If you want to camp by the water, then Fort De Soto may be the best spot on the west coast of Florida south of the Panhandle. Having said that, if you want the best experience at Fort De Soto there are a few things you should know before booking your site. So here you go! The Fort De Soto Campground Review and 10 Tips for the best experience possible.
Located at the southern tip of Pinellas County, there are unobstructed views of Tampa Bay, the Skyway Bridge, and the Gulf of Mexico throughout Fort De Soto Campground and/or Fort De Soto Park.
From Interstate 275 take the 682 west to the 679 (Pinellas Bayway) south to the campground entrance on the right.
From points in Pinellas County take either Gulf Blvd or the 19 Alternate to 693 South to the 699 South. Left on the Pinellas Bayway then right to the campground entrance on the right.
Fort De Soto Camping Tip #1
Fort De Soto Campground is extremely popular making it difficult to get reservations. Plan way ahead to get a decent selection of sites. Weekends, as you might imagine, are packed. So, if you can camp during the week it will increase your chances of getting reservations within a month or two. For example, we camped on a Thursday and Friday night and were able to get a waterfront campsite about 5 weeks out.
Fort De Soto Camping Tip #2
Check the Weather Forecast
This may be the most important tip in our Fort De Soto campground review! It rains a lot, as you probably know, in Florida. Especially in the afternoons during the summer months. It’s not that you would necessarily cancel your trip if you see rain in the forecast. But you might take the opportunity to prepare.
For instance, we brought an extra tarp and ponchos. It was a good thing we had them too! It started raining the minute we unhitched the camper. We donned our ponchos for the rest of the setup. Then went inside and took naps while the rain came down. It rained for about 4 hours. The next evening it rained again from about 7 pm until 10 pm.
Some campsites will temporarily flood during the rain. It drains well but your tent area, or area outside your camper, is going to be in a couple of inches of water for a while after the rain stops.
Fort De Soto Camping Tip #3
There are 3 distinct camping areas at Fort De Soto.
Area #1- Sites numbered 1 – 85 (Tent, Van, Pop-Up, or Trailer under 16 feet only).
When looking at the campground map (see right), it may look like these are waterfront sites. Technically they are. But they are not right on the water. Some have water views, but they are 30 to 50 yards from the water. Others have obstructed water views. We rode our bikes through the entire camping area and found these to be the least desirable sites in the campground. There are no bad sites in the Fort De Soto campground really, but this section does not match either of the two other areas.
Area #2- Sites numbered 86-164 (all camping units including tents, and pet friendly).
If you want to bring your dog camping with you this is where you will camp. But take note if you do not have a dog. Even if you LOVE dogs as we do, when you have most of the campers bringing their dogs to almost 80 campsites, there is a lot of barking. I mean, a lot! Anytime someone walks by a site that dog barks. Then, of course, the dogs in the neighboring sites join in. Then the owners are reprimanding their dog for barking. It’s a constant part of camping in this area.
Having said that about the dogs, the sites are really nice. We camped in site 111. We were 25 feet from the water. Further south, however, are even nicer sites (143-151 waterfront) backing up to the open water. You can launch your kayak from your site! Technically you can where we were as well, but you’ll have to step down over a concrete wall into your kayak. It’s doable for younger kayakers. However, we saw a more senior couple struggle through the process.
Area #3- Sites numbered 165-236 (all camping units including tents).
If you don’t bring your dog or other pet, this is where you want to be. Gorgeous water-front sites. Especially sites 165-207. Sites 200 – 207 sit right on the point and are the best spots in Fort De Soto Campground. This area is the most desirable in our opinion. When riding our bikes through here we did not see a bad site. Even those that are in the interior with no direct water view. But, if you’re like most folks, you’d prefer a waterfront site. This is the 2nd biggest tip in our Fort Desoto campground review!
Fort De Soto Camping Tip #4
There is no alcohol allowed in the campgrounds. We're not sure how strict they are. If you want a glass of wine or another type of cocktail, you may be fine if you conceal it. But we warned you...
Fort De Soto Camping Tip #5
All campsites at Fort De Soto Campgrounds have 30-amp electrical hookups and water hookups. But no sewer. There are ample dump stations located throughout the campgrounds.
Fort De Soto Camping Tips #6 and #7
We bought 2 items that we used for the 1st time on this trip. Both were great and we highly recommend them.
