Spectacular Scuba Diving Spots in Your National Parks

Katherine RivardTravel Ideas
Humpback whale with a fin out of the water at Kenai Fjords National Park
Kenai Fjords National Park – Kaitlin Thorensen/NPS

The diversity of resources protected within parks is what makes the National Park System so amazing. For example: did you know that 61 national parks have significant water areas? They’re a remarkable resource often only seen from above water level. Though frequently an overlooked opportunity, visitors can explore the underwater realm of many parks by scuba diving in these spots. From the icy waters of Alaska to the warm reefs of Guam, some of the least-explored areas of our parks can only be reached with the help of some fins and an air tank.

Let these seven examples wet, err…whet (see what we did there?), your diving appetite and be inspired to peruse which national parks near you offer spectacular scuba opportunities.

  1. Straddling the border with Mexico in Western Texas, Amistad National Recreation Area offers a clear lake with varying water depths. Old dams, sunken boats, and fish are some of the sights you can expect to see. Sites to visit include bridges from the old highway 277, which were submerged in 1969, and a ranch house from the 1930s.
  2. Curecanti National Recreation Area’s brochure mentions scuba diving three times — this park’s deep water was made for the sport. Blue Mesa Reservoir, when full, is Colorado’s largest lake and is one of three human-made lakes in the park. Divers can expect a typical reservoir dive, complete with crayfish, submerged roads, and good drop-offs. With the correct equipment and training, experienced divers can also try ice diving in the winter months.

  1. Autumn in the Ozarks is gloriously beautiful, and also the ideal time to visit the parks for diving. Both Ozark National Scenic Riverways and Buffalo National River have significant bodies of waters. The Current and Buffalo rivers are both popular with canoers and inner-tubers, but also offer incredible chances for underwater exploration by divers. However, given that the rivers are too shallow for scuba diving during many times of the year, snorkeling is another great way to swim beside turtles and enjoy the aquatic life.
  2. While Pu'uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park’s history is what captivates audiences on land, the sea caves and marine life below sea-level are what amaze those willing to explore them. Given that the park holds much cultural importance and is a sacred ceremonial area, divers are asked not to use some parts of the park for recreation. However, visitors are free to snorkel north of Keauhou Beach Hotel. Divers are also able to scuba in the park at the picnic and backcountry area south of the refuge.

  1. Claiming some of the best diving in the Midwest, Lake Superior, and more specifically Alger Underwater Preserve, is sure to impress divers in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. The cold, swift waters cover an abundant supply of shipwrecks. Over 20 shipwrecks lie on the lake’s bottom, waiting to be explored, but be sure not to leave with a “souvenir!” A clear mandate underscores the need to preserve these historic relics.
  2. Looking for icy water dives that allow you to see large fauna like orcas and humpback whales? It’s possible at Kenai Fjords National Park. Sea otters play and halibut dart about to create a water exploration unlike any other. Extreme cold and logistics make these dives incredibly challenging, but those who take the time to do so will be seeing unnamed waterfalls and sights that very few, if any, have seen.

A pod of whales bubble feeding surrounded by many seagulls in the air with mountains and a glacier in the background at Kenai Fjords National Park

Humpback whales bubble feeding at Kenai Fjords National Park

Kay White/NPS
  1. Deep waters aren’t hard to come by in this park. In fact, War in the Pacific National Historical Park boasts the Mariana Trench — a drop that continues for almost 7 miles, the deepest point in any ocean. In addition to warm waters and plentiful fish, divers can expect to see war materials from both world wars scattered throughout the waters and some amazing coral reefs.

If this overview piqued your interest, take the time to learn more about other national parks that are perfect for diving. Boating and swimming are fun ways to enjoy these remarkable places, but those with a taste for adventure can gear up and dive down. Research a site that sounds like a fit for you, then grab your fins and go #FindYourPark!


Except for Hawaii, which I can't afford, is there any place to scuba in warm water?
Thanks for reading, Vicki! Some of the parks like Amistad National Recreation Area in Texas are in warmer climates (though this can lead to reduced visibility in summer months). You can also head here to see a full listing of sites in the parks where you can scuba: www.nps.gov/submerged/homepage/npsmap2.html Happy diving!
Biscayne and Dry Tortugas National Parks in Florida both offer great warm-water snorkeling and diving (I worked at both in the 1980s). Biscayne shares it southern boundary with Pennekamp State Park which also provides great underwater experiences.

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