When I first made reservations for John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, I knew the sites were going to be tight. In fact, I was having second thoughts about reserving the site at all within days of doing it. The park is very well known for SCUBA diving and snorkeling, but the camping … Meh. I had not read one outstanding review for camping. Most were mediocre at best.
The initial hope was that we could camp at Bahia Honda State Park, but that was booked up until sometime next summer. I checked every day to see if something would open, but it didn’t. In fact, the sites at every state park in the Keys were booked, but I kept checking back and a site opened at Pennekamp so I jumped on it.
We arrived there at about 4:30 p.m. and found the sites were not just tight, but small, small, small. We ended up putting the slide out before Brian backed all the way in so he could get the trailer as close as humanly possible to the electric box so we would have a little more room on the door side, which bought us about another foot, if that. There were also noseeums that were biting us to death, which made the experience all the more frustrating.
I started chatting it up with our neighbor, and I don’t know how it came up, but he said the ranger at Pennekamp told him that the construction scheduled for Long Key State Park had been delayed. Even though they were not taking reservations, they were accepting walk-ins. The neighbor said he had camped there before and the sites were right on the water. We called immediately.
The lady I spoke to confirmed that construction had been delayed, but she said they were slowly moving equipment in. But as long as no equipment is moving, they will allow campers. She said they weren’t expecting any equipment for the next couple of days.
This morning, we got up and hitched back up, and got back on the road heading south. The rangers at Pennekamp gave us a full refund for the two unused nights, without a penalty, which I totally expected. There was a stop at Waffle House on the way out. Brian can’t visit Florida without having his “scattered, covered, smothered and chunked” hash browns. After breakfast, and a quick grocery store run, we drove the approximate 40 miles to Long Key.
The ranger at the station was as nice as could be. She checked us in with no problems and sent us to site 57. When they say the sites are on the water, they aren’t kidding. The water is just feet from our door. And because the website is still showing construction is going on, and it isn’t allowing reservations, we are one of only about five sites that are occupied. I guess you have to be “in the know” to realize the park is open.
After seeing this site, I’d say we made a good move. The snorkeling may not be as good, but, as I told Brian, we can always drive back to Pennekamp to go snorkeling. But even if we don’t go snorkeling, it’s like a slice of paradise here, so I think it was a good swap.