With tropical fish, coral reefs, and plenty of shipwrecks to boot, Florida is fantastic destination for scuba diving. Whether you're a first-time or experienced diver, there are multiple dive spots in this southernmost U.S. state that can meet your skillset. From Ginnie Springs' magical caverns to the crystal-clear waters of Rainbow Springs State Park, here are the nine best places to go diving in Florida.
Dry Tortugas National Park
A 70-mile boat ride from Key West, the Dry Tortugas are a group of islands in the Gulf of Mexico. Once there, you’ll be able to explore Fort Jefferson, an incomplete fortress, said to be the largest brick masonry structure in both North and South America.
If you plan to scuba dive or snorkel here, be sure to check out the shipwrecks and marine life as well as the coral and seagrass communities. Take note: It’s very important not to disturb the coral or tamper with the shipwrecks/historic artifacts, which are protected by law. If diving or snorkeling outside the designated area, you must display a dive flag for your safety and the safety of others.
To get here, you can take a catamaran, seaplane, or ferry. There are no hotels here, so plan to camp or return to the mainland before sundown.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
Operating since 1963, John Pennekamp in the Florida Keys is the oldest underwater park in the country. As such, the park—which stretches for 25 miles—is on the National Register of Historic Places. Diving equipment is available for rent at John Pennekamp, and special group and pre-paid tour rates are available if you call to reserve a dive in advance.
You can also opt to explore the living coral reefs on a private snorkeling charter. Tank-dive tours take divers to the Carysfort Reef site (about six miles east of Key Largo), where you’ll find shallow, elkhorn, and massive star corals. Carysfort is also the site of the H.M.S. Winchester, which sunk in 1695 and is the oldest recorded shipwreck in North America. These tours take place twice a day, at 9 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. It's $500 for up to six people; costs cover gear and drinks.
On Florida’s Gulf Coast, just south of Tampa, Sarasota is a renowned destination for water sports. Unlike other major diving destinations, dive centers here do not offer regularly scheduled boat trips; instead, they operate charters.
Because the surface temperatures in the normally calm offshore waters range from temperate to warm, you can dive year-round in Sarasota. Those looking to fine-tune their scuba skills can head to Lido Beach Resort, situated on a 300-foot stretch of white sand in Lido Key. Here, the concierge team specializes in arranging a variety of water sports rentals for guests, including scuba diving with Florida Underwater Sports. This high-training facility offers a variety of courses for divers of all ages and experience levels.
Featuring plenty of lakes and fishing opportunities, this spring-fed river on the Gulf of Mexico is home to hundreds of manatees. Take a guided scuba diving tour and get to know the deep springs that flow from the Great Florida Aquifer. There are quite a few local companies that will set you up and take you out, no matter your experience level. Check out Adventure Diving, Crystal Lodge Dive Center, or Seadaddys Dive Center for more info.
A privately owned Florida park near High Springs, Ginnie Springs can be found on the south side of the Santa Fe River. With caverns to explore and sparkling, blue waters, most people have no idea a magical place like this even exists in the Sunshine State—but it most certainly does. There are various dive sites here, including the Ballroom at Ginnie Springs and the Devil’s Spring System (DSS). The DSS enforces a No Lights rule, allowing only certified cavern or cave divers to enter the water with dive lights. The Ballroom allows lights, but surface light is clearly visible from most parts here.
Hog Heaven Wreck
Off the coast of Fort Lauderdale, Hog Heaven is a 180-foot barge that was intentionally sunk in the making of an artificial reef in 1986. You'll find a lot of marine life here, including schools of yellow grunts, moray eels, angelfish, porkfish, and goliath grouper. Divers should beware of sharp metal frames on the wreck for their own safety. If interested in a dive tour, American Dream Dive Charters takes divers out twice daily. Prices per person start at $65, while full-boat charters with 15 to 24 passengers start at $900.
For those who want to venture further out, the 70-foot Wayne is about 200 feet northeast of Hog Heaven and the Pacific Reef Lighthouse remains aren’t far off, either.
At Rainbow Springs State Park in Dunnellon, Florida, the springs are rumored to be more than 10,000 years old and have exceptional healing properties. Made up of many vents, the springs here provide 400 to 600 million gallons of crystalline water per day.
There’s plenty to do here, including swimming, snorkeling, canoeing, and hiking. If you're here to dive, you'll be happy to explore the clear waters of the 5.7-mile-long Rainbow River, where you’ll find seagrass, various aquatic plants, sea turtles, and other freshwater marine life.
For $25 a night, you can camp at Withlacoochee State Forest at the Holder Mine Campground, or choose to stay in a cabin rental or Airbnb nearby.
A prehistoric spring in Williston, Florida, Devil’s Den is a privately owned scuba dive training center where the water stays at a 72 degrees year-round and goes no deeper than 54 feet. Dive buddies are required and anyone who does not have an Open Water certification (or above) will not be admitted. Those under the age of 18 must be accompanied by an adult. Scuba diving lessons are available seven days a week, and night dives are possible by appointment.
Camp out here or rent a four-person cabin for the whole family. Also worth checking out when in Williston: Cedar Lakes Woods and Gardens Botanical Garden and Nature Preserve.
Biscayne National Park Maritime Heritage Trail
There are lots of places to dive in Miami, but a favorite is the Maritime Heritage Trail in Biscayne National Park. Here, you’ll find shipwreck remains (six in total) in all different sizes and shapes. Ships Erl King, Alicia, and Lugano are best for scuba divers, while Mandalay is better suited for snorkelers.
Snorkeling and scuba diving around the base of Fowey Rocks Lighthouse is an option as well. Built in 1878, Fowey Rocks is known as the “Eye of Miami” and is only accessible via boat like the rest of the dive site.