So you want to go to snorkeling as part of your time in Key West!
The Florida Keys are not generally known for having good snorkeling from shore.
But if you get lucky and go when the fish are there… it can be a fun Florida Keys shore snorkeling experience in Key West!
That said, you do have a good chance to see lots of fish in Key West… if you go snorkeling in the right spots!
And, emphasis on CHANCE…!
The marine life is wild so they do what they want when they want and there’s no guarantee to see them!
As per my experience, you might have to look around for them when you go snorkeling in Key West!
But snorkeling in Key West from the beach can be a fun Florida Keys shore snorkeling experience!
Can you snorkel in Key West without a tour?
Yes, it’s possible to go snorkeling in Key West without a tour.
There are a couple of shore snorkeling spots in Key West that you can get to by swimming from the beach.
But you do need a boat to go to North America’s only living coral reef.
So if you want to go to North America’s only living coral reef from Key West, you need a tour for that!
See more about snorkeling from Key West:
Is snorkeling free in Key West?
Yes, it’s possible to go snorkeling in Key West for free.
Although you need to pay to go to North America’s only living coral reef by doing a snorkeling tour, there is a free snorkeling spot in Key West.
At the Higgs Beach snorkeling spot in the Key West Marine Park, the beach entry is free and the beach parking is free!
And then there is another snorkeling spot in Key West that you should also highly consider that is not free, but it’s not expensive either!
At the Fort Zachary Taylor State Park snorkeling spot, there is a state park entry fee.
So there really are only 2 notable snorkeling spots in Key West from shore that you can drive to and don’t need to take a boat to get to.
If you don’t mind driving an hour, then there are a few more snorkeling spots near Key West too. Well, if you consider a one hour drive as being “near” Key West. 😂 But it’s an easy drive. (See below!)
You can snorkel from the shore in Key West!
Yes, you can snorkel off the beach in Key West!
There are 2 beaches in Key West that are known to be the best snorkeling spots in Key West from shore.
And if you do want to go shore snorkeling in Key West, it’s important to not only go to these beaches, but to know where to go specifically when you start swimming!
Or else, you have a greater chance of being disappointed because you may not see much if you don’t go snorkeling around specific spots at these beaches! (Again, see below!)
Seaweed in Key West and the Florida Keys
It is common to see seaweed along the shoreline of the Florida Keys, and that includes the Key West snorkeling beaches.
Seaweed and sea grass are considered to be an important part of the coastal ecosystem, so most of the time it doesn’t get removed and it’s just a part of your Key West snorkeling experience!
More below about snorkeling in Key West on your own!
Here's some info on Florida Keys trip prep!
- Florida Keys snorkeling tour to North America's only living coral reef
- The perfect type of shirt for swimming in the Florida Keys
- Do you need water shoes for the Florida Keys?
- Cheapo waterproof phone case for snorkeling
- Personal swim buoy float is perfect for snorkeling and swimming in the ocean
I have a lot of 30-90 second Florida outdoor travel videos. A few of them might be on this page. If you can't see the video directly below, it might be because you have an ad blocker. Save the Florida Keys video playlist to watch on youtube later!
There are affiliate links on this page.
More for your time in the Florida Keys and beyond:
- Camping in Bahia Honda State Park
- Snorkeling in Bahia Honda State Park
- Beach snorkeling in Key West
- Things to do in the Florida Keys
- Camping in the Florida Keys
- One day in Key West
- Miami to Key West road trip
- Tampa to Key West road trip
Are Florida state parks open after the hurricane? Check the Florida Park Service website for current closures. (There are many state parks that are closed.)
Are Florida national parks open after the hurricane? Check the National Park Service website for current closures (October 2 update: Most of the Miami side of Everglades National Park is open, except for camping)
Best snorkeling spots in Key West from shore
Which are the best beaches in Key West for snorkeling?!
My Key West snorkeling trip was in May 2022. Your experience may vary!
For the best chance of having a fun Key West shore snorkeling experience at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park, be sure to go swimming around any of the mounds of rocks you see!
You can see the rocks from shore, and there are several mounds.
I did have a fun Key West snorkeling experience at Fort Zachary State Park by swimming around the different groups of rocks.
