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The Ultimate Southwest Scuba Road Trip

Splash your way through this dusty desert drive-and-dive.
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The Ultimate Southwest Scuba Road Trip

While the American Southwest is known for its picturesque arid landscape, plenty of aquatic gems freckle the region. On this road trip, you’ll drive dusty roads and dive desert oases in five Southwestern states.

Most water temperatures along the route will bottom out in the low 60s, so you may want a 7 mil or drysuit for optimal comfort.

Day 1: Homestead Crater, Utah

Homestead crater

'In hot water' isn't a bad thing at the Homestead Crater.

Courtesy Image

Homestead Crater, less than an hour outside Salt Lake City, was formed from snowmelt over 10,000 years ago. Today, this hot-water dive site stays between 90 and 96 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. There’s a fully equipped dive shop on site for gear rentals and tank fills, so you can kick off your trip with a dive at your leisure.

Afterward, journey four-an-a-half hours south to Springdale, Utah, the gateway to Zion National Park. If you want to fit in an extra day to see Zion, you won’t be disappointed. Otherwise, rest up for another dive the next day.

Where to Eat: Simon’s Restaurant at Homestead Crater, Whiptail Grill in Springdale
Where to Stay: Desert Pearl Inn in Springdale

Day 2: Lake Mead, Nevada

High altitude shot of Lake Mead in between hills

Want to dive a B-29 Superfortress? Lake Mead is your chance.

In the morning, drive 2.5 hours to pick up tanks from Sin City Scuba in Las Vegas, then head another 45 minutes to your dive site: Lake Mead. Kingman Wash is a sloping shore-entry site on the Arizona side of the lake that’s full of freshwater fish like bass, bluegill and thick schools of shad. Lake Mead is also home to a B-29 Superfortress that you can dive with select operators.

When you’re done, go back to Vegas. Take in dinner or a show if you like, then stay on the Strip. Or, if the bright lights aren’t really your thing, you can stay near the lake instead.

Where to Eat: Deep Creek Coffee Company in Springdale, Lago in Las Vegas
Where to Stay: Wynn Las Vegas or Hoover Dam Lodge in Boulder City

Day 3: Lake Pleasant, Arizona

Lake Pleasant

Visit a dam in this desert state. Grigorya

Get on the road bright and early to make a morning dive at Lake Pleasant. It’s about four hours from Vegas, but it’s worth the untimely start.

Lake Pleasant is one of the best dive sites in Arizona, featuring sloping rock walls, canyons and structures including the Old Waddell Dam, which was the world’s largest multiple-arch concrete dam when it was built in the 1920s. Eventually it was breached as a new Waddell Dam was built and now sits an average about 65 feet below the surface of Lake Pleasant. Tanks can be reserved ahead of time by calling Tucson’s The Dive Shop.

Once you’re done with your day of diving, drive about an hour to Phoenix for the night.

Where to Eat: Omelet House in Las Vegas, Paradise Valley Burger Company in Phoenix
Where to Stay: FOUND:RE Phoenix

Day 4: On the Road

Wake up and hit the road for a seven-hour drive to Albuquerque, New Mexico, following Historic Route 66 through the desert. Stretch your legs at Arizona’s Tonto Natural Bridge State Park or take a slight detour to sightsee in the enchanting Petrified Forest National Park.

Where to Eat: Matt’s Big Breakfast in Phoenix, El Patio de Albuquerque
Where to Stay: Hotel Parq Central in Albuquerque

Day 5: Santa Rosa Blue Hole, New Mexico

Santa Rosa Blue Hole

Small inland sites can pack a punch above their weight.

From Albuquerque to New Mexico’s Santa Rosa Blue Hole is about an hour and 45 minutes, but gear is available on site, so you don’t need to make any pit stops for rentals. This ancient sinkhole flooded tens of thousands of years ago, and to this day, is spring-fed 3,000 gallons of water every minute.

The spring-fed lake is a hotspot for divers, as it maintains a constant temperature of 61 degrees Fahrenheit and is crystal clear, allowing for full visibility throughout roughly 80-foot-deep sink. Explore the limestone walls’ nooks and crannies, then stay locally that night and recharge for some road time the following day.

Where to Eat: Frontier Restaurant in Albuquerque, Comet II Drive In & Restaurant in Santa Rosa
Where to Stay: Best Western Santa Rosa Inn

Day 6: On the Road

Hop in the car and head six hours southeast from Santa Rosa to Abilene, Texas. You’ll spend most of the drive wandering the plains of the Lone Star State, but if you want to stretch your legs along the way, you can visit the grave of 1800s outlaw Billy The Kid, see waterfowl hotspot Muleshoe National Wildlife Refuge or have a picnic at the Alan Henry Reservoir.

Where to Eat: Sun & Sand Restaurant in Santa Rosa, Lucy's Big Burgers in Abilene
Where to Stay: MCM Eleganté Suites in Abilene

Day 7: Valhalla Missile Silo, Texas

Just outside Abilene, there’s a once-in-a-lifetime dive opportunity: the Valhalla Missile Silo. This massive underground structure held ballistic missiles during the Cold War before being decommissioned and sold to private owners Mark and Linda Hannifin, who opened Family Scuba Center.

The silo measures 60 feet in diameter and 170 feet tall — about 120 feet of which is submerged in crystal-clear, 60-degree water. Touring the silo, you’ll see old control panels, machinery and a metal shack that was used for the missile’s inertial guidance.

Diving excursions arranged through various dive clubs and dive shops and are the most unique way to end your Southwest scuba road trip.

Where to Eat: The Flipping Egg in Abilene, Belle's Chicken Dinner House in Abilene
Where to Stay: MCM Eleganté Suites in Abilene

This guide is one in a running series of great scuba diving road trip itineraries. Keep the adventure rolling with more drive-and-dive road trip ideas!