Beaches / Bike & Hike / Kayak & Canoe / Lodging / Southeast Florida

Oleta River State Park feels like island getaway in Miami urban sprawl

Kayaking in Oleta River State Park. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Perhaps the most exceptional thing about this state park is that given its location – smack dab in the middle of traffic-choked Miami-Dade, 10 minutes from sprawling Aventura Mall – it feels like an island getaway.

Oleta is a Miami-area favorite for its outstanding kayaking and mountain-biking trails, its sandy crescent of beach and its appealing picnic pavilions.

Kayaking in Oleta River State Park. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Many will be surprised to discover that there is a wooded peninsula here where 14 small rustic cabins are available for rent inexpensively (see below for details.)

We visited as day-trippers, renting kayaks and trying out the kayak trail inside the park. We came on a weekday, when the 1,033-square-foot park was quite empty. (On weekends in the summer, Oleta fills up with groups picnicking and swimming at the beach. )

The downsides: Condo towers along the beach are visible from most viewpoints and planes fly overhead hurting the solitude.

Still, we found it to be a lovely getaway, worth a visit by people when in the area; a precious taste of nature hidden inside a noisy big city.

Kayaking past the fishing pier in the lagoon area of Oleta River State Park. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Kayaking past the fishing pier in the lagoon area of Oleta River State Park. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Kayaking in Oleta River State Park

One of the best reasons to visit is to kayak.

We were surprised to find beautiful mangrove tunnels on the kayak trail that weaves through the park. The trail took us less than an hour to complete, but we couldn’t paddle to Sandspur Island in the Intracoastal because it was a very windy day. The park’s lagoon open out to Biscayne Bay and if you head to Sandspur Island , Oleta would provide a couple of hours of good kayaking. Kayakers sometimes see manatees and dolphins.

Kayaking in Oleta River State Park. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Sandspur is also known as Beer Can Island and is one of the largest spoil islands in Biscayne Bay. It is a 15-acre island with a sandy beach facing Oleta and it takes about a half hour to reach by kayak. There are no facilities there and it is densely wooded. It is also a popular destination for power boaters on weekends.

The park has a large and active kayak concessionaire that offers canoes, kayaks and stand up paddleboards, and also offers full-moon kayak tours and Friday night sunset tours. Here’s a link to the concessionaire, BG Oleta.

If you want to launch your own canoe or kayak, you must share their busy launch site.

At this point, the park does not offer a launch that makes it easy to paddle on the mangrove-lined Oleta River, which runs through the northern part of the park. (To reach it, you would have to paddle out to the Intracoastal and around the park toward 163rd Street. There may be a place to launch when the concessionaire completes the renovation of the historic Blue Marlin Restaurant, located off 163rd Street west of the actual park entrance. Twenty years ago when I first paddled at Oleta, this is where the launch and canoe rental site was located.

Oleta River Mountain Biking

Oleta River mountain biking

Mountain biking at Oleta River State Park

South Florida is flat, but Oleta River State Park has over 10 miles of intermediate mountain bike trails that have been built to be hilly and challenging. Oleta is, in fact, locally famous as the best mountain biking site in the region. Be warned, though : The roots will get you here. They require constant attention as you pedal through the off-road biking trails that wind throughout the park. If you kayak, cyclists are often visible from the kayak/canoe trails.

The park concessionaire rents mountain bikes. Here’s advice we were given: If you plan to rent, test out the bike you are given to make sure it is in full working order before you head out on the trail.

The park also has three miles of paved trails, which can be ridden by bike or used by roller bladers.

Cabins at Oleta River State Park

Cabins at Oleta River State Park

Cabins at Oleta River State Park

These 14 cabins are one of Miami’s best-kept secrets.

Simple cabins at Oleta River State Park.

True, they are just simple air conditioned one-room cabins with covered porches. You need to bring a sleeping bag and you use a campground-like central restroom facility.

But they only cost $62 a night and they  allow visitors to have a camping-in-nature experience in an area that is solid concrete and commerce for hours in every direction.

Unlike a lot of state park cabins, the Oleta cabins seem fairly easy to reserve, too. (Weekends, of course, book up first.)

We would recommend a stay in the cabins for two types of visitors:

  • South Floridians who want a quick, inexpensive getaway close to home. It would be good for families with young children, for example.
  • Visitors to Florida on a budget who like natural settings, kayaking or mountain biking.

Most cabins are equipped with one double bed, a bunk bed and air conditioning. Exceptions are Cabin 2, with one double bed only, and Cabin 3 with two sets of bunk beds. Cabin 1 is ADA-accessible. Linens are not provided and  cabins have no kitchens or bathrooms, a restroom with hot showers is located nearby and each cabin has a grill and fire ring.

Be aware: No see ums and mosquitos like a natural setting too and can be nuisance here at sundown and sunrise.

Here’s a link to ReserveAmerica, where you can book a cabin.

Beach at Oleta River State Park is perfect for kids because it is shallow and calm. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Beach and picnic pavilions popular with visitors

There is a broad, manmade beach opening up onto a lagoon off Biscayne Bay. The shallow water and lack of waves makes this a nice beach for young children, although there are no lifeguards.

Picnic tables at Oleta River State Park have a good view. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

The beach is surrounded by picnic areas and pavilions that are easily accessible from the beach parking lot.

The nine picnic pavilions are available on a first-come, first-seated basis, or you can rent one by reserving in advance for your group. Call the park office at (305) 919-1844 to reserve a pavilion.  One of the pavilions has 24 tables; the others have 10 tables each.

These pavilions have beautiful views and are several are convenient to the beach, making them popular for family gatherings and parties.

Another popular feature of the beach area is the fishing pier; you can also fish from shore along the Intracoastal Waterway.

Resources for visiting Oleta River State Park

Clear water along Biscayne Bay at Oleta River State Park. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Oleta River State Park
400 NE 163rd St, North Miami Beach, FL 33160
305-919-1846

Day use entrance fee is $6 per vehicle (up to 8), and public showers are available for day visitors. Pedestrians can access the park for $2, and single-occupant vehicles or motorcycles are $4.

 

Oleta State Park from the air. (Photo: Florida State Parks)

What’s nearby:

Haulover Beach Park. (cross the Intracoastal on 826, and turn right at Collins (State Road A1A). Be forewarned, this beach is clothing optional.

Haulover Marine Center. Full-service marina with a boat launch for larger boats, and a bait shop for fishermen, and a waterfront restaurant.

Getting there:

Take Sunny Isles Blvd. (SR 826) east from I-95 and cross U.S. 1.  You will cross the river (the historic Blue Marlin Fish House is on your right) and the entrance is a short distance on the right side. You can also access the park from State Road A1A by taking Sunny Isles Blvd., just north of Haulover Inlet.

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