Thanks to a friend with a reservation she could not use we ended up with a prime camping spot at Fort Desoto. Sweet, right? It’s not easy getting a camping reservation these days!
We didn’t end up getting to the camp spot until right before 9 pm. We managed to get into the park (the gates and booth were closed that late) and could not find the camp area. Google maps to the rescue! The campsite is actually right outside the pay booth, which is super convenient. You do get access to the park included with your camping fee, you just show your permit.
The campsites have an electric and water hookup as well as a grill and picnic table. If you aren’t using the water hookup for an RV it’s useful to bring a very short hose. We used one to rinse the paddleboards and also to wash dishes as needed. Some of the campsites allow pets, but not all of them. There are large, clean restrooms with a few showers and a pay washer and dryer outside each building. That could come in handy if you stay for the full 14 days allowed or even if you just go swimming and want to dry your suit/clothes.
We’re in the middle of building in our van. It has beds and a place for our ice chest but not yet electricity. We were still able to take advantage of the shore power hookups by bringing a heavy-duty extension cord, a little extension cord with a few outlets, and a small portable air conditioner. Having a few outlets available to keep things charged was super convenient. This was the first overnight trip in the van and though it will be great when we have the regular air conditioning and electricity it was still super comfortable. I slept better than I do at home, probably due to the cats staying home.
Since it was late when we got there and set up was basically just plugging in we walked around a bit when we got there. The campground is clean and safe feeling. There were a lot of families camping and lots of kids riding around on bikes. I was a bit jealous and wished I had brought mine. There was just enough light to walk or ride around without a flashlight.
This trip was spectacularly unplanned, so Saturday morning we had to go on a supply run. Not a problem, there are plenty of stores and restaurants in the area. There’s both a Publix and a Walmart within 15 minutes of the park. Extremely useful! There’s actually a campground store onsite that has a surprising variety of items. I forgot coffee cups (I know, trip almost ruined) and they had a package of disposable coffee cups to save the day. You can also rent a fire ring (required if you want a fire) and purchase firewood and ice at the store. They even rent bicycles.
I thought we’d go to the park but somehow we spent the rest of the day at the campsite and never got bored. Sitting around at home doing nothing is boring, but laying in a hammock just watching the world go by is completely doable. Especially when you have a prime view of the water while doing so. Even better if you picked up a hammock bug screen!
Sunday morning I woke up. looked out the window, and saw flat water and no wind. I jumped up, brushed my teeth, and was out on the paddleboard within about 15 minutes. I could get used to this! After paddling around for about an hour we had breakfast and headed into the park.
We went to explore the fort a bit and lucked out because there was a volunteer giving an oral history of the fort and the people who lived there. I’ve visited the fort plenty of times but listening to what life was like when it was an active fort was fascinating. I’m happy to just be a visitor.
I hadn’t intended to but we ended up swimming (more like hanging out in the water) for about 2 hours. Whoever invented sunscreen is a saint. It was a lot of fun drifting in the swells and we saw a few dolphins swimming by the pier. They weren’t close to us but it felt odd seeing them when I was in the water with them. Pro tip: wear a hat and bring sunscreen and apply it more often than you think you need to.
As is normal on a weekend the beach was pretty packed. However, since we spent our time in the water there really wasn’t anyone near us. We really wanted to take advantage of the camping spot, but we also wanted to be careful to stay away from huge crowds because of the pandemic (5/2021) so I was a bit relieved how well everything worked out.
We got lunch at the concession stand. In addition to the usual concession food, they have a veggie burger and veggie pitta (which has a veggie burger cut up in it). I was surprised by how many people I heard order them. We lucked out and got our food right before the lunch crowd showed up, but they got crazy busy at lunchtime. Regardless of how busy it got the people who work there were all incredibly nice and helpful.
After the beach we decided we were all tired, and instead of making dinner we drove the 10-minute trip to get food at Billy’s Stone Crab. My kids were with us and they wanted seafood. They said the seafood was good. I hate to say but I would not recommend this place for vegetarians. I can usually get something good even if it’s just a salad no matter where we eat, but the only choice here was one salad that we all agreed was pretty tasteless. One other kind of negative – we called ahead to put our name in but though they had our name I don’t think we were actually put in line until we got there. I heard a few people come up and it seemed the same for them. They were super busy and there was really nowhere to wait as the bars were full. To be fair I got the vibe that they were shorthanded or had something happen in the kitchen so we probably just chose the wrong night to try them.
After dinner, we of course had a campfire and s’mores, because are you really camping if you don’t have at least one s’more? I can answer that. No, not correctly anyway.
There are an amazing amount of raccoons at Fort Desoto, as there seems to be at every camping site in Florida. While we were sitting around the fire several raccoons walked by close enough to be seen in the light and we even had one rat walk by. They are obviously very used to people, it was funny watching them saunter past as often as they did. You do need to be sure to clean up your campsite and put your ice chest in your vehicle when you go to sleep. And if you’re tent camping realize all those noises are very likely just a bunch of raccoons.
Camping at Fort Desoto is a lot of fun, you can’t beat water access at your campsite. Not all campsites are on the water, but there are paths to access the water regardless. Unfortunately, it’s really hard to get a reservation. Then again it’s hard to get a reservation anywhere unless you’re primitive camping. For Fort Desoto, you will probably have to reserve a spot almost a year out and even that isn’t easy. But, if you get the chance you for sure should! If you can’t get a camp spot then visit Fort Desoto anyways. Between the fort, the dog beach, the award-winning beaches, and the places for barbequing and picnicking it’s hard not to find something to love.