5 National Parks Where You Can Scuba Dive

Health Benefits of Scuba Diving

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Scuba diving, to the uninitiated, seems like a rare and exotic activity. It takes guts to head below the sea (or lake) and breathe beneath the water. What most people don't realize is that apart from the fact that scuba diving can be a great way to discover the otherwise alien world under the sea, it's also an excellent way to get fit.

Scuba divers must be able to do two important things:

  1. Swim.
  2. Control breathing.

It's these two things that work together to make scuba so beneficial for health.

Swimming alone is an excellent workout. Water, being more dense than air, is harder to move through and requires greater muscle engagement in every plane of motion. And while water also increases buoyancy, making you feel weightless, divers must load themselves up with equipment, creating a bigger, bulkier, heavier mass to move through the water. This requires strength, particularly of the quads, hamstrings, glutes and core.

Breath control is another important health benefit of scuba. Divers must learn to control their breath, taking long, slow inhales and exhales to better conserve oxygen. This type of breathing exercise helps reduce stress and also improves the efficiency of the lungs and oxygen exchange.

If you think you have head to a tropical location to enjoy a deep dive, think again. You can take a PADI divers class in your local pool and schedule your required deep dive at a nearby lake or seashore. In fact, the following five national parks are the perfect spots for taking your first dive.

Biscayne National Park

Matthew Hoelscher/Creative Commons/Flickr

Biscayne National Park, a stone's throw from Miami, is home to beautiful coral reefs, lush islands, and clear, aqua waters. These waters are open for the exploring... with one caveat. The National Park lost its primary scuba and snorkeling concessionaire in 2013 and is yet to find a new business to replace it. While there are a few commercial operations allowed to run scuba tours in the park, they're limited. The park promises to release information on its new concessionaire as soon as possible, and will provide the info on their website.

Photo by Matthew Hoelscher

Channel Islands National Park

National Park Service

Channel Islands National Park is located off the coast of Southern California and comprises five islands and their ecosystems - an area the includes the square mile of ocean surrounding the islands. Diving is best done off of Santa Barbara, Anacapa and eastern Santa Cruz Islands, rather than Santa Rosa or San Miguel, which can be excessively windy. The park itself doesn't have a diving concessionaire, so you should locate a dive operation in the area to help you organize your trip.

Isle Royale National Park

Joe Ross/Creative Commons License

Michigan might not be the first place you consider taking a scuba trip, but Isle Royale National Park is actually an excellent dive location. The cold waters of Lake Superior have preserved numerous shipwrecks in excellent condition, making it a veritable explorer's paradise.

That said, due to the sometimes-dangerous weather conditions of Lake Superior and the extreme cold of the water, the National Park Service doesn't want just anyone leading excursions. To take a dive trip, you need to use one of the National Park Service-approved dive charters, which can be found on the Isle Royale website.

Image taken by Joe Ross

Lake Mead National Recreation Area

National Park Service

Lake Mead National Recreation Area straddles the Nevada/Arizona border and consists of two fresh water lakes open for diving: Lake Mead and Lake Mohave. These two lakes are often touted as some of the best fresh water diving lakes in the world because of a range of depths and submerged sites that are amenable to all levels of divers.

Because of the popularity of the lake, the park's website has done an excellent job of outlining popular dive locations and providing detailed information on lake rules and regulations. One particularly interesting note is that some spearfishing is allowed, particularly of carp.

National Park of American Samoa

National Park Service

For a true tropical dive, take a trip to the South Pacific and American Samoa. The National Park of American Samoa consists of parts of three islands - Tutuila,Ta'ū, and Ofu - as well as the surrounding water (roughly 4,000 acres of water).

While scuba diving is allowed, the infrastructure of dive shops is limited. Plan to bring most of your own equipment, and only rent your air tanks on the islands. You can dive from shore on your own from Tutuila Island, but boat trips must be planned and chartered in advance.

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