Southeast of Key Largo, the snorkeling at Elbow Reef (aka Wreck Reef) is popular for the shallow spur and groove coral formations. The water clarity is usually good and the depths are about 15 feet. The Elbow Reef Sanctuary Preservation Area is also known for numerous shipwrecks, such as that found between buoys #5 and #6. While snorkeling off Elbow Reef, you can expect to see tangs, angelfish, damselfish, eels, lobster, hawksbill turtles and loggerhead turtles (especially in waters below 30 feet deep). In addition to the reef, there is also the remains of the wreck known as City Of Washington, along with several other wrecks (look for old cannons).
After a day snorkeling Elbow Reef, check out the Key Largo Conch House for some cold drinks.
The Elbow Reef is located within the boundary of John Pennekamp Marine State Park. The Elbow Reef snorkeling is best accessed from the John Pennekamp State Park boat ramp. Elbow Reef is located about 5.5nm southeast of Key Largo. It is marked by a 36 foot lighttower. There are 10 mooring buoys.
While the snorkeling at Elbow Reef is possible year-round, most snorkelers usually shoot for March through September. There is usually some rolling surf at most snorkeling sites off Key Largo, while you can expect the flatest surf conditions from June through August.
When using a dive boat charter to reach the dive site, make sure to reconfirm the reservation the afternoon prior. Most dive boats select the site the afternoon prior or even the morning of the dive. Also, most dive boats have a minimum passenger requirement in order to leave dock meaning they may cancel at the last minute, so when reverifying the afternoon prior ask how many reservations they have.
To reach the snorkeling in the Florida Keys by air, there are several options. The most popular option is to fly into Miami International Airport (MIA), which is served by all major US and international airlines. Also nearby, a potentially lower cost option is to fly into Ft Lauderdale airport (FLL). From either of these airports, you can rent a car to drive south on the Florida Turnpike a couple hours to reach the Florida Keys (watch out for automated cash-less toll highways along the way). Alternately, you can fly into Key West International Airport (EYW) which is served by several airlines including United/Silver Airways, Delta, USAir and Southwest. If you don’t mind coming into Key West, there is also the regular Key West Express ferry service (4 hours) that runs from Ft Myers.
Overall, Elbow Reef is the 28th most popular snorkel dive spot of all 40 snorkeling dives in the Florida Keys.