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Florida: Florida Keys – John Pennekamp State Park

During our stay in the Florida Keys, we decided to spend a few days in our motor home at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park on Key Largo in the Florida Keys.

Established in 1963, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park was the first undersea park in the United States. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, and the adjacent Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, cover approximately 178 nautical square miles of coral reefs, seagrass beds and mangrove swamps. The park extends 3 miles into the Atlantic Ocean and is approximately 25 miles in length. These areas were established to protect and preserve a portion of the only living coral reef in the continental United States. The park was added to the National Register of Historic Places on April 14, 1972.

The campgrounds at the State Park are great and are only feet away from the ocean. The only thing we didn’t like was the No See Ums sometimes known as biting midges, biting gnats or sand flies. They are mighty pesky, but once you know they are around you can manage them much in the same way as mosquitoes. Dealing with bugs is all part of being in Florida! The only other thing hanging around our campsite were some very large iguanas, but we saw those as a good thing as they kept control of other pesky creatures and insects.


We arrived at the campsite mid-afternoon so there was not a great deal still open in terms of activities. Wanting to make the most of what was left of the day we broke out the snorkels and headed down to the beach. The beach area at John Pennekamp State Park is very sheltered and ideal for family swimming, so it was nice to have a dip in the ocean to end the day. We did have our snorkelling equipment but to be honest there is not too much to see close to shore, you really have to head out to the reefs a little way out to sea.

On the second day of our stay, we decided to explore the Park a bit more. The two main activities available were kayaking through the mangroves inlets and going out to explore the reef. We decided to do both, which is very possible in a day.

First up was a kayak trip out into the mangroves. We passed through the narrow channels between the mangroves, luckily no alligators or crocodiles live around this area, but there were sure to be snakes around so we didn’t want to get into the water. After an hour or so we were just about done in and headed back into to rest up before our snorkel trip out to the reef.

Paddling through the mangrove lagoon - John Pennekamp State Park, Florida

In the afternoon we took advantage of the calm weather conditions out at sea, the waves being less than 1 foot high, and went out on a snorkel tour of the reef. The main reef areas are a few miles out at sea, but the reef is in shallow waters, only being 7 or 8 feet down even at low tide. The boat dropped us about 40 feet from the reef and we all snorkelled out in the clear waters. The sea life was stunning with large schools of brightly coloured fish swimming in and among the polyps of the coral. There is a huge variety of coral and fish to see. Laura who had not really snorkelled tried her best and got to see some of the fish. We were really lucky to see several barracuda and sharks. Karen and Jack got within a few feet of a 6 foot Bull Shark, which are can be deadly, but fortunately, our group was large enough to scare them away. I also got to swim close-up to a stingray. The only real danger in the water was jellyfish, not so much the plate-sized moon jellyfish, but the smaller but prolifically tentacled Portuguese Man-of-War which bears a very nasty sting. Karen and Emily did get to see one but stayed well clear. This was an absolutely marvellous experience and is a rare opportunity in the mainland United States. If you are in the Florida Keys or South Florida it is well worth the effort to go to John Pennekamp State Park.

Planning your visit to John Pennekamp State Park Museum

Address: 102601 Overseas Hwy, Key Largo
Telephone: T:(305) 451-6300

Most of Florida’s state parks are open from 8 a.m. to sunset every day of the year

Admission Fees

$8 per vehicle, plus 50 cents per person

Best time to visit John Pennekamp State Park

Spring is considered to be the best season for visiting John Pennekamp State Park. Those who visit during these months enjoy clear snorkeling conditions and a low chance of precipitation. Springtime visitors also avoid hurricane season and summertime humidity.

For those who want to avoid the crowds, your best bet is to visit John Pennekamp between Monday and Thursday. If you must visit on the weekend, then keep in mind the park often schedules extra tours to meet the increased demand.

Where to stay near John Pennekamp State Park


The campground has 42 reservable campsites, each with 30-amp, 50-amp and 110 electrical outlets. Each site also has water and sewer hookup, a picnic table and a grill.

Most sites can accommodate an RV length of 40 feet; a few sites can accommodate a few feet longer.

Campers may consume alcoholic beverages within their campsites.


Located in Key Largo, within 2.7 miles of Pigeon Key and 10 miles of John Pennekamp State Park, Island Bay Resort provides accommodations with a garden and free WiFi as well as free private parking for guests who drive. Featuring luggage storage space, this property also provides guests with a grill. Certain rooms at the property include a patio with a garden view.

Certain rooms include a kitchenette with a microwave, a fridge and a stovetop.

The hotel has a sun terrace. Activities such as snorkelling, cycling, fishing can be enjoyed in the surrounding areas, and guests can relax along the beachfront.


Overlooking the Florida Bay, this inn is nestled in a coconut grove, directly on the beach in Key Largo and offers private boat docks and wireless internet access throughout the property.

Guests at the Coconut Palm Inn will enjoy easy access to sport fishing, diving and snorkelling. After a day of kayaking, guests can relax beside the outdoor swimming pool or cook a meal on the barbecue grills.

Complimentary bagels, danish, juice, and coffee are served during select morning hours.

Guestrooms at the Coconut Palm Inn features modern amenities such as air-conditioning, microwaves, and mini-refrigerators. In the evening, guests can watch cable TV and make a cup of coffee with the in-room coffeemaker.

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