Are U.S.A. national parks safe?
On Sunday, October 4, 2020, a 25-year-old man fell to his death at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area in Arizona. When authorities recovered his body, they found the remains of other hikers who had suffered the same fate.
A climber at Glacier National Park was killed on July 21, 2020, after falling several hundred feet off a ridge known as The Dragon’s Tail.
A string of accidents in Grand Canyon National Part in 2019 involved multiple people falling to their death.
An Israeli teen fell off the cliff edge of Nevada Falls at Yosemite National Park in 2018 after posing for a photo opportunity.
A man was boiled to death and “dissolved” after falling into one of Yellowstone’s thermal pools in 2016.
These tragic reports are just a few of the many accidents in America’s National Parks every year.
How do people die in U.S. National Parks?
Motor Vehicle Crashes
Distracted driving contributes to the high death count since many tourists watch the scenery rather than the road. There are twisting and winding roads on tall mountains that can be hard to navigate even for the most competent drivers. They drive into a tree or off the road quite easily under those conditions.
How many people have died in National Parks?
A study was done and data analyzed from the National Parks Service, and it reported that thousands of people have died at U.S. National Parks since 2007.
From 2007 to 2018, there were a total of 2,727 deaths at a U.S. National Parks site. Additionally, there were an estimated 3.5 billion recreation visits to National Parks during that time frame. That equates to just under eight deaths per 10 million visits to parks sites during that time frame. Considering that data, visiting U.S. National Parks is overall very safe.
Men make up a disproportionate number of National Park Deaths, with 81% males and 19% females. Regarding age ranges, deaths are evenly distributed, with adults aging 55-64 leading the way at 19%. Children make up a very small portion of fatalities, with only 2%.
The immense natural beauty of national parks is what draws people to them. Travelers can explore and play at will, experiencing the parks with only a few guidelines. This privilege comes with a certain amount of danger. According to outsideonline.com, the most deadly National Parks as recent as 2021 are:
Grand Canyon, Arizona
You would think that falling is the number one cause of death in this beautiful and vast national park, but medical issues and natural deaths were nearly double that as a result of extreme summer heat. Temperatures can reach as high as 120 degrees. They advise visiting in spring or late fall and staying a shorter time in the summer heat. Also, don’t go during the hottest part of the day.
Taking selfies happens to cause many casualties in Yosemite since individuals want to capture themselves standing near the sweeping granite domes and massive cliffs. They advise not taking your photos and avoiding crossing streams and creeks. Tantalizing waterfalls and strong spring currents also contribute to death by drowning.
Great Smoky Mountains, North Carolina and Tennessee
Motor vehicle crashes cause the most deaths due to their 384 miles of roads and overcrowding. The park suggests visiting outside of the peak season (July 1 through August 15).
Sequoia and Kings Canyon, California
Mountaineering deaths are the leading causes of fatality in these parks. Mount Whitney, the Sequoia, and Inyo National Park and Forest attract hikers. Snow and ice can linger well into June. They suggest exploring lower elevation foothills and exercise caution when crossing streams and rivers.
Yellowstone, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho
Motor-vehicle crashes, medical issues, and natural death tied for the most fatalities with congested scenic byways. Yellowstone advises visitors to expect traffic and long drive times.
The geothermal attractions are among the most dangerous natural features in Yellowstone. Several park visitors have died in these hot spots. Follow posted warning signs, don’t touch the thermal features, and stay on the raised wooden boardwalks at all times.
Which National Parks have the most deaths?
More people die at the larger, more popular recreation areas. Four parks saw more than 100 deaths during the study period:
Lake Mead National Recreation Area - 201 deaths
Yosemite National Park - 133 deaths
Grand Canyon National Park - 131 deaths
Natchez Trace Parkway - 131 deaths
These are among the most visited parks in the nation. There were more than 85 million recreational visits to Lake Mead during the study period.
You are most likely to die at North Cascades National Park in Washington. It had a death rate of 652 per 10 million visits - 6.5 times higher than Denali National Park & Preserve (100) and nearly 22 times higher than the average (30).
Lake Mead leads the way in drowning deaths. It has nearly twice as many drowning deaths as the next highest park.
Three National Park sites have a disproportionately high amount of suicides likely due to bridges located within their areas which have become locally known as “suicide bridges.” They are:
New River Gorge National River, West Virginia (876 feet high) famous for BASE jumpers
Natchez Trace Parkway, Tennessee (double arch bridge)
Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia and North Carolin
Another study done by the National Park Service (NPS) nps.gov reports key statistics from 2014 to 2016. They reported 990 deaths during that time period which equals to an average of 330 deaths per year or six deaths a week.
Over half of all deaths (53%) are due to unintentional causes. About half of medical deaths (49%) occurred while the individual was engaged in physical activity (e.g., hiking, biking, swimming).
An average of 29 fatal falls is reported each year. Suicides are a national public health concern. If you are in crisis, call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).