12 best snorkeling Spots and Locations in Key West

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The seas surrounding Key West are spotless and overflowing with marine life, and they are home to the third-largest barrier reef system in the world.

With about 3 million visitors annually, Key West is the southernmost city in the contiguous United States and a well-liked vacation destination. Extraordinary for its pastel homes, rich history, and breathtaking natural settings, which include a variety of aquatic ecosystems, is the peculiar island.

With its stunning scenery and pleasant weather, Key West, Florida, is among the most picturesque places on earth. Snorkeling is a great way to explore the variety of fish and marine life that can be found in the clear waters and off-shore tropical coral reefs.

There are certain places around the Florida Keys for Key West snorkeling if you’re ready to make the trip, where you may have an amazing time.

Here are the best spots in Key West to go snorkeling.

1. Sand Key Light House

body of water near green mountain
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Visitors snorkeling in the area should make time to explore Sand Key Lighthouse Reef. Situated about seven miles off the southern shore of Key West, the reef is part of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. The 350-mile Great Florida Reef, the only coral reef system in the continental United States and the third-largest barrier reef ecosystem worldwide, includes the coral formations.

The colorful reef, which is home to over 40 different varieties of coral, supports a wide variety of marine life, including tropical fish, moray eels, nurse sharks, bull sharks, and sea turtles.2. The reef’s sheltered waters, while being offshore, can produce calm snorkeling conditions with excellent underwater visibility.

Read Also: Peanut Island Snorkeling – Unlocking the Wonders of Peanut Island Snorkeling

In most places in Sand Key, the depth is between five and twenty feet, but on the southern side, it drops to between sixty and ninety feet 3. If you’re uncomfortable in deeper waters, stay near the lighthouse as this is where the shallowest areas are. Just be cautious not to approach the lighthouse itself too closely as there are certain safety risks in the old building.

Even though the reef can only be reached by boat, getting to it is not too difficult because several big catamarans and other private tour companies have daily trips there. You may bring your boat or arrange for a guided trip to see the Sand Key reef (we suggest reef snorkeling tours with Fury Water Adventures or Sebago Watersports)

2. Eastern Dry Rocks

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Eastern Dry Rocks is a great place to explore the barrier reef. It is simple to visit both locations in a single trip because they are only a mile or so east of the Saninntic Ocean, where the only things you will discover are shipwrecked vessels and tropical coral reefs.

3. John Pennekamp, Coral Reef State Park

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Pennekamp, John Near Key Largo, Coral Reef State Park is one of the most sought-after locations for snorkeling. With its 25 miles of width, this park is one of the biggest places in the Florida Keys for snorkeling and provides lots of room for exploration.

It is enhanced by the fact that it stretches three miles into the Atlantic Ocean, where the only things you will discover are shipwrecked vessels and tropical coral reefs.

Many boat trips stop here, giving you the chance to go in the water and explore secluded underwater locations that are far from the coast. Cannon Beach and Far Beach are two of the greatest locations in the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park for snorkeling. Even if you can snorkel without taking a tour, you won’t get to see as much of the unspoiled underwater beauty as you would if you spent time in the Florida Keys.

Because these beaches are protected, the water is calmer all year round and presents less of a challenge as you spend time exploring. This is also an excellent place to see the vibrant seaweed that adds to the lush surroundings by growing along the shore. One of the numerous picnic seats along the coast is a great place to have a snack or lunch after getting out of the water.

4. Cottrell Key

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Cottrell Key, a tranquil island in the Gulf of Mexico approximately nine miles off the coast of Key West, is home to an intriguing array of tropical marine life. The region is well-known for its patch coral reef and sponge gardens, despite not being as picturesque as Sand Key.

Divers may see stingrays, gorgeous sponges, sea fans, hogfish, coral heads, and a variety of tropical fish. The area is also a popular spot for lobstering during the mini-season (end of July) and spiny lobster season (August through March). If you would want further information regarding lobstering while visiting Key West, you may get it from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Guests can reach Cottrell Key by guided trips, private charter, or their boats. The mangrove island is located within the Key West National Wildlife Refuge, so be sure to familiarize yourself with the rules and regulations before visiting this protected area, particularly if you’re traveling alone.

