Try Oleta River for mountain-bike trail and kayaking
Oleta River State Park is Florida’s largest urban park, at 1,043 acres with 50 acres of inland waterways.
The park’s 15 miles of bike trails are widely acclaimed as among the best in the state for mountain biking with 10 miles of intermediate trails. For the less-adventurous, the park has another four miles of novice trails and three miles of paved trails, which also accommodates roller blading.
The trails run deep into the park’s lush vegetation, mangrove creeks and pine wood forests. A wading pool along the trail is home to a wide variety of birds who come to feed and nest in the woods.
These off-road biking and hiking trails wind throughout the park, and cyclists are often visible from the kayak/canoe trails, as in the photo at right, which was shot by a canoeist. You can hear the bikes coming, crackling limbs and crushing leaves as birds give flight. It is not a disturbing sound at all, but rather a woodsy flavor that confirms your presence in this urban wilderness.
Paddle the bay, the river and mangrove creeks
The namesake Oleta River is popular with kayakers and canoeists, as are several small mangrove creeks, and fleets of paddlers can often be observed in the bay, which is just inside Haulover Inlet. The open bay, and the lagoon that wraps into the park, are also popular with paddle-boards, especially when the air and water are calm.
To access the Oleta River itself, you need to paddle east around the beach from the boat launch, then north on the Intracoastal to the Sunny Isles Blvd. bridge. Hug the western shore and out of Intracoastal traffic. Just before the bridge, you turn into the river. Along the way, you are introduced to a picturesque forest of palms and pines. The river itself is lined by mangroves.
There are other trails, most shaded, near the boat launch, or you can splash around in the bay towards Sandspur Island’s beaches, or out to the sandbar inside the Haulover Inlet, which is usually quite crowded on weekends.
Unless you are an experienced kayaker with local knowledge who understands rough water and treacherous currents, stay away from the Inlet. Heavy boat traffic can make the area around the sandbar and inlet dangerous for paddlers.
If you come empty-handed, you can rent kayaks, canoes and bicycles at the park’s well-stocked concession, the Blue Moon Outdoor Center, which also operates the Blue Moon Fish House outside the entrance to the park.
Every month, the Blue Moon Outdoor Center hosts a leisurely “Full Moon Paddle” in the park. Advance reservations are required, cost is $50, and the group meets at the Outdoors Center, adjacent to the boat launch. The evening paddle starts around 7 p.m. and lasts about an hour and a half with a 30-minute break on the beach.
You can find more details about the evening paddle, as well as other Blue Moon meetups, at Blue Moon’s website. This is a great way to introduce yourself to the park’s recreational opportunities.
Park offers primitive cabins for overnight camping
There are 14 small, one-room log cabins in the park, each with a covered porch, a picnic table and a fire ring. There are no kitchens or bathrooms in the cabins, but campers can use a central restroom with hot showers.
You will be happy to know that the cabins are air-conditioned!
Most have one double bed and a bunk bed. Cabin 2 has one double bed only, and Cabin 3 has two sets of bunk beds. Cabin No. 1 is ADA-accessible. Linens are not provided, so you’ll have to bring your own or “rough it” in sleeping bags.
The cabins are along the shore with convenient access for launching kayaks and canoes or hitting the trails.
You can reserve your cabin ($55 per night) up to 11 months in advance through ReserveAmerica.
Beach, picnic areas popular with day visitors
There is a broad, manmade beach opening up onto a lagoon off Biscayne Bay, 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.
The beach area is unguarded.
Another popular feature of the beach area is the fishing pier, but you can also fish from shore along the Intracoastal Waterway. (Note that the fishing pier is closed for the remainder of 2011 for repairs).
Hiking trails, including some that coexist with the bike trails, are located throughout the park.
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.
For reviews of the park, visit Yelp.
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.
Blue Marlin Fish House. (On Sunny Isles Blvd., at the Oleta River bridge west of the park entrance) We’ve eaten there, and the food is very good and reasonably priced.
Outback Steakhouse (On Sunny Isles Blvd., near the Intracoastal bridge east of the park entrance)
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.