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Our Quest for Glory at De Soto National Memorial

Florida has 11 National Park Sites in the state, and De Soto National Memorial is one of them. While the big National Parks get all the attention, we were pleasantly surprised by all there is to do here.

The park was created to dive into the impactful story of the 1539 expedition led by Hernando de Soto and how it left a huge mark on the southeast of the north American continent.

Come with us and we will give you an overview of this little park so you can get the most out of your visit!

Park Details and Getting There

The park is located south of Tampa/St. Petersburg in Bradenton Florida. Our drive south form Clearwater was easy with an amazing view over the Sunshine Skyway bridge. We made it to De Soto National Memorial right when it opened at 9am.

The site has a nice little parking lot and a drop off point for visitors a well. Camp Uzita, which is the where the living history and interpretive activities are located was not operating the day we were there. When open they provide a great view into the lives of the Spanish and indigenous inhabitants of Southeast Florida in the sixteenth century.

Camp Uzita Operating Hours: Living History Open Thu-Sun, December to Mid-April 10am -3pm

We walked through some of the recreated indigenous buildings that support the in-person interpretations. Unfortunately, some were roped off, but there were self-guided signs that can be followed to help give context to the site.

De Soto National Memorial Visitor Center

We took a short walk to the small visitor center, after taking in the wonderful view of the bay. 

girl running toward visitor center on white gravel path at De soto national memorial

The Visitor Center housed an information desk, small bookstore, exhibits and a room to watch the informational video. There were quite a lot of activities for my daughter to experience. It was interesting enough that she was able to complete the Jr. Ranger book and get her badge.

She even gave me permission to show the picture of her wearing the Conquistador armor. In the 16th century a fully decked out soldier would have upwards of 80lbs of gear on them!

There was a host of information at the Visitor Center, and really helped fill in details about the history of this brutal expedition. There are also nice hiking trails around the site if you have time to explore. We noted several folks utilizing the park for their morning run.

Beyond this park, the State of Florida has a special brochure that lists the location of 34 kiosks in and around state parks where you can visit and follow DeSoto’s trail north.

National Park Passport Stamp

Don’t forget to grab your free souvenir, a National Park Passport Stamp! It is a great way to record your visit and is absolutely free. Don’t know anything about National Park Stamps? Check out my in-depth overview article!

Hiking Trails

The Memorial Park Trail is the one main trail that runs from the visitor center to De Soto point and down to Riverview pointe preserve. It is fairly short at only 1-mile if you use the Manatee Ave as a return route back to the park.

You can also start at the trail head at in Riverview Pointe Preserve which has a small parking lot for about five cars at the trailhead on Manatee Ave. The is an abundance of foliage and shade which makes it a great place to go even in the summer heat. Note, these are walking trails and mountain bikes are not permitted.

map of De soto National memorial with hiking trails and buildings

Other Activities

The park hosts a number of activities throughout the year, which changes based on the season:

  • Junior Ranger Day camps in the Summer
  • A De Soto themed ‘escape room’ for kids
  • Fishing clinics
  • Kayaking tours

Check with recreation.gov to see what is being offered during your visit and reserve ahead of time.

De Soto’s History

There were plenty of signs to help you follow the history. Hernando de Soto was certainly a man of his era with great ambition. I was surprised to learn that he left Spain at 19 and joined Pizzaro’s expedition of Peru. He made his fortune from a share of the Inca treasure during that campaign. 

Apparently, he was not satisfied and came back to La Florida, with the mistaken belief that even more gold was to be found in the Southeastern United States.

I was frankly amazed at the distance and length of time this expedition/invasion ran. 16th century Spanish Conquistador soldiers trudging all across the southern United States for four years seems incredible.

Four thousand miles in four years, through ten southern states from Florida, South Carolina, up into Tennessee and as far west as Texas before departing out of Louisiana. I knew the Spanish had expeditions starting in Florida as this time, but they got around!

Almost as impressive was the level of brutality that was inflicted upon the American Indians during this invasion.

The story is a bit grim. Low-end noble from Spain, going into an uncharted part of the world to seek his fortune and glory…killing, raping and enslaving local indigenous people, pretending to be a deity, spreading European diseases everywhere as he searched in vain for fabled gold and riches that were never found. Eventually dying along the bank of the Mississippi river in Louisiana.

The park shared a map showing all the NPS sites in the south that reference the trek of De Soto through the Southeast. Make note of this and see how this Spanish army 600+ influenced the history of each of these sites.

One Comment

  1. This looks like a neat spot to learn more about history and get some hiking in. We haven’t been to Florida yet, but I’ll make sure to add this to the list for when we do. Thanks for putting this on my radar.

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