The Most Common Causes of Death in America’s National Parks

Generally, national parks are extremely safe places to visit. There are plenty of clearly marked signs telling you where you can and can’t go, there are park rangers present to help you with any questions or concerns you may have, and there are always hoards of people around. So what can go wrong? Read on to find out the no. 1 cause of death in America’s national parks.

7. Wildlife

Brown bear in nature

Animal attacks are actually not very common. | ricochet64/iStock/Getty Images

You may think wildlife is one of the more common ways a person can die in national parks, but it’s actually one of the least likely. According to The Washington Post, “between 2007 and 2013, four people were killed by bears, one died from a snakebite, and one unfortunate hiker was killed by a mountain goat in 2010.”

Next: This is why it’s important to not make unnecessarily loud noises. 

6. Avalanche

horse and mountain landscape of Kyrgyzstan

Avalanches don’t happen often, but the results can be deadly when they do. | extremal/iStock/Getty Images

Dying in an avalanche is slightly more likely than getting killed by wildlife at a national park. Though still very unlikely, it does happen from time to time. In March 2018, six people died in an avalanche in the French Alps, and in March 2017 a hiker was swept away in an avalanche that took place just outside of Banff National Park.

Next: Pack accordingly  

5. The elements

People might not be prepared to battle the elements. | iStock

We then see a bit of a jump in frequency when it comes to extreme heat or cold exposure. “This suggests that people are not well-prepared when going into the wilderness,” says the Huffington Post. It’s important to be aware of the weather conditions prior to venturing out into the wilderness. It doesn’t hurt to be extra prepared for extreme weather.

Next: The Grand Canyon is one of the most common national parks to commit suicide in.  

4. Suicide

Shenandoah Valley, Virginia

Firearms and falls are often involved. | Ablokhin/iStock/Getty Images

The fourth most likely form of death at a national park is suicide. “During 2003–2009, a combined average of 41 suicides and attempted suicides occurred in national parks per year, and they most often involved firearms (33%) or falls (19%), which differed from the methods most commonly used in suicide events in other settings,” reports the CDC.

Next: Don’t get too close to the edge. 

3. Falling

Cliffs on the southern shore of Tongatapu island in Tonga

Many trails are dangerous. | Donyanedomam/iStock/Getty Images

According to The Huffington Post, “falling and slipping while hiking is the third most common cause of death in national parks with 169 people dying in the seven years to 2013.” One national park that’s particularly dangerous in this regard is Acadia National Park. On the Precipice Trail there are severe drops and open cliffs that make hiking the trail pretty dangerous.

Next: Many people get into car accidents because they’re distracted by the scenery.  

2. Vehicle accident

Minor car crash

The scenery might distract motorists. | Tom Merton/iStock/Getty Images

The second most common cause of death at national parks is getting into a vehicle accident. In this instance, The Washington Post describes “vehicles” as cars, buses, boats, bikes, airplanes, and other mechanical modes of transportation. What usually causes these crashes? “A 2008 study found that visitors distracted by scenery were a contributing factor in 27 percent of all fatal car crashes at national parks. Alcohol was a factor in 23 percent of these crashes, and foreign visitors crossing the center line to drive on the wrong side of the road were responsible for 14 percent of fatal crashes,” reports the Post.

Next: The most common cause of death in national parks

1. Drowning

Zion National Park

Currents can be strong. | Rhona Wise/AFP/Getty Images

The No. 1 cause of death at national parks is drowning. The number of swimming incidents have increased each year. Other park goers die due to rip currents, and boating, kayaking, and raft incidents. “The number of fatal accidents during swimming has increased every year – 32 in 2007, 31 in 2008, 41 in 2009, 42 in 2010 and 2011, 45 in 2012 and 59 in 2013,” reports  the Huffington Post.

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