5. Sombrero Reef

Sombrero Reef is a well-liked snorkeling location that is situated not far off the coast of Marathon. Explore the shallow waters to witness a variety of marine species, such as butterflyfish and parrotfish.

The reef is a fantastic place for snorkeling adventures because it is also home to several shipwrecks.

6. The National Park of Dry Tortugas and Fort Jefferson

When snorkeling in Key West, many people’s bucket lists include visiting Dry Tortugas National Park, which boasts a historic fort, seven lovely islands, brilliant turquoise seas, and an abundance of marine life.

The pure, unspoiled nature of this 100-square-mile park makes for some of the greatest snorkeling in North America. Diverse marine life, including triggerfish, angelfish, damselfish, parrotfish, and queen conchs, is visible to visitors.

In addition, there are over thirty different kinds of coral in the seas, some of which are threatened, such as pillar corals, elkhorn, and staghorn.

There are several logistical difficulties in traveling to Dry Tortugas because it is around 80 miles away from Key West. Depending on the season, tickets for the Yankee Freedom ferry are usually sold out four to eight months in advance. The boat operates once daily. You may reserve a private boat charter or take a seaplane from Key West if you’re seeking an alternate route to get to the park.

You’ll need to make advance plans if you want to visit this amazing snorkeling location since Dry Tortugas likewise places a daily restriction on the number of tourists.

From the beaches close to Fort Jefferson, snorkeling is easily accessible after you enter the park. Regardless of experience level, this location is appropriate for novice and expert snorkelers due to its quiet and shallow waters.

7. Higgs Beach

Key West
Beautiful underwater creatures and wonderful view

The varied live coral reef at Higgs Beach, which has sea fingers, brain coral, soft corals, sea whips, and sea fans, is one of the most well-liked snorkeling locations in Key West. You don’t have to worry about swimming too deep in the water, which makes this one of the greatest snorkeling locations for beginners.

You may remain along the beach and observe angelfish, parrotfish, and butterfly fish up close near the pier by using shore snorkeling. It’s a family-friendly place where people of all ages may engage, even adults.

8. Bahia, Honda State Park

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A great day excursion for visitors to Key West is Bahia Honda State Park, which is approximately 45 minutes further up the Keys. Recognized for its stunning sunsets and immaculate seas, the park boasts the nicest beaches in the Florida Keys.

Each car must pay $8 to enter Bahia Honda. A selection of meals and snacks are available at the park concession, along with equipment rentals such as chairs, snorkeling gear, kayaks, and more.

Additionally, you may schedule a daily reef snorkeling cruise from Bahia Honda to the Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary.

Due to its high volume of visitors, Bahia Honda occasionally experiences brief closures, particularly on weekends and holidays. To escape the crowds, aim to come early or schedule your visit during the week.

9. Fort Zachary Taylor State Park

Fort Zachary Taylor State Park offers the greatest beach snorkeling on the island if you don’t have time for a day excursion from Key West. For the finest conditions, go to the main beach at the southernmost point of the park.

Tropical marine life, including lobster, yellowtail snapper, parrotfish, and soft and hard corals, may be found in these waters.

Although the above-mentioned offshore locations have livelier marine life, Fort Zachary Taylor is a fantastic option for novices. If you’ve never snorkeled before, think about coming here for your first dive to get warmed up before going to Eastern Dry Rocks or Sand Key’s Reef.

The park entrance charge is a meager $6 per car. Once there, you may take advantage of several facilities, such as barbecues, picnic tables, chairs, and umbrellas to rent, and showers and restrooms. At the beach, Chickee Hut offers a mask, snorkel, and fins for hire if you don’t possess your equipment.