There is a state park entry fee for Fort Zachary Taylor State Park.
The cost to go snorkeling in Key West at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park is around $5-10 for your group. This is the cost of the state park entry fee.
It will be around $5 if you are alone by car, and it will be less than $10 for your group. It starts at a base rate, and then increases by 50 cents per person. So it’s not necessarily $5 per person. If you are arriving by foot or bike, it’s around $3 per person. See current fees.
See more about this Key West snorkeling spot:
For the best chance of having a fun Key West shore snorkeling experience at Higgs Beach, be sure to go swimming around the ruins of the old pier!
You will know when you see it!
I did have a fun Key West snorkeling experience at Higgs Beach by swimming almost the entirety of the old pier.
It is FREE to go snorkeling in Key West at Higgs Beach!
The beach entry is free and the beach parking is free!
See more about this Key West snorkeling spot:
Is there snorkeling at Smathers Beach?
Smathers Beach is one of the popular Key West beaches, but it is not known as a Key West snorkeling beach.
But if Smathers Beach is your beach of choice otherwise, you might as well bring your snorkeling gear to see if you can try to spot some underwater life!
You may find some fish swimming around.
You might even be able to spot some cute little fishies from above water without stepping foot in the water!
Walk out onto the rocky area and have a look down to see if you can see anything.
See more about this Key West snorkeling spot:
Beach snorkeling spots near Key West
You can make it a snorkeling beach hopping kind of day and go snorkeling at all of these beaches as a snorkeling day trip from Key West! These beach snorkeling spots are about a 1 hour drive from Key West.
Calusa Beach and Loggerhead Beach are the Bahia Honda State Park snorkeling beaches. (There’s a state park entry fee.)
Horseshoe Beach is a 5 minute drive down the road from Bahia Honda State Park. (Free snorkeling spot, no facilities.)
You can make it a snorkeling + camping trip by staying at one of the Bahia Honda State Park campgrounds if you want to stay an hour from Key West.
There is no state park campground in Key West, so the state park near Key West with camping is Bahia Honda State Park!
See more for planning your Key West snorkeling trip and beyond:
More snorkeling in the Florida Keys
If you want to make a snorkeling stop on your drive down to Key West, then there is John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo.
The John Pennekamp beaches are not great for snorkeling, although the best beach to try would be Cannon Beach. I didn’t see very many fish, but you will see a shipwreck from the 1700s no matter what.
Otherwise, it will require a bit of planning as the best John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park snorkeling is by boat to the reef which can sell out.
There is also a glass bottom boat tour at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park which will also take you out to the reef.
There is the John Pennekamp State Park campground if you want to stay here on your way to (or from!) Key West.
Key Largo to Key West is around a 2 hour drive if there’s no traffic.
Snorkeling around rocks or structures in Key West and the Florida Keys
Rocks seem to be a good spot to try no matter where you are snorkeling from shore in Key West!
So when you are snorkeling in Key West and the rest of the Florida Keys, look for the rocks or fixed structures underwater!
It was around rocks that I saw the most fish at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park.
It was around a fixed structure (aka old pier ruins) that I saw the most fish at Higgs Beach.
It was around rocks that I saw little fishies at Smathers Beach.
Key West snorkeling tour or snorkel Key West on your own?!
So there are snorkeling spots in Key West that you can access on your own from shore.
It’s possible to snorkel off the beach in Key West.
If you want to go snorkeling in Key West, you don’t NEED to go on a snorkeling tour to do so.
But if you want to go to what is considered to be among the best snorkeling in Key West, then you DO need to book a snorkeling tour.
There are Key West snorkeling tours that go to different coral reefs off the shores of Key West that attract fish.
I did shore snorkeling on my own in Key West and the Florida Keys at a few different spots. They were fun snorkeling experiences.
But my favorite snorkeling experience was through a snorkeling tour.
I did a Looe Key snorkeling tour that started an hour north of Key West.
Another famous snorkeling spot that you get to from Key West is Dry Tortugas National Park.
You can’t drive to Dry Tortugas National Park.
Instead, you need to take a boat or a seaplane to get to Dry Tortugas National Park.
