Looking at all of the tourist marketing hype for the Florida Keys you’d think there aren’t any reefs outside of Key Largo and Pennekamp State Park. If you travel just a little south, though, Islamorada is home to some of the best snorkeling in the entire Keys, including a few reefs that are extremely close to shore.
We spent the last 8 months tied to a dock in Snake Creek, just a short ride to Hen & Chickens Reef, so close that we could almost paddle there. Hen & Chickens is so close to shore that on one of our many trips there I actually did see kayaks tied to a few of the moorings.
About The Reef
Hen & Chickens is a large patch reef marked by a 35′ tower (flashing red #40). It got its name because there’s one large patch of coral surrounded by a bunch of smaller patches. So, they say from an aerial view it looks like a mother hen surrounded by her chicks.
The maximum depth is about 20′ to the sand, but most of the reef averages only about 10′, with some spots even coming within 5′ of the surface. The reef is within a Sanctuary Preservation Area of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, which means fishing and the collection of wildlife is prohibited.
Full Of Life
Snorkeling here you’ll see large star and brain corals lined with sea fans and you’ll come up close and personal with tons of sea life. We’ve seen jacks, sergeant majors, and 4 different types of parrot fish every time we’ve come here. Before coming to this spot I didn’t even know there were that many types of parrot fish.
We also frequently saw nurse sharks, turtles, sting rays, and on a few rare occasions spotted eagle rays. On one trip there were 4 large eagle rays cruising around the whole reef the entire time we were there, almost like squadron of fighter jets flying in formation.
Free Diving Fun
Thanks to the shallow depths and the valleys formed by the large patches of coral this is also a great spot to work on your free diving skills. I’ve been a scuba diver for years, but thanks to my stubborn ears being a little tough to clear I’ve barely been able to dive down to 10′ on a breath hold.
After a few months here I can easily dive down to the bottom, and swim through some of the large valleys. And I can even stay down long enough to take a few pictures and shoot some short video clips, like the ones in this post. If you’re planning on doing some snorkeling while in the Keys, your trip won’t be complete without a stop at this amazing reef.