Earlier this month, on June 7, I read an article about an Oregonian 23-year-old man who went over 225 yards off the boardwalk trail, slid, and fell into a hot spring in Yellowstone National Park. The Norris Basin Geysers are a set of geysers and hot springs that are the hottest and most acidic in the park. Depending on which geyser and what the geothermal systems are up to that day, the temperatures can run anywhere from 100°F to 400°F, while the pH levels range from 1 (battery acid) to 3 (soda pop).
Reading about this tragedy got me thinking about all the deaths I’ve heard about at the national parks I’ve visited. At one point my husband said I should write something about it. Although I find it rather morbid to talk about deaths at national parks, it serves as a reminder about playing it safe while you are enjoying the wilderness.
Before I dive into the topic, I have to say that the odds of anyone dying at a National Park are pretty low. An average of 150 people per year have died at a National Park according to recent records, not including suicides. I know it sounds like a lot, but near 300 million people visit parks each year. That makes the odds roughly 1 in 2 million. Better than winning at Powerball, but still slim. Just to give you a comparison, odds of you dying in a national park is the same as dying by ebola. You are more likely die because your pajamas caught on fire at odds of 1 in 983,575, or a real killer like heart disease at 1 in 7.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Although it’s rare to die in a national park, since 2001, 21 people have died in Rocky Mountain National Park. 3.3 million visitors flock to the Rockies and many of them just walk away with some pretty awesome memories. The number one death dealer at this park is falling, and that comes as no surprise since much of the park is over 10,000 feet. The high altitude plays a big role in the park’s second leading cause of death: cardiac arrest. Better to heed those signs that warn “Do not climb unless prepared.”
Natchez Trace National Parkway
Imagine a beautiful 444-mile route from the southern Appalachian foothills of Tennessee to the Mississippi River. Once used by Native Americans for thousand years, before European settlers, the Natchez Trace National Parkway claims an average of 8 deaths per year, many due to traffic accidents. The Natchez Trace bridge also seem to attract those who wish to commit suicide. At least 15 people have fallen 155 feet to their deaths since 2000. They to put up signs with suicide prevention numbers in 2010 to deal with the problem. The death rate in past years have been higher, and the rangers have worked hard to reduce that death toll number. They’re even making efforts to improve safety for bicyclists. Incidentally, vehicle accidents and suicides are the 2nd and 4th, respectively, leading cause of deaths in all National Parks combined.
Mount Rainier National Park
I’ve been to Mount Rainier a number of times having lived in the Seattle area for most of my life. 419 people have died on or around the mountain since government records were first kept in the 1800s. Of that total, the mountain has claimed over 114 lives in climbing deaths, usually toward or from the summit. That’s not too bad considering that in 2015 alone, 10,025 people attempted to climb Mount Rainier and that number just keeps going up. Incidentally falling is the leading cause of death at Mount Rainer and the third for the whole of the National Parks in America.
Grand Canyon National Park
Since the mid-1800s, over 770 people have died at the Grand Canyon, according to Ken Field’s “Over the Edge 3D: Death in Grand Canyon Map.” That number is probably higher due to inconsistencies with record keeping. This yawning abyss racks up about 12 fatalities per year. That includes falling, traffic accidents, suicide, medical problems, exposure, and drowning. The most tragic death was in 1956 when two planes collided and over 100 passengers died.
Lake Mead National Recreation Area
I’ve been to Lake Mead briefly along with Hoover Dam. This manmade lake is a reservoir with over 200 million acres of water and is the 5th most visited park in the National Park Service. This aquatic playground is a wonderful place to fish, boat, water ski, swim, and jet ski. The annual average is 5 to 12 deaths within Lake Mead’s murky depths and its surrounding lands. A majority of those deaths are by drowning. With over 7.2 million visitors in the last year, it’s no wonder something bad happens, be it an accident, suicide or homicide. Sadly, Lake Mead is an example of the National Park’s number one cause of death: drowning.
Have Fun, Play Safe
This year is the National Park Service’s centennial, so expect crowds this summer. Your chances of dying at a National Park are slim, but play it safe and stay alive. Most importantly, have fun, and don’t fall into any boiling geysers.