For birders, Oscar Scherer may be the ideal location for observing the magnificent Florida scrub jay, a threatened species increasingly rare as its natural scrub habitat disappears under the blades of bulldozers.
And then there’s the camping. Oscar Scherer is one of my favorite campgrounds because of the thick vegetation and privacy afforded between sites, not to mention water access for my kayaks.
Oscar Scherer’s campsites have dense vegetation offering privacy, protection against the elements and ample shade from Florida’s intense sun.
Half of Oscar Scherer’s 98 sites (Nos. 1 through 20 and 68 through 98) are positioned along South Creek, allowing campers to launch kayaks and canoes from their back yard.” These waterfront sites also have the best canopy.
If a waterfront site is not available, you can still make use of the park’s South Creek launch ramp and dock.
The best sites for hikers and bikers are sites 10 through 29. The trails begin near Site 20, and a bridge across South Creek near Site 16 takes you to even more access points, as well as the Nature Center and Lake Osprey, the 3-acre swimming lake.
There are seven ADA accessible with aprons for parking and concrete pads for the grill and table.
Five bath houses with showers are located in the center of the campground loop, convenient to all campsites.
Sites are $26 per night and reservations can be made up to 11 months in advance through Reserve America, or call 1-800-326-3521.
Like all state parks, a few sites cannot be reserved and are set aside for walk-ups on a first-come, first-serve basis. This is a popular campground for snowbirds, who reserve sites well in advance, but there are often cancellations as itineraries change, so monitor the reservation calendar at ReserveAmerica carefully.
Hiking and Biking Trails
There are more than 15 miles of unpaved, interconnected hiking and biking trails that wind through scrub and pine flatwoods, but the biggest attraction may be a paved rail-trail that cuts through the eastern side of the park.
Oscar Scherer is the midway point of the 11-mile Legacy Trail, making it an ideal access point for bicyclists wishing to go in either direction, north towards Sarasota or south to Venice. The trail is one of many in Central and West Florida along old, abandoned railroad beds. The Legacy Trail is straight and level and paved.
Off-road cyclists can cruise right on by the paved trail and enjoy challenging unpaved trails. The 5-mile Yellow Trail can be difficult because of the soft sugar sand, but once you’ve had enough, you can veer off onto one of the many park service roads that intersect the trail. These service roads allow you to create your own adventure through park.
Two trails – the Lester Finley Trail and the South Creek Nature Trail – are set aside exclusively for hikers. The Finley trail meanders through a hardwood hammock along South Creek and is barrier-free, making it comfortable for those with disabilities. It’s about a half-mile long and takes about 20 minutes round trip. The South Creek Nature Trail is also half-mile long and is near the Nature Center.
Kayak and Canoe Trails
The South Creek kayak and canoe trail does not appear in a lot of guidebooks, but it does offer a picturesque paddle through the park, and it i directly accessible from a large number of Oscar Scherer camp sites.
South Creek is tidal, a mix of fresh and salt water, a brackish stream that winds through a changing habitat. Inland, experience giant leather ferns and cabbage palms, giving way to saltwater mangrove forest as you near the Intracoastal waterway. Along the way, enjoy flocks of wading birds, alligators and even otters.
If you don’t have your own canoe or kayak, you can rent one and launch from the South Creek picnic area. Rental is $10 per hour or $25 per day (as of January 2014).
Stay within the boundaries of the park or venture beyond the U.S. 441 bridge to the Intracoastal Waterway, where you will likely be entertained by playful dolphins. This is also a great area for fishing from your boat, especially at the mouth of South Creek, where small fish are carried by the tides into the Intracoastal. In fact, that’s why dolphins frequent the area.
This section of the Intracoastal was not very busy on the days we were out, so we were able to enjoy our paddle without interference from motorboats. The barrier island is lightly populated Casey Key. Travelling north on the Intracoastal, you’ll see a one-lane bridge overhead with a small marina on the west side.
The marina is home of the Casey Key Fish House and Tiki Bar, where you can enjoy a fantastic lunch before paddling back to the park. On weekends,the outdoor tiki bar is hopping. Best place to land your kayaks is on the north side of the bridge, then walk back across Blackburn Point Road.
Oscar Scherer State Park
1843 S. Tamiami Trail
Osprey, FL 34229
Phone: (941) 483-5956
- Scenic Rating: 8 out of 10
- Family Rating: 8 out of 10
- Sites: 104, including 6 pull-through sites for large RVs. Many great tent sites, some on South Creek
- Hookups: Water and electric; Dump station
- Reservations: Up to 11 months in advance, book online through ReserveAmerica, or call (800) 326-3521
- Pets: Yes
- Daily Admission: $5 per vehicle (Admission included for campers), $2 for pedestrians and bicycles
- Hours: 8 a.m.-sunset.
- Birdwalks are held every Thursday at 8 a.m. through April, cost is park admission.
- Guided canoe tours are held on Wednesday. Please call the park at 941-483-5956 for times.
- Nokomis – This quaint public beach is the closest beach to Oscar Scherer. Because of limited parking, the best days to visit are during the week. On weekends, this beach is popular with young people. Take U.S. 41 (Tamiami Trail) about 5 miles south of the park entrance and turn right on Albee Road. Go straight west to the beach on Casey Key.
