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These are the most common ways to die in a National Park

My husband and I are ticking off National Parks and National Monuments from my bucket list and taking tons of pictures. When our car was too close to a buffalo on the side of the road at Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the massive bull turned to look my husband in the eye, I started wondering how many people die in the National Parks. Particularly how many die from stupidly being too close to the wildlife!

Turns out that even though the National Parks have millions of visitors each year, there is a relatively low death rate. Over an 11-year span (2007 to 2018), 2,727 people died within National Park boundaries. That breaks down to eight deaths per 10 million visitors. Wild animal attacks from grizzly bears, buffalo, and poisonous snakes all come to mind first, and yet they are the lowest on the list of possible ways to die in our National Parks.

Drowning

Drowning is the leading cause of death in the parks. The majority of those deaths were at Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Boulder City, Nevada. 668 people drowned within a ten-year period.

Motor vehicle crashes

Ever been distracted by the beautiful scenery or wildlife when driving? So have a number of other people. The second cause of death in National Parks is auto and RV accidents. There have been 475 in the last ten years.

Falls

Next come falls, with 335 deaths. The Grand Canyon is known for the most number of deaths by falls. A few years ago my husband and I watched in horror as a group of young people climbed over the guard rails and went to the very edge of the cliff to take selfies. Thank goodness no one fell that day.

Natural deaths

Natural deaths, things like heart attacks and strokes, come in at 285.

Suicide

Sadly, some people choose to end their lives in the parks, and 260 did so in the past ten years. A number of those were at New River Gorge in West Virginia, and on the Natchez Trace Parkway. These are attributed to the bridge height and lack of barriers on the so-called “suicide bridges.”

Poisoning

24 people succumbed to poison.

Murder

Murder accounted for 17 deaths in National Parks.

Wild Animals

Remember the fear of death by wild animals? Those wild animals only accounted for eight deaths in ten years. These statistics do not cover injuries, though.

Top four parks with highest number of deaths

  • Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Nevada
  • Yosemite National Park in California
  • Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona
  • Natchez Trace Parkway (which goes through Tennessee and Mississippi)

Top four parks with highest percentage of death rate

  • North Cascades National Park in Washington
  • Denali National Park in Alaska
  • Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River in Pennsylvania
  • Big Thicket National Preserve in Texas

I love our National Parks, monuments, and historic sites and am excitedly planning our trips to them. I am pretty sure that the numbers of deaths and injuries will be even higher now with the increase in people swarming the parks.

It is always helpful to have a reminder to watch out for the water, cliffs, roadways and wildlife. Stay safe out there!

##RVT021

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Michael Theis
16 days ago

Fascinating! Thanks for doing this research, Nanci.

Pat h. Smith
17 days ago

My favorite book is Death in Yellowstone. Very much a learning experience

Joe Allen
17 days ago

This is our second year working in Yellowstone NP and we have seen it all. Yes, the death rates are low, but the stupidity of people is up and yes, they are getting hurt! Walking up to a Bison and slapping it on the butt comes to mind. Being tossed in the air, not carrying bear spray when hiking, going off into unstable ground and I could go on and on.
Really though, the two deadliest things here in Yellowstone are the El Monte and Cruise America RV drivers! People leave their common sense at the entrance gates and do some of the most ridiculous things imaginable! Common sense is lost in the last generations!

Gordy B
16 days ago
Reply to  Joe Allen

I think common sense has been lacking for some time, but the internet and such makes us more aware of these happenings. Also the “net” encourages more “hold my beer” and “I can top that” situations.

Gregg
14 days ago
Reply to  Gordy B

“Common sense” has never been all that common…