Best Snorkeling In Virginia: Virginia Beach, Sunset Beach & More

Virginia is blessed with a lot of water action. And where there is water, there’s a potential snorkeling opportunity. Snorkeling in Virginia can be an exciting experience; if you know where the best spots are. Let me highlight some of these for you.

When snorkeling in Virginia, make sure to try the following snorkeling spots:

  • Lake Phoenix
  • James River
  • Kiptopeke State Park
  • Smith and Tongier Island
  • Virginia Beach
  • Sandbridge Beach
  • Guard Shore Beach
  • Sunset Beach

These spots should keep you busy; feel free to ask the locals for more guidance.

Virginia may not rank as an elite snorkeling destination, that does not deter from the fact that you can get enjoyable snorkeling experiences when visiting the Commonwealth-State. Inland snorkeling is where it’s at. Make sure to visit Lake Phoenix and see if you can find all of the artificial structures in the lake!

Snorkeling In Virginia

Snorkeling is a fun, inexpensive way of exploring bodies of water. Situated between the Atlantic coast and the Appalachian Mountains, and home to the very first Thanksgiving celebrations held in 1619, you won’t be sorry that you gave snorkeling a go in Virginia.

Snorkel Training In Virginia

If you possess snorkeling gear and have undertaken an underwater adventure or two, then this part is not for you.

If snorkel training is what you are looking for before you hit the snorkeling hotspots, then this is where you can do some practice rounds and rent some gear:

Lynnhaven Dive Center also offers a summer snorkel camp for children between 5 and 10 years old and offers an after-school kids snorkel programs for residents.

When To Go Snorkeling In Virginia

In July, the average temperature is around 86 degrees (higher heat waves being typical). Virginia waters tend to be warm through August to October, which is the prime time to go snorkeling as the waters will be at their clearest.

Snorkeling In Lake Phoenix

Lake Phoenix, formerly known as Lake Rawlings, is a former quarry with a rock bottom, situated southwest of Richmond. This lake is known for its clear and warm waters and is accessible from the shore.

The water is about 60 feet deep (maximum of 62 feet). I would suggest visiting in the winter, when the spring-fed waters are clearest, due to the algae dying off. That being said, the water is pretty clear here in the summer.

Be sure to pack in a wetsuit as the waters may be a tad cold for some in the winter months (45-55F.) With the presence of a year-round thermocline, it may be a good idea to pack a wetsuit regardless of when you visit.

There are lots of artificial structures to be explored in the lake, and it makes for a fun snorkeling expedition, when you try to find them, for example:

  • Nomad 22 Airplane
  • Two School Busses
  • Cars
  • Boats
  • Blackhawk Helicopter

Snorkelers will be delighted to know that the following aquatic life calls the lake home:

  • Bluegill
  • Bass
  • Crawfish
  • Turtles

Expect warm water temperatures (70 to 85 F) in the summer months. During these months, the sun easily penetrates the water due to the shoreline’s granite composition, resulting in pristine water conditions.

The water visibility can be 20-40 feet. However, on some days, it can be as low as 5-10 feet depending on factors such as large human traffic (divers.) Be on the lookout for the breathtaking granite walls and rock formations.

What makes snorkeling such a pleasurable experience at Lake Phoenix is that you can set up camp there, giving you ample time to explore at your own pace. Renting a cabin is also an option if you prefer not to set up camp or overnight rental trailers. Keep your eyes open for “cow killer” ants when staying the night.

Snorkeling is permitted from Monday to Friday and noon on a Sunday only, unless you are part of a diving group.

Snorkeling In The James River

The James River is a must for snorkeling when staying in Richmond or if you are staying close by. It offers ample opportunities to get the snorkeling gear out. Any area along this river is worth checking out.

If you are looking for beautiful waterfalls and rapids to boot, then you should snorkel the Fall Line  (7-mile area.) Snorkeling along the James River will expose you to an abundance of aquatic species, plants, odd-shaped stones, and maybe some sunken driftwood.

