Alligator Reef Lighthouse

Off the coast of Islamorada stands a Florida Keys icon just beckoning you to come and explore its depths.

If you have ever driven down to the Florida Keys, you’ve probably found yourself mesmerized by the aqua abyss flanking the Overseas Highway. Perhaps you have spotted a lighthouse or two on the horizon and wondered what their history is. Did you know that the chain of 1,700 islands that makes up the Florida Keys is home to 6 of the 30 lighthouses located in the Sunshine State? The historical Alligator Reef Lighthouse is one that is well worth a visit.

Located just 4 miles off the coast of Islamorada, the iron structure standing 136 feet tall sits just beyond the crystal waters of Alligator Reef. Built in 1873, its classic black and white facade has become an icon of the Keys over the centuries. Given away by the state in 2021 because it was deemed “in excess of need,” it is now owned by “Friends of the Pool” and is set for restoration in coming years. Constructed in roughly 20 feet of water, set 10 feet down into the coral bed, the lighthouse was meant to guide sailors to safe passage around the shallows. Countless vessels have sunk there over the course of time, including its namesake, the USS Alligator, which came to meet its demise on the reef in 1822. Few remnants of it are left today, as it was set ablaze after it sank to prevent pirates from salvaging it.

Today, whether you reach Alligator Reef Lighthouse via private vessel, jet ski, kayak or charter, which is what we chose, the journey is no longer perilous. We booked our snorkel tour with Sundance Watersports, out of Robbies of Islamorada, a classic Keys roadside attraction located at MM 77. The 20-minute journey gliding through some of the bluest waters you will ever see, vibing to the reggae music over the speakers while dolphins play in the wake, sets the mood for what you are about to experience. Once you arrive in the shadow of the lighthouse, don your fins and snorkel mask and take the plunge into the underwater oasis.

Home to over 500 species of marine life, including sergeant majors, parrotfish, queen conch and spiny lobsters, the massive structure has grown into its own artificial reef in the last 150 years. Rays, barracuda, nurse sharks and loggerhead sea turtles seemingly dance around the colorful sponges and coral nestled among the iron pillars. Above the surface, pelicans line the iron beams that crisscross like a sculpture above your head. Occasionally, larger sharks can be seen in the deeper waters around the reef ledge, like hammerheads and black tip sharks. In 2016, a once-in-a-lifetime sighting of a great white passing by the area surprised snorkelers, and although not a normal occurrence, it is a reminder that we share the ocean with many different species, and you never know what you will see when you take the plunge.

Have your eyes open and your camera ready when you visit this historic beacon in the Florida Keys. It is sure to be a memorable experience.

Alligator Reef Lighthouse Facts and Tips:

  • Must have items: sunscreen and waterproof camera.
  • Noodles and life vests are provided free to guests, and masks, fins and snorkel can be rented at time of booking.
  • Always remove shiny jewelry when swimming or snorkeling as the metal has been known to attract barracuda and sharks.
  • Robbies of Islamorada is a great stop in the Keys for food, drinks and their world-famous “tarpon feeding experience” on the docks.
  • Friends of the Pool have a goal of raising 5 million dollars for restoration by 2026. One of the fundraisers is the annual “Swim for Alligator Light” in which athletes swim an 8-mile loop from shore to the lighthouse and back.


Scroll to Top