John Pennekamp State Park, mainly famous for the coral reefs and underwater wonders lining the eastern boundaries of the park, has in fact much to offer to nature and outdoor lovers.
There is of course the diving and the snorkeling, but also canoeing, kayaking, fishing, nature boardwalks and camping, and for the more sedate, little beaches in which to laze around, enjoy a picnic, go for a dip in the water, admire our fantastic sunsets... This is one of our favorite parks to chill for a day. When you visit the park, take your time... take advantage of everything it offers!
The Park Entrance is off US Highway 1, mile marker 102.5. Here you pay the entrance fee. Don't forget to get a park map.
John Pennekamp's Visitor Center is worth a stop. There is the usual park information and exhibits, super-helpful staff AND a 30,000 gallon salt-water aquarium that will take your breath away, just a little sample of what the offshore reefs at the park's doorstep have to offer.
Next to the Visitor Center, you will find the Concessions. Besides restrooms, showers and refreshemnt stands, there are concessions for:
Snorkeling Rentals and Tours. Many snorkeling tours to the reefs are offered during the day, there are short 2.5 hour tours and extended ones for 4.5 hours covering different spots.
Kayak and Canoe Rentals. The park's coastlines are surrounded by mangrove forests. The many creeks and protected lagoons offer great opportunities for even novices and first-time paddlers.
Glass Bottom Boat Tours. For those that don't want to get wet! The Spirit of Pennekamp
brings you to the reefs and you can observe the beautiful corals and marine life from the air conditioned comfort of this 65-foot vessel. There are 3 daily trips lasting 2.5 hours.
Three small sandy beaches are found within the park. Great for sunning and swimming, you can also bring a picnic and try out your snorkel!
John Pennekamp Marina. Available at the marina are boat rentals, dock rental, a dinghy dock and canoe launch.
Scuba Shop. The Scuba shop is a full-service PADI facility, offering scuba rentals and tours.
Fishing. You can cast your line at any of the designated areas marked in the map but remember you will need a saltwater fishing licence.
Spearfishing within park boundaries is a no no, so is taking anything from tropical fish, shells, coral, etc.
47 sites with full hook-ups and nicely equipped facilities including
picnic tables, grills, clean restrooms and showers.
Mangrove Trails and Boardwalks. There are a couple of
trails at the park that are quite enjoyable for an easy stroll and in the cooler months some birdwatching. They are wheelchair accessible as well.
There are plenty of parking lots convenient to the Visitor Center and Concessions, beaches, dive shop and marina and the camping sites. Although parking is plentiful, on weekends and holidays parking spots go fast!
The Visitor Center's main draw is the Aquarium and marine exhibits which give you a little sample of the beautiful reefs and marine life that where the inspiration behind America's first undersea park.
This massive 30,000 gallon saltwater tank contains a diversity of live corals and tropical fish, have fun spotting the angel fish, the tangs, the yellowtails...
The main tank is surrounded by several "minor" exhibits, also with lots of colorful marine life, like this beautiful dancing lion fish...
And skittish lobster...
Mangrove forests line the coastlines of John Pennekamp State Park, and there are trails and boardwalks that take you through them and along the creeks and sounds. They are not long and well-maintained, you'll see all three types of mangroves, red, black and white.
Wildlife is plentiful in the cooler months, specially shorebirds along the water or nesting on top. In the summer, although there is plenty of shade, it gets very hot and humid, bring mosquito repellent!
The mangrove boardwalk takes you through a great forest of red, black and white mangroves. If you are interested in the mangrove habitat and would like to learn more about the forests, you should not miss Everglades National Park.
John Pennekamp State Park is located in Key Largo, practically at the entrance of the Florida Keys at
Telephone: (305) 451-6300
Easiest way to get there:
Take the Florida Turnpike South all the way to the end, it turns into US Highway 1. Stay on US 1, as you enter the keys, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park will be on your left, at mile marker 102.6.
The more the merrier... Per person rate is $4.50 but you start saving with the third person in your group:
Where?: John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
102601 Overseas Highway or US 1 at mile marker 102.5, Key Largo, FL 33037
Telephone: (305) 451-6300
Hours: Park is open 8:00 am to sunset. Visitor Center hours are 8:00 am to 5:00 pm
Parking: Plentiful, but tight on weekends and holidays
Entrance Fee: New entrance fees are calculated based on the number of people, savings start with a group of 3 or more. Rates are as follows:
Restrooms and Showers: Yes
Other ammenities: canoe and kayak rental and launch, fishing, mangrove trails and boardwalk, beaches, visitor center, aquarium, snorkeling tours, scuba tours, glass-bottomed boat tours, camping, picnic tables and pavillions.
More Info: John Pennekamp's Website
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