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Visit Fort De Soto County Park
Fort De Soto Park, located at 3500 Pinellas Bayway S. in Tierra Verde, occupies 1,136 acres on five islands: Madelaine Key, St. Jean Key, St. Christopher Key, Bonne Fortune Key and Mullet Key. It is the largest of the Pinellas County parks.
The historic fort, for which the park is named, is located on Mullet Key within the park. It was built beginning in 1898 during the Spanish-American War for the defense of Tampa Bay. In 1923, the fort was abandoned by the military. Mullet Key then became a quarantine station for immigrants and ships’ crews. In 1940, the War Department turned it into a bombing range, but at the end of WWII, it was sold to Pinellas County for $26,495.24. Fort De Soto Park was officially dedicated in May, 1963.
In addition to taking self-guided tours of the fort, park visitors can bike, birdwatch, camp, fish, hike, picnic, and enjoy almost three miles of sandy beach. In 2005 and 2009, Ft. De Soto was named America’s top beach. Lifeguards are on duty from April to September. There is a dedicated beach area for dogs west of the Bay Pier.
The park contains 2 fishing piers on Mullet Key and an 800-foot boat ramp on Madelaine Key. Both piers, 500-foot Bay Pier and 1000-foot Gulf Pier, support bait, tackle, and food concessions. A license is not required when fishing from the piers. Pier hours are 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Near the piers is a 2.25-mile, self-guided water trail. Canoes and kayaks can be rented. Phone (727)864-1991.
A 238-site campground, 90% reservable, is located on St. Jean and St. Christopher Keys. Each site is equipped with water and electric hook-ups, picnic table, and charcoal grill. Restrooms, dump stations, laundry facilities, and a camp store are contained within the campground. A paved, multi-use trail connects the campground with the boat ramp and the beaches. Reservations can be made online at www.pinellascounty.org/park or by phoning (727)582-2267.
A dedicated picnic area can be found on the northwestern end of Mullet Key, to the east of North Beach. A 1-mile nature trail is also part of this Arrowhead Picnic Area. Reservable picnic shelters can be found at North Beach, East Beach, and near both piers. Reservations can be made up to a year in advance by calling (727)582-2100 and selecting “0” from the phone menu. They can also be made online at the same website as camping reservations.
Ferry service to Egmont Key and Shell Key is available from the Bay Pier area. Reservations are recommended. Phone (727)398-6577 or visit TampaBayFerry.com online.
A parking fee, collected at the park entrance, is good for the entire day.
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