Saturday, March 29, 2014

Cycling one of America's most beautiful beaches: Fort De Soto Park, Florida

Yes. I felt it. I felt like I was on one of the most beautiful beaches at Fort De Soto. Wow!

The big beach cruisers float and roll over the hard sand at low tide so easily. It's a funky feeling. Perched on a wide, overly soft, bouncy seat, holding on to high handlebars with all your stuff packed into a big wicker basket, you feel goofy as you pedal in bare feet or sandals. You know you look goofy, and don't care. It sets you free.

Great. It was the first week of January 2014 and we picked the coldest week of the year to visit southern Florida from Canada's deep freeze.

It was 34 degrees Fahrenheit (1 Celsius) when we woke up and looked out the patio door of a beach front rental on St. Pete's beach on the Gulf of Mexico, Florida.

By noon the temperature climbed to 58F (14 C) according to the thermostat in the rental car. The stiff blowing nor’easter made us think differently.

Let's go to Fort De Soto beach . . . in our ski jackets! 
Why not. We're from Canada. We've got the gear and we didn't need boots.

Stranger than fiction, I found a lone, rotting tree stump firmly planted in the low tide at the beach. What's your story? It was impossible to do a one-legged standing yoga pose on it and difficult to stand on it with two legs in the strong wind.

Fort De Soto Park is southwest from the city of St. Petersburg, Florida, accessed by a series of causeways and bridges from Tierra Verde. It's about a 20 minute drive (10-12 miles/16-19 kilometres) from St. Pete's Beach, or you can get there by bicycle via off-road bike trails. Entering the park by car cost $5, but no charge if you enter on foot or by bicycle.

Fort De Soto Park is the largest park within the Pinellas County Park System with 1,136 acres made up of five interconnected islands (keys): the main island, Mullet Key, Madelaine Key, St. Jean Key, St. Christopher Key, and Bonne Fortune Key. All are connected by bridge or causeway. The island group is accessible by toll road from the mainland.

Fort De Soto Park is known as one of America's most beautiful beaches. It's now on my list of favorites too.
Fort De Soto North Beach, Gulf of Mexico, Florida
When it's too cold and rough to kayak, Fort de Soto Park is still a great place to visit on foot or by bike. The beach is usually number one on people's list.

Part of the charm is that the fine sugar-white sandy beaches at Fort De Soto are within a protected park uncluttered by the incessant rows of high rise condos and resorts that line many beaches.

With over 7 miles of waterfront, 7 miles of paved walking and cycling trails, and three miles of beautiful white sandy beach, let's see what we find along the route when the wind is up and the water is wild. 
Purple sea urchin
Lots of sea shells, including cockles of all sizes, fighting conchs, and white fan scallops. 
Horseshoe crabs.
The vertebrae of a large fish or animal?
Pelicans.
Red sea sponge.
Sand dollars. Is three a lucky number?

Fort De Soto, built during the Spanish-American war in the late 1890s, is within the park. Its remnants and remains are open to the public. There is much to discover and experience beyond what you see. This is where Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico meet, which made it a naturally strategic location for a fort. You can spend hours diving into the interesting history of this location.
12-inch seacoast mortar, Fort De Soto
Fort De Soto Park is a must see destination in southern Florida and a camping paradise with some 238 sites, many waterfront.

The park is dog friendly and has a specially designated section of beach where your dog can enjoy the water too.
Remember, the weather may be your best friend when it is not nice. The park won't be crowded!

Fort De Soto Kayak/Canoe Trail
And for the paddle crowd, there is a beautiful kayak launch in the mangroves. You'll come to it as you drive or cycle along 679/Anderson Blvd. It's easy to spot. There is plenty of parking and look, a bike rack! Two thumbs up.

A kayak rental company marks the spot. They also rent canoes and paddleboards. Bring your own kayak or rent one. You'll need to know the tide charts ahead of time. Avoid paddling the mangroves during low tides. You'll get stuck. The launch site here is very kayak-friendly and takes you into Soldier's Hole.
There is a basic map posted on-site and a numbered trail you can follow.
For more information about the park visit: Fort De Soto Park, Pinellas County website
Fort De Soto Park trails, Florida, Gulf of Mexico
Happy trails!
The BaffinPaddler

5 comments:

  1. Cracking photos, but I think you may have a Horseshoe crab. They really are beautiful beaches there, one of my favourite areas in Florida. I now want to go back! :)

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    1. Thanks Sarah for noticing that! You're so right. I'll correct the image caption. There were lots of Horseshoe crabs on the beach. Me too. I want to go back. We got another 6 inches of snow today in Canada! Cheers.

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  2. P.S. Sarah, I am enjoying your paddle blog, and your FifeCakes creations are beyond incredible. Pure works of art!

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  3. Beautiful shell pictures! That is a wonderful park; we once spent a very nice U.S.Thanksgiving there. A few years later we went on a hot June day. Barely made it to the water before giving up and returning to air conditioning...

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  4. Thanks. It is a beautiful place. I guess we were lucky then, to visit on a day when we needed ski jackets! Winter is hanging on to us this year. Cheers from Canada.

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