From the kaleidoscopic coral reefs that fringe the Keys region, to the freshwater springs where manatees congregate in winter months, Florida offers you a variety of choices for your next snorkeling vacation. Florida is the only continental U.S. state where the tropical climate provides ideal conditions for snorkeling throughout the year. Florida has more than 1,000 miles of coastline with some of the best snorkeling anywhere. So put on your mask and with a few strokes of your swim fins, you will soon be enjoying the Sunshine State's underwater wonders!
Florida is home to many snorkeling spots. Most are concentrated in the Keys area, but there are also a few options on the east coast of the peninsula, notably in Stuart, West Palm Beach, and Fort Lauderdale. In North Florida, the sea is not snorkeling-friendly, but hot springs can be explored instead, especially in Citrus County and Marion County.
Here’s the list of Florida’s best snorkeling spots based on the region it is in so that you can start planning your next adventure!
On the coasts of mainland Florida, good snorkeling spots are pretty rare. The small reef at Bathtub Beach in Stuart is a good option if you are in the area. It is freely accessible from the beach but can get rough if there’s swell.
However, the best snorkeling in the area is found in Riviera Beach, near West Palm Beach: at Peanut Island (which can be reached in a few minutes by ferry from the Riviera Beach Marina) and at the Blue Heron Bridge location, which fronts the Phil Foster Park. The latter, which has free shore access and where a snorkel trail has been set up, is home to outstanding marine life. Here, you won’t find any corals but many critters, including frogfish and seahorses.
If you’re in Fort Lauderdale you’ll find boat trips to take you to Twin Ledges coral reef or the Northern Erojacks (an artificial reef made up of concrete tripods), but both of these spots are quite deep to be fully enjoyed from the surface.
The Florida Keys, a chain of a thousand coral islands located in the southern part of the state, are Florida’s snorkeling hotspot. In its mangroves, sandy areas, and coral reefs, dozens of locations can be snorkeled from the shore or during boat trips.
The Florida Keys can be divided into three regions. From north to south, the Upper Keys, around Key Largo, the Middle Keys, and the Lower Keys, ending in Key West, the continental US southernmost point.
To the north of the archipelago, there are several snorkeling spots around Key Largo. The most popular snorkeling area is the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, which encompasses approximately 70 nautical square miles of mangroves and coral reefs.
If you can snorkel the seagrass beds found at Cannon Beach, at the park’s visitor center, it is on the offshore reefs, inside ad in the surroundings of the park, that the best snorkeling awaits.
You will find many tour agencies and dive clubs in Key Largo offering half-day or full-day boat tours in the region. The most popular tour destinations are Molasses Reef, Grecian Rocks, as well as Dry Rocks. Dry Rocks is where the very famous Christ of the Deep, also called Christ of the Abyss, has been immersed since 1961. These three reefs feature dense sea fan reefs, where parrotfish, angelfish, barracudas and schools of grunt abound.
Heading south to Key West: Bahia Honda State Park and (37 miles before Key West) and Pigeon Key. Bahia is about 37 miles from Key West and Pigeon Key is just a few miles farther. It is good to know that, when going to Pigeon Key, you will have a 2.2 mile walk to the island. Bahia Honda State Park is also the starting point for boat trips to Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary.
Elsewhere in the Middle Keys, the reefs are quite far from the shore, and you need a boat to get there. However, they are some of the most beautiful and healthiest coral reefs in the Keys. Located far from the mangroves and islands, they offer great underwater visibility. The best Middle Keys tours are those to Coffins Patch and Sombrero Reef from Marathon, and Cheeka Rocks, Hen and Chickens and Alligator Reef Lighthouse from Islamorada.
In Key West, in the far south of the archipelago, you can snorkel from the beach at Higgs Beach and Fort Zachary Taylor, although the seabed is not spectacular, and the underwater visibility may vary. To reach the best spots in Key West, you will need to book a boat trip. Sand Key Lighthouse, Cottrell Key, and especially the highly iconic Fort Jefferson in Dry Tortugas National Park, a 2-and-a-half-hour boat ride from Key West, are the best options.
If Florida offers great spots at sea, it also hides some treasures inland, along its rivers and hot springs.
For a truly unique experience, head to Kings Bay, Citrus County. Crystal River hot springs, constantly at 72.5°F/22.5°C, provide a unique warm haven for the manatees who congregate there during the winter months. This is the only place in Florida where it is allowed to snorkel with these peaceful and fascinating animals. In addition to the manatees, bass, snook, snappers, mullets and turtles are also easy to spot in Crystal River.
In the region, many other springs, most of them with crystal clear water, are great snorkeling locations. Alexander Springs and Silver Glen Springs (in Ocala National Forest), Seven Sisters (along the Chassahowitzka River), Rainbow Springs, and Ginnie Springs are some of the most famous. In the springs, you’ll encounter freshwater fish and turtles, aquatic plants, and sometimes even water snakes or small alligators.
It is estimated that approximately 40 species of coral and 600 species of fish live on Florida’s coral reefs. While snorkeling there, it is easy to spot butterflyfish, tang, damselfish, wrasse, several species of angelfish (including the French angelfish the queen angelfish, the gray angelfish, and the blue angelfish) moray eels, and barracudas.
Snorkelers interested in critters will enjoy exploring the lakes and inlets found along the coast. They feature cowfish, puffers, shrimps, crabs, pipefish, as well as seahorses and frogfish. Blue Heron Bridge/Phil Foster Park, near West Palm Beach, offers the best chances of spotting them.
Encounters with green sea turtles, nurse sharks, and rays are quite frequent in Florida’s waters, especially in protected areas. If you are planning a snorkeling trip in Florida, we recommend the excellent Reef Fish Identification: Florida Caribbean Bahamas (also available in ebook), the reference guide to ID the fish you will encounter snorkeling the State’s coastline and islands.
Snorkeling is possible year-round in Florida, but in the winter months (particularly in January and February), the cool, windy days can make swimming less pleasant.
The winters (November to February) are mild (68-77°F/20-25°C) and sunny, and the summers (June to September) warm and humid, with average temperatures of 86 to 95°F (30 to 35°C). In fall and spring, the weather is hot and sunny, with a low rate of humidity and scattered showers. During these two seasons, temperatures range from 72 to 84°F (22 to 29°C).
Bear in mind that the hurricane season, from August to October, can cut off access to the sea for long periods. Winters are much colder in Citrus County, but the constant temperature of the water in the warm sources (72°F/22.5°) means you can swim all the year-round.
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ADD A SPOT
Unmissable during winter months at Crystal River
Common at the Northern Erojacks
Occasional on all reef spots
Common on reef spots
On all spots, in large schools at Twin Ledges
On all reef spots
Snorkel trail with seahorses and colorful fish
Free shore access
Warm water springs with manatees
Freshwater springs with crystal-clear water, plants and fish
Monumental sculpture and coral reef
Crystal-clear freshwater springs with fish and occasional visits of manatees
Deep coral reef with colorful fish
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