John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park... Paddling in the Florida Keys
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park at Key Largo is the first undersea park in the U.S., covering about 70 nautical square miles. Most people come to see the coral reefs and for diving (to visit, take a snorkeling or diving tour, or ride the glass-bottomed boat). Paddling to the reefs is four to five miles, but there also are 2.5 miles of marked mangrove wilderness trails to explore. (Detailed map and photos below.)
While we sometimes find paddling through mangrove a little boring due to lack of diverse habitat, Pennekamp was fun due to the variety of mangrove tunnels and open channels, plus access to Largo Bay for big water. The mangrove tunnels can get narrow, bring a take-apart paddle or canoe paddle for convenience.
There's a boat ramp at the marina, but to avoid the traffic use the launch at the beach at the far end of the parking lot. Off the marked trail it's easy to get lost in the maze of mangrove, a compass or GPS is recommended if going exploring. Continue out to Largo Bay, explore the coastline, or start your week-long adventure along the 110-mile Florida Keys Overseas Paddling Trail to Key West.
The park has parking, food, swimming, camping, fishing, picnicking, playground, hiking trails, snorkeling and diving tours, glass-bottomed boat tours, and boat rentals. The Visitor Center includes a saltwater aquarium, theater, and exhibits.
More information on paddling at Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park (opens in a new window):
Paddling in Florida - Kayak, Canoe