The Florida Keys are the best place for coral reef viewing in the Contiguous United States, and in this blog, we’re going to definitely convince you to visit Key Largo, home to John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park.
When people think of coral reefs, most first imagine the Great Barrier Reef. Though, you don’t need to travel quite that far to experience corals of equal beauty. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park was founded in 1963 as the first undersea park in the United States. This protected zone is accessible by way of Key Largo, though the real action is out in the Atlantic! The park spans 3 miles wide and 25 miles long, and with 178 nautical square miles of underwater cities, you are sure to be wowed.
Corals may not seem like much, but they are the backbone of undersea ecosystems. They are actually living, breathing organisms! The organisms lay down calcium structures that make up the reef systems we see around the coast, which provide a habitat for the most diverse amount of animals anywhere on the planet.
Corals have been dying at an overwhelming rate in the past decade due to the Earth’s warming temperature and pollution. Reefs have also been put under protection from
fishing and large ship travel. Groups such as Coral Reef Alliance and Seacology have been working tirelessly to replant reefs and combat climate change. The world needs our help now! If you need a push in the right direction, visiting John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park may inspire you.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park not only offers snorkeling excursions, but scuba tours, kayak/paddleboard/canoe rentals, and glass bottom boat tours! You don’t even need to get into the water to see beautiful Florida biodiversity. The seagrass beds and mangrove swamps let visitors experience Floridian vegetation, shore birds, and various beachside marine life. Though, we definitely encourage you to take a dip and see what lies underneath the waves.
Personal/Group In-Water Guided Tour: $45+ tax. Each additional snorkeler is $15+ tax. Max group is 6 people. Reserve your tour here! The park also now offers a private, all-inclusive charter with drinks and gear! $500 for 6 people. Prices accurate at time of publication.
Scuba Diving Tours: Scuba diving tours happen all over the park, multiple times a day, at multiple depths. Check out all of your options here, and pick the one that best suits you!
Kayak/Paddleboard/Canoe Rentals: If you want to enjoy the water from the safety of a vessel, head here to book your rentals and check out the 50 miles of mangrove wilderness trails.
Glass Bottom Boat Tours: The tours on the Spirit of Pennekamp, the park’s flagship glass bottom boat, takes 130 guests to see the beautiful underwater scenery for 2 ½ hours! Click here to book your spot.
Where to Dock
There are two marinas within a few miles of John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. Both have great amenities for those looking to stay for a couple days or a long weekend!
Key Largo Harbor Marina
Key Largo Harbor Marina can accommodate vessels up to 65 ft and has a variety of boat supplies and amenities including WiFi, restrooms and showers, TV, fishing supplies, boat rentals and more. If you are in need of maintenance, the marina offers a variety of services from boat storage, repairs, bottom painting and more. The marina is committed to providing their clients with high-quality services that will make you feel right at home.
Garden Cove Marina
The two restaurants on-site will have every boater full and happy! Buzzard’s Roost regulars like to start a rowdy weekend with live music every Friday, and recoup with complimentary mimosas at Sunday brunch. Self-sustaining fisherman will love Buzzard’s Hook N’ Cook meals. Yep, it is exactly what it sounds like: you catch it, they cook it, and you eat it! Used up all your bait? Not a problem, the ship store has a full selection of bait.