By Kevin Mims
Between 825 miles of beaches and 33 first-magnitude springs, there are endless places to explore the waters of the Sunshine State.
From gin-clear North Florida springs to vibrant, colorful coral reefs in the Florida Keys, here are 10 of the best spots to snorkel in the Sunshine State...
1. Biscayne National Park
One top spot to snorkel is close to the hustle and bustle of Miami, and that’s Biscayne National Park, where offshore excursions bring visitors to coral reefs, shipwrecks, and ecologically vital mangrove habitat. Guided snorkel trips are available through Biscayne National Park Institute and a host of other operators listed here.
2. Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, Key Biscayne
Many of the best places to snorkel in saltwater require a boat to access, but not all of them. At Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park on Key Biscayne, you can bring your own gear (or purchase some in Miami) and snorkel directly from the white-sand beach. In addition to having more than a mile of beach, Bill Baggs has a historic lighthouse with guided tours, restaurants, and trails and sea walls that are excellent for wildlife viewing.
3. Devil’s Den, Williston
As unique as it is breathtaking, Devil’s Den in Williston is unlike anywhere else in Florida. As you approach this privately-owned natural gem, it’s easy to walk right past it without noticing if you aren’t paying attention. A small entryway leads down a steep set of stairs below to the the dry cave and spring. The water appears blue and glowing, thanks to lighting inside the cave, and tree roots and green tendrils tumble down from the ground can be seen through a natural skylight at the top. Only snorkelers and scuba divers are allowed inside, and equipment can be rented on site.
The Emerald Coast is known for its dazzling emerald waters and white-sand beaches, and Destin is no exception. There are several great places to snorkel there, both off-beach and offshore. Norriego Point is a small peninsula of soft white sand that sits back from the Gulf of Mexico with Destin Harbor to the west and East Pass to the east. Henderson Beach State Park has white sand dunes standing 30 feet high and a mile of unspoiled and uncrowded shoreline, where swimmers and snorkelers can explore the clear Gulf water. East Pass and Destin Jetties, at the Destin Bridge and U.S. 98, near HarborWalk Village, are popular for snorkeling, and the jetties serve as man-made reefs where fish are plentiful. Two- and three-hour guided trips are available through Destin Snorkel, which opens for the season in March. Flipper’s Adventures offers 2.5-hour snorkel tours.
5. Dry Tortugas
Dry Tortugas National Park is 70 miles west of Key West, and getting there is a welcome adventure in itself. The Dry Tortugas, a remote group of islands that make up the National Park, are only accessible by boat or seaplane, but it’s well worth the extra effort to travel there for the stunningly clear underwater views of the marine life that call the Tortugas home and for the peaceful setting that Garden Key, the second-largest island in the Tortugas, provides. Garden Key is 14 acres in size and the site of historic Fort Jefferson. Stay for an afternoon or camp overnight on Garden Key—ferry rides and equipment rentals can be arranged through the Dry Tortugas National Park ferry. Seaplane arrangements can be made through Key West Seaplane Charters.
6. Ginnie Springs, HIgh Springs
Slip under the surface of one of its seven cool and gin-clear springs, and it’s easy to see what makes Ginnie Springs one of the best places to snorkel in Florida. The privately-owned park is situated along the Santa Fe River in rural North Florida, where swimmers can see several species of freshwater fish and turtles. Camp here or just come for the day. Snorkeling gear rentals are available through the park’s dive shop.
7. Phil Foster Park and Blue Heron Bridge, Riviera Beach
Phil Foster Park in Southeast Florida is another great, no-boat-required saltwater snorkeling destination. It’s home to a snorkeling trail with boulders and artificial reef that host a variety of tropical fish, starfish, octopus, and more. The water is relatively shallow averaging six to 10 feet deep, with a maximum depth of 20 feet. The park is between two bridges teeming with fish and marine life: Blue Heron Bridge on the west side and a smaller bridge on the east. Tides influence visibility and access to some areas, so plan accordingly. Go on your own or take a guided tour with Private Scuba Lessons, which has snorkeling equipment for rent.
8. Silver Glen, Ocala National Forest
Silver Glen Springs in the Ocala National Forest lies west of Lake George, between Ocala and Daytona Beach. Its crystal-clear water varies from wading depths to a maximum depth of about 25 feet at the spring vent. A variety of turtles and large schools of striped bass are some of the natural inhabitants snorkelers can see here. As with almost all Florida springs, the water maintains a constant 72-degree temperature all year long.
9. John D. MacArthur Beach State Park, North Palm Beach
With snorkeling accessible by beach, no boat is needed to experience the underwater habitats of John D. MacArthur Beach State Park. Boasting almost two miles of shoreline, this state park situated on the Atlantic coast has rocky outcroppings that host a vat array of sea life, including squid, tarpon, lobsters, and sea anemones. Snorkeling equipment and dive flags can be purchased through the park’s gift shop.
10. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Key Largo
Whether it’s colorful coral reef you want to see or the iconic Christ of the Abyss statue submerged in the clear waters off Key Largo, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is a must-see. John Pennekamp covers 70 nautical square miles and was the first underwater park in the United States. Guided snorkeling tours are available through the park.
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