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“Tent campers BEWARE. It's like camping in a parking lot with sharp, rocky gravel.” 3 of 5 stars
Review of John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park Campgrounds

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John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park Campgrounds
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102601 Rte 1, Key Largo, FL   |  
Hotel amenities
Top Contributor
86 reviews 86 reviews
16 hotel reviews
Reviews in 40 cities Reviews in 40 cities
94 helpful votes 94 helpful votes
“Tent campers BEWARE. It's like camping in a parking lot with sharp, rocky gravel.”
3 of 5 stars Reviewed December 1, 2012

The campsites are TINY, there is very little foliage between the campsites, and the gravel is vicious. If they were going to rock all the campsites, they could have at least used smaller pea gravel instead of the sharp, rocky crap that POKED A HOLE IN OUR AIR MATTRESS THROUGH THE TENT FLOOR. We had to wear flip flops inside the tent and/or use our sleeping bags as padding to walk on. It's THAT bad. We have bruises on our legs from sitting on the rocks. Ridiculous. There are two group tent areas that were not used the entire time we were there, and they refused to let us move there where the ground was grass/dirt/more humane gravel. If you're in an RV, fine. You'll love it. Now I know why we were one of only 2-3 tent campsites out of 47. It looks more like tailgating than camping. Since the water was rough there were no snorkel or glass bottom boat excursions being booked. Not the parks fault, better to err on the side of caution. The staff was friendly, even when they're being uncooperative. The restrooms, showers, and grounds are all extremely clean. Very dog friendly. The raccoons are abundant and refuse to take "no" for an answer. In the span of time that it took to hike down to the restroom, one of those little masked flea bags managed to steal a bag of cornmeal. They stole my daughter's flip flop and dragged it 15 feet into the woods. The camp has nice equipment for sale and rent, and is located near lots of other stores and restaurants - including an XXX adult store just across the street. Be prepared to explain to your little ones that just because it says "Toys on Sale!" on a banner out front doesn't mean we will be shopping THERE.

  • Stayed December 2012
    • 2 of 5 stars Value
    • 4 of 5 stars Location
    • 1 of 5 stars Rooms
    • 5 of 5 stars Cleanliness
    • 3 of 5 stars Service
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79 reviews from our community

Traveler rating
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Rating summary
  • Location
    4.5 of 5 stars
  • Sleep Quality
    3 of 5 stars
  • Rooms
    3.5 of 5 stars
  • Service
    4 of 5 stars
  • Value
    3.5 of 5 stars
  • Cleanliness
    4 of 5 stars
Traveler tips help you choose the right room.   Room tips (3)
Date | Rating
  • English first
  • French first
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English first
New York City, New York
Reviewer
4 reviews 4 reviews
Reviews in 3 cities Reviews in 3 cities
4 helpful votes 4 helpful votes
5 of 5 stars Reviewed October 22, 2012

We made a reservation and then showed up 2 hours before our scheduled trip on the Encounter. The crew was really friendly and professional - they went through the safety talk quickly but thoroughly. Our trip saw barracudas, sting rays, and puffer fish. 2.5 hours felt like just the right amount of time - we came back when we felt ready to stop and they rang the bell 5-10 minutes later. The boat is really nice, clean with cold drinking water provided and upper deck to take in the view.

Corrective mask rentals are available for those who wear glasses for $5 - the same price as regular mask rentals. They also have snorkels (I recommend at least a semi-dry since the water was choppy on our trip) for purchase and fins for rental.

  • Stayed October 2012, traveled as a couple
    • 4 of 5 stars Value
    • 5 of 5 stars Location
    • 5 of 5 stars Cleanliness
    • 5 of 5 stars Service
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This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
UK
Senior Contributor
48 reviews 48 reviews
22 hotel reviews
Reviews in 28 cities Reviews in 28 cities
40 helpful votes 40 helpful votes
1 of 5 stars Reviewed October 17, 2012

I booked a plot for one nights camping. Due to a delayed flight i arrived after dark. Fortunately i had phoned ahead for the security code to get into the park outside of business hours.

