Key West Snorkeling Guide

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Welcome to the Conch Republic. Fort Zachary Taylor State Park is the primary shore snorkeling location in Key West the remaining snorkeling areas are offshore. Approximately 7 miles to the south and running parallel to the Keys is an underwater shelf. Along this ledge, several areas come close to the surface and have reef features. This is the main destination of snorkel and dive boats originating in Key West. There are more reef locations than listed on this review, but this review represents the common sites visited by snorkeling and dive boats. There is no guarantee you can visit any specific reef location while on these boats. The typical format is to visit two different locations in one trip. All the reef locations appear to be similar to each other. Sand Key is the standout, with more extensive underwater topography and deeper areas.

The overall water clarity in Key West is limited. You will maybe get 30 feet visibility on a good day. The reef locations are good, but not spectacular. There are mostly soft corals and limited underwater topography. The reef locations are small in overall size and can get crowded with boats.

The benefits to Key West are; several shallow reefs you can enjoy with divers. The water can get very calm offshore with almost no waves. Very warm water in the summer reaching 85 degrees.

There are two basic types of boats you can take out here. The snorkeling-specific trips on large catamarans, or a dive boat. Since all the reefs are within 20-foot depth, the dive boats welcome snorkelers and enjoy the same reef areas. If you are a competent snorkeler, we recommend choosing a dive boat to the reefs. The boats are faster to the reefs, allowing more time on the water. There are smaller group sizes on the dive boats allowing for more comfort. The dive boats also do not require snorkelers to wear a “flotation device” which is like a deflated life jacket. The large catamarans that advertise snorkeling-specific trips require every snorkeler to wear the life jacket device while in the water. These boats also fit around 40 people and have only one ladder to the water, delaying your snorkeling as they load/unload people. They also tell you to stay near the boat, so you will find yourself floating in a crowd of people. The boats have more party atmosphere, allowing alcohol to be served on the way back.

The dive boats typically go visit the USS Vandenburg (90 feet deep) in the morning, then do double reef dives in the afternoons. There are several dive companies in Key West to choose from and most allow snorkelers on the reef dives. We recommend trying a dive boat if you want to maximize your snorkeling time in Key West.

We also offer downloadable pdf maps that include extra detailed information. We want to share the love of snorkeling and answer the ultimate question: “where do you go snorkeling?”



Key West Digital Snorkeling Map

(Click the box on the map header to open in Google Maps app)


Shore Snorkeling: 

Offshore reefs:



Fort Zachary Taylor State Park

The primary shore snorkeling location in Key West. There is no proper reef here, so most of the snorkeling is done around breaker rock piles. While the snorkeling is not immediately visually stimulating, the marine life viewing can be abundant. There was a noticeable current pushing east to west and the current speed would vary from day to day. You can use this current to your advantage and enter on the eastern side of the beach near a rockpile. Further east along the beach is a military base with no entry. Swim west and make a stop at each breaker rock pile along the way. There are also swim buoy markers not far offshore. Try to stay inside those markers as boats will pass by just outside. Zig zag between the breaker piles and the swim buoy line as you make your way to the western side of the beach. Overall, the underwater visibility in the Keys is generally poor and it will vary from day to day. Expect around 20-foot visibility or less on average. There is a small fee to enter the State Park. Snorkel gear rentals available on the beach.



9 Foot Stake

Offshore reef accessible by boat

Eastern Dry Rocks

Offshore reef accessible by boat.


Marker 32

Offshore reef accessible by boat.



Sand Key Lighthouse

Offshore reef accessible by boat.



Hey, check this out:

For even more detailed information on these snorkeling sites, download our Key West Snorkeling Map. Full color maps in .pdf version. Extra notes, tips and tricks to maximize your experience. Download for offline use and take with you to the snorkel spot.