West of Hanalei at the western end of the north shore of Kauai, the snorkeling at Ke'e Beach is one of the most beautiful places to snorkel on Kauai, especially during low tide. But while the above water scenery is spectacular, the water clarity is poor and there is very limited marine life now. Starting in 2011, the winter surf action has brought significant sand into the snorkeling lagoon resulting in a big reduction in water depth. Subsequently, the water clarity is greatly reduced as gentle wave actions kicks up the shallow sands. This effect has only continued in the years since. What used to be an excellent snorkeling dive site is now really not that spectacular. There are just a couple growths of cauliflower coral, mushroom coral and lobe coral providing habitat for some convict tangs, butterflyfish, parrotfish and humuhumunukunukuapua'a (Hawaiian state fish aka rectangular triggerfish). Plus, if you are lucky, you may encounter a green sea turtle or monk seal at the outer edge of the lagoon.
From September through May, the surf off Ke'e Beach is affected by seasonal northwest swells that kickup the large waves and generate strong currents so make sure to exercise caution. Ke'e Beach snorkeling is best at low tide when the surf is then blocked by the exposed reef. While some may like the state park life guards, experienced snorkelers may find them to be alittle too restrictive. For experienced snorkelers, when guards are off duty, try heading out of the lagoon during calm waters at low tide to the outer edge of the reef. Turn right and stay close to outer edge. There are green sea turtle feeding zones where you can see dozens of turtles feeding. Keep a sharp eye for the black tipped reef sharks.
To reach the snorkeling in Kauai by air, fly into the Lihue airport (LIH). There are direct flights from Los Angeles, Denver, San Francisco, Seattle and Honolulu. While most visitors to the island rent a car, it is possible to use the public bus but keep in mind that its small and slow. Plus, most of the main snorkeling beaches are well off the bus route requiring some hiking. If you do rent a car, make sure to leave the inside empty when at the beach to avoid attracting break-ins.
To reach the snorkeling at Kee Beach from Lihue, head northwest on SR56 (Kuhio Highway) to Princeville. Continue west on SR560 to through Hanalei to Kee Beach (milepost 10). There is a newer North Shore Shuttle van service from Hanalei out to Ke'e Beach which is smart to avoid the congested parking issue. While there is an exceptional amount of parking within a mile away, it fills up shockingly fast. Definitely get there very, very early (before 8am). The parking area also serves the surprisingly popular Kalalau Trail where the hikers start very early in the day to avoid heat and rain. There are now showers and restrooms onsite near the beach.
Before snorkeling at Ke'e Beach, make sure to check the current surf report. The waters off Kauai are known for potentially strong currents, high surf and rogue waves. Luckily, there are excellent up-to-date surf reports that can provide guidance on these adverse conditions. WIth the usually rolling surf, it is strongly discouraged to use open-tube snorkels which are common at snorkel rental locations -- only use snorkels with a dry-top splash-guard and a sump purge-valve in the mouth piece. In addition to changing surf conditions, a Ke'e Beach snorkeling dive may expose you to sharp coral reefs and you may encounter sharks, such as whitetip reef sharks, galapagos sharks and tiger sharks. Most snorkeling shark attacks in Hawaiian waters tend to occur near spear-fishing snorkelers, so be aware of the activities of others in the water.
Overall, Ke'e Beach is the 3rd most popular snorkel dive spot of all 23 snorkeling dives in Kauai.