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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

Nanci Dixon
Nanci Dixon
Nanci Dixon has been a full-time RVer living “The Dream” for the last six years and an avid RVer for decades more! She works and travels across the country in a 40’ motorhome with her husband. Having been a professional food photographer for many years, she enjoys snapping photos of food, landscapes and an occasional person. They winter in Arizona and love boondocking in the desert. They also enjoy work camping in a regional park. Most of all, she loves to travel.


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Bob p (@guest_218726)
10 months ago

You left out the largest category, STUPIDITY, most of these could be in this category. Then you could break it down by city dwellers and everyone else. You know the people that think milk and eggs and steaks come from the grocery store. The ones that walk up to a wild animal thinking it’s just an overgrown kitty or puppy. Lol

Seann Fox (@guest_218719)
10 months ago

Lake Mead: does that include the bodies found in drums at (what once was) the bottom of the lake?

A Day (@guest_204388)
1 year ago

Years ago, I read a story (maybe in the “Darwin Awards” book) of a tourist who waded out into a pool and had his picture taken next to a sign that read “Danger! Do NOT Enter This Pool Or You Will Die!!!”. That was his last mistake, because he slipped on the rocks and went over Yosemite Falls to his death. Sad, but maybe his purpose on earth was to be a parable to us all. Ya cain’t fix stupid!!!

Sandi Pearson (@guest_204216)
1 year ago

I recently read ‘Over the Edge-Death in the Grand Canyon’ I was shocked by the stories and statistics reported! Saw a number of “Tourons” at both the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone doing exactly the things you mentioned! Now I’m concerned about New River Gorge, and Natchez Trace we are doing both next year. Fear of high bridges here…tell me there aren’t high bridges on the Natchez…I know there will be at the gorge. Thanks for a great and interesting read!

Dr. Mike (@guest_204228)
1 year ago
Reply to  Sandi Pearson

Sandi —

We just drove the Natchez Trace two weeks ago. It’s an absolutely beautiful trip — especially when fall colors are starting to come out.

There is really only one high bridge on the Natchez, the 145′ Natchez Trace Parkway Bridge near the north terminus (Nashville). Just last month (August 2022), they added a temporary 10′ chain-link and barbed wire fence to the top all along its length to prevent jumpers. I understand the issue, but the really detracts from the view. Parking near and walking on the bridge is now prohibited, too, which was disappointing as we timed our trip to stop and take pictures there at sunset.

In 2024, a “permanent” solution is supposed to be installed which may restore the view.

Rosy (@guest_204233)
1 year ago
Reply to  Sandi Pearson

We have driven the Trace many times. Bridges tend to be narrow, and of course old and built of stone. It’s a peaceful, slower drive with very little traffic. Take time to explore the smaller towns along the route.

Tommy Molnar (@guest_218723)
10 months ago
Reply to  Sandi Pearson

I too read “Over the Edge” chronicling all the deaths in the Grand Canyon. I bought the book while we were visiting the canyon. Scary stuff, A lot of stupid stuff too.

Michael Theis (@guest_146646)
2 years ago

Fascinating! Thanks for doing this research, Nanci.

Pat h. Smith (@guest_146440)
2 years ago

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

Gary Broughton (@guest_218713)
10 months ago
Reply to  Pat h. Smith

There are 2 of these “Deaths in Yellowstone” books and are very good reading.

Joe Allen (@guest_146402)
2 years 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 (@guest_146567)
2 years 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 (@guest_146864)
2 years ago
Reply to  Gordy B

“Common sense” has never been all that common…

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