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A&A Spend A Week RV Camping At Fort Desoto | Island Life

End of Week #89


Fort Desoto Campground, Fort Desoto FL > Frog Creek RV Resort, Palmetto FL

Miles traveled since last week's post = 25 miles

Total miles traveled to date = 12,191 with trailer


On Sunday we arrived at the place we will spend our last full month in Florida! After our stay here we will have a few more stops throughout the state, before finally starting to make our way north along the east coast, towards North Carolina.


But I can surely tell you we are already missing the tropical oasis we spent last week at - the sweet, slow island life, south of St. Pete Beach, is still calling our name. I think we were quite spoiled there, and we are definitely dreaming up the next time we will be able to camp at Fort Desoto Park!


Keep reading to find out more about what Fort Desoto is and why it was so special!



A&A Spend A Week RV Camping At Fort Desoto


This was one of those places you didn't want to ever leave - a beautiful tropical oasis, off the coast of St. Pete's and Tampa Bay, during the perfect time of year to get away to the Gulf coast of Florida. Fort Desoto is also a park that is not easy to come by - especially since you can only book 6 months out if you are a non Florida resident. It is considered a crown jewel for Florida amongst the RV community, and is highly sought after. A lot of people that desire to camp here simply do not get the chance to as they are not able to get in. If you're lucky enough to score a reservation, your stay is never long enough and you're immediately dreaming of the next time you can come back!


Fort Desoto is located on an island just south of St. Pete Beach, and is a county park in the state of Florida. Pricing is comparable to Florida State Parks, or just a little higher, which in general is an absolute STEAL compared to RV Resorts.


I first heard about this park in one of our RV Facebook groups last fall, and had been scouring their website daily to try to find a reservation for more than one night. There was a point in time Adam and I even considered booking a random one night stay just so we could experience it. Then, one random night while we were working Christmas trees, I happened to scroll across an ENTIRE WEEK cancellation at the Park, for the beginning of February (& last few days of January). All I had to do is look at Adam and before I could even finish saying, "what should I do", he already said, "book it!".


And it was a done deal.



History


Fort Desoto is a widely praised park amongst the boating community of Tierra Verde, and covers 5 islands in total, across 1,136 acres on the Gulf of Mexico and Tampa Bay. There are a wide range of amenities and activities here to keep you entertained for days!


At the heart of the park, on the furthest south island you can explore, is the namesake military Fort. On ground level there are artillery holds, a firing gallery, and creepy yet mysterious bunkers, with large canons positioned next to them. The Fort itself appears to be built into the side of a hill or sand dune on the island, overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. The entire compound was made up of more than 29 buildings, that included a hospital, living quarters, a bakery, a post office, and so much more - it was essentially an entire community all in itself.


For more than 400 years, the Tampa Bay area of Florida has attracted all kinds of visitors - with some of the first being the Tocobaga Indians, who occupied Mullet Key (Fort Desoto) until about 5,000 A.D. By the time the 1500's hit, a lot of Spanish explorers started landing on the barrier island beaches on the Gulf of Florida. In 1539, a well known explorer named Hernando De Soto passed through this territory. Fast forward to 1849, and the US Army Engineers began to survey this coastline for possible use as a coastal defense area. In 1861 the Civil War broke out, and there was still no fortification in any parts of the Gulf area and Union Troops began to set up blockades on both Mullet Key (Fort Desoto) and Egmont Key (of the coast of Fort Desoto). Any attempts to attack could be seen in advance by troops in the lighthouse on Egmont Key.


By 1898 the US became involved in conflict with Cuba, which led to the Spanish American War. Citizens of Tampa began to demand military defense for the greater Tampa Bay area. Because of the close proximity to Cuba, Tampa became a port for US troops and supplies going to the Caribbean war zones.... All of which ultimately led to the historic Fort of Fort Desoto to begin construction in late 1898.



By April of 1900, Fort Desoto was officially named after that famous Spanish explorer, Hernando De Soto, and the mortar battery construction was completed by May. At the time, the battery was a new design for the military, and was initiated due to significant changes in weapons. To withstand direct fire, the walls of the battery were between 8-20 feet thick, and the ceiling was 5 feet thick!


Thankfully, it doesn't sound like Fort Desoto was ever used in battle, however they did see several different troops come in, and leave, and the area was also heavily used for practice of sorts. By 1910, the Fort was completely inactive, aside from a few caretakers. In 1917, four of the 12-inch mortars were shipped to California, as a result of World War I. In 1926 the U.S. Congress authorized County, City, and State Governments to purchase the land, but it was appraised for nearly $200,000, and no one jumped on the idea. Many heavy hurricanes affected the area in the 1920's, and 1930's, and and the estimated value of the military building significantly decreased over time.


Fort Desoto was then purchased from the Federal Government in 1938 for $12,500. In 1941 it was sold back to the Federal Government for $18,404 to be used as a gunnery and bombing range during World War II. The property was repurchased in 1948 for $26,500.


To this day, you can do a self-guided waking tour of the Fort and see what is left of the original buildings - which isn't much. Specific areas where buildings were located have been reconstructed to only show the brick base outlines of the footprint they took up. There are plaques located all along the trail to tell you what was there and how it was used. There is also a Quartermaster Museum, that has been reconstructed and salvaged for you to check out, however I am unsure if it was open due to Covid times.


*The 12-inch mortar battery, located at the fort, was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.*



Campground


Easily, this is one of the top campgrounds we have stayed at to date (Adam has already declared it his updated favorite). It is a lot different than most campgrounds we have stayed at, but the ways in which it is unique are what make it so great. I mean you can ask anyone in Florida, or anyone in the RV community that has been to Florida - where is the best place to camp - and they will say Fort Desoto. This is just simply the best camping Florida has to offer, plus the best waterfront camping you can find, especially without having to pay a pretty penny in order to do so!


All of the campsites here have views of the blue-green waters, and the mangrove lined edges of the island. Every single one of the 238 campsites have water and electric, charcoal grills, and picnic tables. They also offer some of the best privacy I have ever come across in terms of any developed campground. The sites are long and just wide enough, and you feel completely cut off from your neighbors in your own little oasis.


There are 3 separate camping loops at the park - two of which are more surrounded by water entirely, and do not allow pets, and one that is more at the entrance of the park, next to the roadway - that does allow pets. None of the sites have sewer connections but there are 2 dumping stations, and we saw a lot of folks with their own portable mobile dumps. At the entrance of the campground is the office, as well as a camp store that has all the items you would need, including ice cream!


Throughout each loop there is at least one bathhouse with showers and laundry, should you need to utilize it. The max you can stay at this park is 14 days at a time, which might be within specific window! Since there are not sewer hookups it can be convenient to utilize their showers to save the space in your tanks.


*For non residents waterfront camping was $42.50 per night, and non waterfront camping was $38.50 per night.*



Fort Desoto Park


I'm not going to lie, when we first arrived to the campground, we didn't even realize there was whole othe