Unfortunately, some of those visitors never left the parks.
Newly released data collected by the Public Risk Management Program from the National Park Service system shows that between 2014 and early April 2023, over 2,600 visitors died in national parks. Of those 204 died in 2022 alone.
Though it wasn’t the deadliest year in that nine-year period, it was the deadliest since 2019 when a record 320 people (tied with 2017) died across the NPS system.
While you may think the proximity to wildlife or overall freedom to traverse occasionally dangerous terrains may be to blame for many of those fatalities, the leading cause of death- after those listed as “not reported” — was motor vehicle crashes, which accounted for 37 deaths across more than two dozen national park sites.
After motor vehicle crashes, NPS data shows other leading causes of death include drownings and falls, both of which accounted for 22 deaths.
This follows the trend the national parks have seen since 2014. Without including data from 2022, the leading cause of death was, again, motor vehicle crashes, which claimed 415 lives over eight years. Following crashes were drownings (402) and medical-related deaths (385).
Deaths caused by wildlife or animals were among the rarest over the same period. According to NPS, no death in 2022 was listed as being caused by wildlife or animals, though the agency notes that the data is “subject to change as information continues to be collected and analyzed.”
As expected, some of the most-visited national parks had among the highest numbers of reported deaths.
Topping out the list was Lake Mead Recreational Area, where 21 deaths were reported in 2022. Of those, seven were attributed to motor vehicle crashes while another seven were drownings. During the previous eight years, drowning was the leading cause of death at Lake Mead.
These are the five deadliest national parks in 2022, as well as their leading cause of death, with the exception of deaths with unreported causes:
|Park||Number of Deaths||Leading Cause of Death (Total)|
|Lake Mead National Recreation Area||21||Motor vehicle crashes and drownings (7 each)|
|National Mall & Memorial Parks||9||Environmental (4)|
|Great Smoky Mountains National Park||9||Motor vehicle crashes and drownings (2 each)|
|Baltimore-Washington Parkway||9||Motor vehicle crashes (7)|
|Yosemite National Park||8||Motor vehicle crashes (2)|
Proportionally, based on the available mortality data and visitor data from NPS (not every park is listed in the mortality report, and not every park tracks visitors), far less than 1% — technically 0.00013% — of visitors died within national parks last year.
Clara Barton National Historic Site had the highest mortality rate in 2022 at 0.15%, reporting one motor vehicle crash death over 673 visitors.
Based on death-to-visitor rate, these are the five deadliest parks of 2022:
|Clara Barton National Historic Site||1||673||0.1486%|
|North Cascades National Park||3||30,154||0.0099%|
|Virgin Islands National Park||4||196,752||0.0020%|
|Upper Delaware Scenic & Recreational River||5||270,718||0.0018%|
|Dry Tortugas National Park||1||78,488||0.0013%|
All five of the national parks with the highest number of fatalities had death-to-visitor rates of 0.0005% or less.