(NEXSTAR) – Millions of people visit America’s national parks each year, exploring the stunning terrain and breathtaking wildlife. Unfortunately, some of those parks can be more dangerous than others.
According to the most recent data released by the National Park Service, over 2,000 visitors died in national parks between 2014 and 2021.
Despite the proximity to wildlife and overall freedom to traverse sometimes dangerous terrains, the leading cause of death – with the exception of fatalities deemed “undetermined” – was motor vehicle crashes, which accounted for 415 deaths over eight years. Following crashes were drownings (402) and medical-related deaths (385).
Alternatively, deaths caused by wildlife or animals were among the rarest – only five were reported between 2014 and 2021.
Two of those deaths occurred at Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Reserve in 2020. While details about individual deaths in the NPS report are limited, records show a 22-year-old Ohio hunter was killed by a grizzly bear in September of that year while he was field-dressing a moose he had harvested a day earlier.
Another animal-related death happened at Yellowstone National Park in 2015 when a 63-year-old Montana man was killed by a female grizzly bear. NPS didn’t release details as to why the attack happened but said the bear was euthanized and her two cubs were taken to a facility.
As expected, some of the most visited parks have reported among the highest deaths.
Topping out the list is Lake Mead National Recreation Area at 145, where the single most common cause of death was drowning. Of the 385 drownings reported in national parks between 2014 and 2021, 47 happened at Lake Mead, the most of any park.
The second most deadly national park was Grand Canyon National Park, which reported nearly 100 deaths over the eight-year period. Though it’s known for its panoramic cliff edges overlooking steep canyon walls, falls were not the leading cause of death in the frequently visited park. Instead, nearly half of the deaths at the Grand Canyon were listed as medically related.
Some of those deaths are likely caused by the heat hikers experience in the park. Officials often warn hikers to stay hydrated, rest in the shade, and hike during the cooler parts of the day.
These five national parks reported the most fatalities between 2014 and 2021:
Proportionally, based on the available mortality data and visitor data from NPS (not every park is listed in the mortality report, and not every park tracks visitors), far less than 1% – technically, less than 0.0002% – of visitors died within national parks.
North Cascades National Park has the highest mortality rate at 0.004%, reporting nine deaths and over 220,500 visitors during the same time period. Those deaths include three falls, two motor vehicle crashes, two environmentally-related deaths, a medical death and an undetermined cause of death.
Based on death-to-visitor rate, these are the five deadliest parks:
|North Cascades National Park||9||220,547||0.0040808%|
|Lake Clark National Park & Preserve||4||132,637||0.0030157%|
|Wrangell – St Elias National Park & Reserve||11||523,239||0.0021023%|
|Fort Bowie National Historic Site||1||62,942||0.0015888%|
|Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site||1||85,621||0.0011679%|
The five parks with the most fatalities all have death rates below 0.0003%.