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John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park...

Kayaking in the Upper 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 (one way), but there also are 2.5 miles of marked mangrove wilderness trails to explore. Here kayakers will find some shelter from the wind. (Detailed map and photos below.)

paddle Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Florida Keys, kayak, canoe

John Pennekamp SP Overview

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Distance: varies; 2.5 mile marked trail
Location: Key Largo (US1)
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Tidal: Yes
Launch points: Boat ramp at the Marina in the state park; kayak launch at the end of the parking lot (See map)
Nearby points of interest: Miami, Key Largo, The Everglades

Rentals/Tours - Upper Keys:

Pennekamp State Park (park rentals)

Paddle! The Florida Keys, Inc. (rentals, sales, tours)

Florida Bay Outfitters (rentals, sales, tours)

Support and Advocacy:

Friends of John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park

Florida State Parks Foundation

Pennekamp State Park... Comments and Photos

While we sometimes find paddling through mangrove a little boring due to lack of diverse habitat, exploring Pennekamp State Park by kayak was fun; clear water, mostly open channels, plus access to Largo Bay for big water. Popular with visitors, we believe the Park offers some of the best recreational kayaking in the Keys. The more adventurous can launch on a week-long adventure along the 110-mile Florida Keys Overseas Paddling Trail to Key West.


Marina, Launches, Rentals

There's a boat ramp at the marina, but to avoid the traffic use the hand launch at the beach at the far end of the parking lot. Kayak rentals are available on the opposite side of the boat basin.

Kayaking at Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park

WE launched from the beach launch. The (optional) mangrove tunnels can get narrow; a take-apart paddle comes in handy in a few places. Off the marked trail it's easy to get lost in the maze of mangrove, a compass or GPS is recommended if venturing off the trail. We continued out to Largo Bay, exploring the mangrove shoreline a bit.

Paddling through Mangrove

Paddling on Largo Bay side

More Information and Resources

About John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park:

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.

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