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Latest update: January 2023

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 miles of mangrove wilderness trails to explore where kayakers will find some shelter from the wind. State park fee applies. (Detailed map and photos below.)

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

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John Pennekamp SP

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Distance: Various through mangrove and on Largo Sound to reefs; 2.5 mile marked trail
Location: Key Largo, 102601 Overseas Highway (MM 102.5)
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Tidal: Yes
Launch points: Kayak rentals at the park concessionaire; kayak launches/landings at two locations (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



Paddling at 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 Sound for big water. Popular with visitors, we believe the Park offers some of the best recreational kayaking in the Keys. The more adventurous can also launch on a week-long adventure along the 110-mile Florida Keys Overseas Paddling Trail to Key West.

The Park offers parking, food, swimming, camping, fishing, picnicking, playground, nature hiking trails, snorkeling and diving tours, glass-bottomed boat tours, and boat rentals. The Visitor Center includes a saltwater aquarium, theater, and exhibits.

Paddling through Mangrove

We launched from the area past the campgrounds (launch site #2 below) into the boat basin, then followed the paddling trail. On the wider channels, watch for motorboats. 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.

Paddling on Largo Sound

Exiting the mangrove, we continued out to Largo Sound, exploring the mangrove shoreline a bit. The more adventurous may want to paddle to the coral reefs but be careful of motorboats. Keep out of the boat lane, be careful when crossing.

Launches, Rentals, Marina

There are kayak, canoe and paddleboard rentals available from the park concessionaire, but paddlers with their own craft are advised to use the hand launches: (1) along Largo Sound near Far Beach, or (2) at the picnic area past the campgrounds (across from the boat basin).

Launch Site #1 (Largo Sound)

From the Visitor Center, go past the Bathhouse and over the bridge toward Far Beach. The launch staging area and drop-off are on the left, and parking is available at the lot across the road. Paddle onto Largo Sound, along the shoreline and past Far Beach; access to the paddling trail and mangrove.

Launch Site #2 (boat basin)

From the Visitor Center, go past the marina toward the campgrounds, then turn left to the picnic pavilions. Launch from the beach behind the "Star Fish" pavilion into the boat basin. This area is also used by outfitters for tour groups. Start of paddling trails, entry to mangrove tunnels, or continue on to the Sound.

At the Visitor Center and Marina

Entering the Park are the Visitor Center and Aquarium, parking, cafe, restrooms, picnicking and bathhouse. The Park concessionaire here provides kayak, canoe and paddleboard rentals, and boat and snorkeling tours. At the Marina are a boat ramp and dive shop with scuba tours, and boat and equipment rentals.

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