JOHN PENNEKAMP CORAL REEF STATE PARK ACTIVITIES
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The park maintains three nature trails in two uniquely different environments. The Mangrove Trail is a loop trail on a boardwalk that allows visitors to peacefully view the mangroves and estuaries they thrive in. An observation tower also allows a larger view of this very important ecosystem. Another loop trail, the Wild Tamarind Trail, winds through the park¿s beautiful tropical hardwood hammock, allowing visitors to view many of the area¿s native hardwood species. The Grove Trail also winds through the hardwood hammock, but terminates at the Grove. This cultural resource has been replanted with tropical fruit trees, as originally planted by early pioneers in Key Largo. One must return back to one¿s start at the Visitor Center parking lot. If arrangements are made in advance, a Ranger-led nature walk on one of these trails for organized groups may be possible.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park has two manmade beaches, each with its own distinct personality. Cannon Beach is the park¿s primary snorkeling beach, where visitors will find the remnants of an early Spanish shipwreck approximately 100-feet offshore. Far Beach, with its palm trees, is a relaxing place to swim or just sit and enjoy the sun. Wheelchair accessibility to the water is enhanced by a Mobi-Mat installed across the sandy beach. Any swimming or snorkeling done outside the designated swimming areas is prohibited unless a Diver-Down flag is properly displayed.
Boaters should always use caution in shallow reef areas and when approaching any area where there are Diver-Down flags displayed, swimmers, or moored boats. Always obtain a navigation chart (NOAA #14F for Pennekamp waters) before departing for open water. Combustible engines are not permitted in or near shore areas of the park where the water is less than four feet deep. For those boaters that do not have a boat, the park concession maintains a boat rental where boats may be rented for four-hour and eight-hour intervals. Boat slips and moorings are available at the marina for overnight rental. Slips are located in the marina and include water and electric hookups with bathroom and shower facilities nearby. Mooring buoys are located in Largo Sound with dinghy dockage at the marina. Both slip and buoy rentals include full use of the park facilities, including trash disposal and pump-out. Reservations are recommended. For more information, please contact the Pennekamp Dock Master at (305) 451-6325 or on VHF channel 16.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park has four different types of boat tours to ensure that all park visitors have the best opportunity possible to experience the park¿s coral reef system. The glass-bottom and snorkeling trips depart from the park¿s docks three times a day, 365 days a year, weather permitting. Both these tours last 2 ½ hours and allow for 1 ½ hours of reef time to view the park¿s living coral and its associated marine life up close and personal. The Encounter, a wheelchair-friendly snorkeling vessel, features wheelchair tie-downs, as well as an oversized marine restroom for guests. Rental equipment is available. The park also has a PADI Five-Star Gold Palm dive shop, offering a full range of courses from Open Water through Instructor. The Resort Course offered introduces the fledgling diver to diving and the coral reef in one day. The four-hour scuba diving tours offer divers two-location, two-tank dives.
The park has a very good deepwater boat ramp, located at the marina. The ramp can handle most boats up to 36 feet in length.
Swimming is a popular activity at both Cannon Beach and Far Beach. The swimming areas are located in a tropical lagoon that provides a good place for younger swimmers to enjoy the water.
The park has 2 ½ miles of marked mangrove wilderness trails to explore. The mangroves and crystal clear waters that surround them provide habitat for a wide variety of birds and marine life. The park concession rents canoes and one- or two-person kayaks at the ticket counter. For personally-owned kayaks or canoes, there is a launch on the main road over the bridge.
Fishing is permitted in designated areas in accordance with Florida state law. Saltwater fishing licenses are required. Spearfishing, possession of spearfishing equipment, and collection of tropical fish [by any method] is prohibited inside the park.
In addition to the park's snorkeling tours, there are areas in the park designated for snorkeling. These areas are in a tropical lagoon and offer a look at the various sea grass communities in the park. In these areas there are some natural ledges that do hold some interesting marine life. There are also some artifacts from an early Spanish shipwreck approximately 100 feet offshore.
To fully enjoy the diving possibilities of the park, boat trips to the reef are recommended. A new diver, or a diver that needs a refresher, will find the waters off Cannon Beach a great place to hone his or her skills.
The highlight of the park¿s Visitor Center is its 30,000-gallon saltwater aquarium. Park staff conducts a fish feeding daily at 11:00 a.m. for visitors to observe. There are also six additional 100 to 200-gallon aquariums which offer visitors different looks at the park¿s marine inhabitants. The Visitor Center also features natural history exhibits which interpret the park¿s different biological communities. There is also a theater located in the building where visitors may view nature videos relating to the park and its surrounding area.
Large-print formats of park information and brochures are available. Assisted-listening devices are available upon request for the auditorium presentations.
The food counter and snack bar has breakfast and lunch items prepared for purchase. There is a well-stocked gift shop with items from whimsical to tasteful for souvenirs. Snorkeling equipment and beach gear is also stocked, as well as last minute necessities one may have forgotten.