Florida is, by far, one of the most unique states in the entire country. On the one hand, there’s the “Miami culture” that brings wealthy entrepreneurs and celebrities from all over the world. On the other hand, there are the crazy news stories involving “Florida Man…” followed by some unbelievable story.
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Aside from its press coverage, however, Florida also happens to be home to the best snorkeling and diving spots in the United States (and the world). Both sides of the Florida peninsula are known for having crystal-clear water, white-sand beaches, and beautiful weather year-round. The experienced diver could easily spend years scuba diving in Florida. After a few trips and vacations, many visitors choose to make the “Sunshine State” their permanent home so they can spend all of their free time in the beautiful clear water.
If you’re just going for a quick trip, however, and your time is limited, then we’ve put together a list of the best places for snorkeling and scuba diving in Florida! Whether you’re visiting a state park, traveling to the Gulf Coast, driving down to the Florida Keys, or hitting the East Coast, the team at Diving Picks has included a variety of spots suitable for all skill levels.
Let’s dive in!
The Best Snorkeling And Scuba Diving Spots In Florida
On the Eastern side of Florida, you have Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Miami Beach, and Jupiter Beach. On the Western side, you have the Gulf of Mexico, where you can find Clearwater Beach and Pensacola Beach (among others), which share the same beautiful water but offer calmer waters.
Then, there are the Florida Keys at the southernmost point of the peninsula. Key West, Key Largo, and Dry Tortugas National Park are three of the most well-known spots for scuba diving in Florida. However, there are over 800 “keys” (small islands) that make up the Florida Keys, and they all offer some amazing scuba diving and snorkeling opportunities.
Apart from the coast, Central Florida and the Everglades are home to some of the Western Hemisphere’s largest natural spring and cave systems. Some of them are on private property, while others have been designated as a state park. Many of them also happen to be some of the best dive sites in Florida!
Snorkeling Spots At Ginnie Springs
If you’re just getting into snorkeling or scuba diving, then Ginnie Springs is the perfect spot! It’s a privately-managed spring system that’s located in the middle of Highland Springs in Central Florida. It’s a 2-hour drive West from Clearwater Beach and a 2-hour drive West from Jacksonville. It’s also one of the closest dive sites to North Florida for those who don’t want to drive all of the way down South.
Ginnie Springs is home to seven different freshwater springs that range from small to large and are all connected to the Santa Fe River, which runs along the back of the area. The best thing about Ginnie Springs is that you can camp overnight at one of their many primitive campsites or reserve an RV parking spot with an electric and water connection.
All seven springs are within walking distance of each other, or you can drive around and park right beside each spring. There are shallow springs that only have 5 to 6-feet of water, and there are deeper springs that go down into the underwater cave system. We definitely recommend a [full-face scuba mask] so that you can take in all of the natural beauty.
While the springs are great for snorkeling or floating, more experienced divers may enjoy a full tour of the Devil’s Spring System. This is a huge network of underground caves and tunnels that connects the seven springs to each other. You can bring your own equipment or rent equipment from their office for a fair price.
All in all, it’s one of the best clearwater dive sites for the entire family. It’s one of the only spots in Central Florida where you can snorkel, dive, kayak, float, and camp all at once. There are even on-site bathrooms, public showers, and a grocery store for all of your camping needs, so you never have to leave!
Looe Key Coral Reefs
Looe Key is located in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Depending on how far out you go, the depth ranges anywhere between 7 and 30 feet of water. The natural coral reefs are nothing short of astounding and are home to a wide variety of tropical fish and marine life. It’s one of the closest keys to Key West towards the end of the long highway that connects the string of islands. On a clear day, you might even be able to see the coast of Cuba from the shore!
It is an open water dive site, so it’s a good idea to go with a guide who can show you where the best spots are. Thanks to marine life conservation efforts, the coral reefs are teeming with fish, small sharks, the rare spiny lobster, and even sea turtles.
Looe Key has plenty of dive shops where you can re-up on gear and equipment. You can charter or rent small boats to take you out to the reefs. If you’re a beginner or you’re just snorkeling, then you may want to stick to the shallower areas where the maximum depth is less than 10-feet. On the other hand, scuba divers may prefer to explore the reef’s deeper areas where the larger tropical fish tend to congregate.
Scuba Diving The Key Largo Shipwreck
Key Largo is the closest key to South Florida and is just a short drive from Biscayne Bay National Park, Fort Lauderdale, and Miami. One of the best reasons to visit Key Largo is that food and lodging are significantly cheaper than Key West. Although Key Largo does have a fair amount of natural reefs, it’s also home to an extensive artificial reef system. In 2002, the USS Spiegel Grove (a large decommissioned aircraft carrier) was sunk to make a man-made reef. Over the past two decades, the wreck has turned into a sanctuary for marine life!
