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Fort De Soto Park

Editor's pick

Categories: Attraction, Park, Beach

Features: Beach/Waterfront, Boat ramp, Camp sites, Canoe/kayak trails, County parks, Dog park, Fishing piers, Grills, Kid-friendly, Picnic shelters, Public restrooms, Swimming area

Parking: Lot

Admission: $5 entrance fee per car. $75 annual pass available.

More in this neighborhood: South Pinellas beaches

The park comprises 1,136 acres of dry land on five interconnected islands. It is the largest of the county's parks and, while it has parking lots and snack shops, it also has large portions that are virtually undisturbed from the time indigenous people and Spanish explorers trod its shores. Its islands, in fact, form the shape of an arrowhead thrust into Tampa Bay, but that shape also provides sheltered waters ideal for canoes and kayaks.

The park's seven miles of waterfront includes three miles of white sand beach. The broad sands of the park are the reason most people come to visit and were why the beach was rated in 2005 as the best in America. The entire western and southern shores are beach, though the latter tend to be a bit more rocky than the fine quartz sands of the west. There is a segment of beach near the fort where dogs are allowed to run off a leash and even swim.

Most of the park's 3-million annual visitors come to swim, but the park has many other attractions, including an 800-foot-long boat ramp facility with 11 floating docks, a 238-site campground that includes places to moor a boat next to a campsite, two fishing piers with snack bars and live bait, trails for canoes, kayaks and hikers, but also a nearly 7-mile paved path for cycling and in-line skating, and facilities for large groups and special events. The park's location out in the water and along flyways make it an ideal place for birders, who have identified some 300 different species within the park.

Be aware that some restrooms in county parks are closed weekdays to cut costs. However, facilities near the most popular spots remain open. All restrooms are open on weekends. Check the park's website or phone. Pinellas County parks are opened from 7 a.m. until sunset, year-round.

There are nearly 3,000 parking spaces and they can fill up, but with overflow parking on grassy areas, the park has never had to turn anyone away.

Check out this nifty slide show of the park.

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Fort De Soto Park - South Pinellas beaches