Best Places to Scuba Dive in the U.S.

There’s nothing quite like scuba diving. While we’ve explored most of what the land has to offer, adventure still waits under the water, where you can find shipwrecks and strange life that almost seems alien compared to the animals we’re used to. It’s another world, ripe for the exploring!

In today’s article, I’m going to tell you all about the best places to scuba dive in the United States, so that you can have a little adventure of your own and see some of this wonder for yourself. Without further ado, let’s get started!

Best Scuba Diving in USA – Top 15 Locations

With an area as large as the United States, it’s difficult to take all of the amazing diving sites and condense them down to a ‘top 15’, and so I’ve taken a little time to select some of the best and most diverse for your enjoyment.

I’ve tried to include a little something for everyone, with both salt and freshwater dives, and even some manmade lakes and hot springs that you might not have known were out there. Rather than rate them, I’ll simply tell you about each site and what it has to offer and you can choose what appeals to you.

With a little luck, there’s a gem or two right around the corner from you, so take a look at my picks and see what you think.

1. Monterey Bay – California

monterey bay california

How do you like the idea of exploring kelp forests and an underwater canyon? If this sounds like a treat, then you would do well to take a little time off to do some scuba diving in Monterey Bay, California.

Not only are the safety standards high, but there is an estimate 10 to 30 feet of visibility for you to enjoy, and the Monterey Bay National Sanctuary is chock full of marine life that you just don’t see every day. As far as diving temperatures, the temperature never rises over 68 degrees throughout the year.

In the Monterey Bay Submarine Canyon, the year-round temperature is a bit lower, with a range of 48 to 52 degrees being the year-round norm. The canyon itself is deep enough to satisfy most at a whopping 10,663 feet.

Rockfish grouper, sea lions, otters, and seals are just a few examples of animals that you’ll find and swim with at this location, so if you are looking for a dive that showcases Nature’s beauty beneath the depths, then you could do a lot worse than the beautiful Monterey Bay in California.

2. Bonne Terre Mine, Bonne Terre – Missouri

bonne terre mine
© Dustin Holmes; Flickr

National Geographic once referred to the Bonne Terre Mine as ‘one of America’s top ten greatest adventures’ and it’s no exaggeration, folks. People come from all over the world to experience the Bonne Terre Mine and it’s definitely worth their while. So, what’s all the fuss about?

Imagine yourself in a man-made mine with 5 separate levels, situated within a 17-mile shore line, and lit up below with 500,000 watts of stadium lights! As you navigate the rocky, underground interior, there are mine carts, buildings, jackhammers, and you’ll see them all with a visibility of approximately 100+ feet.

You also won’t freeze yourself in the process, with the air temperature underground being around 65 degrees, while the diving temperatures are about 60 degrees all year long. If you love the idea of a little adventure and exploring one of the largest man-made caves in the world, then the Bonne Terre Mine is ready and waiting.

3. Sombrero Reef, Marathon – Florida Keys

sombrero reef florida
© Dan Eidsmoe; Flickr

In Marathon, located within the lovely Florida Keys, there stands a lighthouse and an arrangement of 11 buoys that mark the site of one of the most beautiful coral reefs that Florida has to offer. Welcome to Sombrero Reef.

Within the defined buoy range, you’ll find colorful grasses swaying with the undertow, finger and brain corals, and even an undersea coral bridge that is one thing to see in pictures, but quite another to actually spy with your own eyes and swim through. All of this populated by stingrays, nurse sharks, barracudas, and more.

Temperatures at this location are going to vary greatly based on when you go, and the recommended dates would be between May and October. During this time, you can expect an air temperature of around 86 to 89 degrees, while the water will be a toasty 80 to 84.

That’s not to say that these are the only times that you can go, of course. If you go during the ‘off-times’ between November and April, it’s actually not so bad, with a modest temperature range of 60 to 64 degrees.

So, if you fancy coral gardens, with barracudas on patrol, then don’t miss out on Sombrero Reef!

4. Kona – Hawaii

kona hawaii

If your favorite part of the dive is experiencing the diverse underwater ecosystem, then Kona (coastal town in the Big Island) in Hawaii might well just be a perfect fit. Over 25% of the underwater wildlife can’t be seen anywhere else in the world, such as Potter’s Angelfish, the saddle wrasse, or Hawaiian green lionfish.

