Home » 2009 Southeast Coast Trip

John Pennekamp State Park, FL

Tuesday, August 11, 2009 - 2:45pm by Lolo
36 miles and 0.75 hours from our last stop - 1 night stay


Tommy Snorkeling - AJGTommy Snorkeling - AJGI had pretty much planned our trip South around John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. Herb had traveled there with a buddy right after high school graduation many, many years ago, and had raved about how great the snorkeling trip out to the reefs was. It was kind of cool that he was returning with our two sons who are older than he was on that first visit.

The park is pretty unique in that most of it is underwater, and it contains the only living coral reef in the continental U.S. There is also a campground and two small beaches to swim at, but the real action in this park is out at sea. They offer glass bottom boat, scuba diving, and snorkeling tours several times a day. This is what draws thousands to the park. It certainly isn’t the camping, because as far as campgrounds go, this one was pretty disappointing. Not only was it nowhere near the water, but the campsites were so small and tightly packed together that our neighbor actually asked us to turn out our little yellow light above our door because it was shining in his eyes when he was trying to sleep. I certainly hoped this guy didn’t snore. It was a good thing I had made reservations well in advance though, because, despite its less than appealing ambiance, it was totally full.

Andrew Snorkeling - TJGAndrew Snorkeling - TJGAlthough we arrived at the park pretty late in the afternoon because of our side trip to the Everglades, we didn’t feel like hanging around the campground, so we quickly donned our bathing suits, grabbed our snorkeling gear, and biked over to Cannon Beach, where the State Park had placed an authentic reconstruction of a Spanish wreck about 100 feet offshore. This was a perfect place for my first unofficial snorkeling lessons from the boys, whose goal was to prevent me from embarrassing them during the real thing the next day. They were very patient with me—I was starting to enjoy this role reversal thing—and I got the hang of it pretty quickly. We saw a few cannons and some little fishies, which was kind of cool and whet our appetites for seeing some real reefs.

The next day was our official snorkeling trip out to the coral reefs. I had also made this reservation quite a bit in advance, but I think if you just show up early enough on the day of the trip, you’ll probably get on one. The boats, which carry about 50 passengers, go out to different reefs each day, depending on the weather conditions. Fortunately, we had such a calm day that they were able to bring us out to Grecian Reef, which is supposed to be one of the better ones.

Small school of reef fish - TJGSmall school of reef fish - TJGWhen we arrived at the reef, we were given some brief instructions on reef etiquette and how to call for help if needed. We were then each given a life jacket with a buoyancy compensator, which allowed us to blow into it when we wanted to float nearer the surface and let air out when we wanted to dive down. Finally, we were told to select a “buddy,” who we were supposed to stay with the entire time in the water. The boys quickly headed off into the water together, and Herb got stuck with me.

We were given about an hour to spend in the water, which actually gave us plenty of time to really explore the reef. Herb tried to trade me as a buddy about half way through, but the boys quickly swam away. We saw lots of good stuff: barracuda, angel fish, parrot fish, a spiny lobster, some very pretty jellyfish, and lots of other colorful fish that I don’t even know the names of. It was definitely a very cool experience, and I’m very glad that we did it.

However, when we got back from the boat trip, it was only 3:00 in the afternoon, and we really didn’t relish the thought of spending the rest of that afternoon and evening in the campground. There was so much more we wanted to see on the Keys that we decided to forfeit our camping fee for that night and start driving south. Someone at Gamble Rogers had told us that Curry Hammock State Park, about halfway down on the Keys, was very nice and right on the water, so we figured we’d give it a try.


John Pennekamp Dive Boat - TJGJohn Pennekamp Dive Boat - TJGJohn Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is located in Key Largo at Mile Marker 102.5. The park is approximately 25 miles long and extends 3 miles into the Atlantic Ocean. Its 70 nautical square miles contains seagrass beds, mangrove swamps, and a portion of the only living coral reef in the continental U.S. The reefs contain nearly 600 varieties of fish and 40 different species of coral. It is one of the best places to dive and snorkel in Florida.

Activities in the park include:

  • Glass bottom boat tours –2 ½ hour tour (3 daily) to the coral reefs
  • Snorkel tours – 1 ½ hour tours (3 daily) to the coral reefs
  • Scuba diving – two-location, two-tank tours twice a day
  • Canoe, kayak, and paddle boat rentals – explore the mangrove wilderness along 2 ½ miles of marked trails
  • Swimming/snorkeling at Cannon Beach – remnants of an early Spanish shipwreck approximately 100 feet offshore

The park contains a 47-site campground.

John Pennekamp State Park location map in "high definition"

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