In addition to the large artificial reef, Key Largo is perhaps most famous for housing the “Christ of the Abyss.” This large bronze statue stands under 25 feet of water, making it accessible for moderately-skilled snorkelers and scuba divers alike. If you’re into underwater photography, this is easily one of the best places for a photo-opp.
Key Largo is a testament to the fact that artificial reefs do work. When the state of Florida originally sunk the aircraft carrier wreck into the clear waters, coral reefs around the world were dying at an alarming pace. The man-made structures give coral a solid foundation on which to form, even in the middle of open water.
If you’re looking for a coral reef state park in South Florida, then you’ve got to check out the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park! Unlike Largo’s artificial reef system, the John Pennekamp Coral Reef is 100% natural. You can rent a glass-bottom boat and make your way out to the reef, where you can go diving all day long.
Family Snorkeling At Clearwater Beach
If you’re visiting the calm waters of the Gulf Coast, then you can’t go wrong with Clearwater Beach. It’s a small beachside city located just a 20-minute drive away from downtown Tampa and is positioned directly between the Gulf of Mexico and Clearwater Bay. If you’re into light snorkeling, swimming, and watersports, you can park anywhere along State Highway 60 and get right in the water. However, most people prefer snorkeling on the beach itself. It looks a lot like Miami Beach with its white sand and blue-green crystal clear water.
The beach’s main swimming area extends for almost 200 feet from the shore and never gets deeper than around 5 or 6-feet of water. There is a large sea net that encircles the swimming area, so you don’t have to worry about sharks, and there are no strong currents or waves to speak of, making it a great spot for young snorkelers or those who are afraid of the water. Since the water is so calm, you’ll see schools of baby fish and even flying fish zooming through the water, making it a great place to observe some natural marine life while you’re at it.
Dry Tortugas National Park
Dry Tortugas National Park is a truly unique location. The only way to get there is to take a 2-hour ferry ride from Key West’s tip as it’s located far out in the Gulf of Mexico. The most notable feature of this park is the old 19th-century Fort Jefferson that overlooks the surrounding ocean.
Part of the fort is located on the beach, and part of it goes into the water itself. You can go snorkeling in the shallow water around the sea walls or explore the surrounding coral reefs where the water is a bit deeper. Although it’s technically a “state park,” Dry Tortugas will make you feel like you’re somewhere out in the Caribbean or the coast of Spain.
If you’ve ever wanted to swim with sea turtles, then this is one of the few places in Florida where you can! Due to its remote location and its status as a nature reserve, fishing is strictly prohibited and human visitation is limited. This has led to it becoming one of the best wildlife snorkeling and diving spots in the Keys.
Scuba Diving In Central Florida At The Devil’s Den
The Devil’s Den is the deepest freshwater spring in Florida. You have to descend a short flight of stairs underground to access the main diving platform. From there, you can go snorkeling in the shallow waters or descend to the depths under 50 feet of water. Like Ginnie Springs, Devil’s Den stays cold year-round, so you’ll definitely want to bring a wetsuit. There isn’t a huge network of caves like you’ll find in the Devil’s Spring System, but this diving location goes a lot deeper.
Other than the occasional small fish, you won’t find any marine life. The cavern is also spacious and wide-open, making it a great location to get comfortable with deep diving before you attempt it in the open ocean (like the Florida Keys), where you have to be aware of wildlife and potentially dangerous currents. There will also be other divers and swimmers, so you’ll be able to snorkel and dive in safety, knowing that you’ve always got somebody watching your back.
Snorkel Rainbow River In Central Florida
Rainbow River is located in Rainbow Springs State Park, located northwest of Orlando, Florida. The surrounding landscape is very similar to Ginnie Springs. Rainbow Springs is the largest open-water area and is a very large spring where you can get some good snorkeling in.
When you’re ready to venture out a little bit more, you can make your way up Rainbow River, connected to the springs. Unlike most Florida rivers, Rainbow River is incredibly clear, thanks to all of the small springs that let out into the river. You can ride the current, snorkeling in the warm, shallow waters, or you can take a small canoe or kayak and park at your favorite snorkeling spots between Rainbow Springs and KP Hole.
Dive Sites At Blue Heron Bridge In West Palm Beach
If you’re looking for some great scuba diving and snorkeling without having to drive down to the keys, then look no further than West Palm Beach! Located just an hour north of Fort Lauderdale, Blue Heron Bridge is a little-known spot where you can take the whole family.
There is a small beach with a guarded swimming area for kids and beginners. If you go just beyond the guarded area, though, you’ll find a small snorkeling and diving trail that will provide you with hours of fun! Although it’s connected to the main waterway, the snorkeling trail is in a vessel exclusion zone, so you don’t have to worry about any other boats interfering with your dive.
The most notable feature of Blue Heron Bridge is the sizeable artificial reef which is mostly made up of old sunken concrete. Today, it’s covered in a variety of different coral species that give shelter to tropical fish. That being said, there are also some jellyfish, so you’ll want to wear a rash guard or light wetsuit for protection!