9 Unexpected (But Amazing) Dive Sites in the U.S.

Many travelers flock to warm tropical shores for a chance to scuba dive among the world’s most vibrant coral reefs. There’s hardly an experience that can compare to diving beside whale sharks, witnessing the rich biodiversity of the Galapagos, or exploring the massive Great Barrier Reef. However, those lacking the time or budget for an international trip have plenty of superb dive sites to choose from in all corners of the U.S., not counting the coastline. Without the threat of inclement weather and seasickness, inland diving sites offer a variety of scuba diving experiences for all skill levels. Check out our list of nine excellent sites for your next summer vacation.

1. Sand Harbor, Lake Tahoe, Nevada

Don Graham/Flickr

Brilliantly clear Lake Tahoe is popular getaway for its mountain scenery, watersports, skiing, and elegant hotels. For summertime visitors, a dive into the 1,644-foot-deep Tahoe is well worth it. The prime diving spot is at Sand Harbor State Park, which is situated on Lake Tahoe’s northeastern shore near Incline Village. Visibility in Tahoe can reach up to 75 feet, allowing for ample viewing of crawfish and schools of salmon. The protected buoyed area only averages a depth of 30-feet, so experienced divers will have to head out beyond the buoys in search of sunken trees, massive boulders, and striking vertical cliffs. Be cautious of boat traffic, as this is outside the protected swim area. But where else will you find the opportunity to scuba dive at an elevation of over 6,200 feet above sea level?

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2. Bonne Terre, Missouri

Melissa/Flickr

Located an hour’s drive south from St. Louis, the small city of Bonne Terre once had the world’s largest lead mine. The lower three levels of this five-level mine now encompass a 17-mile long subterranean lake, which is the world’s largest freshwater dive resort. The upper two levels can be seen on guided walking tours, following the old mule trails which miners chiseled out in the 1860s. The subterranean waters can be explored by boat tours or scuba diving. The massive lake is illuminated with stadium-style lighting, allowing for visibility of up to 100 feet along the twenty-four dive trails. Divers will pass by archways, calcium falls, pillars, and abandoned mining trains and infrastructure. Guided tours run year-round, since the underground lake always maintains a constant 58°F temperature.

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3. Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, Lake Huron, Michigan

NOAA - Office of National Marine Sanctuaries/Flickr

Located off the northeastern coast of Michigan, this 4,300-square-mile marine sanctuary protects an estimated 116 historically significant shipwrecks. The collective wreckage includes 20th-century steel steamers, 19th-century wooden-hulled boats, and the hull of S.S. Pewabic. Two of the most impressive wreck sites, the Choctaw and Ohio, are 267 and 202 feet long respectively. The wrecks sites range in depth dramatically, but options exist for all experience levels. More seasoned divers can plunge to Huron’s depths to explore the Cornelia B. Windiate wreckage, located at a depth of 180 feet. The three-masted schooner sunk in 1875, with spiral staircases, bow, and masts still intact. Scuba operators out of Alpena, the largest town in the area, lead dives between May and October. 

4. Dutch Springs, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

Neil DeMaster/Flickr

This seemingly ordinary 50-acre lake lies among the suburban sprawl north of Bethlehem and Allentown, Pennsylvania. The area was originally a limestone quarry that began to fill with water as mining went deeper. Operation shut down in the 1970s, leading to the purchase and conversion of Dutch Springs into a freshwater diving facility. The spring-fed water filters through the prized limestone, offering superb visibility for divers to see submerged vehicles, such as aircraft, a school bus, tanker truck, and trolley, not to mention the original pumping station from its days as a quarry. Fish and aquatic species inhabit the lake as well, but the bizarre plethora of sunken vehicles and aircraft is by far the main draw. Diving at Dutch Springs starts in April and typically runs until November. 

5. Payette Lake, McCall, Idaho

A 2.5-hour drive north of Boise, Idaho, lies Payette Lake, a glacier-fed lake nestled in the mountains at 5,000 feet elevation. The clear, serene lake is partially protected as part of Ponderosa State Park, which is complete with camp sites, hiking trails, and thousands of acres of wilderness. On the northeast side of the lake sits Fireman’s Point, a popular dive site that features a slab of granite extending about 40 feet from the shore. On a sunny day, penetrating rays of sunlight illuminate the quartz, obsidian, and shiny features in the rock shelf. This makes for quite the vibrant light show for divers, further enhanced by the clear visibility offered by Payette’s clean and clear waters. 

6. Lake Mead, Henderson, Nevada

Bogdan Migulski/Flickr

This reservoir is formed by the hulking Hoover Dam and is fed mostly by snow melt. Lake Mead stretches a massive 110 miles behind the dam and is frequented for hiking, camping, and boating. What many visitors don’t realize is that this is one of the top freshwater lakes in the world for scuba diving. With a range of depths, both beginner and technical divers can enjoy the variety of submerged sites and rock formations. As Lake Mead’s water level fluctuates, it’s advisable to research ahead of time to make sure that current conditions are suitable for diving. The top dive sites on Lake Mead include Cathedral Cove, Gypsum Reefs-Virgin Basin, Black Canyon in Boulder Basin, and B-29. The first three are accessed by boat, with Gypsum Reefs standing out for its stunning eroded rock formations. The B-29 site has a submerged B-29 Superfortress bomber plane, which crashed in Lake Mead. It can only be accessed through a guided dive tour, so be sure to reserve well ahead of time.

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7. Homestead Crater, Midway, Utah

This natural wonder, renowned as the scuba-diving destination with the warmest water in the continental U.S., is situated in the mountains of Utah. The crater is a natural hot spring surrounded by a rock dome which opens to the sky above. Despite this opening to the mountain air, the mineral-dense water hovers between 90 and 96 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. A manmade tunnel allows for easy access to the soothingly warm water below, where visitors can swim, soak, snorkel, scuba dive, or take a paddleboard yoga class. Open water certification is possible through a program of four dives conducted over a two-day period. Objects are suspended at varying depths and changed periodically -- there are no fish in the mineral-rich springs. At the bottom, divers can watch the geothermal spring bubble up from the silt-laden floor. Since the crater is rather small for a dive site, reservations should be made with the resort ahead of time. Visiting in the winter months allows the unique opportunity to ski and scuba dive on the same day. 

8. Clear Lake, Linn County, Oregon

Bonnie/Flickr

This stunning lake lies to the west of Mt. Washington among dense pine forest. Clear Lake lives up to its name, offering excellent visibility of over 100 feet for divers to take in lava flows, a sunken forest, vibrant algae fields, and geothermal vents. The sunken forest features 80-foot submerged tree trunks, which makes the trip to this middle-of-nowhere lake well worth the effort. The nearest sizable population is in Bend, which is over an hour drive away. This mountain lake water offers solitude and incredibly underwater beauty, but it’s on the cold side. Divers will need a dry suit and should have advanced dive experience. 

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9. Lake Champlain, Burlington, Vermont

Porsche Brosseau/Flickr

Best known for its craft breweries, covered bridges, and skiing, Vermont is also home to 120-mile long Lake Champlain. Just offshore from Burlington near the center of the lake lie several shipwrecks. These wrecks are protected as an Underwater Preserve, which guards them against damage from boat anchors and harm through looting. The wreck sites in Burlington’s harbor include a 63-foot-long horse powered ferry, an 88-foot-long sailing canal boat, a smaller canal boat, and a coal barge -- all dating back to the 1800’s. Organized dives are led by Waterfront Diving Center from May through September.

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