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Kyaking in Fort De Soto Park, a park made up of five offshore keys or islands.

John Coletti

Fort DeSoto Park

Top choice in Tampa Bay

With 1136 acres of unspoiled wilderness, Fort DeSoto is one of Florida’s premier beach parks. It includes 7 miles of beaches (including a dog beach), two fishing piers and an extensive nature trail hopping over five interconnected islands. Of its two swimming areas, the long, silky stretch of North Beach is the best, with grassy picnic areas, a cafe and a gift store (open 10am to 4pm Monday to Friday, to 5pm Saturday and Sunday). The cafe organizes hourly bike ($10) and kayak ($23) rentals.

East Beach, meanwhile, is smaller and coarser, and consequently less crowded.The fort after which the park is named, and which dates from the 1898 Spanish-American War, is in the southwest corner of Mullet Key, which was once inhabited by Tocobaga Native Americans. Union troops were later stationed here and on uninhabited Egmont Key during the Civil War. You can visit Egmont’s ruined Fort Dade by ferry from the park. Once there you can explore the fort and abandoned houses, say hello to the protected gopher tortoises, and go shelling and snorkeling (equipment hire $5) off the beach.

Fort DeSoto Park is signed off US 682/Pinellas Bayway (exit 17 off I-275). Parking costs $5.

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