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Fort DeSoto Camping with Kids

Camping in Ft. De Soto with Kids

Looking for tips on camping at Fort DeSoto with kids?

Recently I took my kids on their very first camping trip ever to Fort DeSoto. It was also my first time camping as a parent! My 11 year-old son’s reaction when he heard we might be going camping was priceless and is what really made me do it. He could hardly believe it. That sealed the deal despite the fact that it was just myself and another mom friend braving the wild together with our children.

Five kids, two moms, zero dads, three nights, a few raccoons and the mosquitoes, of course!

We survived and had a great time, too. Here is what we learned and tips for those who are planning a trip to this great campsite!

1. CAMPGROUND INFO:

Fort De Soto campgrounds in St. Petersburg are surprisingly well maintained. There are clean bath houses with toilets, sinks, and shower… even hot water! Each campsite has a picnic table, a BBQ grill, a water faucet and an outlet post for electricity. There is an enclosed and roofed community day room to escape the weather, bugs, heat, etc. A little general store located right at the entrance of the campground provides things you may need to buy such as: firewood, ice and more.

Campsites sell out quickly, so if you’re a planner – great!

Pinellas county residents can reserve seven months in advance. They also hold a small number of sites in reserve and release them every Friday morning at 7am if you’re looking to do more spontaneous camping.

2. FIRE:

Bring a metal fire pit to build a fire in for roasting marshmallows, etc. They are not included at your campsite at Fort DeSoto.

If you don’t bring one you can rent one from the camp store for $3 a night. They do sell firewood at $9 a bag for a pretty small bag. I would recommend bringing your own firewood if you have space to do so. We also made the kids go on firewood hunts, a great way to keep them busy and entertained. (Channelling all those episodes of Survivor that we’ve watched.) You can also bring the easy fire quick ignite sticks to help get your fire started if it gets too damp.

3. COOKING:

My friend brought her fancy Dutch ovens that we cooked in and we grilled over coals on the BBQ daily. Bring a container full of all the things you’ll need: pan, spatula, silverware, cups, plates, etc.

All the typical camp food was devoured by our crew: bacon, sausage, eggs, pancakes, fritters, hamburgers, hot dogs, beef jerky, PB&J, fruit, cucumbers, raw green beans, corn on the cob, crackers, pretzels and other carbs, ice cream and more. Fill up your coolers with food and ice and bring some containers with dry goods, spices and whatever you need.

4. FOOD STORAGE & RACCOONS:

The raccoons are no joke at Fort DeSoto.

They visited our campsite daily and nightly and we saw them all over the campgrounds. We found out from one of the maintenance crew that our campsite (#65) is where a family of raccoons have their home in the trees above. The raccoons have learned how to open a cooler in search of food. Any food left lying around, not stored away in a vehicle or a locked cooler is at risk.

My friend, Heather, decided that we would put 50 lb bricks on top of our coolers at night so we wouldn’t have to carry our heavy coolers from the picnic/eating area into the car each night. (She brought the bricks from home for this purpose.)

That actually worked really well, until one night when we mistakenly left only a 25 lb brick on top of one of the coolers. As I was falling asleep, I heard the raccoons scratching around and then I heard a thud. The raccoon had knocked the brick off the cooler and managed to get a steak out before I shooed him away. The 50 lb bricks did work the rest of the time with no repeat offenses.

One night it was dark, but we were still up and about in our campsite. One of our containers of dry food was still out. We usually put it away in our car when we went to bed and got inside our tents. A raccoon had the courage to come into the campsite while we were all there, cut open a bag of beef jerky with his claw and eat as much as he could before we saw him and shooed him away.

We also heard stories from other campers about a raccoon eating his way through a tent in order to get to the food in the tent, and raccoons that know how to open tent zippers to get to the food inside. So the moral of the story is:All food must be properly stored and protected from the raccoons. The best options would be: a) Tightly locked coolers. Not just closed, but raccoon-proof locked. b) Unlocked coolers and food containers stored inside your vehicle any time you leave your campsite. c) No food stored in your tent. d) Once it’s dark, food should be stored away as soon as possible in your car or locked in containers and coolers.

5) PICNIC TABLECLOTH:

Something that we forgot that I would recommend for next time is a plastic, reusable, picnic tablecloth to put over the picnic table where we ate our meals.

