Oleta River State Park

By Shayne Benowitz

Drive past the ranger station and through the gates of Oleta River State Park and a feeling of tranquility washes over you as you enter a quiet world of tangled, tidal mangroves in this protected river estuary. An osprey may swoop into your sightline and the towering, high-rise condo resorts of Sunny Isles Beach are a mere memory, still peaking above the tree line through your rearview mirror. Considered Florida’s largest urban park, it encompasses 1,033 acres of green space set against Biscayne Bay, ideal for kayaking, biking, hiking, swimming and camping.

Kayaking & The Marine Ecosystem

To experience a bit of what makes South Florida’s ecosystem so unique, opt for a kayaking excursion during your day at Oleta. Blue Moon Outdoor Center, located just north of the parking lot inside the park, offers rentals of single and tandem kayaks, canoes and standup paddleboards. The flat, calm waters of this estuary are ideal for these paddle sports and they cater to all activity levels.

Florida’s native mangroves line the riverbanks creating a cool, shaded, almost cave-like atmosphere. They’re the only salt water resistant tree with their prop roots filtering out the salt in a reverse osmosis process. Notice that each bunch of leaves has one yellow leaf. This is the “sacrificial leaf” where all of the salt is pumped into. Mangroves are a protected species; they play an integral role in maintaining Florida’s shorelines from the damages of erosion and hurricanes. They also offer an essential nesting and feeding habitat for virtually all of Florida’s juvenile fish and migratory birds.

Take your time paddling and keep your eyes and ears open for the sights and sounds of nature surrounding you. You may spot tiny black crabs scurrying along the mangrove roots, a wading bird, like a heron, egret, or ibis, and hear the sounds of fish jumping out of the water. If you happen to come across a dolphin or a manatee, it will be an experience you’ll never forget.

Mountain Biking

For Miami’s population of mountain biking enthusiasts, Oleta is an unrivaled destination. With 15 miles of trails coursing across the park from novice to expert, there’s something for everyone. Upon entering the park, ask the ranger for the trail map and find a path that looks right for you. There are a variety of single track trails (i.e., one way), double tracks (i.e., two way), and paved trails to choose from. There are even a few courses designed for dirt bike-style riding with jumps for tricks. If you need a bike, Blue Moon also rents mountain bikes, from hard tail bikes for the more advanced rider to cruisers for the beginner. Bikes for kids are also available. Feel the wind in your hair as you cruise through the maze of twists and turns on the trails.

Hiking, Picnicking, Fishing & Swimming

The park is also an ideal place for a leisurely hike on its three miles of paved and dirt trails. Enjoy the sun on your shoulders as you wind along the water with beautiful views of Biscayne Bay and the yachts docked across the water at Haulover Park Marina. Be on the lookout for native butterflies, migratory birds, like pelicans and blue herons—and this is another opportunity to spot manatees and dolphins in the wild. In addition to the mangroves, you’ll hike amongst the gumbo limbo trees native to South Florida, as well as colorful wildflowers, like the purple morning glory.

Take a break at one of the many picnic tables that line the nature trails or reserve a covered picnic pavilion for a large party. If you packed food, there are also grills available for your use. One of the hiking trails along the southwest curve of the park’s peninsula leads to a beach, perfect to take a dip in on a hot day. The water is flat, calm and crystal clear. For the fisherman in your party, there’s a small fishing pier on the south side of the beach where you have the chance to catch snook, snapper, mullet or even barracuda. Just be sure to bring your own fishing supplies.

Camping

For a true outward bound experience, or if you’re planning a trip with a scout troop, Oleta River State Park offers 14 rustic, air-conditioned cabins, as well as a primitive youth campground. While the cabins don’t have bathrooms, there is a central restroom with hot showers on the grounds. Also, there are no kitchens, so follow the Boy Scouts’ motto, and be prepared.

Sustenance

A trip to Oleta River State Park is not complete without a meal at the Blue Marlin Fish House, technically located inside the park, but accessible from an entrance slightly further west. Specializing in smoked fish dip and smoked fish sandwiches, choose from salmon, mahi or marlin, and grab a seat on the waterfront dock above the river. The atmosphere is absolutely idyllic. Breathe in the fresh river air, sit back and relax after an active day, and feed your soul. You’ll feel worlds away from the city.

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