John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is the first undersea park in the United States, one of the most visited place in Key Largo. Main purpose of the park is to protect and preserve the only living coral reef in the continental United States. Join us for a virtual snorkeling John Pennekamp trip and explore together Key Largo coral reefs!
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park – Snorkeling and much more
Pennekamp Park was founded in 1963 and named for John D. Pennekamp who was a pioneer in environment’s preservation. Coral Reef State Park locates next to Florida Keys Marine Sanctuary, they both were established to protect coral reefs in United States. Now Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is top notch destination in Key Largo: sunseekers, water lovers, nature addicts love to spend time here.
Best time to visit Key Largo
Key Largo and Florida Keys generally is a year round destination but there are some periods better than others. If you want clear sky, pleasant climate, choose spring months. Although sea temperature is only 73-75 oF (23-24 oC) so you will need wetsuit for snorkeling! Sea is hottest during summer 83-86 oF (28-30 oC) but this is the rainy season with heavy rainfalls but moderate hotel prices. Fall considered as hurricane season. Winter is peak season with pleasant sea and air temperatures (prices higher, beaches crowded).
Shore snorkeling John Pennekamp State Park
Although the official name of the park is John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, unfortunately you can’t find reefs close to shore anymore. There are 2 beaches at the park where you can do shore snorkeling (one is Cannon Beach on the photo) Sea bottom is sandy at these beaches, covered with sea grass, you can observe some fishes and crabs.
What else to do in John Pennekamp?
Generally the park is a great place to stay close to nature, spend time relaxed but stay active at the same time. You can swim, walk around, sign up for glass boat or sailing trips, rent kayak. John Pennekamp kayaking is an exciting tour: paddling around mangroves with possibility to spot crocodiles or small sharks!
Reef snorkeling John Pennekamp – Snorkel tour options
There are several snorkel tour operators in Key Largo not only the in-house one. Boat companies go to the same coral reefs that the John Pennekamp snorkel boat takes you, prices are very similar. (One of the outside company is Sundiver snorkel tours. Although we went out with John Pennekamp’s own tour, we recommend Sundiver! We called them a few days prior our trip and were asking about weather conditions, tour options, they were super friendly and helpful!)
You can use fins while snorkeling, life vest is mandatory and included in the price. Equipment rental is extra charge, take you own snorkel gear if you have!
How much is snorkeling John Pennekamp trip?
In-house snorkel trips (departing from Pennekamp Park marina) are starting from 24.95 USD + tax for kids under 18. Adult price is 29.95 USD. This is 2.5 hours long trip visiting 1 reef, 1-1.5 hours in the water. 4.5 hours extended snorkel trips are available: visiting 2 reefs for 38.95 USD +tax.
Key Largo Snorkel reefs
Snorkeling Key Largo reefs are shallow, offering easy snorkeling for everyone. Depending on weather conditions, your tour operator or boat captain will decide which reef you visit. For your safety, snorkel boats are not operating by windy-stormy conditions.
Here is the list of the available snorkel reefs:
- Grecian Rocks (photos were taken at this reef with Canon G7XII camera)
- Garrets Reef
- White Banks
- Banana Reef
- Horseshoe Reefs
- Key Largo Dry Rocks – Christ of the Abyss
The most requested is the Christ of Abyss snorkeling trip, since the area is well known of Key Largo statue! But you need a bit of luck to visit it! Boats only visit this snorkel site by flat sea and calm weather conditions. Christ of the Abyss 4000 pound bronze statue rests at 25 ft (7,5 m) deep at Key Largo Dry Rocks. Snorkel boats usually don’t go there during busy times, holiday weekends to avoid overcrowding. If you’d like to visit Christ of Abyss, best is to make a request to your tour operator or book Key Largo private snorkeling trip.
Key Largo and Florida Keys after Hurricane Irma
As you might know, Hurricane Irma caused serious damage in of Florida Keys in Sept 2017. Before our trip (Dec 2017) to Key Largo/Florida Keys we were advised not to go there because there are broken trees, rubbish everywhere. But we really wanted to go on snorkeling John Pennekamp trip so decided to go anyway. Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park suffered also hurricane damage, they were closed for a few weeks after the big storm. Happily they managed to restore major damage to reopen in Nov 2017 with limited services. In Dec 2017, snorkeling John Pennekamp trips were available and soon they will be back with full service.
How Key Largo coral reefs look like after the hurricane?
Since this was our first Key Largo snorkeling trip, we cannot tell you how the reef looked like before, but it seemed nice for us. Soft corals, sea fans are colorful, we even spotted a nurse shark! Sadly, few days before our trip were very windy with rough sea, so we had very bad visibility, but still enjoyed swimming among sergeant major fish and huge barracudas. Unfortunately you will see bleaching and dying corals too – like everywhere in the world – but this is not the effects of Irma…
We asked snorkel guides on the boat how bad is the damage on the reefs. They confirmed that most of the corals survived the hurricane pretty well. Soft corals are in very good condition, the reefs started to recover quickly and they hope they will continue like this. Hard corals suffered bigger damage: Elkhorn and staghorn structures broke due to very strong waves and winds. As hard corals growing slowly, unfortunately it will take long time for them to start recovering.
Prices and information in this article were accurate in Dec 2017