3500 Pinellas Bayway S.,
Tierra Verde, FL 33715 Tide Tables
Fort De Soto Park is located off of the Pinellas Byway (Route 682/679) which is at the southern tip of Pinellas County. You pay 50 cents to the Florida DOT to cross the bridge and then a $5.00 parking fee to Pinellas County at the entrance into the park.
Fort De Soto Park is the largest park in Pinellas County with 1136 acres including five islands. Mullet Key is the main island and includes 6 miles of beaches.You drive through Madelaine and St Jean Key to reach Mullet Key. There is tent and RV camping and 238 camp sites on both St Jean and the adjoining St Christopher Key, but pets are only allowed on 82 spots on St Jean Key. Bonnie Fortune Key is where the maintenance area is at the northeastern tip of Mullet Key.
The Tampa Bay Times calls Fort De Soto Park "Angler's Heaven". Fishing at Fort De Soto Park is free, you need no license or pay no fees to fish, only off of the 1000 foot Gulf Pier or the 500 foot Bay Pier. You do need a saltwater license to fish on a private boat or off shore with waders, and a freshwater license to fish inland with waders or a rented kayak or canoe. Fishing licenses can be purchases online at MyFWC.com or locally at sporting goods stores.
Basically, non-residents can pay $17 for 3 days, $30 for 7 days, or $47 a year for a separate saltwater or a freshwater fishing license. You do not need a license for children 16 and under but if an adult is participating in any way, the adult needs a license. There is a special permit needed for snook, spiney lobster, or tarpon.
Residents need a $17 a year license for freshwater and a $17 a year license for saltwater. Those residents 16 and under and 65 and older can fish for free, but seniors must have a complimentary fishing and hunting certificate from a treasurer's office and may be asked to produce a document proving age and residency. More information about license and permit requirements can be found at Florida's Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at http://myfwc.com.
The piers are open from 7 am to 11 pm. The shorter Bay Pier, also called the Family Pier, has a Tackle and Snack shop. It is shallower with less current and you can find trout, redfish and snook, along with Spanish mackerel and sheepshead.
Off the longer Gulf Pier you can find snook, sheepshead, pompano, Spanish mackerel, Kingfish, tarpon and cobia.
Inshore at Mullet Key Bayou, Soldier's Hole, and Bunce's Pass there is spotted seatrout, snook, and redfish.
|Gulf Pier Welcome Sign|
|Pretty Bait and snack shop off the Bay pier|
|Edgmont Key - Fort DeSoto Ferry|
|A Great Egret likes to sit on top of a building on the pier|
|This Cattle Egret also favors the top the buildings on the pier|
|Ruddy Turnstone at Fort De Soto Park Pier|
|Cormorants like to sit on the pilings|
|Brown Pelicans like to swim near the pier|
|Royal Tern at Fort De Soto Pier|
|Laughing Gull at Ft De Soto Pier|
There is a small Quartermaster's Storehouse Museum with the history of the fort and actual uniforms and supplies needed by a soldier at Fort De Soto. The remnants of Fort De Soto are complete with 12 inch mortars and other artillery, the stable, the wagon shed, the water tank and pump house, the, the bakery, the civilian quarters, mess hall, post exchange, the barracks, the captain's quarters, the guard house, hospital, etc. You can climb over the fort to the observation tower. Fort De Soto looks even more authentic when the Civil War historical battle reenactments and weekend encampments are going on.
|Fort De Soto 12-inch mortar|
|view of the fort from the observation deck|
|Civil War Reenactment|
|view of the beach from the observation deck|
Then there are the trails. You can bicycle on all of the paved paths from the entrance of the park to both the eastern and western tips of the flying V-shaped Mullet Key.
The Barrier Free Nature Trail is near the park headquarters when you cross the bridge onto Mullet Key. The 2,200 foot trail includes self-guided interpretative program with signs and touch activated speakers.
Soldiers Hole Nature Trail is 1.5 miles if you take the northern loop too, otherwise with shortcuts it will be half to three quarters of a mile. There are red, white and black mangroves and fiddler and horseshoe crabs along the Mullet Key Bayou shoreline, sea oxeye daisy, coin vine, saw palmetto, Spanish stopper, turtle, manatee and shoal grass, and Brazilian pepper.
Beware, poison ivy is common throughout the park.
The Fort De Soto Canoe Trail is 2.25 miles along Soldier's Hole and the Mullet Key Bayou and takes two hours to complete. You can rent canoes near the head of the trail.
The Arrowhead Nature Trail across from North Beach is half a mile to a mile long if you take the loop which borders Mullet Key Bayou after station seven. There is cabbage palm, slash pine live oak, saw palmetto, prickly pear, red, white, and black mangroves, and buttonwood, and if you take the loop you will also see the red cedar and snowberry, cordgrass, coin vine, and maybe a red-bellied woodpecker, a fiddler crab or an eastern diamondback rattlesnake.
|Raccoon foraging at the Arrowhead trail picnic area|
|Fishing with waders near Arrowhead trail|
|Kayaking near Arrowhead trail|
|pristine beach near the pier at Fort De Soto|
|Great Egret and gulls on North Beach|