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John Pennekamp State Park snorkeling, beaches, boat rental & more activities

Family Fun at John Pennekamp State Park in Key Largo, FL

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If you visit the Key Largo, FL area, an amazing outdoor and underwater park is the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. This is the first undersea park in the country and is considered one of the best tropical environments for seeing wildlife and coral reefs. You can go snorkeling or scuba diving, rent a kayak, or stay dry and see the wildlife from a glass bottom boat. Here are some details to help you plan your visit to this extraordinary park.

Arriving at John Pennekamp State Park

John Pennekamp State Park is well-visited, and I would suggest arriving earlier in the day. It costs $8 per car to enter the park, and you may have to wait in line a few minutes at the entrance gate. Once you drive into the park, head for parking at the main concession area.

Things to Do at John Pennekamp State Park

Snorkeling

The beautiful coral reefs are located about three miles off shore so taking a boat allows you to snorkel in the perfect spots. There are multiple snorkel trips scheduled each day for either 2 1/2 or 4 1/2 hours, and you can also hire a private snorkel guide for your own group. You can rent all the snorkel equipment you need on-site including wet suits. Children under the age of 15 need to be accompanied by an adult, and of course everyone needs to know how to swim. I recommend making advance reservations for the tours so you can get the time you want.

Glass Bottom Boat

Seeing the coral reefs by glass bottom boat is an ideal choice if you are traveling with young kids. You get to enjoy a boat ride and see unique sea creatures and coral all while being entertained by your captain and narrator. This tour takes place several times a day.

Note: If anyone in your party has an issue with sea sickness it can be intensified by looking down through the glass on the bottom of the boat. You may want to take a motion sickness medicine in advance to prevent any issues.

John Pennekamp State Park - glass bottom boat

Enjoying the view of the park from a glass bottom boat ride at John Pennekamp State Park

Paddle Board, Kayak and Canoe Rentals

You can rent kayaks or paddle boards by the hour or half-day and take them to explore the 50 miles of calm waters and mangrove forests. There is also a 2 1/2-mile canoe trail that winds through the mangrove swamp. The double kayaks are perfect for a parent and child to stay together.

John Pennekamp State Park - water and mangroves

A scenic view of the water and mangrove forest at John Pennekamp State Park.

John Pennekamp State Park Beaches

If you just want to relax while at the park there are two main beaches. Cannon Beach is close to the main concession area. It has a cannon on the beach and offers the best snorkeling. In fact, there is an authentic replica of a Spanish ship wreck just 100 feet off the beach! The other beach is called Far Beach which is shadier and good for swimming and relaxing.

Non-Water Activities

If you or anyone in your party would like to stay off the water you can explore the Visitor Center which has a 30,000-gallon saltwater aquarium, nature exhibits and a theater showing nature videos. Another way to enjoy the park is to take a short walk along the Mangrove, Wild Tamarind and Grove trails.

Picnicking at John Pennekamp State Park

There are specified areas throughout the park for picnicking and barbecue grills are available to use. You can also buy sandwiches and plenty of snacks at the main concession area.

As you can tell, you will want to spend at least a few hours here and you can easily spend the whole day. John Pennekamp State Park is a unique area with many options for kids of all ages and will add an element of nature and exploration to your Key Largo visit. While you are in the area, a great place for your family to stay is Hilton Key Largo Resort.

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Susan is an enthusiastic traveler and mom to a 11 year-old boy and eight year-old girl. Originally from North Carolina, Susan is a Southerner at heart, although…

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