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
Fees: $4.50-8.50 per vehicle
Open: 8 AM until sunset daily
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.
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, and then explore the park’s two nature trails to look for tree snails in the tropical hammock and (non-native but huge) iguanas hanging out in the mangrove forests.
Explore the park
- Florida’s toxic trees - Southeast Florida is home to two poisonous trees, the poisonwood and the manchineel. Learn how to recognize them so you don't get too close, and find out how truly dangerous they are.
- Mangrove Trail - At John Pennekamp State Park, the Mangrove Trail is an accessible boardwalk that gets you right into the heart of a mangrove tunnel along a tidal creek
- 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 - At John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, the Wild Tamarind Trail starts and ends near the campground and provides an up close look at a tropical hammock