The setting sun splashed yellow and pink shades across the lapping water of Biscayne Bay. On the shores of Oleta River State Park, my friends and I felt captivated by the sunset spectacle. From where we stood on the sand, we found ourselves surrounded on one side by mangrove trees and forest. A wild fox trotted out to join us on the beach for a few minutes before disappearing back into the darkness of the woods.
And yet, we were not in a completely wild space. Oleta River State Park encompasses over 1,000 acres in the middle of North Miami, representing one of the largest urban parks in Florida. While resting at our sunset viewing place we saw gleaming skyscrapers over the tree canopy, reminding us that were in fact in the middle of a city. We watched flocks of egrets and ibises soar overhead, heard hawks call in the forest, spotted a Great Blue Heron near Red Mangrove roots, and yet were mere minutes from restaurants, hotels, businesses and more.
We weren’t the only ones enjoying the sunset colors. A young woman lay reading in the last of the day’s light, while a group of friends ate a picnic dinner at one of the wooden picnic tables facing the water. Buoys marked off a daytime swimming area, while larger picnic pavilions offered space to family reunions and other gatherings. It was the end of the day, but still the park felt full.
After the sun had completely descended my girlfriends and I trooped back to one of the park’s comfortable cabins to spend the night. We live far from each other in this large state, and we laughed and caught up while unrolling our sleeping bags and changing into PJ’s. Cabin #14 contained three beds and air-conditioning, so we were quite comfortable!
One of the best aspects of spending the night in a Florida State Park is the freedom it gives to explore during the beautiful dawn hours. Before the park gates had even opened we were up and about; Margaret jogged around the park, Maddie took advantage of the cabin’s front porch to do some yoga stretches, and I took photos of the delicate clouds tracing the sky. It was a true privilege witness both sunset and sunrise within the park, and I highly recommend a stay in one of the cabins!
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About Erika: Erika Z. is a writer, birder and photographer living and working along the Emerald Coast of Florida. Her love of the outdoors and sense of adventure leads her to explore Florida’s state parks, state trails and historic sites in her free time.