How to see Wild Florida by Kayaking at Fort De Soto

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If you think Florida is all beaches and theme parks, you haven’t experienced wild Florida.


What do I mean by wild Florida?
Well, wildlife for one. Nature for another. One way to see wild Florida is by Kayaking many of the inter-coastal waterways and rivers throughout Florida.


Florida has the 2nd largest amount of coastline in the US (behind Alaska.) Along the coastline, much of the state is surrounded by barrier islands, creating an inter-coastal waterway. The cities along the Tampa Bay and St. Petersburg area are on barrier islands, creating smooth ocean rivers on one side and salty ocean waves on the other.


At the southern end of the Gulf Beaches area is Fort De Soto County Park, once a military station during the Civil War. As far as the history of the fort goes, I was not very impressed with the fort portion itself. It was mainly used in the early 1900’s and is home to the only 4 12-inch seacoast rifle mortars. We did take a look at the rifles, but other than the fort itself, I didn’t find much to look at or learn.


That being said, I found a large amount of wildlife here on these barrier islands, thanks in part to the kayaking tour we did courtesy of Topwater Kayak Outpost.

[clickToTweet tweet=”There’s more than just theme parks in Florida. See wild Florida here. #LoveFL” quote=”There’s more than just theme parks in Florida. See wild Florida here.”]

The guides were very friendly at the outpost and at the time we were there, quite busy. They had just finished with a bus load of teenagers and were setting up a large family party of about 20. Craziness aside, they gave everyone the attention they deserved and were not frazzled by the amount of folks they were taking care of.


The guides set up the hubby and me in a double kayak, one of my favorite ways to go because the work is distributed. Unfortunately, I have to sit up front so I can’t hide when I want to take a break!


We kayaked in one of the smaller intercoastal areas and the water trail was well-marked along the mangroves with numbered markers so you know not only where you were, but how far you had to go. Our trail had 18 markers and flowed like a US traffic route, paddle on the right.

During our kayak trip, we were told there were manatees in the water, but we were unable to find them. I think perhaps had we gone earlier before the large group and large family we may have seen them. That didn’t stop the dolphins from playfully joining us in the waters. We saw two from a distance across the way and I couldn’t have been more thrilled. It was joyful just to stop paddling and watch them jump into the water. To me, this is better than any theme park can offer, to see animals in the wild. I didn’t get any pictures as they were too far off to get good shots and honestly, it was one of those moments that I reveled in not capturing but living the moment.

Our trip was maybe 90 minutes total, but we did cheat and didn’t go around the island as the water was choppy going back and we were going against the waves.


We visited one of the piers in DeSoto park while there and did get another close-up view of some dolphins catching what the fisherman was trying to catch. We also saw plenty of pelicans which I love and a school of stingrays swim by the pier. I’ve never seen so many stingrays at once and swimming the way they were reminded me of a floating quilt.


Other things you can do within in the park:

  • Swim
  • Camp
  • Boat
  • Bike
  • Fish
  • Nature Trails


We enjoyed Ft. DeSoto park for the amount of wildlife we saw in the water and I would recommend the beaches, if we hadn’t already had beach time, we may have stayed longer to linger in the water. For the historical aspect, however, I would guess it would depend on how much history you enjoy as I didn’t find it to be much myself.

How to see wild Florida by kayaking in Ft. DeSoto How to see wild Florida by kayaking in Ft. DeSoto sting-ray trail-bridge trail-walk How to see wild Florida by kayaking in Ft. DeSoto


Our Kayak trip and admission to Ft. DeSoto park was complimentary thanks to the Visit St. Pete Clearwater visitors bureau. All opinions are my own. 


More Clearwater Area Resources

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Where to Watch the Sunset in Clearwater Beach

Why You Should Visit the Clearwater Marine Aquarium

Review of East Shore Resort

6 Family Hotels on the Suncoast

All about Tampa Area Beaches



9 thoughts on “How to see Wild Florida by Kayaking at Fort De Soto”

  1. I think Florida is an amazing state as there is so much to see and do there – and definitely not all based around theme parks. My husband went kayaking and loved it, and he and my son also went on an airboat and thought that was brilliant (my son loved seeing alligators too). Your adventure sounds great fun as well.

  2. It’s nice to see another side of Florida besides the usual beaches and theme parks as you mentioned. It seems like they could do more with the fort and interpret the history better.

  3. What a fabulous way to spend a day – quite different to the usual theme parks you see in Florida! I love a bit of kayaking but my arms sure do hurt the next day – totally worth it for all the wildlife tho!

  4. Unfortunately it isn’t easy for us Malaysians to travel to the US. Distance is one thing but, since 9/11, their Border Control has a “thing” about Malaysian passports despite most us being bona fide travellers. Maybe one day. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Hey, I’ve been to Fort De Soto! Growing up, we spent every summer in Clearwater Beach so it gave us plenty opportunity to explore the area. I do appreciate seeing wildlife in their natural habitats but there’s just one Florida resident I’d prefer NOT to see in the wild: the alligator! I’m terrified.

    1. Too funny Francesca… we saw 3 alligators this weekend during our adventures and yes… I stayed away!

  6. Sounds like a place right up my ally. I love historical places and the outdoors. I haven’t been to Florida in a long time and never in that part of the State.

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