John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is an underwater park located in Key Largo, Florida. The park is classified as a State Park of Florida and the site has also been added to the National Register of Historic Places as of 1972. Spanning 240 km² and within the Atlantic Ocean, the park consists of a Visitor Center, beach, trails, mangroves, seagrass beds and coral reefs.
© Lawrence Cruciana/stock.adobe.com
First established in 1963, the area was put in place to preserve and protect parts of the sole living coral reef in the country. The name of the park comes from the late Miami newspaper editor John D. Pennekamp who contributed towards the creation of the Everglades National Park and also the preservation of the area now known as the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park.
Within the park lies shore birds, marine life and a large selection of tropical vegetation. Visitors can view extensive living coral formations, varied marine life, tropical hammocks and mangrove swamps during their visit. Visitors can explore the underwater park through scuba diving and snorkeling activities hosted by park guides and can also take a glass bottom boat tour. Additionally, visitors are able to fish in the premises, swim, walk the trails, canoe and kayak. Not only is there the protected sea area, but there is also a theater, visitor centre, campsite, shop and aquarium on site.
The beach area at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is naturally formed of rock and coral. On occasion, visitors can see white ibises, egrets, catbirds, warblers and other water birds in the shallows. The beach holds the tied up selection of canoes and kayaks ready for hiring and tours. A popular activity for those who are camping at the campsite is to come to the beach for the sunrise in summer. The beach is the start for snorkeling tours, boat tours, canoeing and kayaking. It also serves as space to have picnics and explore the rocks for animal life.
Many visit the park for the hiking trails. The Mangrove Trail is formed of a boardwalk and travels through the swamp mangroves in a loop. The Wild Tamarind Trail is also a loop trail and travels through the tropical hardwood hammock which finishes at the Grove. This trail includes a notable array of trees with information plaques. The final trail is The Grove Trail which sees similar landscape to The Wild Tamarind Trail. Hikers can book Ranger led nature walks in advance.
Within the Visitor Center is a saltwater 30,000 gallon aquarium. There are also several smaller tanks with corals, fish and invertebrates within them as well as information plaques on the wall to identify the species. Inside the visitor center is also a theater where one hour long nature videos are shown about coral reef life.
The campsite situated in the park is open year round. It is a fully equipped facility and both group and youth campsites are available. If needed, beach wheelchairs can be used without hire cost.
The park has a regular and active program of snorkeling, glass bottom boat tours, canoeing and self guided kayaking tours. Lightweight one person kayaks can be rented for visitors to explore the mangroves. The easy to paddle kayaks can be paddled to any locations in the park but due to the size of the park visitors mostly explore the smaller channels of the mangrove forest such as lakes.
The snorkeling tours are a popular program at the park. Members of the public can rent equipment if they do not have their own. The tour consists of one to three different spots that the instructor chooses to go to depending on which trip you booked and for how long the trip is. A snorkel boat usually leaves three times daily but the frequency is weather dependant. Whilst snorkeling, the groups may see lobsters, spotfins butterflyfishs, barracudas and jellyfish among st other marine life.
Visitors have the option of taking a glass bottom boat tour. The boat heads out 6 miles from the coast into the open ocean as it stops at Molasses Reef. In the reef visitors can view colourful fish, stingrays, turtles, sharks and the coral reef itself as they look through the bottom of the boat at the marine life.
102601 I Hwy, Key Largo, FL 95814, Phone: 305-451-6300
More Things to Do in Key Largo
Things to Do in Key Largo, Florida: John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
- Overview, Photo: Lawrence Cruciana/stock.adobe.com
- Attractions, Photo: ratpatch/stock.adobe.com
- Ongoing Programs, Photo: etfoto/stock.adobe.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of Andrew Jalbert - Fotolia.com