Diving the Fred McBrier, in the Straits of Mackinac, in northern Lake Michigan. Photo: Dan Lindsay/Shutterstock

7 Places for the Best Lake Diving in the US

United States Diving
by Jessica Merrill Matador Creators Apr 26, 2024

When most people think about scuba diving, they think about tropical destinations, clear water, and boat rides in the sunshine to reach coral reefs or underwater rock formations. But if you live near one of the lakes below popular with scuba divers, you may be surprised to realize that some of the best diving in the US is far from any ocean coastline. Lake diving can be more varied, more exciting, and more adventurous than your standard coral reef drift dive, and comes with the added bonus of getting to visit some of the prettiest lakeside destinations in the US.

Today, more and more divers are realizing the beauty of lake diving: diving in fresh water in more inland locations. These often challenging and rewarding destinations are ripe for underwater photography and once-in-a-lifetime adventures in otherworldly landscapes, sometimes surrounded by dramatic backdrops like alpine forests or rocky cliffs and gorges.

These are seven of the best lake diving locations in the US, plus the run-down on what skills and equipement you’ll need for each one, as well as recommended dive shops.

Diving in Lake Tahoe (California and Nevada)

Summertime aerial view of Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe, California

Photo: somchaij/Shutterstock

Lake Tahoe covers nearly two hundred square miles on the intersection of California and Nevada. While the towns around Lake Tahoe are more known for sports like skiing and hiking, the lake itself is actually quite popular with area divers.

There are a few places to scuba dive in Lake Tahoe, but Emerald Bay is probably the most impressive underwater attraction. You’ll dive next to submerged trees from a rockslide in the steep canyon, over a dumping ground for the historic Emerald Bay Resort (closed in the early 1900s), and along a purpose-build underwater trail. It’s called the Emerald Bay Maritime Heritage Trail and includes dozens of vintage artifacts and the remains of several historic boats.

In total, there are four dive sites at Emerald Bay. On the Barge Dive Site, you’ll find the remains of two massive barges used by Tahoe’s lumber companies in the 1800s, while the other three sites (Passenger Launch, Wooden Fishing Boat, and Hard Chine Skiff) show off the history of Emerald Bay Resort. And Tahoe’s cold, still water helps keep everything very well preserved.

Lake Tahoe sits about 6,200 feet above sea level and is cold year-round, even in summer. While you can get away with a 7-mil wetsuit (plus a hood, gloves, and booties), almost all divers dive in drysuits. So you’ll need your own drysuit, or need a drysuit certification to rent one. While the dives at Emerald Bay aren’t particularly deep, maxing out at about 60 feet, there are deeper dives in other areas of the lake that require an advanced open water certification.



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You also need experience diving at altitude. The math gets complicated, but essentially, since the pressure at Tahoe’s surface is less than the pressure at sea level, you need to readjust the calculations for how your body will respond to gas at depths. The long and short of it is that you can easily get the bends if you treat it like a dive at sea level. There are also no decompression chambers around the lake if you make a grave mistake.

There’s only one scuba diving shop in Lake Tahoe, on the Nevada side near the south shore. It’s called Tahoe Dive Center and runs dives from roughly May to September. You can also find shops with experience diving in Lake Tahoe in Reno, Nevada, about 35 minutes away from the lake. Good Reno options include Adventure Scuba or Sierra Dive Center.

Diving in Ginnie Springs (Florida)

Scuba diver looks into cave at Ginny Springs, Florida

Photo: Valerijs Novickis/Shutterstock

Northern Florida is often referred to as “cave country” by in-the-know divers, and Ginnie Springs is considered a world-class freshwater site. It’s one of the region’s most spectacular cavern diving sites with options to suit every skill and comfort level. Ginnie Springs is also an excellent choice for divers hoping to log multiple days in the water, with tent camping and cottages for rent near the spring, as well as a full-service dive center on the property.

Ginnie Cavern is a massive and open underwater formation that even newly certified divers can safely explore. In the upper chamber, expect to see panoramic views of naturally illuminated and highly reflective limestone. Head a bit deeper to the Ginnie Ballroom, and you’ll see fascinating rock patterns dotted with thousand of tiny impressions that some say resembles Swiss cheese. Divers will need lights, but since Ginnie Cavern has a huge opening and is quite shallow (the Ballroom maxes at 50 feet deep), it’s one of the few places in the US where divers can experience a cavern without any formal cavern diving training.


Ginnie Springs is part of a larger cavern system that includes Devil’s Eye, Devil’s Ear and Devil Spring, all of which are limited to cave- and cavern-certified divers. You can also do drift dives when the water level is high enough in the Santa Fe River. While diving, look along the riverbed for supersized fossils, including ground sloths from the Pleistocene Era.

