Rescue crews respond to 3 trapped in canyon by flash flooding, discover another 17 stranded hikers

A flash flood in the desert
The six-hour operation lasted well into the night (Image credit: Tonya Hance)

Severe thunderstorms in Utah on Friday night left 20 people stranded in a popular canyon due to flash flooding, prompting a six-hour rescue mission.

According to a Facebook post by Grand County Sheriff's Search and Rescue, the agency initially responded to a call for three people who had been trapped by rising waters in Grandstaff Canyon near Moab. Rescue crews hiked up the canyon until they were stopped by water and were able to establish voice contact with the group.

At the same time, they noticed lights further up the canyon and set an investigation in motion.

"A drone with thermal capabilities was launched from the parking area and confirmed that there were 17 additional people trapped by the flood," writes the sheriff's office.

The stranded party reported that they were cold and wet and were concerned about hypothermia. It took another 4.5 hours for the floodwaters to recede enough for crews to safely cross the creek and reach the hikers. They were then able to help them out on foot using a handline.

"Many of the hikers were without any source of light," notes the agency, which says the operation lasted well into the night.

Staying safe in flash floods

The event prompted GCSSAR to issue the following advice for anyone intending to enter a canyon:

You can learn more about the dangers of flash floods, and how to stay safe, in our article on what makes flash floods so dangerous.

The Grandstaff Canyon Trail north of Moab is a two-mile trail on BLM land that leads to  Morning Glory Natural Bridge, a natural rock arch which has a span of 243 feet, and is one of the longest in the United States.

Julia Clarke

Julia Clarke is a staff writer for and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.