De Soto National Memorial | PARK AT A GLANCE

De Soto National Memorial in Bradenton, Florida

De Soto National Memorial in Bradenton, Florida

PARK OVERVIEW

De Soto National Memorial is located in Bradenton, Florida, on what is thought to be Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto’s landing point for his 1539 expedition of what was then known as La Florida and lands farther to the north. The park was established in 1948 as a National Memorial instead of a National Historic Site because the location of De Soto’s actual landing point can only be speculated. To obtain the designation of “Historic Site,” the location of the event must be certain. In 1987 archaeologists did find a significant amount of Indian and European artifacts on the site, and while this points to the park being the probable camp of De Soto, it is still conjecture.

De Soto had been a secondary commander in a Francisco Pizarro-led expedition into Peru and now yearned for an expedition of his own. He was eventually granted permission by Spain’s King Charles V and sailed for Cuba in 1537, where he organized his expedition. He departed Havana in May 1539 and landed on the west cost of Florida. His journey would take him farther into North America than any European had been before. He made it as far north as modern day Charlotte, North Carolina, and as far west as Texas.

Spanish explorers promised many things to the King, but they had only one intent in mind—to get rich by finding gold, silver, and jewels. This involved brutal conquest of the native people, as was the case in South America with the Inca and Aztec tribes. De Soto’s journey was no different, except he was often met with stiff resistance from the North American Indians. Though he killed and enslaved many of them, battles cut his army from 700 men to half that number by the spring of 1542 when he caught a fever and died. The surviving men aborted the expedition and headed down the Mississippi River and on to Mexico. The men had found no gold, no land to colonize, and their tales of hostile Indians were a major factor in why Spain never attempted further colonization beyond La Florida.

De Soto National Memorial is a small park that you can visit in a few hours. Learn about De Soto and his expedition at the Visitor Center and Museum, and visit a replica of his first camp, Camp Uzita, where park Rangers and volunteers dress in period costume and conduct blacksmithing, cooking, and weapons demonstrations. You can even try on armor and chain mail. A short trail takes visitors to De Soto Point and follows the shoreline of the Manatee River.

Enjoying the view of the Manatee River from De Soto National Memorial

Enjoying the view of the Manatee River from De Soto National Memorial

OPERATING HOURS

De Soto National Memorial is open daily except for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day. The Visitor Center is open from 9 AM to 5 PM, while the park grounds are open from sunrise to sunset. Keep in mind that the park gates close at 5 PM, and any cars left inside will be locked up for the night and may be ticketed. To access the grounds after 5 PM, park at the Riverview Pointe parking area just down the street from the park entrance gates. Riverview Pointe borders De Soto National Memorial to the south and is operated in partnership with the National Park Service and Manatee County. A one-mile hiking trail connects both parks.

Living history demonstrations are held at Camp Uzita on Thursdays through Sundays starting in December and continuing through mid-April. Activities cease at this time due to the heat.

Opening and closing times can always change, so before making travel plans be sure to visit the National Park Service’s official Operating Hours and Seasons web page for the latest schedule.


FEES

There is no fee to enter the De Soto National Memorial. Donations are always welcome.


SCHEDULING YOUR VISIT

Visitor Center and Museum
Allow 30-60 minutes

Camp Uzita
Allow 30 minutes

Expedition Trail
Allow 30-60 minutes


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Last updated on July 5, 2022
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