As America's first-ever underwater state park, there is a lot to see, and even more to love at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. This stunning state park is located in Key Largo in the famous Florida Keys and is directly adjacent to the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. The underwater park stretches for a dozen nautical miles and offers up-close views of one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet. Additionally, the park is open year-round, so it's just as good for a summer RV vacation as it is for a holiday getaway.
Explore the two man-made beaches that make up the park. However, the real fun lies beneath the water. Visitors love the guided snorkel tours and the deeper scuba adventures. The park also features glass-bottom boat tours, mangroves that you can kayak, canoe, or paddleboard through. You can enjoy hammocks, swimming areas, miles of sandy beach to explore, nature trails, grills, picnic tables, and pavilions that may be reserved in advance.
Whether you’re on land or in the water, you'll also be able to see an abundance of birds, aquatic life, and vegetation. Stop by the park visitor center to learn more about this unique ecosystem. Be sure to check out the impressive 30,000-gallon saltwater aquarium that lets you get an up-close look at some of the local marine life.
After spending a day at the beach, travel just a few minutes to nearby downtown Key Largo. Visitors can treat themselves to fresh shrimp, crab legs, or scallops at any one of the dozens of seafood restaurants on the island or stroll through the winding streets and window shop at a variety of boutique stores and antique outlets.
After parking the RV at one of the 42 campsites with full hookups, enjoy a variety of amenities like flushing toilets, laundry areas, and even hot showers.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is a great place for RV camping, with every single one of their campsites able to accommodate your big rig. Getting to the park is also easy since there are several large signs along US-1 that are hard to miss. Most of the park's campsites are large enough for RVs and trailers up to 50 ft and the roads are designed with RVs in mind.
Visitors shouldn't have any problem getting into the park and to their campsite, but they might want to leave the RV behind when going down to the beach. Bringing an extra car will make it easier to get down to the beach and find a good parking spot. Guests can also take a short bike ride and be at the beach in minutes.
There are six parking lots dotted around the park at the Point, Marina, by the beaches, and near trail heads.
There are 47 pet-friendly campsites that accommodate tents or RVs at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. Amenities include full hookups at every site, flushing toilets, laundry areas, and even hot showers.
Reservations must be made at least one day ahead of time and can be made up to 11 months in advance. You should reserve your spot as early as possible, especially during the winter months and holidays, as it's a very popular holiday spot. The maximum length for RVs and trailers is 62 feet.
When planning your trip, don't forget the bug spray! During the summer months, mosquitoes are common in the campground area and on the trails.
The Visitor Center is open year-round and is a great place for visitors of all ages to learn something new. Inside the air-conditioned Visitor Center is a theater where guests can view nature films and an impressive 30,000-gallon saltwater aquarium that lets you get an up-close look at some of the local marine life. The Visitor Center also includes a dive shop and gift shop, so guests can purchase practically everything they may need.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is famous for its guided snorkeling tours. Luckily, several snorkeling tours are available throughout the day. Get out of the camper and choose from a two-and-a-half-hour tour or an extended four-and-a-half hour tour. On the snorkeling tour the boat takes guests to one of the inner reefs, moors, and lets everyone explore. Weather permitting, you may also be able to see the famous sunken "Christ of the Abyss" statue. The water is only five to 15 feet deep, and a quick snorkeling lesson is given before the class. Keep in mind, all participants must be at least 15 years old and able to swim.
One of the most popular activities at the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is its glass-bottom boat tours. Visitors love getting an up-close look at the fish swimming right beneath them without ever having to get wet or hot. It's also a great option for families and gives kids an opportunity to learn and see more than they would just sitting on the beach since younger children may not be able to snorkel or scuba dive. Through the bottom of the boat you'll be able to see Molasses Reef, with its variety of sponges, crabs, shrimps, and countless species of fish.
Just a few minutes from the campground is downtown Key Largo where visitors can treat themselves to fresh shrimp, crab legs, or scallops at any one of the dozens of seafood restaurants on the island. If seafood doesn't float your boat, there are many other high quality restaurants in this resort town. Guests can also stroll through the winding streets and window shop at a variety of boutique stores and antique outlets while enjoying the sea breezes.
Various types of boat rentals are available to you during your RV trip to John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. Guests can rent kayaks or canoes to explore the large area of mangroves for a self-guided tour. Many visitors love the casual yet exotic experience this offers. Visitors can also rent motor boats and take them out onto the ocean. If you are planning to do some fishing from your boat, be aware that a saltwater license is required and there are specific rules you must follow. You can get more information on these regulations at the park Visitor Center. Mooring balls are also available, so as to not damage the fragile coral reefs by anchoring boats.
Closer inland, campers can swim and play in the water. Although you won't be able to see any coral reefs, as they are located a few miles offshore, the beach is perfect for families with children or individuals looking to relax. Lay down under a palm tree with a favorite book and soak up the sun or venture out to the tidal area to find many small fish, seashells, and clams.
Guests who wish to dive a little bit deeper than the snorkel tour will enjoy the scuba tours offered twice daily. In addition to the marine life all around, if the weather is good, you may be able to see a World War II-era Spanish shipwreck, complete with cannons and an anchor. Divers can travel down 30 to 45 feet while scuba diving, although certification is required. For both scuba diving and snorkeling, visitors can rent equipment at the park or bring their own.
Close to the Visitor Center, guests can enjoy a relaxing stroll along the park's several short nature trails, including the Mangrove Boardwalk. This short, ADA-accessible boardwalk takes campers into the scenic mangrove forest, where they will get an up-close look at much of Florida's abundant wildlife. Stay away from the edges. You might even see American crocodiles! This trail is best visited during the winter months because during the summer months it is prone to mosquitoes.