacts. A small bookstore is also located in the visitor center. The memorial grounds are open from sunrise to sunset every day of the year except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. No entrance fees are charged, nor are there fees for any of the site’s special programs.
Throughout the year, park rangers and volunteers participate in a variety of historical reenactments, demonstrations, and other educational programs. Camp Uzita Living History runs from December to April, culminating with a reenactment of the De Soto landing. Desoween ghost walk takes place at the end of October, while Christmas is celebrated with a display of holiday lights during December. In summer, a Junior Ranger camp is open for children 6-10 years of age, but they can participate in the Junior Ranger program at any time. Completing the educational booklet about the area’s human and natural history will earn them a badge.
Although this is primarily a historical site, recreational activities are also available. A short (less than 1 mile) nature trail will take you through several Florida ecosystems, past De Soto point, where the Manatee River empties into Tampa Bay. Along the trail you will find signage interpreting both the historical context and the natural surroundings. Forty-five minute, ranger-guided trail walks are scheduled throughout the day. Check at the visitor center for times.
Ranger-led kayak tours are available from May through October on Saturday and Sunday mornings. These tours begin at 9:30a.m. and last about 90 minutes. They are provided free of charge and include the equipment needed. Call 941-792-0458 for reservations.
Other recreational opportunities include birding, fishing, and swimming. During the spring and fall, bird migrations take place along this section of the Gulf coast. Lists of birds that have been observed here can be found at the visitor center. Fishing with rod and reel is permitted, but requires a Florida fishing license. There are 2 small beaches within the park boundaries, but no life guards are stationed there, so swimming is at your own risk.
Dog walks are a popular activity on the trails. Dogs must be attached to a hand-held leash. Owners are responsible for cleaning up after their pets. For those bringing in their own food, a 10-table picnic area is located adjacent to the parking lot. Grills and alcoholic drinks cannot be brought into the park. For those who prefer restaurant eating, head to Bradenton Beach, a short drive away, for fresh seafood.
De Soto National Memorial is located at: 8300 De Soto Memorial Hwy Bradenton, Florida 34209