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John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is a truly unique Florida park, and you could almost call it an attraction. Instead of roller coasters, it has a glass-bottom boat tour; instead of splash rides, it has a coral reef perfect for snorkeling and diving. With gorgeous weather and calm, clear waters, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is in a class by itself.

Pennekamp's pleasures are mostly underwater, though -- want to take a peek?

Be on the Lookout For...

You've just got to stop in at the Visitor Center while you're at Pennekamp. The showpiece of the Visitor Center is a 30,000 gallon saltwater aquarium -- how cool is that?! For those of you who don't want to dive or snorkel, this gives you a glimpse of the undersea kingdom that awaits those who dare to get wet. There's also a small theater where you can watch short videos of the park and the area. The Visitor Center hours are from 8 AM to 5 PM.

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park SnorkelingWhat Is There To Do at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park?

Pennekamp is a Florida State Park with tons of things to do and see:

  • Diving/Snorkeling/Swimming -- the diving is world-class
  • Canoeing/Kayaking -- try the canoe trails or just some gunkholing
  • Fishing - lots of opportunities here
  • Hiking -- hike the trails, but bring repellent in the summer
  • Camping -- reserve early
  • Picnics -- tables, pavillions and concessions are available
  • Ranger Programs -- defintely worth checking out
  • Tours -- these are a must at Pennekamp

Underwater Awaits - A Kingdom of Coral!

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is mostly underwater, and it's underwater that you will find the most awesome sights and sounds. Sounds? Believe it or not, every year there is an underwater music festival!

Still, it is the sights that draw most people to Pennekamp State Park. The magical, mysterious underwater coral reef is the attraction, and it is famous world-wide..

Okay, snorkelers first: You can take a snorkeling tour out to the coral reef for an awesome experience. Take a 38-foot sailing catamaran out to the calms waters of the reef for about 1.5 hours of snorkel time. The whole tour is about 4 hours total. For reservation and fee information, check out the information in the tours section of this page. The advantage to taking a tour is that you'll get to go to the best places for snorkeling. The downside is that there might be a lot of people with you. Still, it's a wonderful experience, so I do recommend it.

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Christ of the AbyssScuba divers, it's your turn. Taking a dive tour out to the reef really is your best option. While you can certainly dive around the Cannon Beach area (see what's left of the Spanish galleon), you won't see the underwater fantasy that the reef offers. So, visit the PADI dive shop and book a tour on Reef Adventures, which holds up to 35 divers at once.

Now for those who have always wanted to take a diving lesson, here's your chance. The John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park dive shop offers two options:

  • A one-day "resort course", PADI's Discover Scuba Diving. This course covers both classroom and water work. Morning is the classroom, which teaches you the basics of diving. The afternoon is in the water with a dive. This class doesn't certify you as a diver, but it does allow you to see if you like scuba before you "dive into" it (couldn't resist the pun).

  • An Open Water certification class. This PADI program lasts 3 to 4 days, and covers classroom and dive work. This class ends with certification as a full PADI Open Water Diver. What does this mean? It certifies you to dive anywhere in the world!

If you are already a PADI certified diver, there are also some options for you at Pennekamp:

  • PADI Advanced Open Water, which includes deeper dives and wreck dives.
  • PADI Underwater Photography course, which includes rental for an underwater camera.
  • PADI one-day specialties include:
    • Peak Performance Buoyancy
    • AWARE Coral Reef Conservation Specialty
    • Project Aware Diver
    • Boat Diver, Equipment Specialist
    • Enriched Air Diver
    • Fish Identification
    • Underwater Naturalist
  • PADI two-day specialties include:
    • Underwater Navigator
    • Wreck Diver.
    • Search & Recovery
    • Deep Diver

Time to Go Swimming!

There are three swimming areas at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. Two are on Largo Sound and one is in more of a lagoon area. The calmness and clarity of the water is totally wonderful, making it great for swimmers of all skill levels. Just follow the signs to the swimming locations.

Anchors Aweigh!

For those who want to bring their boat, there is a boat ramp in John PennekampCoral Reef State Park. In addition, boat slips and moorings are available at the marina for overnight rental. Slips include electricity and water, and you also have use of the bathouse and all normal park facilities. Mooring buoys are located in Largo Sound with dingy dockage at the marina. Reservations are recommended; contact the marina for more information at (305) 451-6322 or on VHF channel 16.