From that point on, nothing went well.

The code i was given was wrong. It was only that i managed to flag down the final employee leaving that i was able to get in. I wish i hadn't been able to.

I booked the plot to camp in a tent, but that simply wasn't possible. The plot was a completely hard, with nowhere suitable to pitch a tent. I spent half an hour trying to come up with something, but i couldn't get any pegs into the ground. By that stage it was ridiculously late, so i thought i would cut my losses and sleep in my car. I quickly established it was far too humid to do that. My only option left was to sleep on the floor in the shower block. It was as horrific as it sounds.

Even if i had managed to pitch a tent, things wouldn't have been much better. My pitch (13) was next to some sort of small swamp. It meant that there were mosquitos and flies everywhere. The pitch itself was ridiculously close to that of my neighbours and if able to pitch a tent i would have ended up sleeping right next to the sewage pipe from their RV.

I'm sure if you are in an RV, this place is fine. IT IS SIMPLY NOT SUITABLE FOR TENTS. It's an outrage that they advertise it as such.

I left before the office had opened in the morning, and after no response when i tried to phone i sent a series of e-mails and filled out forms online to voice my complaints... I'm still waiting for a response and a refund.

Do yourself a favour. Don't stay here.

  • Stayed October 2012, traveled solo
    • 2 of 5 stars Value
    • 2 of 5 stars Location
    • 1 of 5 stars Sleep Quality
    • 1 of 5 stars Rooms
    • 1 of 5 stars Cleanliness
    • 1 of 5 stars Service
Was this review helpful? Yes 9
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Top Contributor
52 reviews 52 reviews
13 hotel reviews
Reviews in 42 cities Reviews in 42 cities
33 helpful votes 33 helpful votes
3 of 5 stars Reviewed October 15, 2012

If you are in the upper keys and are looking for a place to camp this is a good choice. However the camp spots are a little close to each other. As far as the snorkeling, if you take the tour out its great, if not you'll be wadding in mangroves and grasses and not much else. To truly appreciate this park, you'll have to do some legwork, but it can be great.

  • Stayed October 2012
    • 3 of 5 stars Value
    • 4 of 5 stars Location
    • 3 of 5 stars Rooms
    • 4 of 5 stars Cleanliness
    • 3 of 5 stars Service
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This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Alpharetta, Georgia
Senior Contributor
30 reviews 30 reviews
6 hotel reviews
Reviews in 16 cities Reviews in 16 cities
13 helpful votes 13 helpful votes
5 of 5 stars Reviewed August 3, 2012

This is a great state park, the snorkeling is amazing, especially if you go to the statue of Christ reef. Beautiful and natural surroundings. Perfect location to explore other areas of the keys. Canoeing is also fantastic.

Stayed April 2012, traveled with friends
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Cheadle-Hulme - UK
Top Contributor
106 reviews 106 reviews
11 hotel reviews
Reviews in 37 cities Reviews in 37 cities
52 helpful votes 52 helpful votes
5 of 5 stars Reviewed August 1, 2012

Best day of the holiday, so far. Booked for snorkelling, the day before. 6 of us went - cost approx $280 inc Mask and Fin hire and Snorkel purchase. Had to arrive for 12:15 for a 13:45 trip. Got their early, rented the snorkelling gear and snorkelled off canon beach. Lots of submerged canons from a Spanish shipwreck about 100m off shore - a good opportunity to brush up on our snorkelling skills Then at 13:45 off for the boat trip to the Coral Reef, about 3miles off shore. Sea was very clam and perfectly clear. Got about 1.25hrs of snorkelling at the reef - this was plenty - was exhausted afterwards. Saw lots of amazing fish at the reef. Truly amazing day.

