We had made no previous plans to visit the Keys - indeed we don’t like to plan much of anything in advance if we don’t have to. Most times of the year this works out fine as campgrounds and RV parks will have space for us last-minute types. The Florida Keys in April is a different story. There are some drop-dead gorgeous State Parks here and they mostly get booked out 11 months in advance by people who can tolerate such long-term planning.
We heard great things about the John Pennecamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo, and we wanted another shot at snorkeling after our Manatee experience.
MsBoyink called the park and was quickly dismissed: “We have no openings until June.” In talking with other Florida RVers we learned that the initial cost and cancellation fees of the state parks aren’t very high so many people book way in advance largely on speculation and then cancel later if they can’t make it. Sure enough - MsBoyink persevered using the online reservation system and found 3 consecutive nights at the park likely due to someone canceling.
I do have to say my first impression of the park wasn’t….awesome. Sure, there were water views on the way in but the ‘beaches’ were gravel and obscured by marina buildings, charter boats and snorkeling tour companies. The campground feels a bit forced in, with sites at 90 degrees to the main road, private-RV-park spacing between, and no views of the ocean. On the upside this meant that we met our neighbors - a friendly couple from Quebec visiting the Keys for a month. On the downside this isn’t a park where you come to just relax in your campsite with some quiet space around you.
We got the kayak out and the boy and I paddled the park’s canoe trail. We got to experience the mangrove trees that we missed back in Big Cypress. The water is very clear and we did see some schools of large fish. Exiting the canoe trail into the bay we caught the wind and paddling was harder work but we had planned it such that we were coming in with the wind. Actually we tried against the wind first and decided we weren’t up to it, and went the other way around. We’re still learning this kayak thing.
We planned our snorkeling experience for the 3rd day in the park, but after walking up found the water conditions to not be beginner-friendly. We chose to delay to our final day in the park and went to visit the nearby wild bird sanctuary instead.
Delaying the snorkeling worked but meant we had to get the snorkeling in, then come back, shower, eat and break camp before the 1:00 PM check out time. I think we made it with a few minutes to spare, but by the time we were rolling out I needed another shower.
The kids have written about the snorkeling here and here and it was indeed an awesome experience. It really made our stay here worthwhile. If you aren’t coming here to snorkel or somehow otherwise experience the coral reefs the park experience itself isn’t nearly as nice as other Florida State Parks. Three nights was just right for us - then it was down the road to a private RV park in Marathon that actually took our Passport discount and didn’t charge a kid tax.