Despite being regarded as Key West’s greatest beach, Fort Zachary Taylor’s sandy coastlines have sadly suffered from erosion over time. There is a very stony seabed below the waterline where much of the sand has been washed away. Nevertheless, a pleasant day trip destination is the park. Beautiful sunsets and outdoor pursuits like birding, biking, hiking, kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, and scuba diving are available in addition to snorkeling.

10. Stylish Dutch Disaster

The Avanti Wreck is a must-visit location for snorkelers who enjoy discovering new and unique spots in Key West. Located in Dry Tortugas, a mile southwest of Loggerhead Key, the Avanti (also known as the Dutch wreck or Windjammer) is shallow enough to provide great snorkeling.

At low tide, certain sections of it are really visible, and the highest depth is 22 feet (6.7 meters).

This Florida Keys wreck, which broke into two pieces and is now strewn across the bottom with healthy coral growing on and around it, is in outstanding shape and draws large schools of fish and other aquatic life to the region.

11 Smathers Beach

A sizable, family-friendly public beach featuring easy access to water activities, umbrella and chair rentals, and restrooms. While parking is fee-based, access to the beach is free.

Another location where you may snorkel from the beach is Smathers Beach. If you’re searching for novice snorkeling in Key West, this is a nice alternative even if the marine life isn’t as vibrant as at the outer reefs. It’s simple to get used to using your equipment in the shallow, current-free waters, and you may even spot fish and other wildlife.

12. Little Africa Reef Loggerhead Key

The biggest island in the Dry Tortugas Island Group and the location of Loggerhead Lighthouse is Loggerhead Key. Being inaccessible by public transit and requiring a boat permission for private sailors to enter the region, this key remains a tiny paradise because very few people visit it!

The unspoiled reef known as Little Africa is located on the island’s northern tip, where calm, shallow waters invite you to discover amazing marine life. This is a great snorkeling location for beginners and families with lots of soft corals like sea fans and sea rods, hard corals like brain and fire corals, and young fish of different types.

Key West Snorkeling Advice

Exploring the undersea environment and getting up close and personal with marine life is made possible by the thrilling and enjoyable sport of snorkeling. Here are some snorkeling in Key West recommendations.

Choose the right location

Select the place that best fits your interests and degree of experience since each has distinct characteristics and marine life of its own.

Examine the weather and water conditions:

Research the weather and water conditions prior to snorkeling. Snorkeling may be hazardous and challenging due to strong gusts, large waves, and limited visibility. Avoid going into the water unless the weather is clear and calm.

Rent or bring your own equipment:

You’ll need fins, a mask, a snorkel, and maybe a wetsuit to go snorkeling in Key West. Many local stores rent out equipment, or you may bring your own. Ensure that the equipment you’re wearing fits comfortably and correctly.

Observe safety precautions:

In Key West, always abide by the safety regulations when snorkeling. Keep your distance from any aquatic animals, stay in approved zones, and stick close to your snorkeling partner. If you’ve never snorkeled before, think about signing up for a class or guided trip.

The underwater ecology of Key West is sensitive and endangered, so please respect the environment. By not littering, avoiding contact with coral and other marine life, and wearing sunscreen that is suitable for reefs, you may contribute to its protection.

Organize your logistics:

Take into account things like bathrooms, shopping, and kayaks while organizing your snorkeling excursion. While some snorkeling locations, including Southernmost Point and Truman Annex, offer facilities close by, others need more before planning.

Take pleasure in the experiential learning experience.

In Key West, snorkeling is an exceptional and life-changing experience. Enjoy the splendor of the undersea environment as you take your time and unwind. Keep an eye out for the only live coral reef in North America, butterflyfish, and soft corals.

NOTE: You may snorkel in Key West safely and enjoyably if you follow these suggestions.

Best snorkeling tours and boat charters

If you have the time and money, don’t be afraid to spend it on a boat tour to Dry Tortugas or the reefs and mangrove islands off Key West. For those who like to explore the Great Florida Reef, Sebago Watersports offers a half-day reef snorkeling excursion. Fury offers a two-stop snorkel adventure that visits many prime places on the reef.

