Imagine plunging into the cool, clear waters of a natural wonder, where an underwater world unfolds like a dream, full of vibrant marine life and mysterious formations.
Now imagine, nestled among the coral, an unexpected sight—a bronze statue, a silent sentinel in the deep, reaching up towards the surface.
This could be any diver's daydream, but it's a reality waiting for you in Florida's John Pennekamp State Park.
Get ready to embark on a journey that takes you from Miami's bustling streets to Key Largo's serene underwater realm, where an unforgettable adventure beckons.
Come with us as we dive into the details of this park, the first of its kind in the US, and find out why it has earned a spot on every diving enthusiast's bucket list.
Where Is John Pennekamp State Park Located?
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is on Florida’s first and longest key: Key Largo.
This massive park is at US-1 Mile Marker 102.8 on the Atlantic side.
The park is about 60 miles from Miami International Airport, a distance that you should be able to cover in under two hours.
The proximity to the big city makes this a great destination for a day trip from Miami.
Looking for more options? Check out our post about 11 great day trips from Miami.
If you’re driving down, then be sure to look for the Key Largo School. Once you pass this prominent elementary school, you’ll know you only have five minutes to go before reaching John Pennekamp.
How To Get To John Pennekamp State Park
To get to John Pennekamp State Park, drive south from Miami along US-1 until you hit Mile Marker 102.8. For those who are using a GPS, here’s the exact address:
John Pennekamp State Park
102601 Overseas Highway
Key Largo, FL 33037
How Far Is Pennekamp From Key West?
Remember that the mile markers along US-1 indicate how far you are from Mile Marker 0 in Key West.
So, John Pennekamp State Park is precisely 102.8 miles from Downtown Key West.
Without traffic, it will take you about 2 hours to drive from Key Largo to America’s southernmost point.
How Far Is Pennekamp From Miami?
John Pennekamp State Park is only about 65 miles from central Miami.
As long as you avoid rush hour traffic, it shouldn’t take you longer than 1.5-hours to drive from South Beach to Key Largo.
What Is There To Do In John Pennekamp State Park?
John Pennekamp State Park has earned a reputation as one of the best places in the world for snorkeling and diving.
The Christ of the Abyss Statue in the park's water is a must-see for divers worldwide.
This bronze statue, the third of its kind, depicts Christ offering peace in about 25 feet of water, nestled within the stunning Key Largo Dry Rocks reef.
Despite high visitor volume, the area thrives with abundant marine life. This iconic underwater attraction is a cornerstone of the diving experience in Key Largo.
Although these two activities are by far the most popular, they are not the only things to do at this park.
Here’s a shortlist of all the things you could do in John Pennekamp State Park. We’ll go over each of these points in greater detail below.
- Snorkeling & Diving
- Glass-bottom boat tours
- Powerboat rentals
- Kayaking & paddleboarding
- Visit the Visitor’s Center’s aquarium
The Most Popular Activities At John Pennekamp State Park
As you could already see, there are plenty of things to do on a trip to John Pennekamp State Park—even if you’re not into snorkeling.
In this section, we’ll go into greater detail on all of the activities listed above.
Snorkeling & Diving
Thanks to its prime location along the Florida Reef, John Pennekamp State Park is an ideal destination for folks interested in snorkeling or diving.
Usually, three snorkeling boats and two diving boats launch every day to the park’s best viewing locations.
In addition to colorful coral, cool crustaceans, and tropical fish, a few areas in John Pennekamp have underwater statues and artifacts from Spanish shipwrecks, including the Christ of the Abyss statue.
Prices for snorkeling and scuba diving tours vary depending on various factors, but these are the going rates for a few popular tours:
- 2.5-hour snorkeling tour: $29.95 per adult
- 4.5-hour snorkeling tour: $38.95 per person
- Two tank diving experiences at two locations: $75 per person
There are separate fees for gear rentals and instruction courses. Those who opt for private excursions should expect to pay $500 for groups of no more than six people.
Anyone who is going snorkeling for the first time should get familiar with their gear on one of John Pennekamp State Park’s beaches and attend an educational class.
You can read more useful snorkeling tips put together by John Pennekamp employees on this website.
Glass-Bottom Boat Tours
If you’d rather enjoy John Pennekamp State Park's splendor without getting wet, you might want to book a glass-bottom boat tour.
Aboard these 130-passenger boats, you will get a clear & comfortable glimpse at the vibrant life underwater.
There are usually three glass-bottom boat tours per day, each of which lasts 2.5-hours. The ticket prices for this tour are as follows:
- $24 per adult
- $17 per children ages 4 – 11
- Free for children 3-years-old or younger
Kayaking, Canoeing, and Paddleboarding
While John Pennekamp’s underwater life usually takes center stage, this park also has plenty of beautiful views above ground.
