Its name comes from legends of soldiers deserting the fort in the dead of night, slipping through the mangrove swamps to freedom. Soldier’s Hole is a cove in the mangrove forest, abuzz with mosquitoes and thick with tidal muck. It’s a nursery for fish and crustaceans taking their nutrients from the detritus formed by fallen mangrove leaves. This interpretive trail at Fort De Soto State Park offers a close look at the three varieties of mangroves that grow in Florida plus some gorgeous views of Bunce’s Pass.
Location: St. Petersburg
Length: 2 miles
Lat-Long: 27.617618, -82.728671
Fees / Permits: none
Difficulty: low to moderate
Bug factor: high
This is an open trail through mangrove swamps, so sunscreen and insect repellant are a must. The trail can be mushy underfoot, so sturdy shoes are recommended.
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. . Leaving the ranger station, turn left. Pass CR 679 and continue up to the “Bay Pier” sign. A dirt track leads off to the right, where a canoe concessionaire may be parked. Follow the dirt track down past a gate on the right, and find a place to park on the left. The trail starts at the gate.
Open the gate (grab a brochure from the box) and step into a world of mangroves at Soldier’s Hole. Interpretive markers keyed to the brochure help you discern the difference between red, black, and white mangroves. It’s not about the color. Red mangroves have prop roots, black mangroves have finger-like protrusions called pnuemataphores, and white mangroves look the most like trees, with oval-shaped leaves.
As it veers off to the right, the trail follows an old jeep road, passing several that come in from the right. At the fork near interpretive station 6, turn left to walk along the edge of the tidal lagoon. Station 7 overlooks Mullet Key Bayou. Watch for dolphins and manatees here. Horseshoe crabs wash up in the shallows. At station 12, turn right to walk out to the end of Soldier’s Hole Peninsula; you’ll return along the same path to this point. The trail crosses a mosquito control ditch before arriving at station 14. At the T, turn right to walk back past Soldier’s Hole to the gate.