Six miles offshore, the view is beneath the waves. It’s Molasses Reef, the most accessible living coral reef in the United States, a slice of the Caribbean in the Florida Keys. And it’s the main reason that John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park exists.
Location: Key Largo
Lat-Lon: 25.1270, -80.4092
Fees: $4.50 individual, $9-12 per vehicle (2-8 people). Includes per-person Monroe County surcharge
Open: 8 AM until sunset daily
6/2018 update: The Mangrove Trail boardwalk is closed as it will be rebuilt. Both the Wild Tamarind Trail and the Grove Trail lost a portion of the high canopy of the tropical forest, but that has allowed the understory to become more lush. Both trails are in great shape.
Both campsites and docking slips are available for overnight stays. Reserve online.
Located at MM 102.5 along the ocean side of the Overseas Highway (US 1) in Key Largo.
Established in 1960 to protect the reef – with onshore lands added after 1963 – it’s a 70-square-nautical-mile wonderland of corals, sponges, and tropical fish, easily visited on a dive or snorkeling trip with a park-sanctioned outfitter or via glass-bottomed boat. Click through the images of a glass-bottomed boat trip below.
Not up for the open ocean? A small beach and snorkeling trail serve up a place to splash near shore.
The park offers landlubbers fun as well. Start off at the visitors’ center to see the saltwater aquariums, including a 30,000-gallon tank, that orient you to the sea life found on the reef.
Then explore the park’s nature trails to look for tree snails in the tropical hammock and (non-native but huge) iguanas hanging out in the mangrove forests.
A small native plant and butterfly garden adjoins the visitor center, with identified trees and plants. You’ll find a picnic area on the north side of the parking area, close to the mangrove forest.
Explore the park
- Grove Trail - If you've ever wondered where Key limes came from, take a walk on the 0.5-mile Grove Trail at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park to see of one of the historic groves of Key Largo.
- Mangrove Trail - At John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, the Mangrove Trail is an accessible boardwalk that gets you right into the heart of a mangrove tunnel along a tidal creek
- Overseas Heritage Trail, Upper Keys - 26.8 miles. Through the most heavily populated part of the Florida Keys, the trail quickly leaves water views behind for tropical forests between residential and commercial areas.
- Spirit of Pennekamp - Cruising on the Spirit of Pennekamp is how landlubbers - and snorklers uncomfortable with ocean swells - get to experience the living coral reefs of the Florida Keys
- Wild Tamarind Trail - Tunneling into the deep shade of the Key Largo Hammock, a tropical forest that once covered most of the uplands of this island, the Wild Tamarind Trail provides you a close-up look at the trees and shrubs that make up this not-so-common forest.