Ways To Explore The Sanctuaries Without Getting Your Feet Wet

There is no shortage of opportunities to explore and adventure in and near our national marine sanctuaries. You may assume these activities are only available to divers, snorkelers, and boaters – and many of them are – but there are ways to experience the National Marine Sanctuary System in ways that don’t even require you to get wet! Here are a few of our favorites: 

Hiking?! It might not seem like a way to connect to America’s most incredible underwater places, but there are miles and miles of trails that border sites within the National Marine Sanctuary System, giving visitors interesting vantage points and breathtaking views. For example, Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary in Washington State, adjacent to Olympic National Park, includes a long strip of coastline that visitors can hike along. In addition to taking in the scenery, wildlife viewing often accompanies hiking activities (just remember your Wildlife Viewing Etiquette!). Closer to shore, beachcombing and tidepooling are fun ways to explore and interact with sanctuary resources and see the unique creatures that call the sanctuaries home. 

Hikers along the shores of Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. Photo credit: Matt McIntosh

Kayaking and Canoeing. Small recreational vessels like canoes and kayaks offer visitors the opportunity to choose their own paths within sanctuaries and get in a great workout. These motorless watercraft are closer to the water and allow passengers a front row seat from which they can experience natural and cultural resources in the local waters. These activities are popular in Mallows Bay-Potomac River National Marine Sanctuary, where a series of iconic World War I shipwrecks – called the Ghost Fleet – rests, though how much of the ships you can see changes with the tides. 

Kayakers enjoy a paddle in Mallows Bay-Potomac River National Marine Sanctuary. Photo credit: National Marine Sanctuary Foundation

See our maritime history on a Great Lakes shipwreck boat tour. The cold, clear waters of the Great Lakes provide perfect conditions for preserving the hundreds of shipwrecks beneath the surface and clearly viewing them from above. Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary is a notable site for this kind of tour, offering glass bottom boat tours in the warmer months of the year – no dive equipment needed! 

A glass-bottom boat heads out on a tour of Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary’s shipwrecks. Photo credit: NOAA

Take a virtual dip. See shipwrecks, iconic marine life, and vibrant ecosystems in incredible high-definition virtual reality dives hosted by NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. 360-degree views of certain sanctuaries and iconic locations within those sanctuaries are available to anyone with an internet connected computer or smartphone. For a more immersive experience, pair the experience with a set of virtual reality goggles or a headset! See the sanctuaries from the comfort of your home anytime, anywhere by visiting sanctuaries.noaa.gov/vr

Visitors to the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary visitor center peer into goggles for a virtual dive. Photo credit: NOAA