Dangling like an anchor into the southern waters of Tampa Bay, Mullet Key is known to the world as Fort De Soto Park, home of a rare find: unspoiled, uninhabited Suncoast beaches. During the Spanish-American War, the pressure was on to protect Tampa, since troops shipped out of the port for Cuba, and thus Fort De Soto was built, along with Fort Dade on Egmont Key. By the time troops could move into the forts, the war was over. Decommissioned in 1922, the land lay vacant for decades until Pinellas County bought it and opened the park in 1963.
There are three nature trails in the park, plus an interpretive trail at the Fort. The Barrier Free Trail starts at the ranger station. Built as a Boy Scout project, this 0.4 mile loop has a graded path wide enough for two wheelchairs to pass and six touch-activated interpretive speakers, each marked with a concrete step on the path to alert the visually impaired.
Location: St. Petersburg
Length: 0.4 mile loop
Lat-Long: 27.622167, -82.714550
Type: loop and spur
Fees / Permits: none
Difficulty: low to moderate
Bug factor: high
There are restrooms, picnic tables and potable water at the trailhead. Slather on the mosquito protection for this hike! And fair warning: walking on gravel this distance can be a bit rough on the feet. Use shoes with hefty soles.
To reach Fort De Soto Park, take I-275 south from St. Petersburg to Exit 31A, Pass-a-Grille Beach. Drive west on 54th Ave S (toll). Continue 2.5 miles to CR 679 S. Turn left and follow CR 679 south through Tierra Verde for 5.5 miles (another toll) to the park entrance. The popular campground is on the right. Stop in at the ranger station (to the left at the T) to pick up a map showing the nature trails.
The trail leads past stands of cabbage palm lining a man-made canal where egrets and herons prod the mud for their meals. Turn right at the fork. The ditch on your right is one of many mosquito control projects on Mullet Key, built to attempt to break the breeding cycle of the mosquito. The mangrove-lined ditch attracts many birds, including the belted kingfisher.
As the trail rounds a bend to the left, it emerges from the cabbage palms into the coastal dunes and sweeps around to follow the bayshore, offering a view of the Sunshine Skyway framed by sea grapes. Turning back to the palm hammock, it completes the loop at a trail junction. Turn right to exit.