Is Fort De Soto park the best beach in the country?

Fort De Soto Park is a county-owned park in Pinellas County, and as county-owned parks go, it’s one of the most spectacular.

With a beach that regularly ranks in Dr. Beach’s completely arbitrary top 10 beaches in the country, a historic fort, kayak trails, fishing piers, an amazing campground and miles of hiking and biking trails, there is no shortage of things to do at the park.

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Fort De Soto has a sentimental place in my heart – it’s where I had some of my earliest and most memorable tent camping experiences.  It was also one of the closest wilderness areas to my childhood home, presenting a drastically different beach landscape than the nearby tourist-filled, condominium-lined beaches of St. Pete and Clearwater.

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History and mystery at Rye Preserve in Manatee County

I’m a big fan of “neighborhood campgrounds” – those little, out-of-the-way campgrounds with few amenities and even fewer campers.  Probably because I don’t care too much about campsite grills and frills, but these campgrounds tend to be cheaper, quieter and ready on short notice.

In Manatee County, Rye Preserve is one such campground.  It’s about as in-the-middle-of-nowhere as you can get in that county, and it’s a pretty cool place to spend the weekend. There are about 20 sites at the campground, and they are rented on a first-come-first-served basis for $20 a night.  You can easily fit three tents on a single site.


The chocolate gets extra melty if you leave it in your car all day.

There is nothing special about the campground, at all.  It’s as ho-hum as they come – clean bathrooms, occasional picnic tables, a small ranger station – but its relative isolation means there are all sorts of cool things to do nearby.

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$40 to sleep on the sand? Check out Long Key State Park

If you’ve never slept on a beach, you should add it to your bucket list.

There’s something about the roar of the ocean in the middle of the night that is unforgettable.  I spent the first 23 years of my life within five minutes of the Gulf of Mexico.  I’ve spent every year since within an hour and a half.  I’ve boated, kayaked, fished, swam.  I’ve run on the beach, I’ve snorkeled on reefs, I’ve cruised from island to island in the Caribbean and Central America.

But I’ve never felt the ocean like I did sleeping in a cheap tent on the sand.

Sunset from Long Key

If you’re reading this within four hours of the Florida Keys, here’s what you should do this weekend:

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