It’s also a special treat for diving fans who love turtles, and night dives are definitely on the table in Lava Tube dive sites where you can catch these beauties sleeping if you are lucky.

Other sites, such as the ‘Naked Lady’ sailboat wreck, offer scorpionfish and bicolor anthias, while the Eel cove lets you hunt these elusive creatures while the raccoon butterfly fish swim gracefully by.

As far as diving conditions, Hawaiian waters are famous for their clarity, and depending on recent rainfall visibility could be 75 to 100 feet, while the summer temperatures are around 78 to 81 degrees and the winter a comfortable 75.

It’s paradise above and below, folks, and you definitely don’t want to miss Kona!

See other great places to scuba dive in Hawaii here.

5. Santa Catalina Island – California

santa catalina island

California’s disappearing kelp forests are still available to view and endangered species such as the giant black sea bass are just part and parcel of diving in Santa Catalina Island in California. When getting to the island, you can take the ferry, or go whole-hog and take a 15 minutes helicopter ride to your diving destination.

Once you arrive, you’ve definitely got options, such as the Casino Point Underwater Park, established in 1962 as the country’s first non-profit underwater park. Abalone, Octopi, and even Moray Eels are waiting here, along with numerous wrecks for adventurous souls to explore to their heart’s content.

That’s not all, however, as another attraction may be found about 90 feet deep in one of the local marine preserves, and it’s called Blue Cavern Point. Here, caves and caverns are full of harbor seals, soupfin sharks, sea bass, and more. The current is not for beginners, however, and drift diving access is the norm.

Visibility in Satana Catalina Island is around 40 to 60 feet, and temperatures range from around 70 degrees in the summer to as low as 50’s during winter. That said, you might consider the chill if it doesn’t bother you, as this is when you’ll get the best visibility of the wonders of Nature that you’ll find here.

6. USS Oriskany, Pensacola – Florida

uss oriskany shipwreck

Exploring shipwrecks is one of those amazing perks that many divers can’t seem to get enough of. For those of you who share this sentiment, the USS Oriskany awaits you in Pensacola. Along the Panhandle Shipwreck Trail, which is one of the top locations for scuba diving in Florida, you can explore the remains of the USS Oriskany, which was first launched in 1945.

This ship has a lot of history, having been deployed during the Vietnam and Korean wars, and also during the Cuban Missile crisis, and it’s been waiting on the Gulf of Mexico’s floor since 2006. It’s just 80 feet below and at 911 feet long, there are opportunities for divers of every experience level.

There’s much more to see, of course, as you can find the largest artificial reef in the world here. Barracudas, sea turtles, and Goliath groupers are present in its depths and if you are among the lucky few, then you might even spot a Whale shark.

This site also enjoys some serious accessibility, as you can visit anytime that you like, with temperatures falling in the very comfortable range of 60 to 80 degrees throughout the year. Add in a visibility of 60 to 100 feet the USS Oriskany becomes a definite must-see that is sure to delight the entire family.

7. Morehead – North Carolina

A unique adventure that is sure to deliver on the thrills may be found in Morehead City, North Carolina. Known as the ‘Graveyard of the Atlantic”, more than 2000 ships have wrecked in it’s waters and you’d be hard-put to find a shipwreck paradise that can compare to this without leaving the country.

Among the sites that you can see are a fully intact U-352 German VIIC U-boat. That’s definitely not something that you see every day, but there are also German submarines, British Trawlers, and a score of freighters to amaze.

Then there is the wildlife to consider. Morehead just happens to be a breeding ground for the Atlantic sand tiger sharks, and there are rays the size of compact cars under these waters that glide by like massive, graceful phantoms.

Massive schools of fish are a common sight and loggerhead turtles often peek at you from the wrecks – it’s nothing short of amazing. Summertime is the best time to go, as the temperatures will range between 70 and 80 degrees and the visibility averages a little over 100 feet.

If you love shipwrecks, Morehead will really scratch that itch.

8. Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary – Texas

People dive to enter the alien world that lies under the waters and this is where Flower Garden Banks really shines. Here you may find over 20 types of coral, with colorful sponges present, and a diversity of life that really has to be seen to be believed.

For 8 to 10 days in August you can observe the annual coral spawning, as thousands of corals spring into action releasing sperm and eggs to perpetuate the ever-growing coral garden, and with over 800 types of mollusks and sponges and 300 types of fish, the coral has a living backdrop that you won’t soon forget.

