The best snorkeling spots in Florida

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.

Fort Jefferson Dry Tortugas
Fort Jefferson, in Dry Tortugas National Park, is the most iconic snorkeling spot in the Keys. Several areas can be snorkeled all around the fort.

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.

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 are the best options.

Green sea turtle in Looe Key
Encounter with a green sea turtle in Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary.

Going north from Key West, two decent spots can be explored from the shore in the Middle Keys: Bahia Honda State Park (37 miles north of Key West) and Pigeon Key (43 miles). Bahia Honda State Park is also the starting point for boat trips to Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary.

Pigeon Key, Florida
Bordered by coral reefs and accessible from shore, Pigeon Key is a nice snorkeling stop if you are driving to Key West.

Elsewhere in the Middle Keys, the reefs are quite far from the shore, and you need a boat to get there. On the other hand, they are some of the most beautiful and healthiest coral reefs in the Keys. Far from the mangroves and islands, they also 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.

Christ of the Abyss, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
While John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is renowned for its mangrove and coral reefs, it also hosts the impressive Christ of the Abyss sculpture, sunk some 20ft deep.

To the north of the archipelago, there are several snorkeling spots around Key Largo. The best known is the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, which protects the surrounding coral reefs. You will find many companies in Key Largo offering half-day or full-day boat tours in the Park. Molasses Reef and Grecian Rocks are two other, less crowded reefs reachable by boat from Key Largo.

Bathtub Beach, Stuart
Bathtub Beach and its coral reef, easily reachable from the shore.

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. In West Palm Beach, you can get into the water at the Blue Heron Bridge (where a snorkel trail has been set up in front of Phil Foster Park) or at Peanut Island (which can be reached in a few minutes by ferry from the Riviera Beach Marina).

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.

Snorkeling with manatees in Florida
Crystal River is the world’s best spot to snorkel with manatees.

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.

Snorkeling in Alexander Springs
Alexander Springs, with its gin-clear waters and a nice diversity of freshwater fish, is one of the best springs of Florida for snorkeling.

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 and the gray angelfish), moray eels, and small barracudas.

Blue tang in Twin Ledges
A blue tang, a very common fish of the Caribbean Sea, photographed at Twin Ledges reef.

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.

When to go snorkeling Florida

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.

JANUARY
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Warm and humid
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Warm and sunny

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