- North Jetty Park, Nokomis — This public beach and park offers access both to the beach at the Venice Inlet and a boat launch popular with kayakers inside bays. TakeAlbee Road to Casey Key Road and turn left. (You bear right for Nokomis Beach).
- Siesta Key, Sarasota — Sugar-white sand beach on upscale Siesta Key. This popular beach was ranked No. 1 in America by Dr. Beach in 2011. Go 7 miles north of Oscar Scherer State Park on U.S. 41. Turn left on County Road 72 and follow the signs.
- Venice — Each of the wide and beautiful beaches of Venice has its own personality. Choose from the South Jetty Beach Park,Venice Municipal Beach, or Casperson Beach, the longest beach in Sarasota County. Take U.S. 41 about 9 miles south to the “41 Business” loop, which veers right after you cross the bridge into Venice. Turn right on Venice Avenue. Go straight west for the Venice Municipal Beach; turn left on Harbor Drive to go to Casperson Beach; turn right on Esplanade for access to South Jetty Park at the inlet. Read more in this article: Venice Beaches: The Sands of Time
Points of Interest:
- Historic Spanish Point – Archaeologists have uncovered artifacts of a prehistoric community in a sheltered cove where Sarasota County’s founding families also established an estate. Both worlds come together at Historic Spanish Point, where scientists cut into an ancient Indian mound now exposed and housed in protective glass for all to see. Take U.S. 41 about three miles north of the entrance to Oscar Scherer State Park. Spanish Point is on the left (east side of the highway). Read our article on Historic Spanish Point: Indian Mound Unwrapped
- Historic Downtown Venice — Buildings and homes in the Venetian style line the boulevards of this carefully planned city, built in the 1920′s by a railroad union seeking investments for its members. To get the most out of your visit, bring your bicycled and casually tour the side streets. There is also an active community theater (Venice Ave.) and craft shops (Miami Ave.). You can obtain a guide to homes at the Chamber of Commerce, which is located on the Business Loop just past Venice Ave. About 4 miles from the state park on U.S. 41.
- Clyde Butcher’s Venice Gallery & Studio.Renowned Everglades photographer Clyde Butcher displays his work at this gallery in Venice, one of his two galleries. His other gallery is in the heart of the Everglades at Ochopee. Venice is also the location of his amazing 2,000 square foot, large-format darkroom, where he produces his original prints. The gallery is open Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and is located in an indescript industrial park off Venice Avenue at 237 Warfield Ave. 941-486-0811.
Cool Places to Eat:
- Casey Key Fish House - This authentic Florida seafood restaurant is a pleasant surprise, quite popular with locals but well-hidden from casual tourists on the nearby Tamiami Trail. The fish is famously fresh and the prices are unexpectedly moderate. The service friendly and fast, and the atmosphere is classic Florida. Diners overlook the waterway from large windows that enclose the dining room. Outside, there’s a classic tiki bar that hops on weekends. You can access the restaurant by boat, by foot or bicycle or by car. 801 Blackburn Point Road. Take U.S. 41 north of the park entrance just one mile to Blackburn Point Road. Turn left, cross the one-lane bridge and you’re there. (941) 966-1901
- Crow’s Nest – As its name implies, this moderately upscale seafood restaurant is perched on a seawall inside Venice Inlet. Casual dining upstairs with a large selection of seafood and a cozy pub downstairs for cocktails and entertainment. Oysters in season are the specialty, and the owners import fresh oysters from all over the world. Go south to Venice, turn right on Venice Ave., then right again on Esplanade. 1968 Tarpon Center Drive, Venice, FL. (941) 484-9551
- La Petit Jardin Cafe — Open only for brunch and lunch, you would do well to drop by for a flavorful crepe. This small cafe is tucked into a streetside corner of a historic building that houses a bunch of small shops, and there is almost always a line to get in. But it’s worth it. 1500 E Venice Ave, Venice, FL (941) 485-4449
- Roessler’s. Venerable family-owned restaurant on U.S. 41, at 2033 Vamo Way, Sarasota, about 3.5 miles north of the entrance to Oscar Scherer State Park. Fine dining with excellent service. Continental menu, seafood specialties and excellent wine list. Expensive. (Watch for specials off-season and weekdays.) Reservations recommended in season. 941-966-5688.
- Spanish Point Restaurant and Pub. Classic waterfront crab shack and tiki bar off Tamiami Trail about a mile or so south of Historic Spanish Point and north of Oscar Scherer State Park. Limited pub-style menu and musical entertainment on weekends. 135 Bayview Drive, Osprey, FL 34229. (941) 966-5746
Other Useful Info:
- Supermarkets: There is a Wal-Mart Supercenter just 3.5 miles away at 13140 South Tamiami Trail in Osprey, and a Publix Supermarket further north, about 6 miles from the park entrance, at 8409 South Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. The closest Sweetbay market is 9 miles north of the park at the intersection with County Road 72, which goes to Siesta Key.
- RV Sales and Service: There are a couple of RV sales and repair centers south of the park entrance, the closest being RV World in Nokomis (less than 3 miles).