Freshwater Snorkeling in Southwestern Florida
Although the region is more commonly known for its saltwater snorkeling spots, there are a number of freshwater springs located within a two-hour drive of Southwest Florida.
Visitors can kick up a pair of fins while observing manatees or schools of mullet in these warm spring waters. From Rainbow Springs to Crystal River, there is an underwater adventure for snorkelers of every level.
Florida’s fourth largest freshwater springs can be found an hour and half drive north of Tampa in Dunnellon. While not located within Southwest Florida itself, it is an easy drive from Southwest Florida and makes a good option for a day trip.
Rainbow Springs State Park offers snorkeling in a buoyed swimming area at the headsprings of the Rainbow River and also from the campground or from boats within the park itself. First-time visitors should take advantage of the ranger-led guided snorkeling tours offered by the park during the summer months.
Forty-five minutes north of Tampa in Spring Hill, visitors can snorkel amidst turtles, fish, otters — and even mermaids at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park. Weeki Wachee is a popular freshwater Florida snorkeling attraction thanks to its 400-seat submerged theatre that houses a live mermaid show.
There is also limited snorkeling from Buccaneer Bay within the park, but visitors should arrive early to avoid the crowds. Snorkel gear rental and tours are available through Beach City Scuba in nearby Lecanto and Adventures Under the Sea in Tampa.
When snorkeling through the 72-degree waters of the Three Sisters Springs in Crystal River you’ll be swimming along with the herbivorous West Indian manatee in its native habitat. Three Sisters Springs is less than an hour and a half drive north of Tampa in Citrus County.
While there are about 30 known freshwater springs in the King’s Bay area, Three Sisters Springs is the only snorkeling spring accessible by land. There is no entry fee; however, visitors should note that the springs are closed to the public between November 15 and March 31 since the area is a dedicated manatee sanctuary.
Best for Beginners
Drive 72 miles north of Tampa to the fresh spring-fed waters of the Homosassa River for another opportunity to snorkel with Florida’s beloved “sea cow.” Several companies, such as Snorkel with the Manatees or American Pro Diving Center, offer snorkeling tours and include all gear at a rate of $50 to $70 per person with advance reservations.
Since the Homosassa River is a fairly shallow river, with some areas ranging just 3 to 4 feet in depth, it’s an ideal option for kids or beginners.
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