For those of you who don't have a boat of your own (or if you didn't bring it along), you can still get out and about on the water. Pennekamp has a concession with boat rentals:

  • Kayak and Canoe Rental: You can rent these between the hours of 8 AM until 3:45 PM. The canoes and kayaks allow you to explore the mangrove creeks that wind through the park. It's very calm back in the mangroves, and it's great fish and bird-watching. The sea kayaks rent for $15 per hour for single kayaks, $20 per hour for double kayaks. The canoes go for $15 an hour.

  • Poweboats: Yes, you can rent powerboats at Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. All boats are open fisherman-type and the prices are subject to change - use these as a general reference:
    • 18 foot - 4 hours is $140, while a full day is $225
    • 20 foot - 4 hours is $180, while a full day is $275
    • 22 foot - 4 hours is $200, while a full day is $350
    • 23 foot - 4 hours is $230, while a full day is $375

If you choose to rent a powerboat, keep a few things in mind:

  • If you've never operated a powerboat by yourself, now is not the time to start. It's not just turning the key and heading for open water -- there are all kinds of safety considerations. Not to mention being able to steer the boat -- it is not exactly like a car.

  • Powerboats are not permitted near shore areas in the park where water is less than 4 feet deep.

  • Please, please, please use caution when approaching areas with diver down flags, moored boats or swimmers.

Here Fishy, Fishy...Come to Dinner

First off -- you need a Florida saltwater fishing license in the following instances:

  • Non-Florida resident
  • Florida resident, if not fishing from land, bridge or pier (in other words, in a boat of any kind)

Hey, how about a fishing charter? True, they are kind of expensive (starting at around $400 for a half day), but they are also awesome!!! Whether out by the reef for some bottom fishing or out towards the Gulf Stream for dolphin and marlin, a charter is something you'll never forget.

Know the rules! You can catch all you like, but you can only keep what is legal. What you can keep varies by species, size and time of year. Click for current rules and regulations for saltwater limits.

A Walk to Remember

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park has two nature trails:

  • Mangrove Trail is a boardwalk that starts across from the picnic pavilion and winds peacefully through and around the mangroves and estuaries. You're bound to see birds on this trail.

  • Wild Tamarind Trail starts across from the Visitor Center and winds through the park's tropical hardwood hammocks. Keep a sharp eye out for those masked bandits known as raccoons!

Campground Tales

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park has a total of 47 campsites in the park, all of which have electricity. Both tents and RVs are welcome.

Tent campers -- bring an air mattress or padding of some sort. The ground is gravel, which is not the most comfortable for sleeping. The gravel also makes it challenging to put up your tent.

There are two bathhouses (with hot water!) in Pennekamp State Park, spread evenly through the grounds. All sites include the following:

  • Electricity
  • Picnic Table
  • Grill
  • Water

There is a dump station available for RVs.

It is highly recommended that you make a reservation for camping at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, and it can be made up to 11 months in advance. To make or change a reservation call Reserve America at 1-800-326-3521. Don't call the park - Florida State parks no longer handle the reservation booking themselves.

Now here's some not-so-good news. The main reason to camp here is to take advantage of the glorious snorkeling and diving. If you don't plan to do either, think about camping a little further down in the Keys, at either Bahia Honda Sate Park or Long Key State Park. Both offer a more scenic and comfortable campground.

Picnics - What Did You Bring Me?

There is a lunch/snack bar concession in Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. Otherwise, bring what you want to eat and drink.

Picnic tables are scattered throughout the grounds, as are grills.

There are 11 small pavilions located in the park. They are $33 per day (plus tax) to rent them, and they are usually first come, first served. The small pavilions have two picnic tables, but no water or electricity.

There is one large pavilion available for rental, at $54 per day, plus tax. It has eight tables, but no water or electricity.

You can reserve a pavilion if you desire, however. Call the park at (305) 451-1202 to check on the date you have in mind.