It’s popular to take a day trip to Dry Tortugas National Park from Key West, and the Dry Tortugas ferry often sells out far in advance.
You can also stay overnight at the Dry Tortugas National Park campground by tent camping. Although, I’m not sure I’d want to do that after reading about a terrible campground review about rats there. 😜
Snorkeling alone in Key West (and the dangers of snorkeling)
While it is best to not snorkel alone in Key West (or anywhere), if you are traveling to Key West alone, the listed beach snorkeling spots in Key West I would generally say would be fine if you are a solo snorkeler in Key West, for the reason that there will likely be many people around.
This at least gives you more of a chance that someone sees you if you get into trouble in the water.
None of the beaches in Key West have lifeguards… or didn’t when I went.
That said, people have died snorkeling alone… on “safe” beaches, in calm conditions… and some were even with others but were noticed too late. Read the stories.
Whether you are snorkeling alone or you have a snorkeling buddy, be sure that you take care when snorkeling, always!
The ocean is beautiful, but it’s also powerful and can be dangerous!
NOT snorkeling alone will always be safer…
Joining a Key West snorkeling tour can also give you comfort in knowing there’s someone experienced in ocean safety looking out for you.
What to pack for snorkeling in Key West
Pack a waterproof phone pouch for snorkeling for a CHEAP way to waterproof your phone so you can capture some underwater memories!
2. Water shoes
Pack water shoes if you won’t be wearing fins when you snorkel!
Water shoes can help to protect your feet from rocks on the beach.
They are also helpful if you accidentally kick the rocks, ruins, and coral reef you’ll be snorkeling around.
All of the above can feel sharp!
The type of sunscreen that you wear is kind of a big deal for locals in Key West.
The City of Key West had voted to ban the sales of any type of sunscreen that is not deemed to be reef-safe sunscreen.
Now, this ban ultimately did not hold up because of push-back at the state level.
But if you consider the reason they wanted it to happen (“save the reef!”), it would likely be very appreciated if you wear a type of reef-safe sunscreen that locals prefer to help the reefs near Key West!
Key West locals wanted to do what Hawaii has been successful at doing, which is limiting the type of sunscreen you can buy in Hawaii. There is even an island in Hawaii that will soon limit the type of sunscreen you can even wear on Maui.
The ultimate goal of getting everyone to wear reef-safe sunscreen is to limit the exposure of harmful chemicals to reef surrounding the shores.
See more about how to know if your sunscreen is the good type for snorkeling in Key West:
4. Swimming goggles or snorkeling set
The minimalist way to go swimming is to simply wear swimming goggles.
But if you don’t want to have to worry about coming up every so often for a breath, then you’ll want snorkeling gear.
It is possible to rent snorkeling gear in Key West, and you can also find some basic snorkel sets sold in stores like Publix or Walmart.
But it can be convenient to not have to spend time shopping for this when you don’t have a lot of time during your Key West vacation!
See more of snorkeling essentials for Key West, including why to wear a rash guard when snorkeling and why swim with a person buoy float when snorkeling!
HAPPY SNORKELING IN KEY WEST!
Things to pack for your Florida vacation!
The ultimate beach towel for travel?!Turkish towels are considered to be more absorbent and lightweight than your average beach towel. Be sure to check out turkish towels like these!
The cheapo way to waterproof your phoneYou can take underwater pictures with a simple waterproof phone case like this. Touch screen may not work well underwater - try the volume button to snap the pic instead!
Get your suitcase more organized!Packing cubes can make it so you're spending less time on your vacation looking for things! They are basically a form of drawers in your suitcase. Take a look at these packing cubes.
Wear less sunscreen by wearing a UPF swim shirt!Wearing a swim shirt means less skin that's exposed to the sun which means less sunscreen you need to apply! See about wearing swim shirts with UV protection like these when you're swimming.
More for your Florida packing list
- How a cheapo waterproof phone case works
- Why wear water shoes for the beach
- Why a personal swim buoy is an essential for ocean swimming
- What to pack for Florida beaches
- What to pack for Florida springs
- What to pack for shelling in Florida
- What to pack for snorkeling in Florida