Survival Update

The world is yours

What Are the Odds of Dying at a National Park?

National Park Service Sign

For Americans planning to visit US national parks this summer, a fun adventure is what’s on most visitors’ minds. And while some potential danger does lurk around these beautiful natural treasures, new data shows that park visitors by and large survive the great outdoors.

There are definitely numerous threats to visitors of national parks, especially as excessive heat and other extreme weather events continue to plague the nation.

An October 2020 analysis from Panish Shea & Boyle LLP, which reportedly used data provided by the US National Park Service (NPS) for the years 2007 through 2018, showed there was a total of 2,727 deaths spread over hundreds of sites across that 12 year period. Approximately 3.5 billion people visited during that same period.

“That equates to just under 8 deaths per 10 million visits to park sites during that time frame,” the study said. “We feel that it is important to say that, based on our data, visiting US National Parks is very safe overall.”

Additionally, according to NPS data provided on its website, between the years 2014 and 2016, 143 of 419 park units reported one or more deaths for a total of 990 deaths, or six deaths per week. 

The agency said that its mortality rate was 0.1 deaths per 100,000 recreation visits with 53 percent of deaths in that time frame being due to unintentional causes, such as drowning and vehicle crashes.

Around half of the medical deaths occurred as an individual was engaged in physical activity –  like hiking, biking or swimming – and 79 percent of deaths occurred among males.

Banish Shea & Boyle LLP data showed that drowning, motor vehicle crashes, “undetermined” causes and falls were the top four killers.

Washington’s North Cascades National Park was the most dangerous, statistics-wise. There were 652 deaths per 10 million visits.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area had the most deaths during the period of the study at over 200. However, there were more than 85 million recreational visits to the site during the years measured.

Data on fatalities in the parks from 2010 to 2020 released by Outforia in May – obtained using a Freedom of Information Act request to the NPS – showed the Grand Canyon as the park with the most deaths at 134. Yosemite was the second with 126 and the Great Smoky Mountains came in third.

The most common causes of death were falls, medical or natural deaths or “undetermined” or “unexplained” deaths, according to the Oslo-based news outlet.

About 237 million people traveled to NPS sites in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the agency.

The NPS offers health and safety tips for a wide range of potential hazards on its website, including how to safely navigate winding roads, how to practice fire safety, how to avoid falling trees or dangerous wildlife, how to safely use trails and how to avoid drowning, which the organization says is its most common cause of death.