De Soto National Memorial & Jr. Ranger Program // Florida
We completely underestimated everything De Soto National Memorial had to offer. We stopped by on a recent trip to Tampa thinking we would spend a few minutes in the visitors center, but instead we closed it down. We spent all afternoon completing the Jr. Ranger Program and exploring the beautiful waterfront property.
The biggest tip I can offer about De Soto National Memorial is to check the webpage and activity offerings before your trip. We stopped in with little preparation only to find an activity board full of free guided hikes and paid kayak trips that looked phenomenal. There are even programs specifically for dog owners and their furry friends.
Our visit was completely centered around De Soto National Memorial’s Jr. Ranger Activity book. I love the Jr. Ranger packets because they combine our Homeschooling with our love of travel. At De Soto, each child was given a handheld compass, a pencil and an activity book to assist on their visit. The Jr. Ranger program here is free.
The first assignment in the book gets you out and about on the trails. The Littles had to use the compass to help find and fill in missing parts of the map. The map took us all around the property making sure we saw all the important land markers.
The walk is picturesque with water views and boardwalks over the swampy bits. You are bound to see a variety of wildlife on your walk. There are also several small sandy beaches that are perfect for enjoying the water or sand play.
The boardwalks help you explore the coastal mangrove ecosystem. It was incredibly hot during our visit, but in slightly cooler weather there are plenty of places to stop, sit and work on the rest of your Jr. Ranger Packet, or just enjoy the surroundings.
We attempted to finish our map as quickly as possible though to get out of the heat.
The funny thing about the De Soto Memorial is that historians are sure that De Soto was not actually here. The park focuses not only on De Soto’s exploration but also on the native people he encountered in Florida and the natural ecosystem.
Inside the visitors center, De Soto National Memorial has made the most of the space with interactive exhibitions. There are reproduction of 16th century Spanish armor for kids to try on as they complete their Jr. Ranger packet. There is also a 22-minute video that was a bit intense for our kids (gory battle scenes) but is nontheless quite informative.
The Jr. Ranger packet had a variety of activities which we completed in the air conditioned visitors center. The Big and Middle Littles were both able to complete the activities.
Just as the park was closing, the boys took the Jr. Ranger oath and were awarded their badges. They were also excited to take home their clip-on compasses.
If you are going to be in the Tampa area, plan ahead for a visit to De Soto National Memorial. You are bound to have a good time and find a variety of activities at the park. It is on our radar for another visit when we can take advantage of a living history day or kayak tour.