Paddlesports & Diving
Scuba diving is often perceived as an activity reserved for trips to tropical islands surrounded by convenient coral reefs and colorful fish. But, divers in America don't have to hang up their fins while they wait for the next trip to the tropics. Scattered throughout the United States are unique diving opportunities that allow you to experience all kinds of underwater environments. From high-altitude lakes to pristine tropical waters, here are our top picks of the most unique dives in the U.S.
1. Monterey Bay, California
Just down the street from the historic Cannery Row and Monterey Aquarium, divers can enjoy year-round shore diving in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary at San Carlos Beach Park. This shallow dive opens up to a kelp forest buzzing with sea lions, diving cormorants, camouflaged crabs, and lingcod. The sunlight darting through the kelp creates a mesmerizing light show—but be sure to peer off into the distance for the occasional Mola Mola or sea otter. Water temperatures range from 50 to 60 degrees, so bundle up with a thick wetsuit or drysuit from one of the local dive shops.
2. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Florida
After years of human disregard, the remarkable reefs off Key Largo were protected and deemed the first Underwater State Park in 1963. Located only a 90-minute drive from Miami, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is perfect for a long weekend dive trip. Because the park has clear and calm water, beginner divers don’t have to go deep to enjoy sharks and rays cruising the sandy avenues between bright coral colonies and the occasional maritime artifact. Beyond the flats, wall and ledge dives commonly include encounters with lobsters, eels, and nurse sharks.
3. Lake Tahoe, Nevada
Beyond its famous alpine scenery, Lake Tahoe is gaining a reputation as a truly unique SCUBA destination. The clean Sierra runoff that fills Tahoe provides good visibility to divers who come to practice high-altitude, cold-water diving. The resident trout occasionally scurry past divers, but the handful of sunken barges in Emerald Bay aren’t going anywhere. Explore these early 1900s algae-covered vessels that sit in 10 to 60 feet of water.
4. Lanai, Hawaii
One of Hawaii’s finest dives is a site called Cathedrals just south of the sparsely populated island of Lanai. The Cathedrals are the product of ancient lava formations resting on the seafloor. A swim-through tunnel gives divers access to a massive underwater room full of idling fish. The lava ceiling is speckled with holes that allow sunlight to provide a stained-glass effect, illuminating the room with blue beams of light. After some time weightlessly admiring the lighting and natural architecture, exit the cathedral to see impressive schools of reef fish circling the exterior.
5. Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska
Alaska’s legendary landscape is on full display within Kenai Fjords National Park. Known for its glaciers and steep, rocky islands, the park also boasts a magnificent underwater landscape for divers to explore. This extreme dive will require a dry suit and a set of sea legs, but the experience is not quickly forgotten. The northern Pacific ecosystem is brimming with giant octopus, massive sea stars, halibut, salmon sharks, and whales that divers will never encounter in warm water.
6. Homestead Crater, Utah
Hidden in the Utah high-country is a freshwater geothermal crater sheltered by a natural dome. The water temperature inside the crater is over 90 degrees year-round, so divers get a break from the cold mountain temperatures as they descend to a maximum 65 feet in the mineral-rich bathwater. It’s not only warm but also beautiful as a steeple hole at the top of the dome shines natural light through the azure blue water. If you’re a landlocked diver, the clear and comfortable water will provide you the perfect environment to practice skills and test gear.
7. Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida
Located about 70 miles west of Key West, Dry Tortugas is the least accessible U.S. national park. It consists of a handful of small, uninhabited islands and has few campsites, so most divers choose the liveaboard option, which gives them a multi-day tour of the most beautiful dive locations in the unspoiled marine sanctuary. Aside from the historic Fort Jefferson on Garden Key, Dry Tortugas remains mostly untouched, and the tropical waters are home to a pristine reef system and diverse marine life.
8. Culebra, Puerto Rico
The small Puerto Rican island of Culebra is a bit of a long haul for the average Caribbean tourist. The trip encourages an extensive stay, and the long list of world-class dive sites could keep you busy for weeks. The waters around Culebra host a brilliant variety of tropical fish, impressive corals, and unbelievably clear waters. From wall dives to caves and shipwrecks, this is Caribbean diving at its finest.
9. Kona, Hawaii
Experienced divers know that the Hawaiian Islands are best enjoyed underwater. And a trip to Kona on Hawaii’s Big Island will give you the best chance to encounter Giant Manta Rays. To do it right, book a night dive and leave the lava-laden shoreline after the sun goes down. Just a few miles offshore, you can descend to the seafloor and wait for the 15-foot wingspan of a Giant manta to glide above you as they filter through billions of plankton in the moonlight.
10. South Padre Island, Texas
After sailing 1.3 million miles through WWII and beyond, the 473-foot Texas Clipper was laid to rest 17 miles from South Padre Island in the Gulf of Mexico. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department sunk the Clipper in 2006 to serve as an artificial reef. Today, divers frequent the site where the vessel lies on its side in 132 feet of water, guarded by lingering barracuda. With a minimum depth of about 70 feet, this adventurous wreck dive is best suited for more experienced divers.
Whether you’re an experienced diver or a beginner, you know diving is a special activity that introduces us to strange and fascinating underwater worlds. There are amazing diving destinations all around the globe, but the parks and wild areas in the United States can be equally compelling places to explore. From warm-water craters to coral reefs and high-mountain lakes, the U.S. has its own amazing worlds waiting beneath the surface.
What to Bring
Glow-in-the-dark slate with pencil
Long sleeve rash guard
20-liter lightweight dry sack
Finger spool reel
For Dry Tortugas
- Motion sickness relief chewable tablets