Pennekamp Park and the Wonderful Reefs Welcome You Back!!!
As marinas, parks and green spaces reopen in our city, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is a fantastic place to come and enjoy the outdoors with the many facilities reopening in stages: the beaches and the boardwalks are open, the kayak rentals and the snorkeling tours have resumed on a limited capacity with more availability being added as it becomes safe to do so.
Monroe County will be closing beaches over the 4th of July weekend. At this time, State Parks have not been asked to close or limit beach access for the upcoming holiday weekend but this may change. Do check out the latest status before you head out. Here's what's happening at the park:
- Park hours are from 8:00 am until sunset
- The main concession building is open for retail sales as well as pre-packaged snacks
- Kayak and Paddleboard rentals have resumed
- Marina Services have resumed
- Dive Shop is open for retail sales only. Scuba tours have NOT resumed
- Snorkeling Tours have resumed on a very limited capacity. Bookings are offered between 3 - 7 days in advance of trips.
- Glass-bottom boat tours have NOT resumed
- The restaurant is closed
- Restroom availability may be limited.
- Visitors are expected to maintain distances of at least six feet apart and limit group size to 50 or fewer people.
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, tiny silvery ones swimming in schools, small grunts, barracudas...
... 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.
Here is more on the mangrove habitat and the wildlife it shelters.
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!
John Pennekamp Beaches and Facilities at a Glance
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.
The Florida Keys Have Reopened! Get In The Water!
Book with confidence! Free cancellation: Cancel up to 24 hours in advance to receive a full refund
John Penekamp Coral Reef State Park
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