The Best Dive Sites in the US During the Winter Months

Winter may not seem like the ideal time for an underwater adventure, but all over the United States, there are diving destinations that are especially spectacular in winter. From inland locations to natural springs, to warm coastal waters, there are winter destinations for divers of all abilities across the United States. And for beginners considering a trip, PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors), the world’s largest organization of divers and ocean explorers, also offers online learning through PADI eLearning, with courses such as open water, dry suit and ice diving.

“Winter may not make you think of diving, but it’s a fantastic time to explore the adventure beneath the surface. Cooler waters provide crystal clear visibility, awe-inspiring shark aggregations and unforgettable interactions with marine mammals,” said Kristin Valette Wirth, Chief Brand and Membership Officer for PADI Worldwide. , rivers and even freshwater springs.”

A PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer with more than 30 years of experience in the dive industry, including as manager of a dive center in Santa Barbara, Valette Wirth says, “The right equipment and training are the key to enjoyable winter diving – just like a knowledgeable local PADI -diving operation. Wherever you decide to dive this winter,” she adds, “you can prepare for your trip at home with PADI eLearning. That way you can spend more time under the surface when you reach your real destination.’

Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, Texas

Man swimming with diving equipment on.

Located off the coast of Texas and Louisiana in the subtropical waters of the Gulf of Mexico, the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary protects a chain of biodiversity-rich reefs and banks discovered by sailors chasing grouper and snapper. Embedded with more than 20 different species of hard corals, including mammoth ethers and star coral, the protected area’s underwater habitat attracts a wide variety of marine life, including barracudas, huge manta rays, and endangered whale sharks. In winter, the 160-square-mile sanctuary also becomes a hub for eagle rays and huge flocks of scalloped hammerhead sharks. In the Gulf of Mexico, the critically endangered hammerhead sharks gather in large groups composed entirely of male sharks, appearing every year between January and March — though the reason for the seasonal schooling remains a mystery.

“They often number in the hundreds at this National Marine Sanctuary,” says Valette Wirth, “and the best way to experience this incredible seasonal highlight is to go on a PADI dive liveaboard.”

Homestead Crater, Utah

Shirtless man with diving equipment.

Diving doesn’t always have to mean a trip to the coast. In Utah, just outside Park City, the geothermal waters of the Homestead Crater make the ancient hot springs an inviting winter diving spot. Encased in a beehive-shaped limestone dome, the spring-fed crater plunges to a depth of 65 feet — and the water temperature hovers constantly around 95 degrees, year-round. While there may not be marine life lurking in the crater, there are plenty of subaquatic features to explore in the mineral-rich waters – and the geothermal spring is also used as an open water dive site for scuba certification. Now part of the Homestead Resort, the cavernous crater is easily accessible year-round for swimmers, divers, snorkelers, and paddleboarders.

“If you’re into diving and skiing as much as I am, Homestead Crater is the perfect destination,” says Valette Wirth, “it’s just a 20-minute drive from the skinirvana, Park City, and offers a contrasting warm-water dive. to the snowy slopes nearby.”

read more: 6 best dive sites for both beginners and professionals

Crystal River, Florida

Man dives into the background while watching two manatees swimming.

Despite their hulking bodies, Florida manatees can’t stand cold water. During the winner, when temperatures dip in the Gulf of Mexico, the fleshy marine mammals seek water temperatures over 68 degrees — often inland to slow-flowing rivers and crystal clear springs. One of the best places in the Sunshine State to spot manatees is Kings Bay and the Crystal River. A highway for heat-seeking manatees, the 7-mile Crystal River stretches from the Gulf of Mexico to 600-acre Kings Bay, the second-largest source group in the state. Between Kings Bay and the Crystal River, a patchwork of sanctuaries protects migratory manatees, including the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge. And for inexperienced divers, all it takes is a mask and snorkel to explore the waters of the Crystal River—and the refuge also provides a helpful set of guidelines for respecting the protected area’s roaming manatees.

“There’s nothing more incredible than Florida’s Crystal River in the winter,” says Valette Wirth. “As a protected marine mammal, Crystal River is the only place where you can legally keep manatees. Their numbers can run into the hundreds and they are incredibly friendly. Of course I kept my distance,” she adds, “but these gentle giants often choose to hang out with you.”

Catalina Island, California

Three divers swimming around kelp.

The southernmost of California’s Channel Islands, Catalina Island is an ecologically rich atoll with a colorful history. Just off the coast of Southern California, the island has served as a location for a wide range of Hollywood movies and has even hosted the Chicago Cubs for spring training after being bought in 1919 by bubble gum magnate William Wrigley Jr. Today, most of the island, including 62 miles of shoreline, is protected by the non-profit Catalina Island Conservancy. Offshore, the waters around Catalina Island teem with dense kelp forests and rocky reefs, protected by a conglomerate of marine protected areas. One of the most accessible spots for shore divers is the Casino Point State Marine Conservation Area. The dive site is frequented year-round by giant black bass, bat rays and California sea lions and also has water temperatures that stay above 55 degrees in winter.

“Aside from the vast kelp forests, divers are likely to find horn sharks, giant sea bass, sea urchins, crawfish, seals and more. Recently I had the honor of teaching my 13-year-old daughter to dive here, and I saw her experience the wonder and discover the beauty of the underwater world – just like I had,” adds Valette Wirth.

Jupiter, Florida

Four men in diving gear swim in the ocean.

On Florida’s Atlantic coast, about 90 miles north of Miami, the city of Jupiter is a winter diving hub. The seaside town offers easy access to a range of coastal parks with nearshore reefs ideal for snorkelers and shore divers, including Carlin Park and Dubois Park. Farther offshore, however, the waters off Jupiter are known for harboring hordes of lemon sharks, efficient predators that can grow as large as 10 feet. The migrating sharks usually gather between December and March, attracted in part by the Gulf Stream, a powerful ocean current that carries warmer waters from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean, creating an ecosystem rich in nutrients for marine life.

“In groups of 15 to 50 people, divers can drift with the shivers of these iconic sharks that soar above wrecks like the 147-foot Esso Bonaire,” says Valette Wirth, “and thanks to the currents of the Gulf Stream, the water temperature is at a comfortable 70 degrees this time of year.”

read more: The World’s Best Destinations To Dive For Sunken Treasures

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