  • Stayed August 2012, traveled with family
    • 4 of 5 stars Value
    • 5 of 5 stars Location
    • 5 of 5 stars Cleanliness
    • 5 of 5 stars Service
Was this review helpful? Yes 2
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Lakeland, Florida
Reviewer
4 reviews 4 reviews
4 hotel reviews
Reviews in 4 cities Reviews in 4 cities
13 helpful votes 13 helpful votes
1 of 5 stars Reviewed July 27, 2012

First of all I am a Florida Native..... I have never been to Pennekamp but I heard for yeeeeeears what a great park this is.... and takes months to get a reservation. I was soooo looking forward to finally getting to see this piece of heaven (which I made reservations last year). I went for my 44 birthday July 25.

Let me first get the "good" stuff out of the way (it wont take long). The staff were nice... Im sorry staff for having to write this.. you were fine. The camp and bathroom were also very clean, and the visitors center had a nice aquarium with cool AC.... bravo! That's it folks!!.

We drive 6 hours to be here for three days (we only lasted one and took our losses). The camp site was so tiny we couldnt get our van door open because the picnic table was in the way. Really there was no place to put a tent.. We slept in our vans.

Next, the two guys shacked up beside us (literally a spit distance away) were constantly walking around naked in their trailer... passing by their windows (it was amusing.. fortunately we have no children so sad this was our only entertainment)... and their RV dump holes are only abut 4 feet away from our picnic tables (gross!!). Also, the bugs were horrible!! (the brochure says not to spray your area with poisons because all their plants and animals are sensitive ... and apparently mosquitoes are precious to them becuase they dont spray them either.... so you suffer so they can harvest).

But THATS not the worse of it! OMG the STINK!!!!!! Everywhere we go it smells like sulfer.. or rotting eggs. You sleep with it.. you breath it while you eat your picnic lunches.. My husband also insist is was the dump holes, but I tried not to think about it. Next, is the heat... but is not really their fault. I realize that this is the tropics and it's hot everyday of the year.. but unless you own a RV or trailer with AC.. with windows that shut so you dont get the bugs or stink, then you should be okay. But tenters beware!! You will be misterable all night..

Next, it the activities... we thought about taking the snorkeling tour (in fact we had reservations) but after seeing that nasty beach we didnt want to even touch the water.. and the smell.. omg the smell!!! I just couldnt understand why people were flocking to that nasty sound water.. I guess to cool off, but really Im not that deserate. So what else to do.... take the Mangrove trail... We put on our hiking shoes and headed out for this adventure.. just to find the trail only to be about 100 yards long. Apparently a section of the "trail" was torn away and never replaced so you are forced to turn around and go the other way... the other side of trail is only about 100 yards also so dont bother.. Our hiking trip was over in 7 minutes.

Fortunately, we brought our own kayaks to paddle around in the murky water.. this was sort of fun, I guess. We we go one way and before long there was a big post saying "No Canoes".. so we go another way, ten minutes later another "No Canoe" .. then another. Pretty much we were just rowing back and forth. It was dissapointing. We finally just left early..... went to Key West for a day.. It was wonderful..

The icing on this poop cake... my husband came home with a bad case of chiggers (red bugs) all over his body... and if you dont know what this is then you are lucky.. they are miserable and itch him all night. I think I have a few crawling on me as well. I feel HORIBLE sending him to this park for my birthday. If it wasnt for Key West.. and the nice people at the hotel discount place an hour down the road that hooked us up with great hotel rates right in the action, then Id be crying, right now.

Was this review helpful? Yes 11
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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Additional Information about John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park Campgrounds

Address: 102601 Rte 1, Key Largo, FL
Location: United States > Florida > Florida Keys > Key Largo
Hotel Style:
Ranked #9 of 17 Specialty Lodging in Key Largo
Price Range (Based on Average Rates): $
Number of rooms: 47
Also Known As:
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park Campgrounds Hotel Key Largo

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