'Understand your limits, take care': These are America's 20 deadliest national parks

·3 min read

National parks inspire awe in millions of visitors each year, but they can also be potentially deadly places for tourists and hikers caught unprepared.

On Memorial Day, a San Jose, California, man plummeted 500 feet to his death from the summit of Mount Russell in Sequoia National Park in California. His hiking partner tumbled while trying to save him, but she survived.

Accidents within national parks and other recreation areas could spike as eager travelers return to the outdoors this summer.

An analysis of National Park Service data by psblaw.com found that California is home to five of the 20 deadliest national parks, including Sequoia and Kings Canyon.

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Deadliest national parks

  1. North Cascades National Park: 625.35 deaths per 10 million visits

  2. Denali National Park & Preserve: 100.50 deaths per 10 million visits

  3. Upper Delaware Scenic & Recreational River: 68.52 deaths per 10 million visits

  4. Big Thicket National Preserve: 66.92 deaths per 10 million visits

  5. Little River Canyon National Preserve: 53.13 deaths per 10 million visits

  6. New River Gorge National River: 44.73 deaths per 10 million visits

  7. Virgin Islands National Park: 39.94 deaths per 10 million visits

  8. Mount Rainier National Park: 37.72 deaths per 10 million visits

  9. Redwood National and State Parks: 36.60 deaths per 10 million visits

  10. Big Bend National Park: 36.37 deaths per 10 million visits

  11. Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks: 33.22 deaths per 10 million visits

  12. Channel Islands National Park: 31.53 deaths per 10 million visits

  13. Glen Canyon National Recreation Area: 29.86 deaths per 10 million visits

  14. Yosemite National Park: 28.01 deaths per 10 million visits

  15. Death Valley National Park: 26.57 deaths per 10 million visits

  16. Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway: 26.09 deaths per 10 million visits

  17. Canyonlands National Park: 24.43 deaths per 100 million visits

  18. Colorado National Monument: 23.69 deaths per 100 million visits

  19. Lake Mead National Recreation Area: 23.41 deaths per 10 million visits

  20. Biscayne National Park: 23.21 deaths per 10 million visits

The analysis found the most deaths among visitors of North Cascades National Park in Washington state, with 625 deaths per 10 million visits.

Alaska's Denali National Park and Reserve was second with 100 deaths per 10 million visits.

Only four parks saw more than 100 total deaths in the 12-year period analyzed:

  • Lake Mead National Recreation Area – 201 deaths

  • Yosemite National Park – 133 deaths

  • Grand Canyon National Park – 131 deaths

  • Natchez Trace Parkway – 131 deaths

The analysis looked at national park deaths per 10 million visits between 2007 and 2018. Parks with fewer than 10 fatalities were excluded from the study.

National parks remain very safe

The study’s authors cautioned that, overall, national parks are very safe. From 2007 to 2018, there were 2,727 deaths across 423 sites in the national park system, NPS data showed.

By comparison, in 2019 alone, 36,096 people died in car accidents in the U.S., according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

According to NPS data, the leading causes of national park deaths are drownings, motor vehicle accidents, falls or slips, natural deaths and suicides. Men are four times more likely to die than women.

Numbers of deaths in NPS
Numbers of deaths in NPS

Rangers with Sequoia offered the following statement, encouraging visitors to recreate responsibly:

"Over the course of what is expected to be an extraordinarily busy summer in the parks, visitors to the front country and the wilderness alike are strongly urged to prepare carefully for trips, and understand completely that you may need to be self-sufficient in the event of an emergency. There is never any guarantee that rescuers will be able to reach you quickly. Understand your limits, take care of the people in your party, and always be prepared to turn back."

Joshua Yeager covers water, agriculture, parks, and housing for the Visalia Times-Delta and Tulare Advance-Register newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @VTD_Joshy.

Contributing: Eve Chen, USA TODAY

This article originally appeared on Visalia Times-Delta: America's deadliest national parks offer warning for summer tourists

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