Everything You Need to Know About Fort DeSoto Camping

A woman sits in a tent on a beach at sunrise.

Imagine feeling the warm Gulf air on your face as you sip your morning coffee or take a swim in the reflection of the sunrise. Perhaps a dolphin just swam by. What if we told you it’s all possible within steps of your campsite? If this is your dream, then Fort DeSoto is your paradise within reach.

Keep reading to learn everything about a camping experience at Fort DeSoto.

About Fort DeSoto

Just south of St. Petersburg, Florida, resides Fort DeSoto. It sits between Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. The park consists of 1,136 acres across five interconnected islands, or keys. The islands are rich in plants and wetlands, and the park works hard to preserve and protect the ecosystem. 

In 1539, a Spanish explorer, Hernando DeSoto, began an expedition in the Tampa Bay area. He died in 1542. Fast forward to 1899, when the U.S. military began constructing the fort, named after the Spanish explorer. Today, you can visit the fort’s remains.

Today, Fort DeSoto provides a beautiful destination for travelers from near and far. The average yearly attendance exceeds 2.7 million. In addition, its beach is one of the most popular in all of Florida.

Best Time of Year to Visit Fort DeSoto

You can visit Fort DeSoto year-round, but the best time is from January to May. The weather is warm but typically not too hot. You’ll likely want to avoid June to November due to hurricane season and hot temperatures. Although, you’ll find fewer crowds.

Family on vacation at Fort Desoto, Florida.

Things to Do While RV Camping at Fort DeSoto

You can find numerous things to do at the Fort DeSoto Park Campground. It has over seven miles of waterfront, including three miles of white-sand beach. It also has an 800-foot long boat launching facility with 11 floating docks and two swim centers with food concessions at the North Beach. In addition, you can fish off two piers with places to buy food and bait. A fishing license is required.

Many people enjoy kayaking, canoeing, and paddleboarding in the area. The park even has a 2.25-mile recreational canoe trail. You can rent equipment or take a guided tour.

The park has seven miles of paved trails for walking and biking. They connect North Beach, East Beach, the boat ramp, and the campground. You can also go on a 1-mile nature walk in the Arrowhead Picnic area or a 3.25-mile trail through native fauna and flora in the Soldiers’ Hole area. In addition, the park has a 2,200-foot barrier-free self-guided, interpretive nature trail.

You can tour the fort while visiting or the Quartermaster Museum on-site. It has free admission and offers historical information about the area. The park also provides ferry service from the park to Egmont Key and Shell Key.

If you want a Fort DeSoto camping day trip, you have a few options such as exploring St. Petersburg and Tampa. You’ll find plenty of shopping, restaurants, and more. If you’re looking for a theme park and animal encounters, go to Busch Gardens in Tampa. You can also visit many additional beach towns within a couple of hours’ drive, such as Clearwater to the north and Anna Maria Island to the south.

Couple camping on the beach at Fort Desoto

Fort DeSoto Camping

We recommend staying at Fort DeSoto for a week or two. This ultra-relaxing place can help you get away from it all yet have activities at your fingertips if you want them. Getting a spot at the campground may be difficult, but it’s worth staying on top of the booking window. Campsites fill up quickly, so book in advance.

Fort DeSoto Park Campground

Fort DeSoto Park Campground has 236 sites with picnic tables, grills, water, and electricity. It has modern restrooms, showers, laundry facilities, a camp store, and a dump station. The campground also has 15 picnic shelters and playgrounds. Fort DeSoto camping is better when you bring your pet along. You have access to a dog park with a designated beach area for your fur babies.

Can You Swim at Fort DeSoto Campground?

You can swim at Fort DeSoto Campground in two areas — the swim center at East Beach and North Beach. It has clean, calm, and shallow water. Lifeguards are present at both locations during certain hours that may vary depending on the day.

Other areas around the campground prohibit swimming due to strong water currents. Signs tell you where not to swim; practice water safety at all times. 

What Are the Camping Options at Fort DeSoto Campground?

Fort DeSoto camping has a family campground for RVs. It has 238 campsites. They also offer permit-only primitive camping on Shell Key Preserve and primitive youth camping at Wall Springs Park and Fort DeSoto Park.

Our Recommendation

Fort DeSoto camping is fun for all ages. With amazing views and island vibes, you can relax the minute your feet hit the sand. We highly recommend the campground and surrounding area. 

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