Given its location in the middle of traffic-choked Miami-Dade, perhaps the most exceptional thing about Oleta River State Park is 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.
Many will be surprised to discover 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 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.
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, Oleta River Outdoor Center.
If you want to launch your own canoe or kayak, you must launch from parking lot four or five, not the concessionaire launch site.
As of 2021, a second kayak option is available. The concessionaire has re-opened the historic Blue Marlin Fish House. It is situated on park land but is located outside its main entrance at 2500 NE 163rd St., North Miami Beach.
The Fish House rents kayaks and stand up paddleboards for paddling the Oleta River — a different paddling route than the one inside the park. On the Oleta River paddlers reach mangrove tunnels that feel like you’re in the wilderness (except for the city noises that you can’t quite escape.)
If you bring your own kayak there is a small fee to launch here.
The Blue Marlin Fish House was built in 1938 as a smokehouse for fish and a trading post where fishermen could barter their catch. It was refurbished and now serves beer, seafood, sandwiches, salads and, of course, smoked fish dip.
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.
Oleta River State Park bike rental: 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.
Oleta River State Park camping cabins
These 14 cabins are one of Miami’s best-kept secrets.
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.
Oleta River State Park: Picnic pavilions and the beach
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. Because the location is very near the Haulover Inlet, the water is clearer than elsewhere on the Intracoastal.
On a visit with a toddler we spent hours here splashing, floating on beach toys and playing in the sand. It was relaxing for the adults because the beach felt so safe.
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 several are convenient to the beach, making them popular for family gatherings and parties.
Oleta River State Park fishing
As of July 2021, the Oleta River State Park fishing pier is closed for repairs. The shoreline along the Intracoastal, however, is popular with fishermen. The proximity to the Haulover Inlet increases the variety of fish in these waters.
Resources for visiting Oleta River State Park
Oleta River State Park
400 NE 163rd St, North Miami Beach, FL 33160
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.
To reserve a cabin: Go to reserve.floridastateparks.org or call 1-800-326-3521, Monday-Friday, from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. up to 11 months in advance. (TDD 888-433-0287) Minimum stay is two nights. Maximum stay is 14 days. Editor’s Note: Readers are reporting security issues blocking access to the new web site. In that case, try again with another web browser or make your reservations by phone.
Cabin Fees: In addition to the base rate, which varies from park to park, campers will pay state and local taxes, a $6.70 booking fee and a new $7/day utilities fee for cabins with water and/or electric power.
Cancellations and Changes: Cancellation fee is $17.50, up until the day before the reservation begins. If you cancel on the first day of your reservation, you will also sacrifice your first night’s fees. Cancellations are not permitted within 18 days of making the reservation. Any other changes to your reservation will cost $10.
Pets: Not allowed in state park cabins or cabin areas.
What’s near Oleta River State Park
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.
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.
Notes from the editor:
The information in this article was accurate when published but may change without notice. Confirm details when planning a trip, especially to areas hard hit by hurricanes.
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Veteran journalists who worked together at Fort Lauderdale’s SunSentinel newspaper, Bonnie and Bob founded FloridaRambler.com in 2010 to explore the natural, authentic Florida, writing about their natural interests in hiking, biking, paddling, RV and tent camping, wildlife, unique lodging, dining and historic places.