Where To Go Snorkeling in Biscayne National Park?

The Biscayne National Park is situated a little south of Miami and north of Key Largo. It was set up with the purpose of preserving the region’s natural wonders covering more than 170.000 acres of mangrove forests, sand barrier islands, coral keys within the northernmost portion of Florida’s barrier reef. Although the bay lacks shore snorkel spots, a variety of beautiful keys such as Boca Chita, Elliot, Sands, and Soldier Keys, and shallow reefs like Long Reef and Fowey Rocks Lighthouse are available by short boat rides within the park’s area where you can enjoy swimming in crystal clear waters and discover Florida’s diverse marine life. Here are the best Biscayne National Park snorkeling sites!

Boca Chita Key

Located in Biscayne Bay, Boca Chita Key is the most visited island of the Biscayne National Park. It is famous for its iconic lighthouse which has an observation desk where you can enjoy fantastic views of the area and Miami’s skyline.

You can get to this little island by a 45-minute-long boat ride. If you book a tour at Biscayne National Park Institute’s visitor center, a guide will give an overview of the history of the key. Alternatively, you can arrive in your own boat too if you have one but note that there is limited docking available approx. for 10 vessels only.

Boca Chita Key - Biscayne Bay

But not only the land scenery is fantastic on Boca Chita Key; the beautiful clear water that surrounds the island makes it an excellent Biscayne Bay snorkeling spot too; lobsters, little hermit crabs, and other aquatic critters are hiding between the mangrove roots and schools of fish swim around in the shallow waters. There is also a well-kept campground on Boca Chita Key so you can stay for the night.

Be careful while going snorkeling; the current can be strong around the island. Also, there might be jellies in the water. Although the most common types of jellyfish in the Florida Keys are harmful to humans, there are some that might cause discomfort, irritation, or severe reactions for those who have sensitive skin, so it is better to avoid them.

Sands Key

If it comes to snorkeling at Biscayne National Park, Sands Key is another spot you want to visit. This pretty island is located in the lower Biscayne Bay, between Boca Chita and Elliott Keys (don’t mix it up with Sand Key Reef which is a snorkeling spot in Key West). Sands Key is referred to as Saunder’s Key too.

The underwater view is very similar to the one you can see around Boca Chita Key. Biscayne National Park snorkel tours often include a stop here in their itinerary (your captain will choose the snorkel site depending on the water/weather conditions to ensure a safe experience). Sands Key (and also Soldier Key I am talking about below) are so-called transitional islands meaning that they are hard rock coral keys with sandy barriers on their north.

Elliot Key

Elliott Key is the northernmost island of the Florida Keys and is the park’s largest key. This former pineapple plantation island today is a popular spot for camping, swimming, and snorkeling in the Biscayne National Park. There is even a hiking trail on it and it is pet-friendly so you can bring along Fido too!

Biscayne National Park - Florida - United States

The island’s mangrove coastline provides an excellent opportunity to observe juvenile fish species and small aquatic creatures who live among the roots in the shallow waters. In the deeper waters (mainly around the docks) schools of fish hang around and you might encounter a nurse shark, stingray or manatee too so keep your camera ready to capture them!

Soldier Key

This small key (about the size of a football pitch) lies north of Boca Chita Key, also on the sand bar area (known as Safety Valve) that separates Biscayne Bay from the Atlantic Ocean. It is pretty much in its natural state with overgrown bushes on it and mangroves around so it is a perfect destination for those who are looking for an untouched paradise.

The water is usually clear and calm around Soldier Key making it a great snorkel spot for families with little kids. On the west side of the island, there is an old sunken dock in approx. 6ft/2m deep water that attracts lots of fish and other marine life.

Mandalay Wreck

Shipwrecks in the Florida Keys are numerous and some of them can be found in Biscayne Bay (at least 44 wrecks but the research for more is still ongoing). For snorkelers, the easiest and the most impressive to visit is the wreck of Mandalay, a 112 ft/34 m long schooner that was driven aground on Long Reef (a long reef area that runs parallel to Elliot Key) in 1966 while returning from the Bahamas.

The remains of the Mandalay rest in shallow, 12ft/3.6 m deep water and turned into an artificial reef over the years. Coral species settled on the structure providing shelter to a variety of Florida reef fish including blue tangs, french grunts, sergeant majors, trumpetfish, parrotfish, and surgeon fish.

