Alongside the top 10, a new study reveals the deadliest national park in the United States’ National Park Service per visitation.
Ah, our beloved national parks. There’s no greater symbol of the great American outdoors, nor more successful keepers than the National Park Service (NPS). Hundreds of millions take to these wild spaces annually, with visitation increasing every year. All that foot traffic means accidents are bound to occur, however. And some lead to outright tragedy.
Thankfully, those numbers remain remarkably low. But there are a few national parks that stand out when it comes to proper danger. As someone who works with NPS regularly, a few usual suspects come to mind; the aptly-named Death Valley chief among them. This California/Nevada national park doesn’t even make the deadliest list, however. The other, Alaska’s Wrangell-St. Elias, does, though.
According to an extensive study by NBC News, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve comes in as the second deadliest national park. But which destination holds the maligned top spot?
Washington’s North Cascades is the Deadliest U.S. National Park
By analyzing 15 years of NPS’ federal data, NBC News found that North Cascades National Park is the deadliest in America. So much so, in fact, that “some climbers and guides are worried that without changes” that North Cascades officials could be amplifying its dangers, the outlet reports.
In total, the Washington (state) park held 3.7 deaths for every 100,000 visitors from 2007 to 2021. This is over three times the rate of Wrangell-St. Elias’ spot as the second deadliest.
Plainly, this means 14 deaths occurred in North Cascades within 15 years. As for why their percentage is so high compared to other parks, their average annual visitation is to blame. Around 25,000 people visit North Cascades each year. Compare that to Great Smoky Mountains 14 million or Yellowstone’s 3 to 4 million, and North Cascades starts to look quite deadly, indeed.
The Top 10 Deadliest U.S. National Parks
Federal data also reveals the next 9 of the deadliest NPS parks in America:
|National Park||Yearly Visitation (Average)||Deaths per 100k visitors|
|North Cascades National Park (WA)||25,214||3.7|
|Wrangell-St Elias National Park & Preserve (AK)||67,035||1.09|
|Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks (CA)||577,853||0.99|
|Denali National Park & Preserve (AK)||450,395||0.93|
|Upper Delaware Scenic & Recreational River (NY, PA)||253,357||0.63|
|Big Thicket National Preserve (TX)||166,639||0.56|
|Virgin Islands National Park (Virgin Islands)||375,492||0.5|
|Big Bend National Park (TX)||389,196||0.43|
|Little River Canyon National Preserve (AK)||367,654||0.4|
|Mount Rainier National Park (WA)||1,261,032||0.36|
Washington, Alaska, and Texas are Most Dangerous U.S. States for NPS Parks
This 15 years of data also reveals the most dangerous states for National Park Service cites. Alaska takes the top spot with three NPS parks making the top 10. Washington comes in second with two, followed by Texas‘ two NPS parks.
A few parks above may look unfamiliar, too. That’s because the National Park Service holds well over 400 designated sites across the U.S. Only 63 are formerly national parks.
For a full list of NPS sites and their designations, see our How Many U.S. National Parks Are There? next.