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Best American Adventures: Dive Freshwater Caves

We've just updated our popular America's
Best Adventures
feature with 50 new trips, bringing our grand total to 100 iconic escapes (see the map, state-by-state list, and photo gallery, too). So no matter what your pleasure—hiking,
heli-skiing, surfing, climbing, biking, or paddling—we've got the perfect adventure
for you. Check in each day for a new, out-the-backdoor adventure highlighted here on our blog.

By Kate Siber; Photograph by Wes C. Skiles, National Geographic

Little known fact: Florida’s best diving isn’t in
its saltwater. It’s hidden in the northwestern corner of the state,
which is riddled with freshwater springs that flow through mazes of
limestone passageways. Few people ever witness the strange sights of
these underwater chambers—fossils, sunlight beaming in from holes in
the cave ceilings, and even ancient mastodon tusks—because the only way
to see it all is by donning a mask and flippers. Cave diving is rife
with potential dangers. The good news is beyond good training, all it
really necessitates is a little nerve.

Test the
waters at Ginnie Springs Cavern, a beginner cave that Jacques Cousteau
once described as “visibility forever.” It requires only an open-water
diver certification. From an aquamarine, cypress-lined pool, descend
and enter a chamber called the Ballroom, 130 feet (40 meters) long and
55 feet (17 meters) deep. There you can see water’s artwork in the
limestone formations and feel the force of 30-plus million gallons of
water per day pouring out of the inner cave entrance.

graduate to the 6.5 miles (10 kilometers) of passageways in the Devil’s
cave system, take a cavern or cave certification course at Ginnie
Springs. Claustrophobes be forewarned: The tiniest swim-throughs
require divers to take off their tanks to squeeze through. But the
reward of these contortions is witnessing a vast watery underworld,
some of which still remains unmapped.

Need to Know: Ginnie Springs Outdoors (
is a certified PADI dive center and offers guided dives as well as
cave-diving training. Diving Ginnie Springs itself doesn’t require a
guide and costs $30 for open-water divers.