John Pennekamp – Kayaking, Cycling, and exploring Key Largo
Our first visit to John Pennekamp we didn’t take advantage of the all the park has to offer. Kevin was sick a few days; we had work to do, stuff happens. We did better the second visit, but I’ll get to that in a bit.
After our 20-mile bike ride in search of key deer, and then moving house, we deserved pizza.
Key Largo Boat Parade
Some of these people went all out! You can see all the dancers and hear the music coming from some of the boats.
Our favorite boat though might have been Cutboat. It has the whole front in lopped off and sort of rocks its way through the water at low speeds. Janky as hell but we kind of love underdogs.
The #teamseahunter #cutboat was a fan favorite at the key largo holiday parade. So much so that we won best business! The jams were provided by the best @wetsounds #seahunter #35seahunter #unsinkable #wetlife #wetsounds #hearingisbelieving #floridakeys #keylargo #mercury #verado @teamseahunter @mercurymarine @samanthaaaa_d @boats_n_hoch
If you’re going to be in the area in December look for the Boat Parade and go if you can!
The next day it was time to take care of some mundane chores like laundry. We went to Island Coin Laundry in Waldorf Plaza, and the staff was super nice and helpful. And it was super cute inside!
It was also time to make a post office run. We had some things coming to the Key Largo post office general delivery and made several trips there during our stays. But we only saw the post office chicken once.
There’s a Publix about a mile away from the campground. Around two miles away you’ll find the coin laundry. There’s an Office Depot next door to the laundry and a Starbucks across the street.
Our AT&T 4G reception at John Pennekamp was mostly fine. But it was slower when we parked in spots tucked under the trees. We picked up our boosters shortly after we arrived so from here on out any reception will be with boosters.
Christmas time in campgrounds can be quite festive. Some people decorate their rigs with lights and more for the holidays. And then there are people that do that all the time. Every time they set up. We are not those people.
Our first stay at Pennekamp, we found another Winnebago Adventurer that had a whole pirate-themed set-up. They had skeletons in chairs, a pirate chest, palm tree, pirate flag wheel covers – the works. We shared parks with them several more times before we left South Florida.
Riding a bike in Key Largo is easy unless you want to cross the street. There is a bike path offset from the main road, but crossing it can be a challenge. Ideally, you’ll want to cross at a light.
Dip into the neighborhoods around John Pennekamp. You’ll find all kinds of interesting things.
Here is an underwater hotel where you have to scuba dive to get to your room. We had no idea it was there and stumbled upon it on a bike ride. It started life as a research laboratory. Read all about it on their site.
These people also took the pirate theme to extremes.
We’ve Gotta Eat
I make so many different things that sometimes I forget about ones that we like. Tofu Salad falls in that category. It is like egg salad but made with tofu instead. You’ll find the recipe at that link.
I tried something else while we were at Pennekamp the first time. In the holiday spirit even if it didn’t feel like the holidays, I wanted to make a bean loaf, but it was going to take forever in the oven. One thing we try to avoid is running the propane oven too long when it’s warm out. It’ll heat up the whole house in a heartbeat. And you’re burning up all that propane.
So instead of making this recipe as a loaf, I made it in muffin cups. It came out great and cooked much faster! Next time I make it I’ll document everything so I can post a recipe. Bonus: freeze extras for quick meals later.
Meeting Up With More Full-time RVers
As the weather gets colder in other parts of the country, more and more full-time RV dwellers head south. And there are certain pockets where they tend to congregate. Florida in general and the Keys specifically meet those requirements. Because of that, we met loads of people this winter. A round-up post about all the cool people we’ve met needs to happen.
One night we packed up Jill and drove down to Castaway to meet up with the Learning Banks (we already knew those guys) and Tim and Amanda Watson. Castaway did a great job of taking care of the vegan and gluten-free members of our party. And we sat right on the canal where a Boston Terrier entertained us by playing with his toy across the way, and a manatee cruised through the waterway.
We the vegans had veggie sushi, edamame, and sweet potato fries. It was all good and filled us up.
We ate at a few different restaurants while meeting up with people and we wouldn’t trade the meet-up but would pick different places sometimes. Castaway was excellent, though. Sit outside if you can. It’s lovely.
Hanging Around the Park
John Pennekamp does have two beaches, but they are small and tend to be packed out, especially on the weekends. But the remarkable part about staying in state parks is that they close at sundown. So all those people leave, and the campers have the whole park to themselves. I’ve probably mentioned this awesome point before but I’m too lazy to go back and look, and it’s worth repeating.
We spent evenings biking around the park. On one of our bike rides with Jill, we came across a van in the parking lot. It had a surfboard on top and an air conditioner hanging out the window. We were talking about it, and then the dude inside said something. Hopefully, we weren’t talking too much shit.
It turns out they were from Oklahoma and would go down to Bahia Honda during the day and would return to Pennekamp at night because they knew that month’s code. We’re not necessarily condoning this, just relaying information.
