John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, FL – A Visitor’s Guide

The Florida Keys have so much to offer travelers, it can be a bit overwhelming. In preparation for our up and coming Florida trip, we’re doing a lot of research about the area, and sharing the results here. We’ve already created our list of 66 awesome things to see and do in the Florida Keys, and now it’s time to zoom on in some places. Starting with a popular state park that is actually fairly close to Miami: John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park.

Where Is John Pennekamp State Park Located?

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park view at beachJohn Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is on Florida’s first and longest key: Key Largo. You’ll find this massive park 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 destinatino 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?

Mangrove trees in very wide 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. 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
  • Camping
  • Swimming
  • Fishing
  • 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, there are a few areas in John Pennekamp with underwater statues and artifacts from Spanish shipwrecks. Be sure to tell the employees at the Visitor’s Center what you want to see and ask for recommended tour locations.

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 the splendor of John Pennekamp State Park without getting wet, then 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, there are roughly 50 miles of mangrove trails 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

Camping

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 go on a tour of the central Visitor’s Center. Although it might not look flashy from the outside, this center houses a jaw-dropping 30,000-gallon aquarium. There’s also a theater inside that 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?

People standing at surf boards while paddling at John Pennekamp coral reef state park

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 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, then keep in mind 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 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.

For more details on visiting Waterside Suites & Marina, please visit this link to Booking.com.

Gilbert’s Resort

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.

Find out more about booking a room at Gilbert’s Resort on this link to Booking.com.

More about Florida and the Keys

So much for Pennekamp! Before we leave, a couple of links to other posts which you might find helpful, interesting, or just fun to read!

How To Travel From Miami To Key West (Including Road Trip Itinerary)

6 Florida Keys Lighthouses You Should Include In Your Itinerary

Florida Bucket List: 11 Destinations You Must Visit

Florida Itineraries For One Week (7 Awesome Options!)

Boat with American flag at river and not moving because it docked

 

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