Filed under: Family Day Trips, Historic Places & Landmarks, Nature & Wildlife, State & National Parks
De Soto National Memorial, Florida…
Just yesterday, the kids and I took a little drive and spent the day at a wonderful National Park! Located just south of Tampa, FL, the De Soto National Memorial is a beautiful location to spend an afternoon! While the park does not cover a large acreage, the grounds are beautiful, and offer a lovely walking path (which is wheel-chair and stroller friendly).
De Soto National Memorial is a park dedicated to educating the public about, and preserving the details of, Hernado De Soto’s 4 year, 4 thousand mile trek on a quest for fame and fortune.
Because De Soto NM’s peak tourist time is snowbird season, right now is the perfect time to visit! The park offers 10 different ranger-led talks, featuring a different topic each hour, on the hour. While we were at the park for 5 hours, we were only able to attend 2 talks, and wish that we would have had time to listen to more! The first ranger program that we attended was on diseases, and why the Indians were decimated by European sicknesses (not jaded, just the facts, ma’am); the ranger was great, and we found his talks to be interesting and fun! The second program that we heard was about warfare and weapons, which was, of course, a hit with my boys.
At the visitor’s center, you will find a small gift and book store, a few displays, and an area for kids to try on costumes and color pictures. The visitor’s center also features a 25 minute movie that covers the history of the De Soto expedition (it’s best to watch the film first). The visitor’s center is clean, tastefully done, and has drinking fountains and restrooms.
Most of the park’s attractions are outside including a full-sized Indian hut. There is also the main attraction (to us) of the park; a reenactment area with historically accurate costumed ranger/docents, armor to touch and try on, and area jewelry, kitchen wares, and weapons. There are also wooden bleachers to sit on while the ranger programs are being conducted. This area of the park reminded us of a Renaissance Faire, and was our favorite part of the park.
While we did like the interactive area, the nature walk around De Soto Point came in a close second. The park is located on Tampa Bay, on a small point. The park has a walking trail, with several different routes so you can customize how long of a walk you would like to take. We did only the short, half-mile walk as we wanted to get back for one more ranger program, but the jaunt was so lovely that we took 2 hours to complete it! LOL! My kids are walkers, and we could have easily done this in 20 minutes, but we had to stop and check out the fiddler crabs, big spiders, and lizards. We went out on the beach, we picked shells, we stopped to read the plaques along the way. We were enamored by the mangrove (which we do NOT have in Montana, and found the breathing tubes fascinating). We enjoyed the flowers, the peaceful crashing of the waves, and even picking up shells off the path (we are so tourists!!!); the park does not use gravel for packed trail base, but instead, tons of small, whites shells. We only picked one shell off the shore, but we took several handfuls from the walking path – they are perfectly formed, just miniatures – perfect for the space constraints of RVing!LOL!
The park overlooks Tampa Bay, and has several benches set up for people to just sit and enjoy the view of the bay, the sound of the waves crashing on the rocks, and the smell of the salt water. There are also several picnic tables in the park, including a couple along the walking trails.
If you have kids, or even if you just want to do it yourself, the Jr. Ranger program here is phenomenal! The booklet is colorful, engaging, and educational! The ranger gave my kids their booklets, nice ‘De Soto’ pencils to work with, and each a small compass to help them complete the mandatory map reading activity (which everyone enjoyed!). Jr. Ranger programs are geared towards kids ages 6 – 12, but most parks invite anyone who is interested to do them! They are a fun, educational way to learn about the park – and the Jr. Ranger badge you earn for completing the booklet makes a great souvenir!
The park is a lovely place to take pictures, relax with a picnic, and/or learn about a fascinating piece of our American history! If you find yourself in Florida this winter, try to make it out to De Soto National Memorial! It’s well worth the drive! (you can also find nearby RV resorts by utilizing the campground search at the Woodall’s website!)
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