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Washington County state parks: Southern comfort

Published March 1, 2007 12:00 am

Tired of the bone-chilling winter weather? Anxious for some boating, camping or fishing? Let three parks in Utah's Dixie fill you with . . . Southern comfort
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2007, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

WASHINGTON COUNTY - When Utah boat enthusiasts can't wait for Wasatch Front reservoirs to thaw, many turn to the three state parks located in Utah's Dixie, to get their early-season water skiing, wakeboarding or fishing fix.

Sand Hollow, Quail Creek and Gunlock reservoirs offer year-round open water opportunities. As soon as the weather warms, and even when it doesn't, they are among the first places boaters visit.

"When the sun comes out and temperatures get over 70 degrees, people think about boating," said Kurt Yates, assistant park manager at Sand Hollow and Gunlock. "We saw that the other day. Everybody brings their boats out and takes them for a dry run. The water temperature right now is 41 degrees but we did have a few waverunners last weekend. They have wetsuits. There are some die-hards out there."

Count Tom Hilley, assistant sales manager of Stephen Wade Power Sports in St. George, among those who can't wait to get on the water.

As a former delivery captain for Sea Ray Boats who worked in boating hot spots such as Michigan, Florida and California, Hilley is dedicated to the water. But he also enjoys riding all-terrain vehicles. That's why he likes Sand Hollow, Utah's newest state park, so much.

"I can't think of many lakes where you can take your boat and your ATV," Hilley said.

Regan Wilson, a ranger at Quail Creek, offered similar sentiments about Sand Hollow.

"The sand dunes and sandy beaches attract people," he said. "ATV riding and boating at the same time are popular. But Quail Creek has warmer water."

In January, about 30 visitors were enjoying the sand dunes at Sand Hollow, and there was just one fishing boat on water that was clear as glass. The Pine Valley Mountains, Utah's second largest wilderness area, provided a backdrop to the west.

Sand Hollow features Lake Powell-like red rock outcroppings and two different types of camping experiences, hookup and tenting.

Reservations are strongly suggested for the full hookup campground in the spring, while there are a number of first-come, first-served primitive camping areas surrounding the lake.

"The boating picks up after Easter," Yates said. "It all depends on the weather."

Most boaters go to Quail Creek first because the water is warmer there, Hilley said. The relatively shallow depth (50 feet) at Quail Creek and Sand Hollow means that the water warms up quickly when the weather turns.

Fishing is also a big draw in late winter and early spring. As the water warms up, so does the angling. Sand Hollow's Phoebe Love said the area is popular year-round, with anglers going after largemouth bass and bluegill. Hilley said he also fishes for trout at Gunlock and Quail Creek.

All three reservoirs have sound boat ramps.

Gunlock has the more primitive camping facilities - there is no running water and it's slightly higher elevation at 3,600 feet means the boating season starts a little later. Still, camping and picnic facilities right on the lake make it an ideal spot.

Quail Creek has covered camping facilities and running water, nice beaches and a reputation for the warmest water of any reservoir in Utah.

While boating activities at the reservoirs will pick up in early April, the relatively cold water doesn't keep die-hards from going out earlier.

"We get a bunch of boats in the morning when the wind isn't blowing," said Quail Creek campground host Rich Davis, in early January. "In the middle of February, it gets busier. We get people from Salt Lake who use wet or dry suits. Either that, or you are crazy or a kid. Some kids don't know what is cold."

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* TOM WHARTON can be contacted at wharton@sltrib.com. His phone number is

801-257-8909. Send comments about this story to livingeditor@sltrib.com.