One of the great things about South Florida is the direct access to the sea. The temperate weather makes enjoying the seas a year round affair with activities suited for each season and condition Poseidon can throw at us. And the close proximity to the Gulf Stream brings a wealth of sea life to our waterways, from the native critters to the visiting behemoths taking a breather on their marathon migrations.
Our waterways are stacked with sea life, so colorful and multifarious that even the most extensive aquariums come up left wanting. And unlike so many places around the country, and even the state, SoFlo offers an abundance of snorkel spots that are not only varied, from artificial to natural coral reefs, to man made structure and shoreline marine parks, they are also easily accessible without a boat.
In this series, we look at the local snorkel spots that visitors can make a day out of without the need of an anchor.
Cato's Bridge, Jupiter
Jupiter is a lucky place. At times one of the closest points the Gulf Stream comes to the state, cruising just a few hundred yards off the shore at times, Jupiter is flush with sea life and pristine ocean water. The Jupiter inlet, one of the county's only natural inlets, is dictated by the tides, making it particularly treacherous that charts embolden “Local Knowledge Only” when depicting the narrow shoot. At high tide, the inlet is flushed with clean ocean water, bringing with it superb visibility, a bounty of marine life and great snorkeling near and around the mouth of the inlet.
Cato’s Bridge is a great, accessible snorkel spot in Jupiter.
Just under a mile and a half mile from the inlet, in the shadow of the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse, sits Cato's Bridge, a small draw bridge spanning the Intracoastal Waterway connecting Jupiter to Jupiter Inlet Colony, and one heck of a snorkel spot accessible by car.
Along the west side (mainland), just under the bridge around the western support, is the best place to snorkel. The eastern side of the bridge along Jupiter Inlet Colony is much shallower, mainly consisting of sea grass and sand, and much less to see, but not a bad place to lounge and explore with a kayak.
Under the western side of the bridge, from shore to support sits a small stretch of water, no longer than 25-feet at high tide, that plunges deep quickly, close to 15-feet on a good day. The area stretches beyond the bridge support, along the bridge channel barrier of wooden planks attached to cement pylons, running little more than 100-feet. Along this area some great snorkeling can be found, but can be hazardous at certain times in the tide cycle.
Native fishes, like yellowtail snapper, school around Cato’s Bridge.
The deep channel makes for some strong currents, so the best time to go is right after high tide has arrived. On the incoming tide, the currents are so swift you drift out of the spot within 20-seconds, and with the outgoing and low tides, visibility is shot from the Loxahatchee River; you're barely able to see you own hand while cruising. This is also a relatively dangerous spot for beginners and small children. Cato's Bridge is a very active draw bridge with a wake zone just north of bridge, which is a pretty great place to cruise with a boat, with lots of sandbars to beach at, and wide and spacious sections of the Intracoastal that are great for tubing and wake-boarding. So just feet from the protected snorkel area of the bridge, on the east side of the support, is the main channel of the bridge with tons of boat traffic. With unpredictable and strong currents, and the amount of drinking done on our waterways, an accident is just waiting to happen if you are not comfortable in the water.
With that said, the best spot of this snorkel location is in between the channel wall and the western support of the bridge. This narrow channel, about four-feet at the widest, is painted in shadow, but full of sea life. Eels, visiting lobsters and stone crab, angel fish, parrotfish, tropicals, lionfish, groupers, snappers, hog snapper, shrimp and crabs, rays, turtles, octopus and squid all come through this spot. Schools of tropicals cruise along the pylons, parrotfish gnaw on pylons and support wall for algae, sponges give a dash of color, and the occasional shark, manatee and eagle ray cruise along looking for less populated spots. Be careful when cruising through this tight spot though; barnacles will slice through skin like razor blades.
Invasive species, like this lionfish, hideout among the natives fishes along the bridge’s pylons.
The coolest thing I have seen here is a school of Caribbean squid floating seemingly motionless in the channel, hovering as if neutrally buoyant, changing color and pattern like living camouflaged torpedoes—a scene straight out of Discovery Channel, and they shoot ink! They tend to hangout here in the warmer months, as well as octopus, which borrow cylindrical holes in the seabed, or take refuge in discarded bottles, unfortunately a common addition to this man made structure. Keep your eyes peeled, there is always something hiding out or cruising along.
To the north is an outcropping of mangroves and shallower sandy spots, a popular haunt of puffer fish and mangrove snappers. To the south lies federal land surrounding the lighthouse and Coast Guard property, with small beaches and some decent places to hangout in the shade. There are a few felled trees just off shore that attract crabs and shrimp cruising along for food.
Urchins, shrimp, crabs and other bottom dwellers flock to the crystalline waters in the Intracoastal Waterway.
- Type of snorkel spot: Man-made structure/Bridge
- Depth: Roughly 15 to 20 feet
- Accessibility: Car/foot
- Bring: Mask, snorkel and fins; water, there are no facilities
- When to go: High tide dive spot
- Avoid: Walls and barnacles; boat channel!
- What to see: Tropical and reef fish; invertebrates (squid and octopus); eels; rays; crustaceans (lobster, stone crab, blue crab, shrimp); manatee; sponges, soft corals and anemones.
- What not to bring: Spears and Hawaiian slings—must be 100 feet from the bridge!
When heading to this spot, check the tides and schedule accordingly. If the current seems too strong, stick to the shallower spots, wait it out, or head a little south and drift into the spot and on through. Bring water and a snack; there are no facilities near by, so you are on your own in terms of restrooms and supplies. Fins are needed; swimming against current is exhausting and futile. There are a handful of parking spots just west of the bridge, but on a nice day they usually fill up. Alternative parking is a hike away and can be found at:
500 Captain Armours Way
Jupiter, FL 33477