More Kayaking In The Keys – Paddling Key Largo’s John Pennekamp State Park

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Looking For Things To Do In The Keys This Weekend?

Why not try some kayaking in Key Largo? John Pennekamp Park  is a fantastic choice. John Pennekamp is actually called a ‘coral reef state park’ and the first undersea park in the United States!

Card Sound BridgeCard Sound Bridge – On the Way!

John Pennekamp offers something for everyone with its mangrove swamps, tropical hammocks and coral reefs with an abundant marine life out at sea. There are plenty of options, such as glass-bottom boat tours and going snorkeling, diving or fishing. It also has a cute little beach if you feel like doing nothing at all!

We decided to head out on our trusty kayaks once again.  I can very much recommend paddling in John Pennekamp to people of all ages and all capabilities. You can rent kayaks there, if you prefer. The staff at the kayak renting (and launching) area was superbly friendly.

They took the time to give us a lot of information and even a map although we did not rent from them. Very nice! If you bring your own kayak, you launch from a beach which is just over the little bridge from the main area (with restroom and store).

John Pennekamp Kayaking

Areas To Explore With Your Kayak 

The whole of John Pennekamp State Park is a pretty big area. The part where you drive in and rent/launch your kayaks from, is the south portion of the park. There is also a northern area with mangrove trails, divided from the southern one by the big body of water called ‘Largo Sound’.

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For the purpose of this post, I am going to concentrate on the southern area, as this is where most people will head. The northern area is a little more remote and I will cover it in a separate post.

Loop Close To The Launch – Easy Paddle

Most people, especially kayak renters,  stay in the mangrove tunnels pretty close to the rental shack and main area. This paddle is a loop (marked yellow on this map), which gives you the opportunity to go off into some little tunnels on the sides of the main loop:

John Pennekamp Kayaking

The paddle is fairly easy and involves minimal ( almost zero ) involvement with motorized water crafts such as boats and jetski’s. There, you can chill out a little and check out your surroundings:

Pennekamp Kayaking

You will see plenty of small fish and birds, apparently it is possible to spot rays and manatees too, but we just saw some small-medium sized fish and birds around.

It’s a very nice and easy little paddle for all ages with very calm/sheltered waters, as you can see here:

John Pennekamp Kayaking

Venturing A Little Further Afield

If you want to make a half-day or even day out of it, and see a lot more wildlife, you can take the option of taking a channel and head further south. On this occasion, we opted to leave the launch area and turn immediately right, cutting through a boating channel with flats on either side and carrying on until we reached Stingray Creek to our right hand side. Here is a little picture of the map the folks at the kayak rental  place helpfully lent us:

John Pennekamp Kayaking Map

Mangroves John Pennekamp Mangroves Of All Sizes

Stingray Creek EntranceStingray Creek Entrance 

Paddling down Stingray Creek is a pleasure, as there is strictly no boating traffic and you are away from most of the other paddlers and have a great chance at seeing some wildlife. We saw lobsters (the water is nice and clear), parrot fish and several other fish and of course feathered friends as well!

Kayaking Stingray CreekKayaking Down Stingray Creek Watching For Wildlife

As you get to the end of Stingray Creek, you’ll most likely see some motorized boating traffic, mostly people fishing. You can opt to go up Deception Creek (you can see it on the map above), which gets really wide and is fun to kayak but it is a one-way – hard to believe as it is in parts very wide, I guess hence the name ‘Deception Creek’.

Deception Creek Key LargoDeception Creek

As we came back down and out of Deception Creek, we got ready to head back north. The maps we had from the kayak rental place basically advise you not to go any further south, but we did meet a kayaker whom we had seen coming out of a little mangrove tunnel (you will see the entrance to the south, and to the left of the boating channel heading south).

This channel is aptly called ‘South Creek’ and runs parallel to the boating channel, which seems to also be called South Creek. The streams originate from Largo Sound. If you want to go that way, remember the entrance is opposite from the entrance to Deception Creek (which heads north).

South Creek, Key Largo
Junction of Deception Creek and South Creek

The kayaker told us that he had gone down all the way of this tunnel (apparently it gets a little narrow), and come out into the ocean on the other side. Unfortunately, we did not have the time to try this, but I should think that would be a nice thing to do for a couple of experienced kayakers (with an adequate map – please don’t think you can do without one, it is deceptively easy to get lost).

We decided to save that for another time and a time when we were equipped with a decent map, and headed back up to Largo Sound direction, where we spent a little more time paddling to the east of Largo Sound around the mangrove lined shore area.

Bonnethead Shark Key Largo Bonnethead Shark Fishing Casualty 

As we got closer to the kayak launch beach, we saw this little guy on the bottom of the ocean (again, the water clarity is phenomenal). Sadly, he had been the victim of  fishing and throwing back. We assumed that the anglers had kept him out of the water for a little too long and he didn’t make it. This made me a little sad, although it did provide for a fascinating opportunity to see a little shark up-close, something you don’t get to see every day. So maybe he did fulfill his purpose after all…

The Verdict

Great day out, easy and safe paddling, plenty of things to see.

Have you been to John Pennekamp? What was your experience, do you have any suggestions as to areas I haven’t thought of visiting and any particular wildlife sightings? I would love to connect!


3 Comment

  1. Thomas says: Reply

    What is a really amazing place for kayaking. Thank you for your sharing. Btw, have kayak for rent services in here?

    1. T says: Reply

      Hi Thomas, thank you for your comment! No, I have no kayak for rent services here…but there’s an idea. I am looking to move the website to in the next few weeks and make it bigger and better with more possibilities, also maybe recommending things or advertising, not sure yet exactly what but I should think I would definitely include some kayak rental stuff and gear in it somewhere! Any ideas? Best, Tamara

      1. Thomas says: Reply

        When you try to move the website to, make sure that you follow the rule of exchanging domain. Because google don’t like duplicate articles 🙂

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