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.

Florida's shallow waters are home to a fascinating marine fauna, such as this striated frogfish encountered at the Blue Heron Bridge.
Florida’s shallow waters are home to fascinating marine fauna, such as this striated frogfish encountered at the Blue Heron Bridge.

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!

The best snorkeling location on Florida’s east coast

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.

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

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.

A lined seahorse attached on a rope at Blue heron Bridge.
The Blue Heron Bridge is probably the best location in Florida to spot 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 best snorkeling locations in the Florida Keys

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.

Christ of the Deep sculpture, Key Largo
Christ of the Deep sculpture is one of the main underwater attractions in Key Largo.

The best snorkeling spots in the Upper Keys

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.

Coral reef and grunts at Grecian Rocks
A school of different species of grunt in Grecian Rocks.

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.

The best snorkeling spots in the Middle Keys

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 miles walk to the island. Bahia Honda State Park is also the starting point for boat trips to Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary.

Calusa Beach is one of the two snorkeling locations found in Bahia Honda State Park.
Calusa Beach is one of the two snorkeling locations found in Bahia Honda State Park.

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.

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 around the fort.

The best snorkeling spots in the Lower Keys

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.

A manatee in Crystal River.
Crystal River is the world’s best spot to snorkel with manatees.

The best snorkeling spots in the springs of Florida

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.

A school of grey snappers in Crystal River
A school of grey snappers 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.

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

What will I see while snorkeling Florida?

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.

A yellow stingray at the Blue Heron Bridge.
A yellow stingray at the Blue Heron Bridge, Riviera Beach.

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.

A porkfish at Grecian Rocks.
The porkfish is a beautiful and easy-to-spot fish in Florida (here, in Grecian Rocks).

What is the best time of the year 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).

Hunter Springs, Crystal River.
Even during winter, Crystal River boasts a nice water temperature. Here, the snorkeling area at Hunter Springs.

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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