We had one last bike ride before leaving. This billboard tells you almost everything you need to know about the Florida Keys.
Here’s where we head off to Curry Hammock. Then we come back after the new year.
We’re Back! And Eating Out, Again.
A glass bottom bar? Yes, The Pilot House Marinahas a restaurant with transparent plates on the floor so you can look through and see the fish below. Cool! Go there for a drink, but the food was meh and not just for the vegans so maybe eat somewhere else.
One place we do recommend for vegans in Key Largo is Ballyhoo’s. Their sign says it’s a seafood restaurant so you might you’ll be stuck with yet another basket of sweet potato fries. Instead, they have some surprising vegan options on their menu.
On our first visit with Jill, I had the Joe vs. the Volcano salad, and Kevin had the sweet potato burger. Both were excellent. Oh, and we got the grilled avocado appetizer. I would never have thought of grilling avocado until we hit the Keys.
Jill ordered the boiled peanuts and shared. My first boiled peanut! The broth was fantastic. If you think of them as similar to edamame, they don’t seem so weird.
They had vegan coconut cake for dessert. It tasted good but was a bit dry. Still, it was surprising the restaurant even had a vegan dessert.
The second trip there was while Kevin was out of town. I went with Taylor and Beth to meet Brandon and Kerensa of Drive, Dive, Devour. This time I tried the Vegan Grilled Cheese with Black Bean Soup. I mistakenly thought it would make a light lunch. But it was a huge sandwich! And I couldn’t resist trying their house-made vegan cheese. I don’t know how to describe it. It’s good but not like any commercial vegan cheese.
And then we ate more food
Before we went our separate ways, we headed out to Sundowner’s with Jill, Taylor, and Beth. It was packed out last time we were there to see the boat parade, so we didn’t even go in. But they had some interesting vegan options so were happy to go back. Kevin and I both got the grilled cauliflower but one of us had the regular potatoes, and one of us got the sweet potatoes. Another grilled avocado happened. And we got a side of greens. The cauliflower was great, but we wished there had been more of it.
So Much Kayaking
One of the major features of John Pennekamp is its extensive kayak trails through the mangroves. We rented kayaks at the park and went out one morning with Jill. After that, we realized we were going to want to do much more of that. So we made arrangements to rent kayaks from an outside shop for a few days. They delivered them right to our campsite. And then we pretty much lived on the water. The photos should be enough to explain why. So many birds, fish, crazy mangrove tunnels! Best time!
These first are from our paddle with Jill in the kayaks we rented at the park.
In this photo, you can see how clear the water is in places. We saw tons of parrot fish, other fish, rays, and more down there.
And these we took after we got our rental kayaks from the outside company. We liked these kayaks much better!
There’s also some GoPro footage. We keep collecting it and then don’t do anything with it. Maybe it will eventually see the light of day.
The other thing John Pennekamp is known for is its coral reef. We had a dive trip all planned and then the seas were rough, so it got pushed off by a day. And that day I was sick so no diving for me. Kevin got to go though with Taylor, Beth, and Brandon. Brandon made an excellent video of that dive and a night one they did later after we left the Keys. Sorry I missed it!
The diving at Pennekamp is on the warmer and shallower side, which is fine with us as it means more bottom time. There are some great wrecks and plenty of sea life as it is a sanctuary. Watch the amazing video as it highlights all of the critters we encountered. The two sites in the beginning of the video are Elbow Reef and then the City of Washington. The water temperature was between 78 and 80 degrees and our bottom times were 57 minutes and 59 minutes respectively.
Don’t pass these spots up if you are a diver!
We’re forever creepin’ on other people’s rigs at campgrounds. Here’s one we saw at John Pennekamp that had a slide in its slide. It had to be memed.
More food we ate
Unless there’s a spectacular vegan option that we want to try or we’re meeting friends, we eat in most of the time. There’s a different thought process when on power versus when off. That sounds like a post I need to make.
Oh, look, pizza again! This time, cheeseburger pizza. Click for the recipe – it’s super simple.
We’ve been alternating between the tofu salad I posted earlier and this chickpea salad for sandwiches. Lately, we’ve been making wraps instead of sandwiches to back away from the bread a bit. If we keep bread around, we’ll eat it ALL the time.
While we were hanging out with Taylor and Beth, I bought a bag of Pillsbury Gluten-Free Flour Blend. I found it at Publix and read that Walmart carries it too. It worked well in the Blueberry Crumb Coffee Cake. This recipe also gave me the opportunity to try out our convection oven to bake this. Get the recipe and more thoughts on how that turned out at the link.
Leaving the Keys
John Pennekamp was our last stop in the Keys. We spent almost seven weeks there, so it was a good run. Don’t worry; I’ll go back and tell you all about Curry Hammock. But for now, bye bye Keys!
About the Author
vegan. digital nomad. cycling. scuba. intj. former vegan bakery owner.