Clearwater, Florida’s warm climate invites visitors to lounge on the beach and enjoy the good life. And for more adventurous travelers, Clearwater offers opportunities for a host of watersports, including snorkeling. A trio of state parks welcome visitors to snorkel over the coral reefs and seagrass beds that lie just offshore. And for travelers who want to leave the planning to the pros, a handful of Clearwater tour companies offer reasonably priced snorkeling excursions.
When to Snorkel in Clearwater
April through October are Clearwater’s warmest months and the most comfortable time of year to snorkel. In April and May, highs reach 82-86 degrees Fahrenheit. June, July and August see highs in the 90s, before dipping down to the high- to mid-80s in September and October.
Things to Pack for Snorkeling
A mask, snorkel and fins are basic snorkeling equipment. It is important to buy a mask that fits snuggly to your face, to avoid leaking while underwater.
You may also want to pack a swim cap or surgical cap to protect your scalp from the sun while snorkeling. Likewise, a swim shirt or shorty wetsuit can help protect your torso from sunburn.
Also pack a biodegradable sunscreen. Some sunscreens contain chemicals that can kill coral, so it is important to choose an environmentally safe product.
If you only plan to spend a few hours snorkeling, you might consider buying your gear before you leave for your vacation. You can purchase a basic snorkeling set, with a snorkel, fins and mask, for around $50. The Tampa Bay area has several dive shops, including Mac’s Sports in Clearwater and Sunshine Scuba in Largo, where you can buy high quality snorkeling gear.
The Clearwater area has three great state parks where you can snorkel independent of a group or tour. Honeymoon Island State Park, located just across the Dunedin Causeway from the city of Dunedin, features four miles of beaches, along with a café and kayak rentals. Honeymoon Island is open year round and charges admission of about $8 per vehicle.
Caladesi Island State Park lies south of Honeymoon Island, across the Hurricane Pass channel. Caladesi is a pristine, natural environment, with snow-white beaches and mangrove forests. You can only reach Caladesi by private boat or ferry. The Caladesi Island Ferry departs from the southern tip of Honeymoon Island State Park and costs around $14 for adults and $7 for kids age 6-12, round trip. You can visit Caladesi Island 365 days per year. If you arrive by ferry, you do not have to pay an admission fee, but if you arrive by private boat, you must pay around $6, for up to eight people.
Egmont Key National Wildlife Refuge and State Park is the snorkeling jewel of the three Clearwater area parks. The park occupies an island 1.5 miles south of Fort De Soto State Park, which lies on a barrier island at the southern end of Saint Petersburg. Egmont Key is completely natural, the ultimate escape from the city. Beach dunes and coastal grasslands blanket the park, which provides a habitat for laughing gulls, gopher tortoises and terns. Off the shores of Egmont Key, you can snorkel over coral reefs, commune with fish and tunicates, and explore submerged mortar batteries that once helped guard Tampa Bay. Egmont Key has no restrooms or potable water and you can only reach the island by private boat or ferry. The Egmont Key Ferry departs from Hubbard’s Marina, located at the tip of Fort De Soto State Park. A round-trip ferry ride costs around $20 for adults and $10 for children 11 years of age and under.
A small number of Clearwater companies conduct snorkeling tours. Hubbard’s Marina offers a snorkeling tour off the waters off Egmont Key, which costs around $15 for adults and children, plus an additional $5 if you need to rent snorkeling equipment. The 1-hour snorkeling excursion departs from the beach on Egmont Key and explores glass flats and sunken ruins.
Dream Catcher Explorations offers 4-hour snorkeling tours that depart from Clearwater Bay Marina. The tour guides passengers through the inter-coastal waterway, where they often see pods of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins. The tour visits Gulf and inter-coastal sites, where snorkelers can swim among stone crabs, stingrays, spider crabs, minnows and a host of other sea creatures. Dream Catcher snorkeling tours start at around $130 per person.