The Oleta River is close enough to get to yet distant enough that it's pretty much the best place around to do outdoor activities such as mountain biking and kayaking. Sure, mountain biking in Florida is a lot like sunbathing in Antarctica: Nature won't quite permit it. Florida's landscape may be flat as a runway model's chest, but over at Oleta River State Park — the state's largest urban park — bikers have outsmarted old Mother Earth. Here a field of man-made dirt jumps and ramps vary in steepness and length, proving just as good for teenage thrill-seekers as they are for retirees. Add that to the 16 miles of trails for off-roading through the mangrove forest and you might find yourself stopping for a rest under a towering pine. Trails lead to the edge of the river, where canoes and kayaks carve through the glassy water. Forgot your helmet? No prob. Check out the park's free loaner system. Best to bring lunch, mosquito repellant, and a sense of adventure. You might forget you're miles from mountain country.
For those who would rather hit the water, Oleta offers the perfect spot in Miami-Dade for kayaking. Once your boat hits the water, the interminable traffic and noxious noise of the city disappear in the tree-lined streams of native plants and abundant wildlife. Oleta is part quiet escapism and part stimulating odyssey. Gently curving mangroves lead you through the river amid a wall of woodland preserves and supple hanging branches that kiss the surface of the water. Follow the widening canal and you're suddenly met with the spreading mouth of the river that takes you into open water, where anchored sailboats dot the wide expanse. One moment you're in the soft muzzle of swaying trees and the hazy green glow of sunlight poking through the foliage, the next you find yourself with the wind at your back and ocean waves gently jabbing the bottom of your kayak. You can easily lose track of time taking in the wildlife — crabs, stingrays, and a variety of birds such as ospreys, hawks, and cormorants. On quieter days, if you get lucky, you might spot manatees or a school of bottle-nosed dolphins. The park has a stand that sells refreshments and snacks and even offers kayak rentals that start at $20 an hour. Oleta is open year-round from 8 a.m. to sunset.