Park officials urge visitor safety as water flows at Gunlock State Park

Mar 17, 2023, 7:17 PM | Updated: 7:37 pm

GUNLOCK STATE PARK, Utah — An urgent safety warning for anyone who plans to visit the stunning waterfalls at Gunlock State Park in Southern Utah.

“It’s just not safe with that type of water and the speed that it’s moving,” said Sgt. Darrell Cashin from the Washington County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue team.

While surveying the falls Friday, Sgt. Cashin observed dozens of visitors climbing the rocks for a closer look. While many kept a safe distance, many did not.

“I know it’s enticing for people to go up there but they’re actually crossing the water and getting into other areas and one misstep, and it will take them off their feet and push them off those cliffs,” Cashin said.

Jason Whipple, Director of Washington County Emergency Services said the rivers are running really high and flooding is expected in some parts of the Virgin River.

Main highways and roads are closed due to water runoff.

Whipple encouraged people to stay away from flooding areas. He said Gunlock has a lot of people climbing the rocks to view the waterfalls and runoff, but it’s dangerous.

The falls at Gunlock State Park don’t happen every year, only when the reservoir reaches capacity and flows over the spillway. The last time it happened was in 2020, and during the season SAR responded to dozens of rescues.

“We were out here a couple times of week dealing with broken ankles, dealing with people who went off the falls, people who jumped off the falls deliberately,” said Cashin. “I remember a gentleman, his 7-year-old started getting swept and he grabbed him and got him out of the water but when he went down, he actually fractured his back in two places.”

The Washington County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue team is pleading with visitors to use extreme caution.

“I understand looking at them and how beautiful they are and how they draw you to them, but I would ask visitors to stay at least 10 feet back and do not cross any water,” Cushin said. “Especially keep their little ones way back, it only takes a few seconds and then they’re gone.”

Even though there are warning signs near the falls, visitors are responsible for their own safety. Park staff and rangers have increased patrols, reminding visitors of the risks. But even with those extra efforts, WCSO search and rescue is on high alert preparing to be called out.

“My worst fear is that I’m going to be right back out here,” Cushin said. “That somebody stepped wrong, went in wrong, and it swept them off those cliffs.”

With Utah’s current snowpack, the water at Gunlock Reservoir is expected to flow over the spillway until the end of June.

Click here to get more information about safety while visiting Gunlock Falls.

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Park officials urge visitor safety as water flows at Gunlock State Park