It’s easy to assume that finding good snorkeling requires a pricey trip to the Caribbean or some far-flung, exotic Pacific Island you can’t find on a map. However, the United States is home to some surprising, world-class snorkel spots. Here are a few of our favorites.
The Florida Keys
If you’d rather not leave the continental U.S., Florida boasts more amazing snorkeling per square mile than any state in the country. The Florida Keys reef system, in particular, is the third largest in the world. Dry Tortugas National Park is the southernmost national park in the country. More than 99% of it is underwater, meaning grabbing a snorkel and fins to explore is the best way to see it. Traveling along the coast to Key West, there are hundreds of world-class snorkel (and scuba diving) spots just a few miles offshore. Even further north in Key Largo lies John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park where the Christ of the Abyss Statue makes for a unique, Instagram-worthy selfie.
For a legit tropical vibe in the U.S., Florida is rivaled only by Hawaii. Both, however, are notoriously heavy on tourists crowds throughout the year. Visitors and even locals often look to Molokai for a true escape. While known mainly for its stunning, untouched beaches, it’s also home to some of the richest waters in the Pacific Ocean. The island’s 28-mile-long reef is Hawaii’s longest continuous fringing reef. The diversity of sea life here is second to none with honu (green sea turtles), Hawaiian monk seals, spotted eagle rays, and countless tropical fish species calling it home. Every year from December to May, more than 10,000 whales migrate south from Alaska to the waters around Hawaii for breeding and birthing. It’s one of the best spots in the entire United States for snorkeling up-close with humpbacks.
Catalina Island, California
The Channel Islands offer the best snorkeling not just in California, but on the entire West Coast. Catalina Island, in particular, is home to Lover’s Cove which boasts an ecosystem rarely found anywhere else in the country. The kelp forests here create a beautiful, otherworldly landscape that hosts sea bass, green moray eels, rockfish, Garibaldi, leopard sharks, and the bizarre Mola mola which can grow to more than 2,000 pounds. The water is cool to cold throughout the year, so sensitive snorkelers will likely want a wetsuit. But, shallow waters and excellent year-round visibility make it easy to forget just how cold the water is.
Buck Island Reef
St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands
Travelers often overlook the U.S. Virgin Islands in favor of their more recognizable, “big-name” Caribbean brethren like Jamaica and the Dominican Republic. However, St. Croix is home to one of the most amazing coral reefs in the northern hemisphere. Buck Island is a small, uninhabited dot of land less than two miles off the coast of St. Croix. With the right timing, it’s possible to have all 176 acres of paradise – including Turtle Beach which is often ranked among the best beaches in the world – to yourself. The real draw, however, is the 18,839 acres of underwater park adjacent the island that boast some of the best snorkeling in the Caribbean, complete with a marked underwater trail. The massive elkhorn coral barrier reef surrounding the island is home to more than 250 fish species including eagle rays, sharks, and even leatherback turtles in the spring.
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