If you don’t know what you haven’t seen at Fort DeSoto, head off the beaten path to find out. How do you find those “off-the-beaten path” paths? Simple: just park somewhere new and start walking around. Once you start looking you’ll find trails and corners secreted away in every corner. If you need more structure, check out Geocaching.com and download GPS coordinates for geocaches hidden in the park. Guaranteed that sort of grown-up scavenger hunt will show you something new.
WHO: Pinellas County manages Fort DeSoto with the assistance of Friends of Fort DeSoto Park. Private businesses contract with the park to run the kayak and bike rentals as well as the boat tours. With recent budget cuts the park has grown more dependant on volunteers.
WHAT: Five small islands make up the 1100-plus acre park. The park boasts two fishing piers, a full-facility campground, nature trails, grills, bike trail, dog park, dog beach, museum, fort, and some of the best beaches in America.
WHEN: The park is open every day of the year. Certain areas of the park close at dark while others, such as the campground and fishing pier, stay open 24 hours.
WHERE: The fort itself sits on the edge of Mullet Key, an arrowhead-shaped chain of islands on the southern tip of Pinellas county. From the Gulf pier you can see Egmont Key at the mouth of Tampa Bay and Anna Maria off to the south.
WHY: The park sits on perhaps the finest piece of real estate in Pinellas county and whispers of what Pinellas county looked like 200 years ago.
You don’t need to love the water to enjoy the park; while many folks make the trip to soak up the sun and enjoy the warm Gulf waters, Fort DeSoto has more to do off the water than on it. The nature trails offer glimpses of everything from eagles to snakes. The east beach trail offers a pine-and-palm-lined walk through a seaside forest. The fort itself, along with the museum, takes you back in time.
Go there enough and you’ll find your own secret corner. Even if you’re resisting getting off the sand onto a road less traveled, the park has a magical quality that reminds us why people from all over the world save up all year to come visit Pinellas county.
BEST Part: Despite touting the abundance of things you can do off the beach, the sunsets at Fort DeSoto are unquestionaly the jewel in this park’s crown. Head down to the beach, watch the sun meet the sea, but hang around for a while. The afterglow is the best part.
MAGIC Question: Free, mostly. Camping, boat tours, and rentals cost extra. Tolls en route to the park cost 85 cents.
Contact Cathy Salustri at CathySalustri@theGabber.com.