I am always searching the west-central Florida Google map for new parks, preserves and forests to visit and explore. De Soto National Memorial, on the map, is a very humble tip of land jutting out into Tampa Bay. DogFriendly.com gave its beaches a dog friendly rating. The park exceeded all my expectations and is a true hidden gem in the Anna Maria Island and Bradenton area.
After a bit of disappointment at the underwhelming and dog unfriendly Lake Manatee State Park, we still had a thirst for adventure in Manatee County that day, but an approaching rain storm caused us to hesitate. I decided to press on anyways and as you can see above the storm was already well past once we arrived. My philosophy: It is better to regret doing something than to regret not doing something. The beach was very natural, really just small coves among a coastline of mangrove trees. The water was shallow and calm, allowing Kiki for the first time to be able to stand and walk around in any body of water. She really loved being able to do that and I imagine any other water loving dog would as well. These calm conditions also allowed me to without fear take my Nikon D300 out in the water! I was knee deep for this shot. One warning though, there are some random sharp shells around even in the water. I cut my left big toe!
Besides a beautiful, natural, dog-friendly waterfront, the memorial had a lot of great history that we did not have time to study much this visit. There were some scary photo realistic placards of Native Americans and Spanish Conquistadors hidden along the trail that startled me (and Kiki too). It is always nice to find a haikyo/ruins site, like the one above, as well.
De Soto National Memorial is a highly recommended park for an afternoon trip that offers history, trail walking, hilltop views and dog-friendly private beaches. We will definitely be back soon. If you visit, just keep you eyes open for the Devil Dog!