Tucked behind the urban sprawl that marks Tamiami Trail in Sarasota County is a hidden gem, Oscar Scherer State Park is a 1400-acre wilderness with paddle trails for canoe and kayak, a freshwater swimming lake and 15 miles of off-road trails for hikers and mountain bikes.
Or hop onto the 18-mile-long multi-use Legacy Trail, which cuts through the park atop an old railroad bed.
For birders, Oscar Scherer State Park is home of the Florida scrub jay, a threatened species increasingly rare as its natural scrub habitat disappears under the blades of bulldozers.
Oscar Scherer also happens to be one of my favorite campgrounds, shady and quiet, between two of the Gulf Coast’s most popular destinations, Venice and Sarasota.
Camping at Oscar Scherer State Park
The park’s campsites have dense vegetation offering privacy, protection from the elements and ample canopy to protect you from Florida’s intense sun.
Half of Oscar Scherer’s 98 sites (Nos. 1 through 20 and 68 through 98) are on the banks of South Creek, which winds its way through the park to the Intracoastal Waterway. Campers are encouraged to launch kayaks and canoes into the creek from the nearby launch ramp and not from their campsites, where the delicate creek banks are subject to erosion.
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 plus a $7 daily utility fee, taxes and a one-time $6.70 fee per booking. Reservations can be made up to 11 months in advance online at floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/oscar-scherer-state-park or by calling 1-800-326-3521.
Like all state parks, a few sites 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 carefully.
Hiking and biking trails at Oscar Scherer State Park
There are more than 15 miles of interconnected off-road trails for hikers and bicyclists 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 20-mile-long Legacy Trail, making it an ideal access point for bicyclists wishing to go in either direction, north towards Sarasota or south to Venice, where a 5-mile extension routes to the beach. The trail is one of several in Central and West Florida along old, abandoned railroad beds. The Legacy Trail is straight and level, paved and well-maintained by the Friends of the Legacy Trail.
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 many park service roads that intersect the trail.
Two trails – the Lester Finley Trail and the South Creek Nature Trail – are restricted to 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 at Oscar Scherer State Park
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.
South Creek is tidal, a mix of fresh and salt water, weaving through a changing habitat. Inland, experience giant leather ferns and cabbage palms, giving way to saltwater mangrove forest as you get closer to the Intracoastal waterway. Along the way, enjoy flocks of wading birds, alligators and even otters.
You will often find frolicking dolphin in the Intracoastal near the mouth of South Creek as they feed on fish carried on outgoing tides from the creek.
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 on the Gulf side is lightly populated Casey Key. Traveling north on the Intracoastal, you’ll pass a one-lane bridge and the Casey Key Marina, home of the Casey Key Fish House and Tiki Bar.
This is a fabulous little eatery where you can enjoy lunch before paddling back to Oscar Scherer. On weekends, the outdoor tiki bar is hopping.
KAYAK/CANOE RENTALS. If you don’t own your own canoe or kayak, rent one at the ranger station, although you are restricted to South Creek. If you want to paddle beyond the park in the Intracoastal Waterway, try Island JetSki at the Casey Key Marina.
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
- Campground Reservations: $26/night plus $7 daily utility fee, taxes and one-time booking fee of $6.70. Book online at floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/oscar-scherer-state-park or call 1-800-326-3521.
- Pets: Permitted in campground and recreation areas.
- Day-use entrance fee: $5 per vehicle, $2 for pedestrians and bicycles.
What’s near Oscar Scherer State Park
- 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.
- Legacy Trail and Venetian Waterway. The Legacy Trail begins in Sarasota and runs south through Oscar Scherer State Park to the historic Venice Train Depot in downtown Venice. The ride continues without interruption through Venetian Waterway Park, along both sides of the Intracoastal Waterway, to either Casperson Beach Park (west side) or Shamrock Park and Nature Center (east side of the Intracoastal). Read a Florida Rambler story.
Cool Places to Eat:
- Casey Key Fish House – Authentic Florida seafood restaurant is popular with locals but hidden from passersby on the nearby Tamiami Trail. The fish is famously fresh and the prices 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 tiki bar that hops on weekends. You can access the restaurant by boat, by foot, bicycle or by car. 801 Blackburn Point Road. Take U.S. 41 north of the park entrance one mile to Blackburn Point Road. Turn left, cross the one-lane bridge and you’re there. (941) 966-1901.
- Crow’s Nest — 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. Take Venice Ave. to Esplanade and turn right. Follow to 1968 Tarpon Center Drive, Venice, FL. (941) 484-9551.
- Roessler’s. Venerable family-owned restaurant on U.S. 41, at 2033 Vamo Way, 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.
Other Useful Info:
- Supermarkets: Wal-Mart Supercenter, 3.5 miles 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 several RV sales and repair centers south of the park entrance, the closest being RV World in Nokomis (3 miles).
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Bob Rountree is a beach bum, angler and camper who has explored Florida for decades. No adventure is complete without a scenic paddle trail or unpaved road to nowhere. Bob co-founded FloridaRambler.com with fellow journalist Bonnie Gross 12 years ago.