The wooden picnic table at Fort DeSoto is pretty rough, gets dirty and is not very easy to clean up so it remained messy most of the time. An outdoor table cloth would have been a nice improvement and we could have wiped it down after meals and when messes were made.

6) RAIN:

This is Florida and we should always be prepared for rain, but especially during summer and the rainy seasons.
We camped at the end of May, beginning of June, and it did rain quite a bit. Make sure you have a weatherproof tent and other plans for protection from the rain. I bought a rainfly tent accessory for extra protection on my tent. We also had pop up canopies and tarps that we strung up using cords tied to the trees. This gave us a lot of options to get out of the rain.

7) SLEEP:

I’ll be honest, I did not get a lot of sleep while camping and this was probably the toughest aspect of camping for me. I’m a very light sleeper and there were a lot of things keeping me up: the heat, the noises of the wild, the raccoons, the kids in my bed next to me, etc.

So for my fellow light sleepers out there, be prepared for some degree of sleep deprivation. And for those of you who can sleep anywhere, anytime, I’m jealous! We did the best we could and my tips include:

  • a) Have an electric fan and extension cords so you can keep yourself as cool as possible, and benefit from the white noise.
  • b) Get a nice quality air mattress to sleep on for comfort. Don’t forget the air pump.
  • c) During the hot seasons you’ll probably only need sheets. I slept with nothing on top of me until around the middle of the night when it was a bit cooler and then a top sheet was all I needed. I never got inside my sleeping bag or used a blanket. It was too hot.

8) LAUNDRY:

We didn’t plan to do laundry but because of the heavy rain, kids playing in rain/mud and using up all of our towels to dry off, we were happy there was an option to do laundry. The bath houses at Fort DeSoto have coin operated washing and dryer machines. Bring $1.75 per load in case if you plan to stay long enough or want to use the laundry facilities.

9) BUG PROTECTION:

The no-see-ums and mosquitoes were definitely out in force. Things that were helpful in keeping the bugs away: lots of bug spray, keeping a fire going when possible (bugs don’t like the smoke), tiki torches and table top torches with bug fighter citronella torch fuel. We had two of the tabletop tiki torches strategically placed around camp and kept them burning whenever we were there. Some people like to get netted popup canopies for protection from the bugs. If you book your campsite at Fort DeSoto on the side facing the water the breeze helps keeps the bugs away too. We will do that next time!

10) LIGHTING:

In addition to our flashlights and lanterns, we also brought Christmas lights and strung them up around the trees and campsite. That made it feel homey and sweet at our campsite every night. We lucked out and were there during the full moon. It was beautiful to watch the moon rise every night and moonlight filled up the sky all night long.

11) SEATING:

We brought plenty of beach chairs, as well as a hammock and two little single hook hammock seats, for kids that Heather found at the $5 dollar store. The kids loved the those things and I would definitely recommend bringing them.

12) ELECTRICITY:

As mentioned earlier there is an outlet post for electricity with two outlets on it. Bring plenty of extension cords and a power strip if you have a lot of things to plug in. You might also want a card table to put next to the outlet post where things will be plugged in like: phones chargers, coffee maker, etc.

13) ENTERTAINMENT:

Things we did to keep the kids busy and entertained: search for firewood, ride bikes on the road/paths, visit Fort DeSoto and the Fort DeSoto museum, swim at the beautiful beaches, build sand castles, boogie board on the waves thanks to tropical storm Alberto, play on the beach playgrounds, explore the sandbar at low tide with tons of sea life and creatures including sand dollars, sea stars, crabs, slugs, fish and more, visit the playground and swings at the campsite, climb trees, geocache searches, finding and whittling pointy sticks for roasting marshmallows with, make s’mores, play in the rain and puddles, read books, play card card games, tag, hide and seek and all the other childhood outdoor games kids these days play (ever heard of Sardines, Infection?)

The above are just some tips and highlights and not a full list of everything we brought. All in all we had a fantastic time and were really proud of the achievement of actually just doing it in summer in Florida! Unplugging and enjoying the great outdoors is a really special thing to do as a family. Hope this helps for those who may plan a trip out to Fort DeSoto campgrounds!

What are your camping tips, tricks and advice? We’d love to hear. Please share!

About Christie Collbran

Christie Collbran is the owner and founder of Buddha Belly. Christie believes in helping women recognize their own inner wisdom, strength and power and has more than ten years of experience serving families as a doula.

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