Domestic Abyss

Why jet to exotic reefs when home waters boast spectacularly diverse diving?

Flipping out: A seal posse off Channel Islands National Park, California     Photo: Marc Muench

Why Dry Off

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CHANNEL ISLANDS NATIONAL MARINE SANCTUARY
THE WATER
A diver navigating a dimly lit giant kelp forest gets that same hallowed feeling that a hiker has in the redwoods. But while humans feel reverent, ocean organisms go bonkers in this particular kelp forest, reproducing like nobody's business. From crabs and snails on the surface to frisky sea lions in the understory, this is one of the most diverse and active habitats on the planet.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Up to five species of elusive abalone, horn sharks, and red octopuses that can bleach themselves white in less than a second.
OFF SANTA BARBARA, CALIFORNIA
ABOVE THE SURFACE
Kayak basalt tunnels and grottoes. Island Kayakers will deliver boats to whatever island you're camping on ($6 for a single, $12 for a tandem; 805-390-8213, www.islandkayakers.com).
THE DIGS
You can pitch a tent on all five of the islands in the national park. East Anacapa, bordered by an underwater preserve, has the best camping for divers ($10 per night per site; 800-365-2267).
LOCAL WISDOM
Travel in a group to make carting gear easier, and be sure to dive with a knife, just in case you become ensnared by the kelp.
HOW TO GO
Ventura-based Island Packers offers ferry service for campers ($32-$90 per person, round-trip; two-tanks-per-person limit; 805-642-1393, www.islandpackers.com).
ISLE ROYALE NATIONAL PARK
THE WATER
Nine passenger steamers and freighters that sank between 1880 and 1910 lie at diveable depths (shallow sections start at 10 to 50 feet) within two miles of this wild island in Lake Superior's northwest corner. The frigid freshwater, devoid of the marine organisms that eat away at ocean wrecks, has preserved many of them in near-pristine condition.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Leather boots, tools, and other artifacts that are as intact as on the day they went down. Remember, federal law—and good diving etiquette—forbids removing items.
LAKE SUPERIOR, MICHIGAN
ABOVE THE SURFACE
Track moose and wolves on the 165 miles of rugged trails crisscrossing Isle Royale.
THE DIGS
A bare-bones dive boat with dormitory-style sleeping arrangements (including a tent on the foredeck for snorers), family-style meals, and enough elbowroom for six guests.
LOCAL WISDOM
Even in mid-August, Lake Superior is a less-than-balmy 50 degrees at 60 feet below the surface, so wear a drysuit.
HOW TO GO
Superior Explorers runs four-day live-aboard trips that depart from Grand Portage, Minnesota, from June through August ($650 per person, including food; 952-474-2223, www.superiorexplorers.com).

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