Capitol Reef National Park
The Fremont River Waterfall is closed to swimming and
wading. All information below is presented for historical purposes only.
All pictures and video on this website were taken before 2011 when the
waterfall was open to swimming.
The Fremont River Waterfall
is located inside Capital Reef National Park. The waterfall was closed in
2011 to all swimming and wading after several near drownings. The area above the waterfalls could be deadly if you or your child
fell into the river so use caution and keep an eye on the kids. Please use commonsense
if you visit the waterfall.
Current Fremont River flow can be checked on-line at USGS
Current Streamflow conditions for the Fremont River near Caineville.
- Park Regulations Prohibit -
Swimming and Wading
River Waterfall was created in 1962 when the river was rerouted to
accommodate the construction of State Highway 24. At the time of
construction, the waterfall area was outside of the boundaries of Capitol
Reef National Monument. A boundary expansion in 1969 encompassed lands
surrounding the waterfall. At this date, the waterfall is located on federal
land within the boundaries of Capitol Reef National Park, established in
1971. This water feature has historically been an attractive site to
swimmers and recreationists and has seen increased use in recent years. The
waterfall has changed significantly since its creation in 1962 as the water
has cut a deep and fast channel into the sandstone.
The waterfall presents
serious management issues for the National Park Service including issues of
public health and visitor safety, law enforcement, and resource protection.
A recent near drowning of a six year old boy at the waterfall has led to a
detailed analysis of the park's management stance concerning the waterfall,
which is the basis for this closure determination. Notwithstanding the
issues mentioned, providing water based recreation at a man-made waterfall
is not consistent with the purpose of the park.
As originally constructed the river flow at the waterfall discharged onto a
sloping rock face that spread out, resulting in a relatively wide shallow
cascade 30 to 40 feet high with moderate velocity and force. However the
configuration of the discharge waterfall has changed dramatically over the
last 50 years due to incision of the stream channel into the sandstone face.
It now consists of an upper drop approximately 8-10 feet through a very
narrow sinuous slot, then a main cascade into a plunge pool that is roughly
60 feet long and 40 feet wide. The drop of the main fall is about 12 feet.
The maximum depth of the plunge pool is at least seven feet.
The bedrock channel
and/or the plunge pool configuration are likely to be altered to some degree
with every moderate to large flood event. Even smaller flood events could
cause alterations that would affect visitor safety by filling in the plunge
pool so that spots that were previously used by jumpers may have become too
shallow. Changes in bottom depth are obscured by the turbulent and murky
water so that they cannot be judged visually from above.
The cascade currently
enters the plunge pool vertically and boils to the surface with a large
amount of entrained air downstream (east) of the fall. There are reversal
currents (water recirculating upstream) along both walls.
Aerated water such as
found in the plunge pool is less dense than water that is mostly free of
bubbles, so swimming becomes much more difficult. This is a serious factor
for a person trying to swim in a recirculating current as they cycle again
and again. The nature and power of these recirculating currents will change
with changes in streamflow and changes in the configuration of the plunge
pool which will be altered by accumulation or scour of sediment, or by
erosion of the bedrock.
Flow rates at the
waterfall vary dramatically. Although a typical discharge during the summer
may be around 30 cfs (cubic feet per second); flashfloods can elevate that
flow to well over 2,000 cfs. Although such high levels are short lived,
elevated flow rates (70 to 80 cfs) can persist for several days after
flashfloods. Changing flow rates can change the dynamics of the waterfall
pools and channels and can make it difficult for swimmers to evaluate water
The plunge pool appears
to have the type of recirculating currents that can pull a swimmer back
toward the fall, potentially causing the swimmer to be pushed under by the
force of the fall, surface, and then be drawn back into the recirculating
current, repeating the cycle. The relative degree of risk or safety due to
hydraulic reversal currents will (1) be subject to change from one day to
the next (2) will be very much greater for smaller individuals and children
than for larger and stronger people and (3) may not be obvious to the
Of all the management
issues facing the National Park Service related to the Fremont River
Waterfall, the safety of park visitors is the most important and time
critical. On June 20, 2011, a six year old boy visiting with his family from
Wisconsin entered the water, was drawn under the falls, and was quickly
pulled under the surface and held there by the currents. By the time the
family recognized the situation, the boy had been under water for several
minutes. The boy's father was able to search with his hands under the
surface until he found his son and pulled him to the shore. At this time the
boy was breathless, pulseless, blue, and lifeless. By incredibly slim odds,
there were two highly trained medical professionals at the waterfall at the
time and they immediately rendered assistance to the boy. After about one
minute of CPR, the boy was revived and began to breathe on his own. An air
ambulance was summoned and he was flown to a hospital in Salt Lake City and
On July 15, 2011 a twelve
year girl from California was pulled under the surface while swimming and
was held under the water for approximately three minutes. Noticing the
emergency a 32 year old male bystander entered the water to assist. He was
quickly overcome by the flow as well and was under the water for up to two
minutes. Both victims eventually floated to the surface where additional
bystanders pulled them to shore. Both were breathless, pulseless, and
lifeless. Bystander CPR was initiated, amazingly enough, by yet another
physician on scene. Both victims eventually regained consciousness, and once
again, both were flown to a hospital in Salt Lake City.
There have been five near
drownings at the waterfall that the NPS is aware of; the above three
occurring in a three week period in 2011. In addition, there have been
several additional incidents relayed to rangers, after-the-fact, involving
children being pulled into deeper water or under the water, during this same
three week period.
In addition to the near
drownings, there have been an array of traumatic injuries dealt with by
rangers over the years: broken necks from diving; broken ankles, backs and
legs from jumping off the rocks; cuts from broken glass; and dog bites.
Obviously, not all
injuries are reported, but after hearing about the above incident, a local
Wayne County resident relayed the following incident to rangers "In the
summer of 1999, with the excitement of summer and relief from the hot
weather, we liked to swim at the waterfall to cool off. My son (name
withheld), age 14, wanted to dive into the water. With an argument from me
he ran ahead of me and continued to do what he wanted, knowing he wasn't
supposed to and a bad judgment on his behalf. Without checking the depth of
the water first, he jumped from the cliff, landing on his feet and breaking
Rangers have responded to
twenty-three serious injuries at the waterfall since 2001. It is believed
that many injuries have occurred and have gone unreported due in part to
injuries sustained while engaged in prohibited activity (e.g., diving,
jumping, alcohol consumption, etc.).
To reach the
waterfall and swimming hole from the Capitol Reef Visitor Center take Highway 24 east for
6.6 miles to mile marker 85.9. There is a large paved pull-out on the north side of the
highway with several information signs. The waterfall is next to the parking area.
Fremont River Waterfall Video