Hiding in the structure’s holes, you may even spot lobsters! Thanks to the shallowness and rich aquatic life of this Biscayne Bay snorkeling site, beginners are welcome here too!

Fowey Rocks Lighthouse

The newest addition to the Maritime Heritage Trail – a trail of interesting wreck sites with installed mooring buoys- is Fowey Rocks Lighthouse, the northernmost of the six Florida Coral Reef Lights, also known as the Eye of Miami.

The lighthouse was constructed in the 1870s with the aim of helping the area’s passing ships through this difficult stretch of reef replacing the Cape Florida Light. Today, the surrounding area of this massive structure is a prime snorkeling site in the Florida Keys; with an average depth of only 15 ft (4.5m), both snorkelers and divers will have fun here.

Snorkeling is great around the base of the light, but the structure itself is not open to the public. This shallow snorkel spot features rich coral gardens (mainly soft corals) and abundant aquatic life; schooling French grunts and sergeant majors, blue angelfish, porkfish, trumpetfish, also stingrays and nurse sharks. Moreover, there are remains of a small steamer ship to the northeast of the tower!


Stiltsville may not be the most beautiful Biscayne snorkel spot but definitely the most interesting one. It is a group of wood shacks on the edge of Biscayne Bay.

The first houses were built somewhen in the early 1930s that locals used as campsites. In 1933, “Crawfish” Eddie Walker built a shack to facilitate gambling, which was illegal at that time onshore but was legal at one mile off the shore. Later on, buildings were added, clubs were opened, and the area turned into a party center where wealthy Miamians spent their time and money.

The era ended when Hurricane Betsy hit in 1965 damaging many houses. After this, the state decided not to issue new permits, ordered the owners to pay a lease, and required them to remove structures that were badly damaged.

After Hurricane Andrew in 1992, only 7 houses are left. The remaining structures were rehabilitated by Stiltsville Trust non-profit organization so they can be preserved to protect and maintain the area’s marine life that settled around them.

When going snorkeling here, you will be seeing the most common Florida reef fish species and some small coral patches. The site is also accessible by kayaking, for example from Bill Baggs State Park. Although no matter how you reach the site, a permit is required that you can get from Stiltsville Trust.

Biscayne National Park Snorkeling Places Map

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Is snorkeling in Biscayne National Park worth it?

Featuring many easily accessible shallow reefs, clear waters, rich marine life, and even shipwrecks, Biscayne National Park is an excellent place to go if you are looking for good snorkeling near Miami.

What are the best Biscayne National Park snorkeling spots?

One can find good snorkeling in the Biscayne National Park around the islands of Boca Chita, Elliot Key, Soldier Key, and Sands Key. Popular offshore reefs for snorkeling are Long Reef where the Mandalay Wreck rests, Ball Buoy Reef, Anniversary Reef, and Fowey Rocks Lighthouse.

Does Biscayne National Park have coral reefs?

Biscayne National Park includes the northernmost section of the Florida Keys. Altogether, 42 small islands (coral keys and sand barrier islands) and a 28-mile-long reef belong to the park’s area. Various types of soft and hard corals are found here including Brain, Elkhorn, Staghorn, Lettuce corals, sea rods, and sea fans.

Do I need a boat to snorkel in Biscayne National Park?

As the park’s islands and reefs are only accessible by boat and there is no shore snorkeling spot, you need a boat to go snorkeling in Biscayne National Park. If you do not have a boat, the easiest way of visiting these fantastic snorkel sites is by signing up for a guided Biscayne National Park snorkeling tour. Half-day and full-day trips depart daily from Homestead.

Can I snorkel on my own in Biscayne National Park?

If you have access to a boat, you can go snorkeling on your own in Biscayne National Park. Most popular dive and snorkel sites offer mooring buoys.

Can you snorkel from the shore in Biscayne Park?

There is no beach in Biscayne National Park that is suitable for snorkeling. The offshore reefs are only reachable by boat.

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Anett Szaszi

Anett is a certified scuba diver, freediver and an expert in snorkeling with more than 10 years experience. She fell in love with the ocean when she put her head underwater in the Red Sea in 2008. Since then , she is traveling all over the world to discover our waters. Wherever she goes, she takes her mask, fins and underwater camera with her. Visiting mega-cities is not her style but getting lost in tiny coastal villages, capturing the beauty of the sea while snorkeling. She is interested in sustainable traveling and marine conservation. She is hoping to inspire people to protect our oceans by sharing her underwater stories. Find her photos on @anett.szaszi Instagram too!