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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Fishing (not catching) at the Cedar Key pier

John Muir, a Scottish-born wilderness advocate and dynamic 19th century beard connoisseur, once went for a long walk.  He walked away from Kentucky (who could blame him?), wound his way through the South and into northern Florida.  He kept walking until he got to Cedar Key, a little fishing village on the Gulf Coast.  In his journal, he wrote:

For nineteen years my vision was bounded by forests, but today, emerging from a multitude of tropical plants, I beheld the Gulf of Mexico stretching away unbounded, except by the sky. What dreams and speculative matter for thought arose as I stood on the strand, gazing out on the burnished, treeless plain!

Needless to say, he stopped walking at Cedar Key.  He hopped a sail boat and took off to Cuba.

John Muir looking into the distance (thanks to PBS for the photo)

But if you go to Cedar Key today, you’ll have much the same experience as Muir.  Of course, it won’t be quite like walking through the woods for 19 years, but there’s no way to get to Cedar Key without driving for an hour and a half through nothing.  So when you finally get there, the Gulf looks all the more impressive.

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