Eagle, Manta, and Stingrays make their home here, along with numerous shark species and rarities such as the Frogfish, and in the summer, you might just see a tiger shark or even a whale shark.

As far as when to visit and conditions, there are two times of the year when are ideal. From May to October, temperatures are in the mid 80’s and visibility is around 5 to 125 feet, while the winter times between February and April offer a visibility of 75 feet and temperatures in the low to high 60’s.

If you fancy experiencing a cornucopia of ‘alien’ wildlife, the Flower Garden Banks Sanctuary definitely fits the bill.

9. HMCS Yukon Wreck, San Diego – California

hmcs yukon wreck

If you are looking for something a little more advanced when it comes to shipwreck exploration, then 100+ feet below the surface you can find the HMCS Yukon. It’s one of the most popular wreck dives in California and in fact the entire West coast. It offers a real chance for cold water divers to sharpen up their skills, with an estimated 10,000 dives-to-date.

Commissioned in May of 1963, the HMCS Yukon was a Canadian Destroyer, whose career spanned over 30 countries and 800,000 nautical miles, and during the 90’s instead of sending her to the scrapyard, locals decided instead to make her the seed for an artificial reef.

The Yukon wasn’t having it, though, and when the holes were cut in her sides, her stern poked stubbornly out of the waters and she was declared as being floundered and never became and artificial reef. At 366 feet long, it’s a whole lot of ship to explore and you’re sure to have a good time.

I’d mentioned that this is advanced and that’s definitely true, as visibility is around 15 to 40 feet when you are exploring this shipwreck, and temperatures range around 50 degrees below the waters.

For cold-water diving enthusiasts with a bit of experience under their belts, the HMCS Yukon might just be the perfect next adventure.

10. San Juan Islands – Washington

Speaking of cold water diving, if you’re a fan of Jacques Cousteau, then it might interest you to spend a little time in what was his favorite North Pacific diving spot – the San Juan Islands. Here you will find diving spots such as Lime Kiln Point, where Orca whales patrol amidst giant red barnacles and deep purple urchins.

You can also find giant octopi and scallops swimming at a depth of 100 feet, but bring your A game – the 4-knot current makes this a dive rated for experts only. There’s a little something for every diver, however, at nearby Smallpox Bay. Rated for beginning to advanced, the shallows here are beautiful but much more accessible.

As far as the wildlife, you can find pink anemones, Purple Starfish, shrimp, and swimming scallops, and there are even caves hosting lots of hidden aquatic wildlife a mere 50 feet below the surface. As far as temperatures in the San Juan Island’s waters, winter temperatures are around 43 degrees, while summer is around 56.

As far as visibility, 20 to 30 feet is the average, but on a good day you’ll get about 50 feet. For those looking to sample an amazingly colorful underwater, the San Juan Islands should definitely be considered – there’s a reason that Mr. Cousteau loved this place and you’ll want to see it firsthand.

11. Lake Huron – Michigan

With all the ocean experiences available, you might be wondering why you should dive in a lake, and Lake Huron exists to provide that reason. First off, it is home to 2 of Michigan’s 12 wildlife preserves, and you can see odd specimens such as the longnose gar here. There’s also the factor of underwater wrecks.

While seawater quickly corrodes a wreck, freshwater offers a much more preserved site for you to explore, and Lake Huron has plenty of them, with the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary hosting nearly 100 shipwrecks on its own. Many of them are even close together, giving you plenty to explore at your leisure.

Some of the wrecks can even be seen from atop the water by paddleboat, just in case some of the family members aren’t as excited about diving the depths below as you are. In any case, if you’ve heard of the famous 200+ ship ‘Shipwreck Alley’, this is your chance to see it’s glory for yourself.

Winter temperatures can be as low as 32 degrees, though in August it’s as high as 72, making this the best time to visit. As far as visibility, you’ll also be getting a good view, as it’s an estimated 50 feet around you while you are exploring those wrecks.

It’s definitely a lake that’s worth your while.

12. Homestead Crater, Midway – Utah

homestead crater diving

If you love diving but absolutely hate the cold, then we give you the Homestead Crater of Midway, Utah. Here you’ll find the unique experience of diving in a geothermally heated hot spring, with a 55 foot limestone dome. This is an altitude dive and the crater itself has a depth of around 65 feet.