Ranger Programs

Pennekamp State Park offers several interesting ranger programs. They include:

  • Ranger-Led Interpretive Program: These happen all year long, and the most common is a walk through the Wild Tamarind Trail. However, sometimes videos and talks are included. To see if there is a program for a date you have in mind, you can call (305) 451-6300; otherwise ask at the ranger station when you enter the park.

  • Campfire Programs: These are held January through March, from 7:30 PM to 9 PM on Friday evenings. The Pennekamp rangers discuss the park's wildlife, local history, the coral reef and more. If you'd like to know the topics ahead of time, call (305) 451-9570.

  • Lecture Series: These occur on Tuesdays, January through March. The lectures are held at the Visitor Center from 7:30 PM to 9 PM. Call (305) 451-9570 for additional details regarding the topics.


John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Pak offers several concession tours out to the reef - yay! Please note that the times and costs are subject to change - call ahead if you have your heart set on a specific date.

  • Boat Tours: Want to see the reef, but don't want to get wet? Try a boat tour! (Actually, you should try the boat tour even if you do plan to dive or snorkel.) These are ranger-led, and occur three times a day -- 9 AM, 12 noon and 3 PM. The glass-bottomed catamaran Spirit of Pennekamp takes you on an air-conditioned tour of the park's underwater kingdom, weather permitting. Fees are $22 per adult and $15 per child for children under 12. For reservations and additional information, call (305) 451-6300.

  • Snorkeling Tour: This is a 2.5 hour trip out to the coral reef for some fantastic snorkeling! Naturally there is a fee -- adults are $28.95 per person, children under 18 are $23.95 per person. Don't have your own snorkel equipment? Not to worry, masks and fins can be rented for $2 each, and the $2 snorkel is yours to keep. There is a minimum passenger requirement for all tours, weather permitting. The tours are at 9 AM, 12 noon, and 3 PM. Minimum passenger requirements apply on all tours. Reservations are suggested, as this is a popular tour -- call (305) 451-6300.

  • Diving Tour: Pennekamp State Park is a mecca for scuba divers from all over the world. And with just cause -- the underwater world of Pennekamp is truly amazing. If you are a diver, this is one place that you should not miss. The PADI Gold Palm facility has dives twice daily; both are two-location, two-tank dives. The tours depart at 9:30 AM and 1:30 PM. The fees are $45 per person, equipment rental is available, but you must be a certified diver. Contact the dive shop for reservations and other information at (305) 451-6322. A minimum passenger requirements apply on all tours, weather permitting.

A Notice About Water, Weather and Insects

As always when in natural Florida, be aware of the strong sun, plentiful insects and possible rainshowers. Make sure to bring sunblock, sunglasses and at least have some insect repellent available. (If all you do is plan to be out on the water, the insect repellant isn't necessary.)

A hat is also suggested -- it is so very easy to get a sunburn on your scalp, full head of hair or not.

Time and Place

Pennekamp State Park is open year-round from 8 AM to sunset. The entrance and other fees are as follows:

  • Entrance Fees are kind of complicated:
    • $4.00 per single-occupant vehicle.
    • $8.00 per double-occupant vehicle.
    • $8.00 per multi-occupant vehicle. An extra $.50 per person beyond 2 is also charged, up to 8 people in one vehicle. Over 8 in a single vehicle. it's an extra $1.50 per person, starting with the ninth individual.
    • Motorcyclist - Same as vehicle fees.
    • Pedestrian/bicyclist - $2.00
  • Camping Fees - $36 per night, full service campground. Fees cover up to four people, additional people (up to 8 per campsite) are charged an addition $2 per person. There is also a $2 electricity fee.
  • Pavilion Rental - the small pavilions rent for $33 per day, the large pavilion is $54 per day. Taxes are extra.

Pennekamp State Park is on US 1, also known as the Overseas Highway on Key Largo, Mile Marker 102.5. However, the official park address is P.O. Box 487, Key Largo, Florida 33037. The phone number is (305) 451-1202.

To make camping reservations, please call Reserve America at 1-800-326-3521 -- they handle all the reservations. And reservations are a necessity -- this is a very popular park.

Florida Pieces-Parts

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is in Key Largo, in the Florida Upper Keys. The closest city is Key Largo. The closest airport is Miami International.

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