No. 1 Cause Of Death In National Parks? Driving.


National Park Service mortality data from 2014 through 2019/NPS

The greatest risk to your life in a national park is not a grizzly bear, not a rattlesnake, and not having a heart attack. No, the greatest risk to your life is being in a vehicle heading down the road, according to the National Park Service.

Mortality data collected from the National Park System from 2014 through 2019 turned up 2,149 deaths overall, with 370 deaths related to driving. Drowning was responsible for 314 deaths during that time period, while hiking contributed 255 deaths, with falls accounting for 206 deaths, the Park Service says. There also were 381 suicides in the parks during those years, and 25 murders.

The covered years provide the most recently available data, as the Park Service notes it can take some time to validate the reports that come in from across the National Park System.

The validation process includes quality checks and coordination with each reporting park unit,” the agency said on its website. “Preliminary data for calendar year 2020 to present is available in the NPS mortality dataset. These data have not undergone the validation process and are subject to change as information continues to be collected and analyzed.”

According to the data:

  • Out of 420+ national parks, 177 reported one or more deaths in this six-year period.
  • An average of 358 deaths a year were reported in this six-year period, or 7 deaths a week.
  • In 2019, the NPS mortality rate was 0.11 deaths per 100,000 recreational visits, which is very low when compared to the 715 deaths per 100,000 people rate of the overall U.S. population.
  • Most deaths (79 percent) occurred among males.
  • More than half of all deaths (52 percent) occurred among people ages 45 and older.
  • Half of all reported deaths (50 percent) are due to unintentional causes.
  • Motor vehicle crashes, drownings, and falls are the top three leading causes of unintentional deaths in parks, in that order.
  • Half of medical deaths (50 percent) occurred while the individual was engaged in a physical activity (e.g., hiking, biking, swimming).
  • Suicides account for 93 percent of all reported intentional deaths.

The data does not include deaths involving park staff, volunteers, contractors, or concession workers. The Park Service did not provide a park-by-park breakdown of deaths, nor would it identify any one park as the most dangerous.

“There is not a ‘most dangerous national park,'” the agency said. “Parks have hazards. Hazards are potential sources of harmSome hazardslike wildlife, rocky terrain, heat, high elevation, rip currents, naturally exist in the environment at the park. We also have unique cultural resources that were built before modern safety standards. For example, historic structures may have uneven steps. Roadways may have narrow lanes or limited to no pavement markings. These resources are protected for your enjoyment and for future generations. You must recreate around them with awareness and care.”


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