SP Campground Review – John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Key Largo, FL
A tight, but superbly-located state park on Key Largo at the very northern end of the Florida Keys, FL.
- Site Quality = 3.5/5
Somewhat mixed site quality here. This is a small campground with only ~46 sites, all located in a long curved line accessed by a closed (keyed entry) gate at the very southern end of the park. The biggest positives are that the camping area is well separated from the main road (Hwy 1) and the very busy marina/beach area so it is nicely quiet and does not get any of the crazy day-use traffic from the park. Plus all the sites offer full hookups which is nice (50Amp/water/sewer -> water pressure runs low, but power is great). The main negative is that the sites are TIGHT. They are literally side-by-side gravel sites with a small slice of “sitting area” containing picnic table & grill and just a thin line of vegetation (bushes/trees) in-between. Site depth varies from ~32-feet up to 57-feet, but all are only around 15-17 feet wide so there’s really not much space or privacy between campers. There is also some stagnant water behind the sites, especially sites 1-22. We didn’t personally notice any smell or experience any bugs (at all!), but some people have complained of mozzies or no-see-ums in the past so just be prepared.
NOTE/ If you want to stay here reserve WELL AHEAD! Reservations open 11 months ahead and sell out seconds after 8AM EST open each day. So, be persistent and look for last-minute cancellations. The park does keep a small number (2-4?) sites as first-come-first-serve (= not reservable online), but you have to be on site to get in and wait around until check-out (1PM) to see if you get lucky enough to snag one.
- Facilities = 4/5
Facilities include flush toilets & individual shower stalls. They are somewhat dated, but are spacious and were clean while we were there. Also there is washer/dryer on-site (only a few machines, but they work!) plus a small book swap. On-site dump station and potable water too.
- Location = 5/5
Location is what it’s aaaallll about here. You are right in the middle of Key Largo, located right by the water next to all the underwater beauty of the Florida Keys Marine Sanctuary. Plus everything is offered on-site from snorkling trips to kayaking, scuba diving, paddle-boarding, boating and glass-bottom boat tours. Plus there are two on-site beaches, a biking trail along Hwy 1 (just outside the park) and plenty of options for groceries/shopping/dining within 5 miles on each side. It’s a great place to hang!
- Pet Friendliness = 3.5/5
Pets are welcome in camp and on the (short) hiking trails around the park, but unfortunately (like most FL state parks) they are NOT allowed anywhere on the beach or in the water. So, sadly there is no-where you can take doggie for a dip. For the best doggie play drive just over 20 miles south to Islamorada where you’ll find a nice doggie park called Founders Park (mile marker 87, $8 admission) or drive a little further to a wonderful, free, dog-friendly beach called Anne’s Beach (Polly loved this! mile marker 73, free). Also MANY of the restaurants and bars around Key Largo accept dogs in their outdoor areas, so feel free to bring them along for outings to eat and drink.
Overall Rating = 4
BONUS ALERT = Camp right next to the Florida Keys Marine Sanctuary!
Video Overview: Want to see it in living color? Check out our short ~11 min overview here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YMlNxxmYYp4
Summary: Looking for beach, snorkling, kayaking and relaxation in the northern Keys? Well, then this is your spot! This is not a big park and it’s super popular which means it’s often really crowded, but it’s the first undersea park in the US and it’s quite a sweet location. It extends 3 miles into the Atlantic Ocean and sits right adjacent to the amazing Florida Keys Marine Sanctuary which is one of the best places to snorkel or scuba dive in Florida. Plus it’s got 2 beaches (they are SMALL coral beaches, but they are here) and literally every kind of rental (snorkel gear, boat, scuba) you could want on-site. Folks come here to explore Key Largo, relax on the beach and get in the water, and if you camp here you can access all of that literally minutes from your RV. The campground itself is a long line of 46 sites located past a gated (keyed) entrance just south of the main park. The positives are that it’s well separated both from Hwy 1 and the crazy day-use traffic that comes through the park, so it’s quiet and relaxed. Plus all the sites are full hookup (50Amp/water/sewer) which is a nice bonus when you’re camping somewhere hot and salty. The main negative is that the sites are tightly packed together. Most of them are fairly deep (up to 57-feet) so they can take larger rigs, but they’re only ~15-17 feet wide and stacked literally side-by-side with only a thin line of vegetation (trees/bushes) between campers. So you only get a small slice of “sitting area” and very little privacy from your neighbors. Plus although dogs are allowed in camp and around the campground trails, you cannot take doggie anywhere on the beach or in the water, so there’s really nowhere close to take them for a dip. Lastly, it’s VERY tough to get a site reservation here. The system opens up 11 months ahead and sites sell out literally seconds after 8AM EST everyday so you’ve got to be super persistent (and frankly a bit lucky) to get in. If you can snag a site though, I do think it’s worth it. Despite the cramped space and dog restrictions the location rocks! You can go swimming daily and do all the water-sports you might imagine right on-site. Plus there are groceries (Publix), shopping and lots of dining options (MANY of which are dog-friendly) within 5 miles of the campground. We went into the water everyday, biked for miles from camp and thoroughly enjoyed our stay. Plus we didn’t experience any bugs (yeah!) so it was pleasant to hang outside too. We would certainly come back.
Extra Info: Strong Verizon signal (4 bars LTE), and good T-Mobile signal (Binge On worked great), but poor AT&T (only 1-2 bars 4G, on and off and several of our calls were dopped). Total 46 sites, of which 42 are reservable on-line. All sites are FULL hookup (50Amp/water/sewer) and cost $36/night. On-site dump station and water.
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