Surrounded by crystal clear blue water, feeling almost weightless as you move unimpeded through the water. You’re visited by curious little sea creatures trying to figure out what sort of fish you are with your funny goggles and breathing tube. If this sounds amazing to you, but the ocean is out of the question, you’ll be happy to know that snorkeling can be just as fun, even if you aren’t in the Pacific.
Let’s make one thing clear. The experience you get from diving in the ocean is very difficult to replace, but you stand your best chance if you pick one of the locations on this list. Join us as we dive into 10 lakes that are perfect for freshwater snorkeling in the US.
1 Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, Lake Huron
We begin with a great spot in one of the five great lakes because where else would we go first? While this lake, in particular, is partly in Canada and partly in the US, Thunder Bay is on the American side of the border. The location is classified as a Museum, except all its artifacts are underwater.
There are almost a hundred of these preserved artifacts, shipwrecks to be more precise, and the sanctuary is open to the public, so you can explore as many of them as you want. Just make sure not to disturb the sunken giants too much.
2 Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Lake Michigan
This is another amazing location for fans of the great lakes. The waters surrounding the dunes are shallow enough for snorkeling, and while there, you can expect to encounter sunken ships as well, some of them being over 200 years old.
If you head to the dunes, you’ll be treated to beautiful natural views, as the neighboring beaches and forests are tourist attractions by themselves. You’re here for the underwater view though, and you can be sure that Lake Michigan will not disappoint. It’s one of the most popular lakes for Americans, and there are many reasons why.
3 Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe
Similar to the other great lake sites on this list, Emerald Bay has wonderful underwater artifacts that you can explore with your snorkeling gear. However, this location is also popular for something else; The Sunken Forest.
The Sunken Forest is an area on the west side of the bay with the remains of pine trees that still stand upright. They were moved there by a landslide many years ago, and they’ve been fascinating divers ever since.
4 Blue Hole, New Mexico
Up next, we have the Blue Hole. This special kind of lake is high on this list, even with a surface diameter of just 80 feet. The lake is constantly fed by fast-flowing water, which over time created the cavity in the ground, and even today ensures that the lake is cycled out entirely every 6 hours. The site has several underwater rock formations that divers can explore.
This is one very cool hole in the ground, and the fact that it’s constantly 62 degrees while being in the middle of the desert is only part of the reason why. It’s an amazing tourist destination that you’d be happy to make the trip to even if you don’t live close by.
5 Ginnie Springs, Florida
Ginnie Springs is probably one of the best locations for underwater exploration, mostly because the visibility in the water is the stuff of urban legend. Even on a bad day, you’ll be treated to crisp views and spectacular colors.
The Ginnie Ballroom is a cave at the bottom of the springs, and even from inside the cave, you can clearly make out the surface of the water. It’s a location that’s popular among scuba divers, but with the water at 72 degrees and at a max depth of 20 feet, it’s hard to find a more snorkel-able location.
6 Homestead Crater, Utah
With this location, you can combine a spa-like experience with your snorkeling trip. The waters at Homestead Crater stay between 90 and 96 degrees all year round, resulting in a cozy dive that will prompt you to ditch any unnecessary extra clothing. It’s also easier to swim in this location because of the temperature, making it an amazing activity for the whole family.
The walls of the crater can be explored during your swim, and while there won’t be any sunken ships to swim into, this mineral-packed warm spring would be a great addition to your water-based activity bucket list if you live in Utah.
7 Bonne Terre, Missouri
If you’re up for a more engaging dive, you might want to try out this one in Missouri. Bonne Terre is the name of a mine that was flooded after its closing in 1962 and is maintained in that condition even today. The super clear waters reveal stories of the life and work that once occupied those mines, and the site offers guided tours that will fill you in on that history.
Now, the waters of the mine are rather cold, and you would require a suit to go in the water. Also, you would need to be supervised as part of a diving group. So while you can technically snorkel in this location, many of the people who visit opt to scuba dive, and this is arguably the better way to enjoy the site.
8 Bailey’s Harbor, Door County, Wisconsin
Just off the coast of Bailey’s Harbor, you’ll find another perfect example of why the great lakes have made this list so many times at this point. This location has many ideal snorkeling artifacts, and the most popular one for snorkelers is The Christina Nilsson. She sank in 1884 and still remains accessible to divers below just 15 feet of water.
The best time to swim is between July and August, as during those times, the water temperature in Baileys Harbor is usually at a comfortable 68 degrees. When it gets cold, the water drops below 40 degrees, at which point you would be doing some extreme cold-water swimming.
9 The Scuba Ranch, Texas
The Scuba Ranch is a small spring-fed lake that’s managed and maintained by the family that owns the ranch, and they welcome members of the public to dive in the waters. They offer mostly scuba diving services, as you can probably tell by the name of the ranch. However, snorkeling is possible in the lake, and with the water temperature getting up to 81 degrees in June, you won’t need any special gear if you go during summer.
If you choose to go, you might want to save time by making a reservation beforehand and signing the required waiver.
10 Crystal River, Florida
Now, this location isn’t a lake, but it’s a noteworthy freshwater snorkeling location for one major reason: Manatees! Where else are you going to get the opportunity to snorkel with these beautiful creatures? The gentle giants are very safe to be around and don’t seem to mind having their pictures taken.
If you’re looking for a great family or group snorkeling activity, this is a perfect candidate. Be sure to start planning early because this is one very popular location. Here’s a guide to help you get started on your tour of Crystal River.
Snorkeling can be a great water-based activity for all skill levels, and with this list of lakes that are perfect for snorkeling, you won’t have to travel to the coast to go for a dive. However, if you do decide to, here’s a list of amazing snorkeling spots that includes coastal waters.