The Best Snorkeling Locations in the US and how to prepare for it

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What is Snorkeling?

Snorkeling is an underwater activity in which the Snorkeler explores the aquatic environment by using a snorkel set. Snorkeling is usually conducted in tropical and subtropical waters and can also be done in many other environments worldwide, from polar regions to deep-sea trenches. Snorkeling means using a self-contained underwater breathing apparatus designed for use as a recreational device for most people.

What's the best time to go Snorkeling?

Snorkeling is a fun, inexpensive way to see the world from a new perspective. Get your face close to the ocean floor to see coral, fish, sea urchins, and other invertebrate animals in their natural habitat. It's also an excellent way to relax and have some quality time enjoying Mother Nature's beauty. And if you're not afraid of large fish swimming around you, Snorkeling can also be relatively peaceful. The best time to snorkel is mid-day when the water is calm, and visibility is best. 

Also, remember that the water temperature varies with location, so check the conditions before you go. When booking your trip, ask about current conditions and any coral reefs within the area you plan to visit. In addition, find out if there are any underwater sights or wrecks you can swim toward that will improve your snorkeling experience. The best time to go Snorkeling is between May and October when the water is warm and clear. 

Also, if you are a first-time snorkeler, I would suggest going during this time frame because it will be easier to get conditioned to the Marine Life around you. Be sure to bring your mask, fins, and snorkel, plus some dry clothes. Snorkeling is great fun, especially when you are in a truly inspiring environment. But where are these incredible snorkeling spots, and how do you prepare for your next snorkeling session?

Take a look at our guide as we examine the best places to snorkel in the US and as we break down how you can stay prepared, stay safe, and stay alive, even in the event of an emergency.

Is Snorkeling safe for nonswimmers?

If you are a nonswimmer and want to try Snorkeling, the answer is yes. You can do it with some simple precautions and knowledge of some basic safety measures. Whether you decide to try it or not is entirely up to you, but many people find it quite enjoyable. You may, however, experience hypercapnia (high levels of carbon dioxide in the blood) and panic/ confusion if you cannot get to the surface quickly. Pressure changes during Snorkeling can also cause pain in the head and pressure on the eyes, but this is not a drowning situation and not typical. If you experience any of these symptoms when snorkeling, it's best to get out of the water immediately and follow safety guidelines.'

Always ask for advice from people who have done it if you are thinking about trying Snorkeling. An excellent place to start is asking other travelers or local people who have experience with Snorkeling around their areas. It can be both fun and exciting, but also quite educational as well as therapeutic!


List Of The Best Snorkeling Spots in the US

1. Florida

Down in the southeast, with the Gulf of Mexico on one side and the tumbling Atlantic Ocean on the other, Florida is something of a snorkeler's paradise. There are countless destinations here, but we only have the room to recommend a few of the best to you.

Key West

Key West is one of the most famous oceanside destinations in the United States, so, of course, it's fantastic for Snorkeling. You'll find the third most extensive coral barrier reef on the planet here and a maritime environment that supports much fascinating wildlife, including manatees and sea turtles. 

Crystal River

Think Snorkeling in Florida, and manatees are never far away. These lumbering but gentle creatures are some of the biggest charmers in the Crystal River region.

There are more manatees here than anywhere else in Florida.

Big Pine Key

A combination of coral reefs and mangrove forests makes this an exciting location for snorkelers. Expect to find plenty of wildlife here, as well as the scuttled wreck of a vast cargo freighter that has spent the last two decades as a ready-made environment for tropical fish and other marine life.

Key Largo

Alongside Key West, Key Largo is one of the most famous snorkeling spots in the state. Here, you'll be able to spot the eerie Christ of the Deep statue, as well as the coral reefs and seagrass beds that make this place so popular.

Shell Island

A little less well-known than the Keys, but no less striking, is Shell Island. Shell Island is uninhabited and largely untouched by human interference from a short boat ride from Panama City Beach. If you're a nature lover, this makes Shell Island an unmissable snorkeling location.


2. Hawaii

A list of the best snorkeling spots in the United States would not be complete without significant mention of Hawaii. The only island state – Rhode Island is predominately on the mainland – Hawaii boasts dramatic volcanic topography, gorgeous beaches, and some of the highest levels of biodiversity found anywhere on Earth. It's not a surprise, then, that Hawaii is a great place to snorkel.


Lahaina is a great snorkeling spot that is accessible directly from nearby Kapalua beach. Turtles, eels, and tropical fish all have their habitats in the reefs, while whales may even be spotted by those who venture further from the coast.

