National Parks

How many people actually die in national parks?

National parks are safe but accidents still happen.

National parks are safe but accidents still happen.  (iStock)

The risk of being injured or killed while visiting a national park is very low, according to the National Park Service.

“When looking at fatality rates during the 2007-2013 timeframe, the average rate is 0.57 deaths [per] 1 million visits,” said Jeremy Barnum, public affairs officer at National Park Service. Between 2007 and 2013, in all 59 parks, there were 1,025 fatalities. On average, approximately 160 visitors per year die while visiting national parks-- out of more 305 million visitors.

In general, visitors can stay safe if they follow simple rules , Barnum said. Always plan and prepare, select the most appropriate activity that matches your skill set and experience, seek information before and when arriving at the park about hazards and environmental conditions, follow the rules and regulations, and use sound judgment while recreating.

The leading causes of unintentional visitor fatalities in national parks, based on data collected by the NPS Public Risk Management Program from 2007 to 2013, are drownings, motor vehicle crashes, and falls. But there are some more unusual recorded ones, too.

Here are the top six causes of death in national parks:
 

  • 1. Drowning

    Drowning

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    Drowning is by far the most common cause of death in national parks. The number of fatal accidents while swimming has increased every year, from 32 in 2007; 31 in 2008; 41 in 2009; 42 in 2010 and 2011; 45 in 2012, to 59 in 2013. The total number of drownings over the seven-year period, including boat, kayak and rafting incidents, is 365. Only seven of these deaths were the result of rip currents.

  • 2. Motor Vehicle Crash

    Motor Vehicle Crash

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    National parks may not have crowded streets or busy highways, but reckless drivers can be found everywhere. A total of 143 people died as the result of a car crash between 2007 and 2013, and 42 of the victims were on a motorcycle. There were six fatalities involving bikers and seven involving pedestrians.

  • 3. Falling or Slipping

    Falling or Slipping

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    Falling and slipping while hiking is the third most common cause of death in national parks; 169 people died between 2007 and 2013. There were four fatalities in which a falling tree hit by lightning killed someone and five cases in which falling rocks or ice caused deaths. Falls are a real concern on the Precipice Trail in Acadia National Park, because steep drops and open cliffs make the walk very tricky.

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    The Most Dangerous Places in National Parks

  • 4. Nature

    Nature

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    Extreme weather like flash floods and lightning, which can only be blamed on Mother Nature, caused the least number of deaths between 2007 and 2013 — just eight. Other environmental-related incidents, such as heat illness, cold exposure, and avalanche, killed more park visitors — 26, 19, and 33, respectively. Park authorities say these incidents occur when guests are not well-prepared when going into the wilderness. Consider avalanches. Shouting and loud noises don’t cause them; they are usually triggered by weight — a person walking in the wrong spot or a strong wind is enough to do the trick.

  • 5. Poisoning

    Poisoning

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    Carbon monoxide has been the cause of two deaths in national parks in the last seven years, and drugs and alcohol have been the cause of three. The cause of one death is yet to be determined. Still, that’s just six poisonings in seven years.

  • 6. Wildlife or Animals

    Wildlife or Animals

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    One of the many reasons people visit national parks is to spot wildlife. But for some people, getting a little too close may just be their last encounter. Six people have died due to wildlife and animals. The most common cause of death was grizzly bear attacks, while others were mountain goats and snakebites.