Historians believe Spanish conqueror Hernando de Soto, who is credited with discovering the Mississippi River, made his first New World landfall hereabouts, on the bay shores of today’s Bradenton in 1539. His reputation as a hero has been tainted by reports of his cruelty to the native Americans he encountered, however.
Inside the park’s visitors center, a video tells de Soto’s story and exhibits display Spanish and native American artifacts. Kids can play dress-up as conqueror or native American.
Outside, nature trails follow the shoreline and take you to monuments and ruins. There’s also a kayak launch, and rangers lead tours during the December through April season.
During that same time, re-enactors present the pageantry of the era and demonstrate colonial skills at a recreated Spanish camp on site. Admission to the park and visitors center is free.
Park open sunrise to sunset daily; visitors center open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily