Dive, figuratively or literally, into America’s first underwater park, located amid colorful marine life in the blue waters surrounding Key Largo, Florida.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is unique for its location under the sea, the first subaquatic park in the United States. The park has ample space on land for beach activities. The real attraction is the massive 70 nautical square miles (240 square kilometers) area in the water. Explore the park in both your sneakers and your swimsuit.
Find the state park on Key Largo, northeast of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Start your visit on solid ground walking along the park’s several trails. Take a leisurely stroll under the shade of mangrove and tamarind trees while colorful birds chirp around you. Enjoy a picnic outdoors or go swimming at the sandy beach.
Stop at the Visitor Center and learn about the fascinating ecosystems of the Florida Keys. Watch a nature video in the theater or check out the marine life inside a large saltwater aquarium.
Take a glass-bottom boat tour to discover the world below the ocean surface. Spend a couple hours floating through the water while creatures including sea turtles, sharks and barracudas pass you by.
Rent a canoe or kayak and explore the water at your own pace. Paddle around surreal-looking mangrove trees and watch for dolphins playing in the water.
Explore new depths on a snorkeling or scuba diving excursion. Swim surrounded by nearly 600 varieties of fish and 40 species of coral. Check out the famous Christ of the Deep, a massive 8.5-foot (2.6-meter) bronze sculpture of Jesus that sits on the ocean floor about 15 to 20 feet (4.5 to 7.5 meters) below the surface.
Set aside several hours if you take a scuba diving or snorkeling tour. Come prepared with your swimsuit; tour packages include equipment rental and an instruction session. Note that there is a minimum age requirement for these activities.
Visit John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park daily until sunset. Reserve a campsite to stay overnight. The park entrance fee doesn’t cover special activities such as the glass-bottom boat, snorkeling or scuba tours. Because it is such a popular destination, book your tickets in advance to ensure availability.