Hidden away on the tip of De Soto Point and bordered by the Manatee River and the Gulf of Mexico, the De Soto National Memorial is a small treasure. It is beautiful and well-maintained, with friendly and knowledgeable rangers.
The pristine environment makes it easy to imagine what it must have been like for Hernando de Soto and his 600 men arrived on the shores of Florida to conquer and search for gold in 1539. This was the start of a four year, four thousand mile journey of exploration that introduced Europeans to the riches of North America, from coast of Florida to the banks of the Mississippi.
The arrival of the Spaniards is recreated in whimsical fashion with stand-ups of soldiers and local tribesmen and women in the rebuilt huts and barns, the ranger station and on the forest trails. The station has fine exhibits that detail the way of life of the local inhabitants and the arrival of the Conquistadors.
From December to April, the Memorial offers Living History camps, with volunteers in historical costume explaining the lifestyles and events surrounding De Soto’s arrival in 1539. During the last weekend in April, rangers and volunteers reenact the landing of De Soto. On some weekends, free ranger-led kayak tours of the area are offered. Check the website for schedules. Forty-five minute trail walks are offered daily as weather permits.
Activities offered include swimming (no lifeguard), picnicking, bird watching, fishing, and boating. There is a twenty-minute film offered for free in the ranger station, along with a small bookstore. Park facilities are accessible for handicapped persons. Restrooms and trails are wheelchair-ready and the film offered in the theater is closed captioned.
Ideas for teachers and parents are available on the Memorial website. Children can also find information about participating in the Junior Ranger program, which teaches them abut nature and conservation.
De Soto National Memorial is twenty-six acres of very beautiful and exceptionally well-kept land and exhibits. Plan on spending two hours for exploring the park, longer if you wish to picnic, swim, fish or boat. Be sure to spend time talking to the rangers!
Admission is free: donations are accepted. Park Grounds are open dawn to dusk, and the ranger station is open form 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Parking lot gates are locked at 5 pm., so park beyond the gates if you wish to be there later. The Memorial is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s, as well as when hurricanes threaten.
Sarasota-Bradenton Airport is twenty miles away. The park is easy to reach from 75th Street/De Soto Memorial Highway in Bradenton. It is only a few minutes away from Gulf Coast Beaches. Small boats may beach at De Soto Cove on the Manatee River.
Don’t miss this wonderful gem!
De Soto National Memorial
8300 De Soto Memorial Hwy
Bradenton, Florida 34209