Fremont Waterfall & Swimming Hole

Fremont Waterfall
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.

General Information:
          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

Historical Information:
          The Fremont 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 conditions.

          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 average visitor.

Tom Talboys displays his lady killer body The torrent above the waterfall

Safety:
          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 has recovered.

          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 both ankles"

          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.).

Location:
         
To reach the waterfall and swimming hole from the Capitol Reef Visitor Center take Highway 24 east for 6.6 miles to mile marker 86.5. 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.

Related Link:
Fremont River Waterfall Video


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