I did the outdoor cooking on this trip and fell in love with our new Blackstone Table Top Griddle. One night we had Tortellini Alfredo with Sausage (Vegan). While Shirley cooked the tortellini inside on our camper stove, I was able to cut up the sausage and cook on the griddle. The best part is that you can use the whole cooking surface. The next morning I cooked breakfast potatoes just like in a diner. The grease easily goes into a grease trap. It's a heavy piece of equipment but you can buy a cover and travel bag making it easy to move around. Love our griddle!
This is the best 11 bucks you can spend to outfit your campsite. This portable trash bag holder is very lightweight and is truly portable. It disassembles quickly and packs down so it takes up no space. But the best part is that it works great! No more bags spilling over onto the ground.
Fort De Soto Camping Tip #8
Spend Time at Fort Desoto Park
A Fort De Soto Campground Review wouldn't be complete without talking about Fort De Soto Park. Fort De Soto Park features a beautiful beach, boat ramp, miles of paved and unpaved bike paths, 2 fishing piers, and kayaking. You can rent kayaks here. The park is just a couple of miles further south on the Pinellas Bayway S (Route 679) and you can easily ride bikes there on the paved, wide bike path next to the road. The 6.8-mile paved bike path connects the campgrounds to the park. You’ll be able to ride all the way out to North Beach. If you have bikes bring them. If you don’t, you can rent them at the campground store.
Fort De Soto Camping Tip #9
Visit Historic Fort De Soto
Even if you’re not a history buff, take a little time to walk around the actual fort that the area was named after. Built from 1898 to 1900, its purpose was to help defend the U.S. during the Spanish- American war. If you want to know the complete history of Fort De Soto, read the Historic Guide.
Fort De Soto Camping Tip #10
Take the ferry to Shell Key Preserve or Egmont Key National Wildlife Preserve. Ferry details here.
Shell Key Island
The ferry ride over may produce some dolphin sightings. The island itself is a place to walk around and do some shelling and swim in the Gulf. Nearly half of the Shell Key is blocked to allow the native seabirds a section of undisturbed beach.
If you want to camp on a secluded island, here’s your opportunity. Bring your tent and camping gear onto the ferry. You will need a camping permit from Shell Key and your ferry ticket to camp out under the stars!
Egmont Key State Park
Egmont Key provides shelling, swimming, and exploration opportunities as well. Fort Dade, also built over 100 years ago for the Spanish-American War, is located here. Egmont Key is home to a large population of the endangered native gopher tortoise. You may see them all over the island. You can’t touch them, but because they move slowly and are quite large, you can get some great photos.
General Notes About Camping at Fort De Soto
The campgrounds are generally well-maintained but not quite as well as the state parks in Florida. The roads in and out of the campgrounds have small, but navigable potholes from the rain so drive slowly especially if you're pulling a trailer. The bathrooms are clean and stocked but there are no keypad locks on the doors.
Fort De Soto Campground Review- Our Conclusion
We will be back for sure. However, we will not be camping in pet-friendly section #2. In fact, the day after we got home Shirley checked for campsite availability in Area #3 (the best section IOO) and found a site (#190) for 3 nights just after Thanksgiving! We’re excited!!
Our 2nd Stay at Fort De Soto Park Campground
We did go back to Fort De Soto and stayed 3 nights at site #190 from November 29th to December 2nd. This site is right on the Boat Channel in Area #3. What a view and location! We had friends join us and they stayed at site #183 (See the map to the right). This couple has camped all over the U.S. and were blown away with Fort De Soto. They loved it!
It did get cold though. One night got down to 39 degrees which is a bit too cold for a pop-up camper. But we brought our down comforter and it was fine.
Check out some of our pictures from this trip below.
The Self Guided Nature Walk - Arrowhead Trail
On this trip, we took our friends to Fort De Soto Park and drive down to North Beach. Nearly across from the entrance to North Beach is the Arrowhead Picnic Area and the self-guided Arrow Nature Trail. If you enjoy hiking, this short hike (about 1.5 miles) is easy. Take the kids. You'll learn a lot about nature in Fort De Soto Park and even walk by a Bald Eagle nesting area. There are also some great spots for picnicking or just relaxing and reading a book along the water.