Turtle Canyon

Honolulu is a world-famous destination frequented by travelers from all corners of the globe. However – while not exactly a closely guarded secret – Turtle Canyon is perhaps not so widely known. But, it is one of the best places in the area to spot the local marine life. As you may have guessed, the local sea turtles are the big draw here.

Poipu Beach

No snorkeler can ever get enough of turtles, and there are plenty of these majestic creatures on show here at Poipu Beach Park. Hawaiian monk seals and even dolphins join them if you charter a boat to take you away from the beach. This makes for a scintillating experience, provided you have the proper guidance.

Kapo Point Beach

You may hear Kapo Point Beach referred to as Electric Beach as a power plant nearby has caused the ocean temperature to rise. This might not sound that appealing, but this strange quirk has encouraged a plethora of marine life into the area, which intrepid snorkelers can spot.

Ho'okena Beach

The Humuhumunukunukuapua'a is Hawaii's state fish, and it is one of the many kinds of marine animals that populate Ho'okena Beach. The locals still practice traditional fishing methods here, and great care should not disrupt this important cultural activity. Look hard enough, and you may spot more of the turtles and dolphins that inhabit these waters.

3. California

We've touched on the East Coast with Florida, but what about the West Coast? Of course, California cannot miss out on a list like this one, and there are a wealth of different spots here that have to be included. Unfortunately, we can only cover a few of them, but we have decided to pick out some of the very best. While all of these destinations share the same ocean, various conditions make each one unique in its own right.

La Jolla

La Jolla is well known for its sea lions, and good reason, as there are plenty of these impressive aquatic mammals around here. Beneath the waves, sea caves provide even more interest – be careful as you explore the rocky coast.

Catalina Island

The kelp fields of Catalina Island provide ample opportunity for checking out the local submarine flora and fauna. Located conveniently close to the sprawl of Los Angeles, you will undoubtedly find plenty of opportunities for peace, quiet, and adventure right here.

Anacapa Island

The underwater terrain around Anacapa Island is seriously diverse, so there is plenty to keep snorkelers interested as they explore around the region. This is a remote location, so it is recommended for experienced snorkelers or those accompanied by guides. That said, most will find it well worth the visit from nearby Santa Barbara.

4. Other Destinations

There is more to the United States than just Florida, Hawaii, and California. There are plenty of other snorkeling options to be found in other states across the country. We've included a few of the most interesting snorkeling spots that you can explore, provided you are safe and well prepared for a session in the water.

Homestead Crater, Utah

At first glance, the landlocked state of Utah might seem like a strange choice for a list like this one. However, Snorkeling doesn't necessarily need to occur in the sea, especially when there are spots like Homestead Crater. This is quite a remarkable place: a vast, cavernous structure caused by snowmelt from the nearby mountains. It's likely to be quite different from anywhere else you've ever had the chance to snorkel in.

Hatteras, North Carolina

The Outer Banks of North Carolina boast a long and vibrant history, and this is demonstrated by the multitude of shipwrecks found on the seabed around Hatteras Island. There is also an abundance of wildlife, making this a fascinating place to explore beneath the waves.

Laguna Madre, Texas

The Laguna Madre Estuary sits at the mouth of the famous Rio Grande, and it is a treat for any snorkeler. Explore the waters around the estuary and around the island of South Padre, where the water's high salt content attracts a broad range of wildlife – both above and below the surface. Rays and tropical fish are found here, and ocean-going birds hunt for prey closer to the shore.

Santa Rosa Island, Mississippi

Mississippi may seem only slightly more qualified than Utah to appear on this list -- it has a coastline, after all - but to skip the Magnolia State is to miss out on some great snorkeling. Head to the bayside of Santa Rosa Island and be bowled over by the seahorses, pipefish, and other aquatic delights that are found here. You may also spot evidence of shipwrecks, including the battleship USS Massachusetts.


How to Prepare for Your Snorkeling Trip

Whenever we head outdoors to enjoy the delights that nature can offer us, safety needs to be a number one priority. Whether you decide to go rock climbing in the mountains, exploring subterranean passages on a caving trip, or simply hiking around your local area, there are dangers to be aware of. When you factor in an element like water, these dangers are multiplied. Of course, this doesn't mean you can't have a great time whenever you set off on a snorkeling trip. It simply means you need to take adequate precautions and preparations.

Do Extensive Research Ahead of Time

The sea – or even any body of water – is unpredictable and fraught with danger. Riptides may suddenly make it difficult to swim back to shore. Heavy weather may separate you from your boat, or underwater hazards such as wrecks and caves may trap you and make escape difficult. This is why extensive research is so crucial to safety. Make sure you know the following before you set off:

What is the climate in the region at this time of year? Are there any seasonal hazards that you need to be aware of?

