Young Girl Dies in Great Smoky Mountains National Park after Tree Falls On Tent

by Jon D. B.

Heartbreaking news out of Great Smoky Mountains National Park: A young girl has died in Elkmont Campground amidst a freak accident.

At approximately 12:30 AM on Wednesday, July 27, Great Smoky Mountains (GRSM) rangers responded to an emergency in the park’s popular Elkmont Campground. Without warning, a tree had fallen onto a family’s tent, resulting in the death of a 7-year-old child. The young girl’s family, residents of Georgia, all survived the incident without injury.

Her father and two siblings remained at the scene until emergency assistance arrived. Responders from Gatlinburg Fire Department, Gatlinburg Police Department, and the National Park Service all reported to the scene.

The tree responsible for the tragedy is a large red maple measuring approximately 2-feet in diameter. Red maples can grow to more than 60-feet in height, and are abundant throughout Great Smoky Mountains National Park, including Elkmont.

Due to the heartbreaking situation, Elkmont’s affected campsite and adjacent campsites are closed. The campground at large, however, remains open. 

Out of respect for the family and their late child, her identity is being kept private at this time.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Tragedy Resembles Yosemite Accident

The incident bears a striking resemblance to a freak accident in Yosemite National Park. In 2015, National Park Service investigators were called to Yosemite’s Upper Pines Campground to look over an accident site. On Friday, August 14, 2015, an oak tree branch fell onto a tent with two children sleeping inside, killing them both.

A National Park Service investigator, (declined to give name) looks over the accident site, at the Upper Pines campground in Yosemite National Park, Calif., on Sat. August 15, 2015, a day after an oak tree branch fell onto a tent with two children sleeping inside killing them. (Photo by Michael Macor/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)

It, too, was a horrific situation. Typically, park accidents provide learning experiences for others. But sometimes, as in both the Great Smoky Mountains and Yosemite National Park cases, freak of nature accidents just happen.

According to California officials, a large black oak tree limb fell on their tent in the heart of Yosemite National Park. At the time, Park spokesman Scott Gediman declined to release the ages or any details about the children, “describing them only as under age 18.”

Gediman did say, however, that the limb fell from a black oak tree at about 5 a.m. Friday in the popular Upper Pines Campground in Yosemite Valley, striking the tent where two minors were sleeping. Park Rangers were then alerted to the fall by 911 calls from Yosemite. They responded to the campground to provide medical assistance. But tragically, when rangers arrived, both children were dead.

The campground is one of Yosemite’s most popular due to a magnificent view of Half Dome. It was either near capacity or full when the tree limb fell. Regardless, it would’ve been impossible for any campers to prepare for this scenario, no matter the park.

Whether camping in Yosemite or Great Smoky Mountains or any other National Park, please stay safe out there, Outsiders.