There are three tiny sandy beaches at John Pennekamp great for sunning and swimming, having a picnic and trying out your snorkel. If you are looking for endless white sand strands and crystal clear blue waters, well, this isn't it.
The beaches at Pennekamp are small, a bit rocky, and similarly to other state beaches, they are kept in their natural state, that means, seagrass abounds, some people mistake this for an "unclean" beach, but it is this very feature that has helped to conserve the habitats for many of the shorebirds and contributed to bring back their populations.
So knowing some of these facts will help dissipate some frequent misconceptions and expectations regarding the park and the beaches. Here's our take:
Pennekamp beaches are located within the Largo Sound and not directly in the Ocean. This makes for calm, protected and shallow waters, which makes it great if you have small children, but not so great if you're looking for crystal clear turquoise brilliant waters to snorkel in...
That said, this is a good place to learn to snorkel or try out any new equipment before you venture out to the reefs.
Is there anything to see? Although nothing in comparison to the rich reefs offshore, you see few formations among the grassy bottom...
... some fish darting around... we have seen parrot fish, barracudas, small grunts, and the tiny silvery ones swimming in schools...
... and if you look closely, all sorts of cool surprises ...
One of the most popular spots for snorkeling is Cannon Beach, this is the main beach near the Visitor Center. It is named after the cannon remnants from a sunken ship not far from shore:
The sand at the beaches is quite coarse with lots of small pebbles and rocks, it's a good idea to bring aqua socks or water shoes for walking around and wading in and out of the water.
Framing the sides of the beaches are the mangroves that line the shores of the mainland part of the park...
It is fun to snorkel close to the mangroves and check out their intricate root systems and the life they support.
It's a very rich environment but also visibility could be poor. If you look closely, there is all sorts of marine life growing and darting around.
Facilities at the park are clean and well-maintained. There's clean restrooms, showers, changing facilities, vending machines throughout the park.
Lots of shaded areas with picnic tables, barbeque grills and pavillions for larger groups that can be reserved in advance.
Parking is convenient to the beaches, you practically roll out of the car into the beach. Easy when you're carrying a lot of beach paraphernalia, umbrellas, coolers, water toys, etc. This is the parking at Far Beach:
So in short, Pennekamp State Park has much to offer and is a great place to spend the day and take part in the many activities: a snorkel tour, a canoe or kayak trip, a picnic and barbeque by the beach...
If you see it only as a "beach" destination, or a "snorkeling" destination (from the beach) you might be dissapointed. There are much better beaches around if all you want is a beach, and certainly, there are many snorkeling tours from Key Largo that cover the same spots if you only want a snorkeling tour, that saves you the entrance fee to the park.
But if you want a day full of fun and things to do that will keep the kids happy and entertained, then you can't go wrong with Pennekamp, it's one of our favorite places for a day in the outdoors and one of the top state parks in Florida!
Parking: Plentiful and close to the beaches. Challenging on weekends and holidays, get there early.
Beach Hours: Same as park hours 8:00 am to sunset.
Restrooms and Showers: Yes
Other Amenities: Stroller and wheelchair friendly, picnic tables, grills, pavillions. Also available at the park: snorkeling tours, kayak and canoe rentals, scuba diving trips, glass-bottom boat tours, mangrove trails and boardwalks.
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