You can rent dive gear on site at the full-service dive shop and a full setup with lights will set you back $70 for the day. You can also book guided dives through nearby outfitters like Crystal River Kayak Company, but since it’s easy diving and a contained site, most people just go on their own. If you’d like to get certified or work on your cavern certification, the on-site shop works with instructors at Cave Max to do instruction at Ginnie Springs, too.

Diving in Lake Huron (Michigan)

A diver inspects the bow of the wreck of the steel bulk freighter Grecian, where it rests in Lake Huron's Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary

Photo: Love Lego/Shutterstock

Sometimes referred to as “shipwreck alley,” the massive underwater marine preserve called Thunder Bay in Michigan’s Lake Huron is home to more than 100 shipwrecks, dating from the 1850s through to the 1960s. Most were lost to collision or accidental grounding, and today, tell the story of this region’s shipping and mercantile past. Divers can tour sunken hulks ranging from wooden steamboats and schooners to modern steel freighters, with depths and dive site conditions for all skill and certification levels (including technical exploration hundreds of feet below the surface). Lake Huron’s visibility can top out at 80 feet, making it a beloved wreck diving destination for underwater photographers and videographers.

The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary is best dived by boat, making it easy to hit all the park’s best wrecks in just a few days. Some of the most desirable sites here include the ruins of the Windiate, Kyle Spangler, Defiance, and Audubon, each worth at least a few dives for internal and external exploration. You’ll find several dive centers around the Great Lakes, each offering guided exploration and scuba courses, plus rental equipment and tank fills. Some of the closest shops to the sanctuary include Huron Scuba, Nautical North Family Adventures, and Great Lakes Divers, among many other options.


Drysuits aren’t mandatory, though they are recommended. Hearty divers doing just a dive or two can probably get away with a 7-mil wetsuit in the summer, though throwing an extra 3-mil vest on top of that wouldn’t hurt.

On your way to or from diving, you may want to stop by the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center. The exhibits, artifact galleries, and archaeological conservation lab are loaded with insight into the region’s wrecks, and history. There’s also a visitor center in the nearby town of Alpena with extensive information about the marine sanctuary and shipwreck alley.

Diving in Clear Lake (Oregon)

View framed by trees of Clear Lake, Oregon

Photo: Joe Klune/Shutterstock

Have you ever dreamed of scuba diving in a submerged forest? Some of the underwater landscapes at Oregon’s Clear Lake are absolutely otherworldly, allowing divers to weave around towering tree trunks in submerged forests and peer into “potholes,” where you can see ice-cold underwater springs pumping out water from deep below the earth’s surface. Visibility is usually quite good, averaging around 100 feet. There are a few places to dive in the lake, with most divers going no deeper than 50 or so feet.

Diving at Oregon’s Clear Lake is easy, with shore access that requires just a short walk from the parking area. Diving here is pretty relaxing, since no motorized watercraft are allowed on the lake. In addition to its fascinating topography, this site is home to freshwater fish and shrimp, with curious trout often approaching divers for a closer look.


This is one of the coldest lake diving destinations on this list, with average daily temperatures in the 30s and 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Drysuits and regulators designed for cold water are mandatory (so don’t bring your warm-water, tropical dive gear), but freeze-ups can still happen. Like Lake Tahoe, it’s also an altitude dive at more than 3,000 feet above sea level, so you’ll need to adjust your dive profile for elevation. You should be an advanced open water diver and confident on handling underwater emergencies, especially as there are no dive shops nearby. So you’ll need to be entirely self-sufficient (though there is a restaurant at the Clear Lake Resort).

Scuba diving in Lake Jocassee (South Carolina)

lake diving - lake jocassee south carolina

Photo: Kevin Ruck/Shutterstock

Lake Jocassee, a reservoir tucked away in a park in South Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, offers a surprisingly world-class scuba diving experience. Regularly cited as one of the top 15 freshwater dives on the planet, the lake boasts exceptional water clarity, with visibility often exceeding 50 feet.

Lake Jocassee’s is a flooded river valley, with an unexpectedly varied submerged landscape. Divers can navigate past submerged rock outcroppings, descend alongside sheer underwater cliffs, or explore sunken forests where fish weave between fallen logs. Deep wall dives are available to challenge experienced technical divers (like the 70-foot-deep South Wall), while shallower sites like Jenny’s Drift are a good introduction to lake diving (and SC’s fish population). Also dotted across the lakebed are sunken houses, relocated cemeteries, and even a shipwreck, called the “Junk,” resting at a depth of 60 feet.

