Divers usually seek out distant waters for their adventures, but there’s plenty of places to explore closer to home, according to the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI). During the pandemic, the group has seen interest grow in online instruction, and certification at local dive shops.
“Divers are finding adventures in their own backyards,” says Kristin Valette-Wirth, chief brand and membership officer for the group. She shares some favorite close-to-home diving spots with USA TODAY.
This 50-acre lake lures divers with underwater platforms, submerged vehicles and sunken aircrafts, along with freshwater fish, including rainbow trout, largemouth bass, bluegills, koi, yellow perch and goldfish. (Open mid-April-September with select dates in October, November and December)
“It’s a super inviting experience. You can go down and learn on the platforms and feel very safe,” Valette-Wirth says.
More information: dutchsprings.com
Key Largo, Florida
Considered the country’s first undersea park, this Florida Keys spot about 60 miles from Miami, attracts visitors year-round .Divers find abundant sea life, living coral and even a statue of Jesus. “It’s very shallow, accessible water, easy for the entry-level diver,” Valette-Wirth says. (Note: Masks are required on all watercraft.)
More information: floridastateparks.org
Catalina Island, California
About an hour-long ferry ride from the Los Angeles area, this Pacific island feels far away from civilization. Divers love exploring the kelp forest, which is rich with marine life, Valette-Wirth says. “You can feel like you’re flying underwater in a forest. You’re going to see sharks, urchins, lobsters and sea cucumbers.”
More information: lovecatalina.com
Bonne Terre, Missouri
Far from the ocean, this flooded mine has been transformed into an underground lake open year-round. Divers have a chance to explore the area’s mining history, swimming b yan elevator shaft, mining carts, tools and other artifacts, all preserved in the cold fresh water. “There are all sorts of interesting things. It’s a unique, almost cavern-like experience,” Valette-Wirth says.
More information: bonneterremine.com
Divers find year-round adventures in this mineral water naturally heated to 96℉ by a geothermal spring. “It’s very comfortable and amazing to see. It’s hidden in a beehive shape limestone rock with clear, super-warm water,” Valette-Wirth says. “People flock to this.”
More information: homesteadresort.com
The northernmost coral reefs on America’s continental shelf, found about 100 miles south of of the Texas-Louisiana border, offers pristine diving without the need to hop on a plane. “For a diver this is a wonderful playground. The reefs out there are so spectacular,” Valette-Wirth says. These Gulf waters are home to barracudas, parrotfish, nurse sharks and spotted eagle rays. (Note: the visitor’s center is currently closed to the public due to COVID-19.)
More information: flowergarden.noaa.gov
The waterways around Seattle offer protected dives and a chance to see incredible sealife, like human-sized lingcod and brilliant white plumose anemones.In Seattle’s Alki Beach park divers can spot rock crabs, painted greenlings and strange orange sea pens. Or head about 20 miles north of the city to Edmonds Underwater Park. “The inland waterways are spectacular. What you get with cold water is big critters, which are so fun to see,” Valette-Wirth says.
Pacific Grove, California
Valette-Wirth learned to dive in California’s Monterey Bay and says its sheltered, shallow and easily accessible waters still make it a great spot beginners. “It’s very sheltered, but the sea life there is just bustling.” Divers often see rays and harbor seals and may be circled by schools of sardines. “It’s a beautiful, entry-level experience.”
More information: seemonterey.com
You can go on a scavenger hunt exploring this former limestone quarry. Artifacts in the 12-acre spring-fed quarry include a 33-foot cabin cruiser, a military dump truck, a fire truck and an amphibious vehicle. Plus there’s a diverse fish population. “It can be quite a beautiful experience,” Valette-Wirth says. Open April (weekends only that month) to October.
More information: haighquarry.com
No need to take a boat for an incredible scuba experience at the north end of Ka’anapali Beach. Shore divers can swim along the face of Black Rock, a rocky lava cliff, and immediately immerse in an undersea world straight out of “Finding Nemo.” Likely encounters include spotted eagle rays, whitetip reef sharks and eels, Valette-Wirth says.
More information: gohawaii.com/islands/maui