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.
Resources for exploring the area
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Location: Key Largo
Trailhead: 25.1270, -80.4092
Address: MM 102.5 Overseas Highway, Key Largo
Fees: $2.50 cyclist or hiker, $4.50 individual in vehicle, $8.50 per vehicle (2-8 people). Includes per-person Monroe County surcharge
Restroom: At the concession area
Land manager: Florida State Parks
Open 8 AM until sunset daily. Leashed dogs welcome but not at beach. Both campsites and docking slips are available for overnight stays. Reserve online.
12/2021 update: The Mangrove Trail boardwalk remains closed as it will be rebuilt.
Located at MM 102.5 along the ocean side of the Overseas Highway (US 1) in Key Largo.
About the Park
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.
Molasses Reef is easily visited on a dive or snorkeling trip with a park-sanctioned outfitter or via glass-bottomed boat. See our 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.
Learn more about Pennekamp State Park and its trails
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.
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.
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.
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
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
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge
Protecting more than 6,700 acres of Key Largo to provide prime habitat for the endangered American crocodile, Crocodile Lake NWR has a small visitor complex where you can learn about species conservation at the refuge.
Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park
A botanical treasure rescued from developers, Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park has the highest concentration of National Champion trees in the United States
Eastern Continental Trail
A hiking route spanning more than 4,800 miles along the East Coast, the Eastern Continental Trail spends nearly 1,300 miles crossing Florida from its southern terminus at the Southernmost Point in Key West.
Biking the Southern Glades Trail
Taking a ride through the Everglades on one of Miami-Dade’s most remote offroad bike trails made for “Bill and John’s Most Excellent Adventure.”