Known as the ‘Sunshine State, Florida is one of the few places in the United States to boast a sub-tropical climate – which makes for ideal snorkeling conditions. There are dozens of superb snorkeling spots across the region, from Citrus County in the north to Key West in the south. Generally speaking, you can snorkel all year round too. When the conditions aren’t quite right for snorkeling in the sea, there are over 900 bubbling springs scattered across Florida that guarantee year-round marine life spotting opportunities. We’ve curated seven of the best places for snorkelling in Florida if you’re in need of a little inspiration.
The best places for snorkeling in Florida
1. Dry Tortugas National Park (Key West)
Key West’s snorkeling scene is hardly a well-kept secret, but Dry Tortugas National Park is one of its most unusual offerings. Located 70 miles off the coast, it’s a remote group of islands that are accessible only by boat or seaplane. Of all the islands, of which there are many, Garden Key is one of the best. At 14 acres, it’s the second-largest island and it’s also particularly popular with the local sea turtles. You’ll also find kaleidoscopic corals, colourful fish, starfish and queen conches.
Back on dry land, you can explore the historic Fort Jefferson, which was built to protect one of the most strategic deepwater anchorages in North America. If you’re after something even more remote you can charter your own boat and snorkel off to Windjammer Wreck, an iron-hulled ship-rigged sailing vessel known as the Avanti.
The best time of year to snorkel here is from April to November when the waters are calmer.
2. Phil Foster Park, Riviera Beach (Palm Beach)
If you don’t fancy hopping aboard a boat, Phil Foster Park offers brilliant saltwater snorkeling action. A few years ago, the council build an 800-feet (243-metres) artificial reef with boulders to mark the trail. Waters are shallow here, averaging 6–10 feet (1.9–2.5 metres) and reaching depths of 20-feet (7 metres), making it easily accessible for less confident swimmers. It’s teeming with squid, octopus, spotted rays, starfish, angelfish, parrotfish, grunts and grouper. Make sure you check the tides before heading here as they seriously impact visibility.
3. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park (Key Largo)
Located in the crystal clear waters of Key Largo, the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park offers underwater adventures aplenty. It’s the United States first-ever underwater park, offering 70 nautical square miles of spectacular snorkeling fun. More advanced snorkelers will have the most fun here since the beaches are sandy-bottomed. If you’re after reef snorkeling, you’ll need to take a short boat ride offshore. As well as colourful fish, corals and mangroves, you can swim around the iconic Christ of the Abyss statue – a replica of “Il Cristo degli Abissi” in Liguria, Italy. Tours, half-day and full-day trips are easy to organise online and in person.
4. Bahia Honda Beach (Florida Keys)
This secluded white-sand park boasts three beaches, just 12 miles south of Marathon. Sprawling across 400 acres, it offers some of the best snorkeling and beachcombing in Florida.
It’s also the starting point for the boat trip to Looe Key Marine Sanctuary, a sprawling groove and spur reef. It got its name from the HMS Looe, which sunk here in 1744 while towing a captured French ship. The sanctuary is home to over 150 species, including yellowtail, angelfish, parrotfish and barracuda. There are around 50 species of coral here too, as well as an artificial reef called the Adolphus Busch.
5. Twin Ledges (Fort Lauderdale)
It’s close to the coast, but you’ll still need to take a boat to reach Fort Lauderdale’s most idyllic snorkeling spot – Twin Ledges. It’s best suited to more experienced snorkelers and you’ll need to hop onto a dedicated snorkeling tour, but there are dozens to choose from in Fort Lauderdale and many include a trip to Northern Erojacks in the tour price too. The site is home to pufferfish, surgeonfish and sergeant major fish, as well as sea turtles and a resident nurse shark. The top of the reef is 15 feet (4.5metres) and the ledges plunge to around 20 feet (6-metres).
6. Half Moon Preserve (Miami)
Snorkeling isn’t the first thing that springs to mind when you think about Miami, but it should be. The Half Moon Preserve is one of the most fascinating shipwrecks off the coast of the United States. Originally called the Germania, it was built in Germany as a racing yacht in 1908. It traded hands countless times before the British won it and renamed it the Half Moon in 1914. It became a floating bar during the Prohibition and later sunk off the coast of Miami in 1930. Divers discovered the ship in 1987 and identified it in 1990. It’s now sitting on its port side and is still in excellent condition. It’s one of Florida’s Seven Underwater Archaeological Preserves too.
7. Crystal River Hot Springs (Citrus County)
Squeezed into a small inlet in the Gulf of Mexico, Crystal River is around an hour and a half drive from Orland and Tampa. The springs bubble away at bathwater-warm temperatures of 22.5C (72.5F) all year round, but the best time to visit is during the winter months. Hundreds of West-Indian manatees migrate to the warmer waters here when the Gulf of Mexico cools, so it’s the best place and time of year to spot them.
In fact, it’s the only place in Florida where you can legally snorkel with this endangered species. The easiest way to get up close to them is to book a tour – there’s a handful to choose from in the town centre.