Key Largo by Sea: John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park

The second day of our Key Largo adventure featured water — the main reason to visit the Keys. The destination of the day was John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, a state park whose best features are on and under the water.

It was a chilly (for Florida) day so we scheduled a snorkeling trip to the reef in the mid-afternoon with the fantastic park concession operator, and agreed that we certainly wanted to rent wetsuits in addition to masks, snorkels and fins. A water temperature of 75 degrees is surprisingly challenging to those of us used to the subtropical waters of South Florida!

Since we had several hours to enjoy the park before the departure of the snorkeling trip, we opted for a kayak trip through the canoe trails. We did not see many birds, which was somewhat disappointing, but the water was incredibly clear and we saw lots of small fish.


Kayaking in the mangroves

Having two people to power the boat meant we made great time and covered all the trails we wanted to see, with plenty of time to spare. Also, for a duo that had not been in a kayak for many years, I thought we did pretty well in maneuvering through some tight and twisting mangrove tunnels.

The laminated trail maps provided at the kayak launch were incredibly helpful. I have no idea how people navigated these trails before the advent of satellite views courtesy of Google maps.  Let’s face it — coastal mangrove areas all look pretty similar.

Once we finished kayaking and were outfitted for snorkeling, we set out on the snorkel trip. Our shallow-bottomed boat took our group of about 25 people to Grecian Rocks reef for 1 hour of snorkel time. We saw lots of tropical fish (sorry, no pictures since we haven’t figured out an underwater camera solution yet) hanging around the living coral reefs. My favorites were the 3-foot-long barracudas and the colorful parrotfish. Ken spotted several urchins and other cool stationary creatures (the kind we are most likely to locate). With the cooler water temperatures and somewhat choppy water, we were tired and more than satisfied with one hour of snorkel time and happily headed back to the hotel after a full day.

Aboard the snorkel boat

The facilities are the park are really comprehensive and well organized. The education center, concession sales center, kayak launch, tour boat docks and bathhouse (with showers and toilets) are all located in close proximity.

Finally, no post about water-related adventures in the Keys is complete without a shout out to the universal Keys pastime of sunset watching. We had two evenings without rain and both produced really nice sunsets with great views from the hotel property.

Peaceful sunset

As soon as the brilliant colors faded, we raced out to our chosen restaurants in hopes of edging out all the other residents and visitors — who of course were doing exactly the same thing. We enjoyed several great meals with locally-caught seafood (loved The Fish House Encore) and will definitely make time to visit the Keys again!

Another great sunset

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