Fort De Soto is about 5 minutes south of St. Petersburg, FL and is in Pinellas County
Map of Fort De Soto
Fort De Soto is a county park, not a state park. Fort De Soto is comprised of a group of small islands and keys just 5 minutes south of St. Petersburg, FL. There are a
few deep channels in and around the Fort but most of the park is composed of islands surrounded by shallow flats from 1 to
5 feet deep. The islands range in size from about 75 feet across to Fort De Soto itself which is a couple miles long. The tidal currents
can be strong in some places but it's a great spot to take a canoe or kayak. There is a very large boat ramp right at the entrance to the
park on Madelaine Key. There is also a large campground and RV parking at Fort De Soto. The park has 2 short piers extending into the gulf
from the beach. There is a canoe or kayak rental place at the park.
The park is a haven for all sorts of animals. It's a great place to go to see dolphin and manatee. Plenty of other marine life
abound like manta rays, sting rays, conchs, horseshoe crabs, and many species of birds. The fishing is also usually really good at Fort De Soto. The most
common species caught are Flounder, Speckled Trout, Redfish, Spanish Mackerel, Snook & Pompano.
There is a "pass" on each side of the park. The pass on the south side is the Egmont Key Pass which has very deep water and is a
shipping channel. The pass on the north side is Bunces Pass and is a shallow water pass. The water at Bunces Pass is about 30 feet but there are
some shallow spots so be careful if you're in a bigger boat. Straight out in the gulf about a half mile from Bunces Pass is an island about 100 feet
across and a few feet high. There are no trees or bushes on this island and if the tide is high the waves can wash over it. There is a flat (shallow water) almost
a mile long and about 2-3 feet deep on one side of this island. It is a long narrow flat. You can not wade out to the flat or the island though because there is
deep water between the flat and the beach. It's a great spot to pull up your canoe or kayak and wade around and look at sea life, look for shells, or just soak
in the sun.
On one of the days I was canoeing at Fort De Soto I came across a group of 5 manatee. I paddled over to get a closer look at them.
I got about 20 feet away and stopped there. I didn't want to get too close and be intrusive or scare them off. It was kind of windy that day and the wind was
quickly blowing me away from them. Just when the wind was blowing me too far away from them, the largest manatee in the group started swimming towards me.
Even though the wind was blowing me at about 4 or 5 mph, he was able to catch up to me. He followed only about 1-3 feet away behind the canoe for about 75 feet (about
30 seconds). On a seperate occasion near the park we came across a group of 5 manatee (also called Sea Cows) in about 5 feet deep water. They allowed us to hang out with them for about 1 1/2 hours and then
we decided to leave them to be. We paddled up to about 40 feet away from them and when we stopped paddling, they made their way over to us. On 3 separate occasions in
the time we spent with them, one of them would follow the canoe. On one occasion one followed us as the wind blew us along for about 100 feet. On another occasion 2 of
them came up to us and checked us out. The day was punctuated by getting to see a calf nursing. The calf was about 250 pounds, mom was probably about 1100. I only caught
a few seconds of the event on video because I decided to just enjoy the moment for a few seconds before taking the video.
Please be respectful and don't harass the Manatee. Don't paddle right up on them. Get a reasonable distance and let them come to you. Never chase the
Manatee either. If they are swimming away from you, let them. You can be fined for harassing them and you never know when a sheriff or fish and game or some other wildlife management
at Fort De Soto may be watching you with binoculars from a boat or shore.