When you think of coral reefs there aren’t many in the US. In fact, the Florida Reef is the only living coral reef in the continental US (and the third largest in the world – next to the Great Barrier Reef and the Belize Barrier Reef). While the reef is rather long, it can, at times, be rather deep and difficult to see unless you dive. Our young family loves to snorkel so the best place in the US to snorkel is at the John Pennekamp Coral Reef Florida State Park. Why is it so good to snorkel here? Well, it’s very accessible. The reef itself is so very close to the waterline that it makes it easy for even the youngest adventurers to enjoy this experience. This place is fantastic for family snorkeling. There are over 1 million visitors each year.
For a small fee, you can join a tour group (leaving up to 8 times a day) that will rent you’re your gear and transport you to various snorkeling areas. But the best part is, the coral is very close to the surface.
USA Today has dubbed this the best snorkeling in the US. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park has been around for quite some time. Plans to create the park started back in 1930s to make it a park but it took 30 years before it became a reality. My dad even used to visit here as a child.
Besides snorkeling, they offer Scuba diving and glass-bottom boat tours. Be aware that the glass-bottom boats aren’t for everyone. We’ve done it and love it, but some of us had to take a break as to not get sick. They also have kayaks & canoes to rent. There are over 50 miles of natural mangrove trails to explore. Kayaking, swimming, a beach, picnicking, and camping. To save time, we picked up some fast food and ate lunch at one of their several picnic areas.
Don’t have any snorkeling gear? You can rent gear directly from the visitor’s center. Honestly, we found their prices far cheaper than anything you’d expect on a cruise or vacation package. That’s one of the reasons we love coming to Pennekamp.
While our younger boys love swimming, this was their first snorkeling experience in deeper water. They were very apprehensive at first but they later got the hang of it. They only lasted ten or twenty minutes, which is longer than we expected, so they spent the remainder of their time on the boat while I explored further with my older girls. Even though they didn’t stay in the water the whole time, I felt it was a huge return on investment. It was way better than paying $60+ per kid to do a cruise excursion.
There are two beaches here. Far beach is shaded and nice for a lazy day. Canon beach has less shade but it’s easier for snorkeling and there’s an actual Spanish shipwreck from the 1600’s only 100 feet from the shore about 5’ to 10’ below the surface… so it’s really easy for snorkelers to visit. Just keep in mind that the water isn’t too clear at the beaches. The beautiful water is only accessible by boat.
Make sure to visit their website for updated hours, prices, and tours http://pennekamppark.com/