The Fourth of July often means barbecues, fireworks and hanging with family and friends. For many, it also entails heading to the nearest beach and spending some time in the water. One of the best ways to appreciate the U.S. and its beauty can come above the water, but we’re dreaming of snorkeling this Independence Day. Relatively affordable, snorkeling requires very little equipment and skill to see what lurks under the sea. In case you still don’t have Fourth of July travel plans, we’ve rounded up a few enticing snorkel getaways to try in the good old U.S. of A. Grab your mask and snorkel and take a dip in these underwater U.S. getaways.
Key Largo’s John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
Beginning at the first undersea park in the United States, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park stretches about 70 nautical square miles in the Florida Keys. Located in Key Largo, the park features plenty of coral reefs, seagrass beds and mangrove swamps. You can rent a boat or go on a more formal snorkeling tour to explore the park.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park was set up in 1963. It has gone on to receive a place on the National Register of Historic Places. Snorkeling tours are offered for around $29 per adult for 2 and half hours. Snorkelers will want to get a load of the park’s most famous site, its Christ of the Deep statue at the Key Largo Dry Rocks Reef. Most snorkeling tours don’t miss a stop here.
Maui’s Molokini Crater
Perched just off the coast of Maui, snorkelers can revel in the chance to explore the waters of a crescent-shaped volcanic crater at Molokini Crater. While you will need to hop on a boat to get out here, the short journey leads to big rewards. Due to the shape of the island, snorkelers are treated to crystal clear blue waters that are generally calm and protected from waves, currents and wind. The marine life park has become one of the best places in Hawaii to dive and snorkel.
The volcanic atoll off the south coast of Maui lends an abundance of marine life to see. Snorkelers can expect to get a load of manta rays, clouds of yellow butterfly fish, parrotfish, moray eels and even whitetip reef sharks. In fact, there are around 250 species of endemic fish and marine life at the Molokini Crater alone.
California’s Catalina Island
Settled not so far away from the traffic and smog of Los Angeles, you will find one of the best spots to snorkel in California. Just 22 miles off the coast of Southern California, Catalina Island lends not just a remote and unspoiled vacation getaway. Snorkelers can enjoy seeing some of the best sea life in the state. Two Harbors offers easy access to the island’s best snorkeling. The clean and clear waters allow visibility ranging from 40 to 100 feet. Water temperatures hover from 55°F to 72°F.
Two of the most popular spots to snorkel are Lover’s Cove and Casino Point Marine Park. Lover’s Cove is a protected area filled with kelp forest, rock reef and plenty of cool water fish. You can see sea stars, eels, octopuses and the eye-popping orange Garibaldi fish. In addition, Catalina Island’s snorkeling scene usually includes a trip to Casino Point Marine Park, the first designated underwater park in Southern California.
New Hampshire’s Lake Winnipesaukee
New England is not generally a hotspot for snorkelers. With murky waters, seeing next to anything underwater can be quite the challenge. And you wouldn’t expect a lake in New England to offer much better snorkeling conditions. However, New Hampshire’s Lake Winnipesaukee can prove you wrong. Located in the foothills of the White Mountains, the lake features 180 miles of shoreline and more than 250 islands.
Snorkelers flock to Lake Winnipesaukee in the summer months perhaps not to see the marine life but mostly to explore the vast number of shipwrecks. The lake makes for a fine snorkeling spot thanks to its many shipwrecks over the last 200 years including the Lady of the Lake, a side-wheel paddle wheeler resting in 30 feet of water. It is one of the easiest to access and one of the most popular dive sites on Lake Winnipesaukee. In addition to the shipwrecks, many of these fallen boats have become habitats to a large fish population like smallmouth bass, sunfish, eel and yellow perch. The waters can be chilly so most likely you’ll need a wetsuit on Lake Winnipesaukee.
Florida’s Dry Tortugas National Park
If you want to experience some of the fewest crowds on a shallow reef in the U.S., head for the Dry Tortugas National Park, around 70 miles west of Key West. The national park is only accessible by boat or plane, lending to its exclusivity. Snorkelers delight in the crystal clear waters along with the backdrop of the 19th century Fort Jefferson.
The 100 square mile park is mostly open water with seven small islands. You can spend the day here snorkeling through picturesque blue waters, coral reefs and marine life. In fact, the coral and seagrass communities are among the most vibrant in the Florida Keys. Some popular snorkeling sites include the Windjammer, a wreck from 1901 and the moat walls of the fort. Snorkeling around the walls invites you to see nurse sharks, reef squid and possibly even the endangered American crocodile.
The Coral Gardens of Maui
It comes as no surprise that Maui has made our list not just once but twice for snorkeling getaways in the U.S. Some of the best snorkeling can be found on Maui, specifically at Coral Gardens. Set at the eastern end of the Papalaua Wayside Park, Coral Gardens lends snorkelers the chance to see butterfly fish, green turtles, and shallow corals. The unique natural reef formation also offers snorkelers calm waters, thanks to its naturally protected bay location on the west side of Maui.
Only accessed by boat, Coral Gardens provides snorkeling conditions with a medium to shallow depth, proving ideal for beginner to intermediate snorkelers. Teaming with a variety of coral, the true highlight here is the chance to see the Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles. Coral Gardens sits near the coastline along the Pali Highway Mountain Pass.
Florida’s Crystal River
You would expect some of the best snorkeling in the U.S. to come on open waters, not rivers. Of course, leave it to Florida to prove you wrong in the snorkeling department. Florida’s Crystal River has been designated an Outstanding Florida Waterway and for good reason. It is one of the best places in the world to see the West Indian manatee in its natural habitat.
Settled 90 miles from Orlando, the river in North Central Florida doesn’t just boast the chance to snorkel with manatees. You can also experience some of the clearest inland water in the U.S. Three Sisters Springs welcomes the Florida manatee each winter, usually beginning in November. Even if you can’t visit in the winter, many tour companies offer year-round tours to explore Crystal River and its unique underwater life.
Standard barbecues and fireworks are all fine and well but snorkeling lends the perfect reason to get up and go this Fourth of July. As you cool off, you’ll get the chance to see some of the richest sea life in the U.S.
What is your favorite place to snorkel in the U.S.? Share your underwater find with us in the comments below.