This park first came up while researching things to do in the Florida Keys a couple of years ago but we ran out of time so were never able to visit. There is a trail or two to hike and a visitors center to explore but John Pennekamp State Park is all about the water. One trail meandering through the mangroves needs some maintenance with broken and rotting boards and an entire section of the trail closed. Unfortunately the section that is closed includes an observation tower where you could look over the mangroves out towards the ocean reefs. Once your focus turns to the water though this park shines.
While exploring Pennekamp we kept trying to decide if we wanted to go snorkeling and if so where. The water in Dry Tortugas National Park was cold and that was further south indicating that the water in Key Largo must be even colder. Enjoying the reefs is something we rarely get to do so when the opportunity arrives we try to take advantage. There was still plenty of hesitation do to a couple of factors. First, the water was cold as people continued to remind us as they were coming out of it. Secondly, in order to snorkel the reefs you need to purchase a snorkeling or scuba tour and we had already spent what is a lot of money to do this already on this trip. So if we weren’t going to snorkel why did we go to Pennekamp State Park?
There was never really the intention to go snorkeling with a paid tour however through researching this place there were reports of designated snorkeling areas right from the shore. Our hope was find some of the colorful reefs near shore however after arriving we found that the designated swimming/snorkeling areas where sea grass beds which tend not to be as colorful thus reducing the motivation even further to enter the water. Back to trying to justify spending more money on a snorkeling tour. While exploring the park and discussing our options to spend our last afternoon in the keys we went into the visitor center. This is a nice building with several aquariums to display the ocean habitats around this part of Florida. Yes, the motivation to go snorkeling increased while looking at these reef aquariums but not yet enough to get our gear.
Walking around the visitor center and exploring the park on foot seeing the swimming areas and mangrove trail was a nice way to spend the day. Fortunately it was sunny and warm and we were content just enjoying the scenery and weather without getting our gear wet which would require us to wash and dry it so it could be packed for our flight home the next morning. After strolling around John Pennekamp for an hour or two we sat down on one of the beaches taking in the views and talking with a few people who had braved the cold water to snorkel. They mentioned seeing some fish but nothing really extraordinary and getting use to the water took some time. That about seals it, we’ll enjoy this place from the land for today.
And then we witnessed something I have never seen before…. Check out the next post for more on this story.