Due to the nature of this body of water, the temperatures are a toasty 92 to 96 degrees year-round, which means that you can easily scratch your diving itch during the winter if you like and the experience has been compared to essentially diving in a giant’s bathtub.

If you do happen to visit in winter, nearby activities abound for when you are plumbing the depths of this wonder of Nature, including an Ice Castle, horse-drawn carriage rides, and there are places to ski nearby if you feel like taking a break.

While it’s not as picturesque as some of the other experiences that I have listed, this is definitely a must-see for those who enjoy oddities of Nature and relish the idea of experiencing them firsthand.

The visibility inside this hourglass-shaped cavern is around 40-50 feet, so you won’t miss a thing.

13. Baranof Island – Alaska

Baranof Island in Alaska offers some amazing diving experiences, including a Moon jellyfish dive that is straight out of a special-effects wizard’s dreams. You can swim through hundreds of thousands of translucent-white jellyfish that move and mass through the blue green waters as you move through and around them.

This only happens during the summer months, on the northeast side of the island, and while it’s the main attraction here, it’s definitely worth the trip all on its own. Just book in advance and ask about the ‘jellyfish dive’ and they’ll know what you are talking about, as people come from all over the world to experience it.

The water temperatures are a wee bit chilly, averaging in the 50’s, and you can expect a visibility off about 35 feet during your dive.

If you want to see more Moon jellyfish than you can count hovering magically all about you, then a little trip to Alaska will definitely prove a treat.

14. Dutch Springs, Bethlehem – Pennsylvania

In the Lehigh Valley of the Bethlehem township in Pennsylvania, there’s a 50 acre quarry lake some divers like to joke is their very own ‘Quarribbean’. It’s called Dutch Springs and until the 70’s it was the National Portland Cement Quarry, a cement plant and limestone mine.

Flooded and kept pristinely freshwater by means of a spring and an underground aquifer, Dutch Springs has long been a favorite of freshwater divers and it reaches depths of up to 100 feet in some parts, so there’s a little something for divers of all skill levels. The fun, however, is on the floor, so to speak!

On the floor of this manmade lake you can still find buildings and vehicles, allowing you to explore the settlement during your dive and to imagine what life was like before it became a lake. You’ll fine vehicles such as trolleys, buses, and even planes – making the Dutch Springs experience quite the unique one.

The summertime is the best time to go, as the temperature will be in the 70’s, whereas in spring it ranges in the 40’s and 50s. Visibility is pretty solid, with 40 to 60 feet being the usual range, but be sure to check well in advance before visiting.

Sadly, the land here has been purchased, and between this and the pandemic the availability of this unique location is currently a subject that’s stuck in limbo. With a little luck they will reopen soon, but only time will tell.

15. Oahu – Hawaii

With more than 40 named diving sites, Oahu is one location that you won’t be getting bored of anytime soon. One of the highlights is the wreck of a YO-257, complete with cutouts that allow you to glimpse the coral-covered interior and you might get a glimpse back – it’s popular with green sea turtles.

Speaking of which, Oahu is also home to Turtle Canyon, where a shallow 15 to 50 foot dive lets you see not only the famous sea turtles, but also octopuses, dolphins, eels, and even white tip reef sharks. If you happen to miss the sharks, however, then you can easily remedy this with a Makaha caverns dive.

At a depth of a mere 30 feet it’s not an advanced dive, but within the cavern your odds of seeing or even finding yourself surrounded by graceful whitetip sharks are extremely high. The green sea turtles also love these lava tube caverns and the cracks hold up to 5 different species of eels.

The temperatures when you are diving in Oahu are nothing short of divine, as the winter offers 71 to 74 degrees and you get up to 59 degrees in the summer, so you definitely won’t be chilly. The final cherry on top, however, has to be the visibility of 60 up to 120 feet. It’s a diver’s paradise.

Final Thoughts

While some people think that diving is something that you need to head off to the Caribbean for, I’ve demonstrated today the United States has actually been blessed with quite a lot of unique places where you can dive and explore to your heart’s content.

Whether surveying shipwrecks in Lake Huron or altitude-diving in a geothermally heated hot spring, there’s diving available for all skill levels that can provide both adventure and a complete immersion in a side of Nature that most never see.

I hope that you’ve enjoyed my selections and who knows? With a little planning and my picks from today, this coming summer might well be the stuff of nostalgia for many happy years to come.