snorkel spots in Florida keys

I’m going to the upper and middle keys in a couple of weeks. Do any of you know some decent snorkel spots a couple of miles offshore. I don’t want to paddle/sail any farther than that. I know there is a place south of Big Pine Key, but I don’t know the GPS coordinates. Has anyone been there?

I mostly interested in spots off Key Largo, Big Pine or Bahia Honda.

Key Largo…
Stop in Florida Bay Outfitters (FBO) @MM 104. They will direct you to the Garden Cove launch.

If you are really into snorkeling take a party snorkel boat out to the big reefs, fantastic.

little farther down…
is sugarloaf key, just down from big pine key…there is a KOA on the E side of rte 1 (i suppose if you didn’t just paddle down from big pine you could make arrangements to park and then put in at the campground)about 2 miles down that coast of sugar loaf there’s a little cut…tarpon creek. tons and tons of fish in there and i slept suspended in a hammock by the old wrecked bridge/road…

bahia honda is cool enough but with the state park right there, too many people for my taste.

food options: if you’ve the time, across the street from the KOA is mangrove mama’s restaurant. excellent food. down rte 1 2 or 3 miles on the R hand side is a slammin’ BBQ place…

Just Across Hawk Channel

– Last Updated: Jul-19-08 12:12 AM EST –

All down the Keys there are reefs on the outside edge of Hawk Channel. There is one near Marathon and farther down there is Loo Key . Most have mooring bouys Visability is varible but generally pretty good. Top of the reef 5-10' Be sure and tie up tight to the buoy or you might have a long swim. Also a lot of power boats running to and from the reefs. We sometimes had trouble finding a mooring ball(buoy) These reefs might be a little too far out. 4-5 miles. I was on a sailboat so it didn't seem very far. In a layal it might be too far.

Been there/done it…
John Pennecamp Coral Reef State Park

Key Largo

It was awesome.

Lots of information easily available on the internet.


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Yes, the closest reef to the mainland

– Last Updated: Jul-19-08 9:02 AM EST –

is the one off Big Pine Key.
It is only a short distance from shore.
After you go over the bridge to Big Pine Key, immediately take the first left.
There are several places to launch on the Atlantic side where you want to go, but both require a carry.
The first launch site is about a half a mile plus or minus down the road on the left hand side. There is a cable blocking the dirt road, but there is space along the road for several vehicles to park. the carry here is long.
The second is at the very end of the road. You would park at the cul-de-sac and then carry.
The third is on the sound side, (Coupon Bight) on the right just before before you go through the stone pillars on each side of the road. there is a samll path for about twenty feet that is just wide enough to carry a kayak through and parking for several cars on the opposite side of the road. After launching here, turn left and head south for about a kile until you come to the first cut that leads out to the Atlantic. ---CAUTION !
IT IS IMPERATIVE THAT YOU HEED YOUR TIDE ON THE SOUND SIDE. There is little or no water at low tide and you might end up carrying your boat along the road.

At Bahia Honda there is a place that is good, right off the shore but you won't see any of the larger reef fish. - After entering the park, turn right and follow the signs to the RV park camp ground. Just before you go under the route 1 bridge, you can park and enter the water there or at one of the vacant water front RV spots. (just leave your boat on the car) I always enjoy the snorkling along the old dead coral rocks. There are lots of spiney lobster, Parrott fish and a host of the other small blue and yellow ones. - There is a strong tidal current that flows through, so be careful.
Also off the front of Bahia Honda, there is a neat little island about a quarter mile out that is good for poking around.

There are no other reefs in close to the shore along the entire Keys, and you have to take a snorkle boat if you want to get to them.
Don't take the one out of Pennekamp - that is a cattle car
On Key Largo on the right hand side, there is a dive shop called Quiessence and they are great. they only take six per boat, and they will move the boat from reef to reef if one is not producing good viewing.

If you want some good viewing right from your kayak, let me know and I'll e-mail you some good trips, complete with launch site, trip descriptions and way points, where you will see as many sharks, rays, mangove snappers, possible some groupers and barracuda as you would want to.

I have about fifty trips of the Keys from beginners to advanced ones.


You need to take a dive boat
out of Pennekamp if you want to get to a reef, unless you enjoy a all day paddle.



One other comment

– Last Updated: Jul-19-08 7:58 AM EST –

From the middle Keys on down, make sure you check and take heed with the tides if you are paddling on the Florida Bay side.
You can very easily end up doing kayak push-ups to get over the low water bars for a half a mile or so as some of my friends can attest to !
Also the tide level is never the same, from day to day. - it always amazes me how you can be seven or eight miles out in Florida Bay, and get out of your boat in a foot or less of water.


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The Best Keys Guide Is…

Jack, my wife and I are taking our first trip to the keys for a long weekend of paddle boarding. We are spending a night at Key Largo, Key West and Islamorada in that order. Any paddling and/or snorkeling trips you would recommend? We are currently looking at your two recommendations above as well as paddling Snipe Point, Sugarloaf key and Indian State Park

@KneedVSwant the last post on this thread prior to your was in 2008, so not sure you’ll get a direct answer from any of the previous posters. I have done several trips to the Keys and was just there about 3 months ago. Not sure of your rationale for staying in three different places for one night each - I usually stay in Islamorada or Marathon and just drive to where I want to paddle each day. As others have noted, the tides are important and local tide charts can be difficult to interpret - may be best to ask for local knowledge. Also note that the Lower Keys took a direct hit from Hurricane Irma and there is still significant damage - Bahia Honda SP is partially open.

The paddling can be amazing - I have paddled all of the places that you mention. The launch from Sugarloaf marina is a good one, but paddling from there to Snipe point round trip is an 18-20 mile trip! Make sure you have sufficient navigational gear (compass, GPS, charts/maps, etc) as all of the mangrove islands will look virtually identical. Shell Key and Lignumvitae Key are good places close to Indian Key but on the bay side - good options if the wind or tide is too much to venture out into the Atlantic.

Thank you @Brodie !! and I appreciate that input on Shell and Lignumvitae keys…I’ll add those to the list.
The plan with Snipe is to rent a boat to get out there, then explore the interior channels on boards.

This is our first trip to the keys, so any input is appreciated.

Renting a boat would definitely be the way to go - I did that paddle in a fast sea kayak and it was a fun but long day. Cant imagine doing that on a sup!

Not sure how soon you are going but there are several good guide books about paddling the Keys - the Burnham’s book comes to mind. I found the guides helpful in planning routes. I’m happy to give you suggestions but most of my Keys paddles are in the 14-18 mile range so may not be the best for you. Happy to recommend some places to eat as well.

I’ve heard that Jack is on the FB version of