Water temperatures in Lake Jocassee fluctuate with the seasons. While the surface can reach comfortable levels in the low 80 degrees Fahrenheit, temperatures drop significantly with depth. Most divers wear drysuits year-round, but especially outside of the late summer/early fall.


Despite being a freshwater ecosystem, Lake Jocassee has plenty of aquatic life. Divers can expect to encounter a variety of fish species, including largemouth and striped bass, bream, crappie, and catfish, plus the potential to spot freshwater mussels, crayfish, and even the occasional shy turtle.

Lake Jocassee diving is usually arranged via nearby operators, since there’s no scuba shop within Devil’s Fork State Park. However, there are plenty of nearby shops that offer rentals and/or guided trips, including The Scuba Shop, Scuba Johns, Lake Jocassee Dive Shop, Dolphin Dive Center, and many more.

Diving in Lake Travis (Texas)

scuba diving lake travis texas - sunset

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Lake Travis, a reservoir on the Colorado River west of Austin, Texas, provides a unique but challenging scuba diving experience. Visibility can be good if you’re lucky but usually averages around 15 to 30 feet, depending on recent weather. But it barely matters, since the primary draws are the lake’s historical artifacts and submerged structures. The underwater landscape consists of natural rock formations, underwater cliffs, and man-made structures like those at a site called Starnes Island, known for its wall dives and sunken boat hulls.

At Windy Point, divers can find underwater sculptures, and at West Point, be sure to look for the old washing machine and other domestic remains. Popular with experienced divers is the eerie Fiesta Haus Wall, a deep site with a large grotto. And at Wreck Alley, divers can encounter sunken boats and barges – remnants of the lake’s history as a popular recreational area.

The season for scuba diving in Lake Travis is relatively long, spanning from spring through fall for most divers (though you can dive it year-round). Diving Lake Travis is generally warmest in the summer, reaching the mid-80s Fahrenheit at the surface. However, due to the lake’s depth, temperatures drop rapidly. Drysuits are recommended year-round to maintain comfort during dives, though you’ll find a decent amount of people wearing seven-mils with hoods and gloves/booties in the summer.



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The difficulty of diving Lake Travis varies depending on the location and depth. Shore entry is available at some sites, but many require boat access. Dives range from shallow depths suitable for beginners to deep wall dives exceeding 100 feet, which are appropriate for experienced technical divers only. Strong currents can be present at some locations, and proper buoyancy control is essential throughout the dive. Flashlights are recommended, owing to the iffy visibility.

Scuba Diving in Lake Michigan (Midwest)

scuba diving lake michigan - shipwreck

Diving the Fred McBrier, in the Straits of Mackinac, in northern Lake Michigan. Photo: Dan Lindsay/Shutterstock

Lake Huron isn’t the only Great Lake popular with scuba divers. Scuba diving in Lake Michigan is an awesome adventure for cold-water divers, with excellent visibility sometimes exceeding 80 feet (but usually closer to around 40). While the frigid water temperatures are a major hurdle, the payoff is worth it for many divers.

Scuba diving Lake Michigan is a draw for divers who like shipwrecks, as the lake’s minimal currents and freshwater mean hundreds of wrecks are well-preserved. The wrecks range from shallow wooden schooners to massive steel freighters, some dating back more than a century. Popular dive sites include the SS Palo Alto, a WWI freighter resting at 100 feet; and The Rouse Simmons, resting at about 150 feet. Both are suitable only for advanced open water divers. But sites like the Yuba Wreck (15 feet deep) and the Lady Elgin (45 feet deep) are popular with beginners.

The diving season is compressed due to the extremely cold winters. Dives are generally restricted to the summer months, from July to August for most divers. Diving in Lake Michigan is always cold, with water temperatures at the surface maxing out around 70 degrees Fahrenheit, meaning it’s much colder at depth. A seven-mil wetsuit may be okay for one summer dive on a hot day, but you’ll want a drysuit otherwise.


Lake Michigan spans four states (Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, and Indiana), and because it’s so big, you can dive from a few different towns. If you’re diving in the Grand Traverse Bay Underwater Preserve, you’ll want to work with a dive shop in Traverse City, Michigan, such as Scuba North. Otherwise, most of the major cities around Lake Michigan have shops that offer rentals, classes, and guided trips to scuba dive Lake Michigan, including Shipwreck Explorers or Aquatic Adventures, both based in Milwaukee; Berry Dive Center, about 20 minutes north of Chicago in Evanston, IL; or Shipwreck Adventures, in Two Rivers, WI.

This article was first published in August 2021 and updated in April 2024.


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