Surprisingly, getting attacked by a grizzly bear doesn't put Glacier National Park, or Yellowstone at top of the list of the most "deadly" National Parks in the United States.

Yet even though our parks aren't as hazardous as places like Grand Canyon, the risk of falls and drowning is something Glacier and Yellowstone have in common with other parks.

The data is contained in a Freedom of Information Act report released a few months ago by the National Park Service which is getting some attention thanks to a new story published by The Hill over the weekend. It's based on reports going all the way back from 2007 to 2021, which is an interesting range because it also corresponds with a growth in park visitation over that same stretch of time. The report from the "Public Risk Management Program" or PRIM, focused on unintentional deaths.

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The Hill report sorted the number of deaths against the number of visitors

Using that rationale, North Cascades National Park in Washington is at the top of the list, with 9 fatalities, which like other parks in our region, happened from falls, car crashes and medical emergencies.

But high visitation park units also have many hazards

For example, in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area 385 people died from drowning, followed by the Grand Canyon, where, ironically, falls were not the leading cause of death.

Dennis Bragg photo
Dennis Bragg photo

Both falls and drowning cause most deaths in Glacier and Yellowstone

While both Glacier and Yellowstone leave the perception of risk from being fatally attacked by animals, especially grizzly bears, falls and drowning were the leading cause of death in both parks according to the NPS data. Others died from crashes, "environmental causes" which would include hypothermia and exposure, and medical emergencies, such as when a hiker might suffer a heart attack.

Of course, Yellowstone also has the unique danger from its geothermal features, which have resulted in 20 people being killed because they ignored warnings.

And that's why you'll see so many signs in Glacier and Yellowstone warning people about the risk of drowning, falls, and burns.

Old Faithful Inn, Yellowstone Park

Old Faithful Inn Yellowstone Park

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