Coral reefs offer some of the best snorkeling you’ll find, and the continental United States has only one natural coral reef. It’s located in Monroe County, Florida. The Great Florida Reef is 170 miles long and stretches from Key Largo all the way down to Key West. In fact, it’s the third largest barrier reef system in the world, behind the Great Barrier Reef and the Belize Barrier Reef.
There are plenty of fantastic snorkeling spots along the 170-mile stretch. Two of the best are the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo and Big Pine Key, home to Looe Key Reef. Marathon is home to Sombrero Reef, lesser known than the first two but equally as good for snorkelers.
What’s great about most of these destinations is that you don’t have to worry about packing all of your snorkeling gear if you decide to head to the Keys for a vacation. There are countless businesses offering snorkeling gear rentals and boat tours to and from the reefs.
Some of the locations can be little crowded, depending on when you visit. For example, John Pennekamp State Park is extremely popular in the summertime. The park offers snorkeling tours are offered every day that the weather permits. It’s worth the trip, though, even on the busiest days. The reefs at Pennekamp are located at least 3 miles offshore, so tour boats head out to the reef several times a day. The boats will usually stay moored up for an hour or so, giving snorkelers plenty of time to explore the reef.
Pennekamp has plenty of snorkeling opportunities for those who don’t want to take the boat, too. Cannon Beach offers opportunities to snorkel directly from shore, which is a great option for those new to the sport. Swim out 100 feet from the shore of Cannon Beach and you’ll find pieces of a Spanish shipwreck that have been placed there by the park. Snorkelers can dive with all sorts of colorful fish as they dart around cannons and a large anchor.
Snorkeling opportunities abound in the Florida Keys, and it’s definitely worth a trip for anyone who’s serious about the sport!