This half-day trip with Danger Charters offers snorkeling, kayaking, sailing, and wildlife viewing off the coast of Key West, making it a great option for anybody searching for a multisport backcountry experience.

See this full-day snorkeling tour, which includes round-way ferry transportation from Key West to the national park, or arrange a private charter for those who wish to see Dry Tortugas and Fort Jefferson. Just be sure to plan soon, because reservations for the trip are frequently filled months in advance.

Try a private boat excursion with snorkeling, kayaking, and paddleboarding in the Key West wilderness if bigger, mixed-group tours aren’t your thing and you’d like a more individualized experience.

Excellent places to stay

Since the best snorkeling spots are off-island, almost all of Key West’s hotels are excellent starting points for snorkelers. Here are some well-liked vacation ideas for Key West excursions.

Hyatt Centric Resort and Spa is a fantastic option for those seeking for a resort on the Gulf coast, offering a variety of amenities like a pool, spa, fitness center, and watersports rentals. From the hotel dock, you may take a charter directly away, and a short walk gets you to the launchpad for a number of boat cruises and guided snorkeling excursions.

Travelers also choose the nearby Hyatt Centric as their destination, the beachfront Ocean Key Resort and Spa. The resort is close to several of Key West’s main attractions and has a harbor view.

A 4-star resort on a private beach, The Reach is located on the Atlantic coast. You can easily access the island’s snorkeling beaches from the hotel, which is located between Higgs Beach and Fort Zachary Taylor.

Frequently Asked Questions FAQ for Key West Snorkeling

Is snorkeling in Key West worth it?

Although there are many of fantastic snorkeling locations close to Key West, the island itself does not have many noteworthy snorkeling locations. You’ll probably be dissatisfied with snorkeling if your only opportunities are from Key West’s beaches.

Nonetheless, the time and means to visit some of the region’s most picturesque underwater locales, including the Florida Reef or Dry Tortugas, might consider visiting Key West.

Try Higgs Beach or Rest Beach, which are close to White Street Pier, if you’re pressed for time or are unable to leave the island. While there are occasional snappers and minnows swimming around on the largely sand and seagrass bottom, the general sealife is far more spectacular at the other locations on our list.

When is the best time of year to snorkel in Key West?

Because to Key West’s tropical marine environment, snorkeling is feasible all year long, although the optimum circumstances usually occur in the spring. The best months are March, April, and May since the

March, April, and May are the best months since the water is warmer than it is in the winter, which makes swimming, snorkeling, and other water activities more enjoyable.

The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June to November, with mid-August to mid-October posing the greatest danger of storms (1). These months still provide excellent opportunities for snorkeling, but you should be ready for possible high humidity, increasing rains, and unfavorable circumstances.

Travelers who can only visit during the winter months may consider December through February. However, the usual water temperature is between 69 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit, so you might wish to wear a wetsuit.

Where do people snorkel in Key West?

Key West has several well-liked snorkeling locations in addition to its beaches. Key West Marine Park, Dry Tortugas National Park, and Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary are a few of them.

What part of the Key West has the best snorkeling?

Most people agree that snorkeling in the lower Keys, which includes Key West, is the greatest in the Keys. There are many reefs and aquatic creatures to explore in the warm, clear seas.

Is snorkeling free in Key West?

Indeed, snorkeling from Key West beaches is free. In case you like to visit the most popular snorkeling locations, Renting equipment or paying for a tour may need payment.

Where can I snorkel in Key West without a boat?

In Key West, there are a few locations where snorkeling is possible without a boat: Smathers Beach, Fort Zachary Taylor Beach, and the Key West Marine Park.

What are some popular Key West snorkeling tours?

The Fury Catamaran Snorkeling Tour, the Sebago Watersports Reef Snorkeling Tour, and the Danger Charters Snorkeling and Kayaking Tour are a few of the most well-liked snorkeling excursions in Key West. With the help of knowledgeable operators, you can explore some of Key West’s top snorkeling locations on these trips.

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