America’s national parks receive over 300 million annual visitors. In fact, the equivalent of the entire US population passes through these parks on a yearly basis. They are beautiful, vast, and awe-inspiring, but they’re also deadly.
What are the Deadliest National Parks?
Between 2007 and 2018, there were over 2,700 deaths at US national parks. That might sound like a lot, but it spans over 3.5 billion visits, equating to just 8 deaths per 10 million visitors.
Some parks are deadlier than others, though. The following list highlights the deadliest national parks in the US, along with the number of deaths per 10 million visitors.
North Cascades National Park (625.35 deaths)
Located in Washington state, North Cascades National Park spans around half a million acres and gets just 30,000 visitors every year.
It’s an incredibly beautiful park, but it’s also remote and unforgiving.
Denali National Park and Reserve (100.50 deaths)
Alaska’s Denali National Park is for experienced trekkers only. It’s cold, rugged, and even the most prepared and experienced hikers have been caught off guard here.
Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River (68.52 deaths)
Swift currents and sudden drop-offs make this national park a dangerous place for swimmers, and dozens have died there over the years.
Big Thicket National Preserve (66.92 deaths)
Drowning is the main cause of death in the Big Thicket National Preserve. The water can seem very calm, but don’t let that fool you as it has claimed dozens of lives over the years.
Little River Canyon National Park (53.13 deaths)
Little River Canyon National Park recorded 2 deaths in 2019, but this jumped to 4 in 2020, with the rescue rate also climbing. The majority of issues are water-related, including drownings and near-drownings.
New River Gorge National River (44.73 deaths)
In 2021, the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve published a Facebook post asking people to stop throwing rocks from cliffs as “it could kill climbers and hikers below.” The park welcomed record numbers during 2021 and as it recorded over 60 deaths between 2007 and 2018, authorities are keen to do what they can to make it a safer place to hike and climb.
Virgin Islands National Park (39.94 deaths)
The Virgin Islands National Park is surrounded by ocean and has a number of great swimming spots. As a result, the risk of drowning is high here and it accounts for most of the deaths that occur at this national park.
Mount Rainier National Park (37.72 deaths)
Many climbers have died at Mount Rainier National Park over the years, making it one of the most dangerous parks in the United States.
Redwood National Park (36.60 deaths)
Although Redwood National Park doesn’t look particularly deadly, don’t let its beauty fool you.
Drowning and motor vehicle deaths are the most common causes of death here, as a high-speed highway runs through the park and it also sits next to the Pacific Ocean, where strong sneaker waves catch swimmers and surfers unaware.
Big Ben National Park (36.37 deaths)
Big Ben National Park is located in Southern Texas. It’s huge, bigger than the state of Rhode Island, and it has temperatures that vary between extreme cold and extreme heat throughout the year.
Many of the deaths that occur here are temperature-related, including dehydration.
Other Deadly National Parks
Yosemite National Park, Channel Islands National Park, and Death Valley National Park are all among the 15 deadliest national parks in the United States.
All national parks can be deadly if you are not adequately prepared.
Take safety equipment, don’t go alone, and make sure you have bear spray and know what to do in the event of wild animal encounters.
Which National Park is Deadliest?
California has several of the deadliest national parks in the United States, but Washington state is home to the deadliest park of all.
North Cascades National Park has more deaths per visitor than any other national park. The total number of deaths is much lower than other deadly parks, but it’s also smaller and attracts far fewer visitors, driving the per-person risk higher.
What is the Number One Cause of Death in National Parks?
Although you might expect wild animal attacks to top the list as the main cause of death at US national parks, it’s actually way down the list, with just 8 fatal wild animal attacks reported between 2007 and 2018.
The following deaths occurred during the same time:
- Drowning = 668
- Motor Vehicle Crashes = 475
- Underdetermined = 351
- Slips and Falls = 335
- Natural Deaths = 285
- Suicide = 260
- Environmental = 163
- Transportation = 100
- Other Hazards = 40
- Poisoning = 24
- Homicide = 17
How to Stay Safe at National Parks
Most deaths occur as a result of drowning or motor vehicle crashes, and the majority are avoidable. Visitors underestimate their swimming skills or treat the remote location as an excuse to drive recklessly.
If you don’t do either of these things, you are greatly reducing your risk of dying in a national park. Understanding your environment is key, as many deaths occur from slips, falls, and poisoning.
Don’t eat anything you can’t identify. Tread carefully. And make sure you have the means to call for help if you get into trouble.
What is the Most Visited National Park?
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the United States. The park, which crosses North Carolina and Tennessee, attracts over 12 million visitors a year.
Who Dies in National Parks?
81% of the people that die in national parks are male, and while many of them are hikers and climbers, walkers, drivers, and adventurers have also met their end at these vacation hotspots.
Deaths are evenly distributed throughout all age ranges, but adults aged between 55 and 64 are most likely to die in national parks.
Children under the age of 14 are the least likely to die at national parks, as they’re also the least likely to visit these locations by themselves.