Where to Go Scuba Diving Near Jacksonville, Fl

This site is reader supported. When you buy through links on this site, I may receive a small commission. Thanks for your support! Read More

Image

This post is going to be one of the most fun posts I write, because I’m an avid scuba diver and also lived in Jacksonville for 6 years. 

I completed both my PADI Divemaster and Assistant Instructor ratings in Roatan, Honduras. I never intended to work in the field professionally, but I got the chance to work as an intern there for two summers when I was in school at UNC-Chapel Hill. I moved to Hawaii shortly after and dove the heck out of Hawaii too.

Obviously, I’ve also dove a number of sites throughout Florida, and in this post we’ll look at where you can go scuba diving in the Jacksonville area.

You may also like: Top Spearfishing Trips in Florida

Offshore Jacksonville Spots

Most people coming to Florida seem to just skip over Jacksonville, but there are actually a lot of things to do in North Florida, including plenty of dive sites offshore. TISIRI is a local nonprofit that has worked hard to place the majority of artificial reefs you can dive on. Be sure to check out their website to learn more about it. Visit Jacksonville also has a really nice page on scuba diving.

There are a number of dive shops in both Jacksonville and St. Augustine, some of which offer trips out to the 100+ dive sites off the coast.

These shops also offer scuba lessons and gear if you’re just getting started.

Dive South Georgia

Ever thought you’d dive Georgia? Gray’s Reef is a little-known spot offshore that is filled with sponges, beautiful reef fish, and tons of other marine wildlife. It is actually a National Marine Sanctuary, so no spearfishing is allowed. That makes for even more wildlife than you would see at other dive spots.

Outside of Gray’s reef, there are also shipwrecks offshore, like tug boats and barges, and natural ledges that make for great diving.

Check out Latitute 31 Dive Company to learn more about Georgia offshore charters.

Florida Springs

Most of the Florida springs are in north and central Florida, so they are an easy day trip from Jacksonville. In fact, because Jacksonville is so spread out you can likely be in the water in the same amount of time it would take to drive out to Mayport and then take a boat out to the offshore wrecks.

The closest springs would be Ichenetucknee and some of the springs in the Ocala National Forest, but they don’t really have much diving. Also, while there is a town called Green Cove Springs nearby, there isn’t really a spring there that you can get in or go diving in.

That being said, let’s check out a few where you can go scuba diving.

Diving in the springs

I want to remind you of a few things about diving in the springs before we get started.

  • Don’t forget that you are in fresh water. Adjust your weights accordingly so you are properly weighted for the dive.
  • Many of the springs are cave diving sights. There are clear signs stating not to go any further unless you are a cave diver. Obey those signs. I was at Ginnie Springs one year and they closed off Devil’s Eye/Devil’s Ear because they had to pull a body out. Don’t be that body.

Ginnie Springs

We got in early and had the head spring at Ginnie Springs to ourselves that day.

I’ve been diving in Ginnie Springs a few times, although I typically go snorkeling here whenever I visit. It’s a world-famous cave diving destination, but if you’re not cave diving then it makes for a great beginner, relaxing dive spot. 

There isn’t a lot to see here, necessarily, but the Florida Springs are just beautiful in general. You’ll see some freshwater fish and the occasional musk turtle. Just enjoy swimming around, having plenty of air time (the max depths are less than 20 feet), and cooling off.

This crevice inside Devil’s Ear/Devil’s Eye is a cool spot to check out.

Ginnie Springs has the best facilities of any Florida spring I’ve seen. They have tons of campsites, a general store with groceries and essentials for campers, a dive shop selling and renting dive gear, a cafe, and a place that rents tubes/kayaks/etc.

Rainbow River

Cooling off at the head spring after snorkeling.

Rainbow River is further out than Ginnie Springs and will take you about 2 and a half hours from Jacksonville. The head spring is a state park, but you can also do drift diving tours and scuba dive the river.

I did the drift dive once scuba diving and once snorkeling, and both were great experiences. The diving is so shallow that at times buoyancy control can get a bit tricky. But it’s kind of cool to be able to hang out at some of the deepest spots on the river, which aren’t deep, but are maybe around 15-20 feet.

Devil’s Den

This is an older video I took, but it gives you a sense of what Devil’s Den looks like.

Devil’s Den is also a really cool little dive. It’s an interesting formation, in that it is a spring inside of an otherwise dry cave. In my opinion, it’s a pretty short dive before you would feel like you’ve seen it, but if you combine it with a trip to nearby Rainbow River or Sarasota it’s definitely worth a stop.

They’ve also got a full dive shop there as well as some other nice amenities.

The Blue Grotto

I haven’t yet dove the Blue Grotto, but I want to! It’s hard to even talk about diving freshwater Florida without it coming up. It is a very deep spring that has diving good for open water divers as well as some more advanced diving.

If you’re diving there, you are required to watch their instructional video and acknowledge that you understand the information in it.

Weekend Trips from Jacksonville

If you have more than a day to spare, there are a lot more great spots to dive that are not far from Jacksonville. Here are some of the most popular areas within a half-day drive or so. Note that the Florida Keys of course have the best diving in the state, but it is an 8-hour drive from Jacksonville to Key Largo, so it’s really not doable unless you’ve got some vacation time.

Destin/Pensacola

The Florida Panhandle has some great diving, but it is about a 4-5 hour drive from Jacksonville, so you’ll need at least a 3-day weekend to really be able to go. 

I did a two-tank boat diving trip out there and it was some nice diving. The visibility was great that day, and overall the wrecks had some nice reef fish and other marine life. 

Sarasota

Sarasota is a spot I haven’t been able to dive yet, but it’s also on my list. I’ve read good things about it, and there are both shore and boat diving sites here. Sarasota is about 4 hours from Jacksonville, so like the panhandle you’ll need a few days if you really want to enjoy it.

Here is one of the most comprehensive guides I’ve seen on diving in Sarasota.

West Palm Beach

I was really bummed out – the one time I went to West Palm Beach, hoping to dive the Blue Heron Bridge with Pura Vida Divers, the dive got called off because of weather. It was going to be a night dive, but it started raining and conditions were total crap.

Still, the next day I spent some time snorkeling the area and walking along the beach, and the water is amazing.

It’s actually one of the most well-known dive spots north of the Florida Keys. There are of course plenty of offshore dives in the area too.

The Bottom Line

Jacksonville is a little-known gem of a dive destination that also happens to be convenient for a lot of people living throughout the Southeast. With an international airport, you can also take a flight from a major hub like Atlanta, Orlando, or Miami and be in the area in no time.