What is the localized weather forecast? Even during peak snorkeling times, you may encounter freak storms, so it's vital to stay informed about the weather.

What wildlife is found in the area? While the risk is low, sharks and other marine predators can put snorkelers in danger. Jellyfish and other creatures can inadvertently cause injury.

What is the topography like? Are there any hazards such as reefs, caves, rocks, or wrecks beneath the surface?

How will you access and exit the water? Will you be able to snorkel straight from the beach? Will you need to rappel into the water and climb out, or will you need a boat?

This extensive planning will help you to be prepared for any eventuality.

Put Your Team Together

You will need to be acutely aware of the difficulties you face and how this measures up to your experience level. While it is certainly not recommended for you to go out snorkeling alone, experienced snorkelers may enjoy the freedom that this offers. Never leave anything to chance, and don't put yourself in situations that may be beyond your level of expertise.

In most cases, you will want to put a team together. Your team may include:

An expert snorkeling guide if required

Someone with local knowledge and understanding of the terrain. Your snorkeling buddy who will be in the water with you. Drivers or boat pilots who will help you to get to where you need to be. A support team for more extended or more serious expeditions, who can keep you supplied when you need it.


Tell People Where You Are Going

Of course, you need to tell people where you are going. This is particularly true if you decide you have the skill and experience required to head out there on the water alone, but it also applies even if you have a team that will go with you. Freak weather conditions or accidents could quickly put your entire team in jeopardy, so you need to make sure someone outside of your team knows precisely where you are. "Precisely" is important here. It's no use saying "I'm going to be in Florida" or even "I'm going to be in Key West." If a rescue is required quickly, your friends and family will need to know exactly where you are. Use geographic coordinates to help rescuers find you with a high degree of accuracy.

Even better, use technology and equipment that can help rescuers find you even more efficiently. A GPS tracker or a rescue signal beacon can lead teams of searchers to your position with no fuss or hassle. A speedy and efficient rescue is always the best option, and this will increase your chances of survival.

Make Your Plan Known

Letting people know where you will be is just one thing you can do to give rescuers a good chance of finding you in time. It would help if you went beyond providing mere geographical location data. Instead, give your whole plan to those who might be able to offer assistance if you are in need

This means:

Information on your entire itinerary, including where you will be going and how long you will be there.

Details of any places in which you might not have mobile phone service, and information on when you will return calls and messages.A date for your return from the trip.

A plan for changing any of the details of your journey while you are away. It makes sense that you want to keep your trip as flexible and as exciting as possible, but this also means planning how you will update your family and friends if things change.

Insurance details and information just in case your family and friends need to submit this on your behalf.

Take the Equipment You Need to Survive

Check and double-check your equipment before you leave. You don't want to discover that you have not brought something critical to survival mid-way through your expedition, especially in the unlikely event that things have begun to go badly wrong. The equipment you need will vary depending on where you are going and what you plan to do there – for example, whether you are snorkeling out at sea or near the coast, or whether you will be able to return to a hotel at the end of the day or you will need to camp out.

Refer to your research into the location, and then make your list. Have your team double-check this list and discuss any possible additions. Make sure every eventuality is covered, and remember to give this list to family and friends so they can provide this information to emergency services if required.

Improvise and Survive

You may be able to use some of your equipment in unexpected ways in the event of an emergency, including:

Rainwater storage in masks and boots – Upend your snorkeling mask or your waterproof boots in the event of a rainstorm to collect and store clean water.

Signaling with reflective surfaces – Angle your knife, a mirror, or another reflective object towards the sun, and tilt it back and forth to send a distress message. This will help make sure you are visible to passing rescuers who may not have spotted you in the expanse of the sea or on a featureless beach.

Spearing fish with sticks – Tie sharp, straight sticks to a sturdy branch. Carve notches in the ends of the sticks to serve as barbs. With practice, you can use this implement to catch fish.

Trapping fish in plastic bottles – Cut the top off a plastic bottle, around a quarter of the way along the length of the bottle, moving away from the bottleneck end. 

Put fish bait inside the larger end of the bottle. Invert the bottleneck and push this into the more significant portion of the bottle, securing it with tape. Push small holes into the bottle with a knife so it will fill with water and sink. Deploy the trap in shallow water and check back later to see which edible fish have swum inside and become trapped. Only eat fish that you can identify and know not to be poisonous.

Get Your Survival Kit and Stay Prepared and Safe While Snorkeling

Here at SurvivalBox, we specialize in helping people just like you to stay safe, healthy, and happy while out there in nature. We understand how a great activity like Snorkeling can be, which is why we offer survival boxes to help you enjoy this experience to the full. Reach out to our team to find out more about how the Outdoor Adventures Box subscription can benefit you.