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 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.
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, things like heart attacks and strokes, come in at 285.
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.”
24 people succumbed to poison.
Murder accounted for 17 deaths in National Parks.
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!