Why The Great Smokey Mountains is Ranked the Third Most Dangerous National Park

by Kayla Zadel

The Great Smokey Mountains National Park (GSMNP) is ranked third as the most dangerous National Park. But the reason why might come as a surprise to some.

One might think the ranking was awarded because of animal attacks or falls, or maybe even drowning. However, according to Outforia, a guide for outdoor travels, the Great Smokey Mountains comes in third because of the deaths that happened between 2010 and 2020.

The Most Common Cause of Death at the Great Smokey Mountains

As a matter of fact, 37 deaths because of motor vehicle crashes took place during the last ten years.

Lisa Hendy, Chief Ranger for GSMNP, tells WKRN that she’s not surprised that car accidents are the most common type of death.

“The last 10 years, we’ve had four of the deadliest on record. But we’ve also had a lot of serious life-altering injuries in those car accidents,” Hendy explains.

There are several reasons for these fatal and non-fatal traffic incidents in the Great Smokey Mountains National Park, according to Hendy. One of those reasons is the mountains that straddle North Carolina and Tennessee and are the most visited national park in the country. The GSMNP has about 12 million visitors a year.

Additionally, some locals think they know the roads well since they travel them frequently. Then there’s the other side of the equation that tips towards speed and drunk driving.

“The willingness to push because you’re a little more comfortable with the fact that you’re driving your own car instead of a rental, you know, makes you a little familiar with the vehicle; all those things lend themselves to getting a little more careless and letting your foot drop a little more than you want it to,” Hendy says.

Some of these accidents are also due to distracted driving.

“You know the turkeys are everywhere in the road. So I think the wildlife, I think the rain and the weather does play a role. I think it limits visibility. I mean, the Smokies got their name for a reason,” says Hendy.

Some motorists over or under estimate the dangers of the Great Smokey Mountains terrain.

“A lot of times that’s pure speed. It’s just people going really fast. You know how it is when you, even when you’re not in your normal area,” she explains.

Top Two Most Dangerous National Parks

The Grand Canyon ranks as the most dangerous National Park. While there have been 27 people that have died from falls in the Grand Canyon since 2010, 42 have died from medical or natural causes. This is a result of the extreme heat in the area.

Yosemite follows behind the Grand Canyon with 126 deaths in the last 10 years. Out of the 126 deaths, 45 have lost their lives to falls. Outforia says that people don’t realize the danger of certain areas and are often trying to capture a photo when they fall.