Florida Tourist Attractions – Coral Reef State Park with John Penek

Florida Tourist Attractions – Coral Reef State Park with John Penek

If you’re sure a stop is in Key Largo, make sure it’s at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park (305-451-1202; MM 102/5 Oceanside, Key Largo; 1/2 person $3.50/6, per additional person 50 cents; 8am-sunset), the first underwater park in the US. Its incredible geography encompasses 75 square miles of ocean with a living coral reef, plus 170 acres of land with hiking trails that include the Wild Tamarind Nature Trail. The area is home to air plants, gumbo-limbo, wild bamboo, Jamaican dogwood, racha and wild tramamarind.

The best feature, however, is the full ranger-led activities program, but the full ranger-led activities program with a great range of options when it comes to exploring Florida’s reef. You can take a glass bottom boat or snorkel tour; go snorkeling or diving; or rent canoes or kayaks (305-451-1621) to travel through a 3-mile network of canoe trails. Motorboats are also available for rent.

In addition to the swirl of natural coral life below, interested divers can catch a glimpse of Christ of the Abyss, an 8 1/2-foot, 4,000-pound bronze sculpture of Jesus—a replica of a similar sculpture off the coast of Genoa, Italy, in the Mediterranean Sea. And if getting in or out of the water isn’t for you, try what’s out there at the visitor center, which has an excellent 30,000-gallon aquarium displaying live coral and tropical fish and plant life, plus a theater showing continuous nature videos.

The park offers a great ranger-led program including nature walks through mangroves and hardwood hammocks, a campfire program and a lecture series. Plus, you don’t even have to leave at closing time if you choose tent or RV camping (800 326 3521), but be sure to make a reservation, as the 47 sites fill up quickly.

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