Indeed, roughly 50 miles of mangrove trails are spread throughout this Key Largo park.
Those interested in touring John Pennekamp’s magnificent mangroves can easily do so by renting a canoe, kayak, or paddleboard.
The current rental prices from John Pennekamp are as follows:
- Canoes – $20 per hour
- Single kayaks – $12 per hour
- Double kayaks – $17 per hour
- Paddleboards – $25 per hour
Good news for outdoor enthusiasts: there are 47 camping sites on John Pennekamp State Park’s property.
Whether you plan on camping with an RV or a tent, John Pennekamp State Park can accommodate you if you book your spot early enough.
The current price for camping in John Pennekamp State Park is set at $36 per night plus tax. If you book in advance, you will also have to pay a non-refundable fee of $6.70.
Keep in mind that each campsite will only accommodate a maximum of eight people.
Check Out The John Pennekamp Visitor’s Center
While you’re in John Pennekamp State Park, don’t forget to tour the central Visitor’s Center.
Although it might not look flashy from the outside, this center houses a jaw-dropping 30,000-gallon aquarium.
A theater inside also puts on films detailing the Keys’ unique ecosystem.
The John Pennekamp State Park’s Visitor’s Center is usually open between 8 AM – 5 PM every day.
Can You Swim At John Pennekamp?
Swimming is only allowed in designated beach areas like Cannon Beach and Far Beach.
Sometimes lifeguards allow swimming in non-designated areas, but you need to check for the “Diver-Down” flag.
If you have any questions about what spaces are open for swimming during your stay, you should ask a member of John Pennekamp’s staff in the Visitor’s Center.
Can You Fish Or Lobster John Pennekamp?
You can fish and lobster in John Pennekamp in certain areas, provided you have a Florida Recreational Saltwater Permit.
The designated fishing zones change at different times of the year, and employees usually put out yellow or white buoys to highlight restricted areas.
Feel free to ask John Pennekamp’s staff if you have questions about where you can fish.
To find out more about Florida’s fishing licenses, please visit the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s website.
When’s The Best Time Of The Year To Visit The Park?
Travel experts often consider spring 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, remember that the park often schedules extra tours to meet the increased demand.
Be sure to check out our previous post entitled “When Is The Best Time To Visit The Florida Keys?” for more helpful travel tips.
What Time Does The John Pennekamp Park Open?
According to the FL Department of Environmental Protection, John Pennekamp State Park opens at 8 AM every morning and closes at sunset. There are no special closures for holidays.
How Much Does It Cost To Get Into John Pennekamp State Park?
The entrance fees to John Pennekamp State Park are as follows:
- $8.50 plus 50 centers per passenger for any vehicle with between 2 – 8 total people.
- $2.50 per passenger over the 8-person limit.
- $2.50 per bicyclist or pedestrian.
- $4.50 per vehicle if you’re a solo driver.
A Quick Tip To Save On Your John Pennekamp Visit
Before booking your trip to John Pennekamp State Park, we strongly encourage you to print out this official PDF file.
This coupon will save you $5 on select snorkel, scuba diving, and glass-bottom boat tours.
What Else Is There To Do In Key Largo?
Although John Pennekamp State Park is extremely popular, it’s not the only attraction in Key Largo.
Here are three tourist hotspots you might consider adding to your Key Largo itinerary:
• Take a Hollywood-inspired boat tour on “The African Queen.”
• Swim with dolphins in Dolphins Plus Bayside.
• Meet incredible feathered friends at the Florida Keys Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center.
The best way to learn about these and other fantastic things to do in the Keys is to check out our extensive post entitled, “66 Things To Do In The Florida Keys – From Key Largo To Key West.”
Where To Stay When Visiting John Pennekamp State Park
As mentioned above, John Pennekamp State Park has a campground for those who are interested in staying on the property.
People who would prefer hunkering down in a hotel room should put look up these accommodation suggestions.
Waterside Suites & Marina
Only a 10-minute drive south of John Pennekamp State Park, Waterside Suites & Marina is a highly rated hotel on Key Largo’s Atlantic side.
Guests who book a room here enjoy two-floor suites with spacious kitchen areas, living room space, and a master bedroom.
Although there are family-friendly rooms, Waterside Suites & Marina is best suited for couples.
Another well-reviewed hotel that’s a 10-minute drive from John Pennekamp State Park is Gilbert’s Resort.
Located along Blackwater Sound, Gilbert’s Resort offers many perks, including a Tiki Bar & Grill, live nighttime entertainment, and a private beach.
Other convenient features at this family-friendly resort include complimentary bottled water, a swimming pool, and in-room microwaves.
More about Florida and the Keys
So much for Pennekamp! Before we leave, a couple of links to other posts that you might find helpful, interesting, or fun to read!
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