On average, approximately 160 visitors per year die while recreating in the National Park System.
“For example, when looking at fatality rates during the 2007-2013 time frame, the average rate is 0.57 deaths/1 million visits,” he adds. The total number of fatalities for that 7-year period of time in all 59 parks is 1,025.
Visitors can stay safe in general if they follow simple rules Barnum says. They include: Plan and prepare, select the most appropriate activity that matches their skill set and experience, seek information before and when they arrive at the park about hazards and environmental conditions, follow the rules and regulations, and use sound judgement while recreating.
Drowning is by far the most common cause of death in national parks. 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. The total number of drownings over this 7-year period, including boat, kayak and rafting drownings, is 365. Only 7 of the deaths were the result of rip currents.
National parks may not have small, crowded streets or highways but reckless drivers can be found everywhere. A total of 143 people died as the result of a car crash between 2007 and 2013, 42 of the victims were on a motorcycle. There were six fatalities involving bikers and seven pedestrians.
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. Falls are a real concern on the Precipice Trail in Acadia National Park. Steep drops and open cliffs make the walk very tricky. There were four fatal incidents where a falling tree hit by lighting has killed someone and five cases in which falling rocks or ice has caused casualties.
Believe it or not, extreme weather such as flash floods and lighting, which can be blamed on Mother Nature, cause the least number of deaths between 2007 and 2013 – a total of 8. Heat illness, cold exposure and avalanches kill the most – 26, 19, and 33, respectively. This suggests that people are not well-prepared when going into the wilderness, even in the event of an avalanche. Shouting and loud noises don’t cause them; they are usually triggered by weight – a person walking in the wrong spot is enough – or wind.
One of the many reasons why people visit the national parks is for wildlife spotting opportunities. But for some people, getting a little too up close and personal may just be their last encounter forever. Six people have died from 2007 to 2013 due to wildlife and animals. The most common death was caused by the grizzly bear, while others were due to mountain goats and snakebites.