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Where to Scuba Dive in Nebraska

A diving road trip through the Cornhusker State.
By Jennifer Idol | Published On June 29, 2021
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Where to Scuba Dive in Nebraska

Sandy Channel State Recreation Area as the sun sits on the horizon

Easy entry at Sandy Channel State Recreation Area’s shore.

Jennifer Idol

Omaha is the largest city in Nebraska and a starting point both for family activities and diving along Interstate 80. For a low-stress family weekend, mix dives with attractions such as Carhenge, Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, and the many regional museums.

Dive shops and scuba clubs plan local dives throughout the summer and fall. Landlocked Scuba Club operates from Omaha and explores a variety of sites in the Midwest. Diventures partners with the zoo for conservation- and education-related events. Additionally, the zoo accepts dive volunteers to help clean the aquariums each year.

From Omaha, head three hours west to reach Sandy Channel State Recreation Area in Elm Creek. This sand pit formed during construction of the interstate is now a park offering camping, kayaking, fishing and, of course, scuba diving in some of the clearest waters in the state.

From there, continue west along I-80 to North Platte to reach Watersports Unlimited, a full-service dive center that specializes in diving western Nebraska. The shop popularized diving sand pits when divers realized they were free of crowds and had good visibility. North Platte is a rural town best known for more than 200,000 sandhill cranes that migrate annually for six weeks beginning in March.

Close up of a sunfish

Nebraskan sand pits harbor sunfish.

Jennifer Idol

West of North Platte is Hershey Lake. This small reservoir and the nearby lakes are shore-diving destinations used for dive training because of their easy access and shallow depths. Fish and macro life dominate the small lakes, which are surrounded by idyllic Midwestern landscapes.

At the westernmost end of this tour lies the largest lake in Nebraska, Lake McConaughy, known locally as Big Mac. This camping destination is also surrounded by rental lake houses that offer amenities for large groups or families. Big Mac was created by the Kingsley Dam along the North Platte River and is immensely popular for weekend recreation. Bring a dive flag and rent boats from Big Mac Marina to access the dam, the most popular dive site on this 30,000-acre lake. The shoreline slopes so gently that boats are needed to access deeper water.

Dive Sites

Map of dive sites in Nebraska

Top Nebraska dives are found cruising down I-80.

PADI Staff

1. Sandy Channel State Recreation Area
Sunken attractions, such as boats, sculptures and platforms, in the first pit are popular with dive classes, but all the lakes in this area are open to divers. This area was created when sand was dredged to build Interstate 80 and is open to the public year-round with shore-diving access.

2. Lake McConaughy State Recreation Area
Rent a boat and dive the dam area or the south shore for the best visibility. The dam is the most popular dive site on this busy lake. Walleye spearfishing is the primary dive activity. Visibility is best when the water level is high; shore diving is not feasible at low lake levels.

3. Hershey Lake
Sand pits along the interstate now filled with water provide destinations for recreational watersports. This lake is particularly known for having a lot of fish and some ornaments and statues. Enter from the dock on the west side, or shore dive from the north side.

Trip Tips

1. Carhenge
Better than Cadillac Ranch, Carhenge is a life-size replica of Stonehenge made from classic automobiles near historic Alliance, Nebraska. About two hours northwest of Lake McConaughy, it’s worth the detour to photograph this Americana sculpture open to public viewing.

2. Huskers Football
College football rules the state from the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. Few places in the country make college football such a fun pastime. When the team wins on a game day, Lincoln overflows with celebratory state pride.

3. Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum
This museum began on SAC Air Force Base, now Offutt Air Force Base, and moved into a new publicly accessible facility between Omaha and Lincoln. A Smithsonian affiliate, it preserves the base’s history as headquarters for Strategic Air Command during the Cold War, featuring restored missiles and aircraft.

Need to Know

Viz is typically around 15 feet, with water temperatures between 60 and 75 degrees.

What to Wear
Drysuit or 5 mm wetsuit.

Dive Shops Recommended by PADI
Watersports Unlimited, North Platte