While snorkeling in this area, you can expect to see the following species:

  • Crayfish
  • Stripers
  • Big Catfish
  • River Clams
  • Smallmouth Bass
  • Carp
  • Largemouth Bass
  • Long-nosed Gar (possible)

One of the better places to snorkel along the James River is the North Bank Park (Texas Beach.) Here you will find shallow waters and the soft sands of Texas Beach, a combination that any snorkeler appreciates.

Locals also recommend snorkeling at the Westham Gauge, especially when the river water levels are low, as the water is typically clear here and the bottom of the river is easy to see. With slower rapids in this area and nice shallow pools, it’s a safe spot for snorkeling, especially for little children.

Smith And Tongier Islands

Snorkeling between the Smith and Tongier islands will make for a great day in the water. The shallow seagrass beds make for easy spotting, and following, some of the following underwater creatures in their natural habitat:

  • Blue Crab
  • Diamondback Terrapin
  • Southern Stingray
  • Atlantic Croaker

Snorkeling In Kiptopeke State Park

If you love camping and snorkeling, then you can combine the best of both worlds by visiting Kiptopeke State Park.  

A great starting point for any snorkeler is to hire a kayak and a ranger and head out to the Concrete Fleet for some exploration. The ranger will inform you of the closest proximity that you may snorkel.

Snorkeling around the pier should also be good, and depending on safe water conditions, spotting a fish or two can become a reality.

The park is situated north of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel, a very popular spearfishing spot, which translates to a great snorkeling spot if you want to spot some fish.

When snorkeling here, you should be on the lookout for the following fish:

  • Striped Bass
  • Catfish
  • Bluegill
  • Crappie
  • Panfish

Camping options at this park include:

  • Tent Sites
  • RV Campground
  • Cabins
  • Yurts

Nothing beats the comfort of having a relaxing snorkel and having a cozy rest place to return to afterward. You will find this comfort when staying overnight at Kipoteke State Park.

Snorkeling In Virginia Beaches

Virginia Beach is an obvious destination for snorkelers and covers 28 miles of public beach. For the best snorkeling experience, book a trip on the “Miss Lyndsey,” a custom dive boat, through Lynnhaven Dive Center and explore the “Graveyard of the Atlantic.”

You will get to explore shipwrecks and artificial reefs inhabited by a host of sea creatures like fish, rays, and turtles. Snorkeling via beach entry can leave you a bit disappointed, as the water is not clear enough to see anything on most days.

Sandbridge Beach is widely considered part of Virginia Beach, but it has a 4.5-mile shoreline of its own. It’s less popular and less crowded, making it an ideal spot to practice your snorkeling abilities.

Guard Shore Beach is a favorite snorkeling spot preferred by the locals of Virginia, and we all know that locals know best!

Sunset Beach has an abundance of sand dollars in mid-summer, and its water is known to be calm, enhancing the visibility of the snorkeler. You will find this beach in the Chesapeake Bay.

The beaches won’t always have the best visibility, as the water is often not clear enough, and struggling with tides and currents may not be your cup of tea.

However, on a perfect day, you could have the best snorkeling experience ever, seeing lots of underwater species, having a jolly good time, so never discard an opportunity to strap a snorkel on!

Snorkel Equipment Check-List

Your snorkel experience will only be as good as your equipment. Investing in a good kit will enhance the experience from the get-go.

Make sure that your snorkeling kit contains the following:

When you have your kit sorted and are ready to snorkel, make sure to check out some of the spots listed in the article.

According to many snorkelers, and especially divers, the best snorkeling spot will be Lake Phoenix. The feedback is always positive when people speak about this awesome spot, so make sure to visit.

Conclusion

Virginia offers various water activities and snorkeling ranks with the best. Whether you are a beginner or reasonably skilled in the art of snorkeling, you can expect a memorable snorkeling experience when exploring Virginia underwater.

Make sure to include the whole family when gearing up; a family that snorkels together stays together.