Recreational travel fatalities in US national parks

J Travel Med. Nov-Dec 2008;15(6):404-11. doi: 10.1111/j.1708-8305.2008.00235.x.


Background: Injuries are a public health problem affecting traveling populations such as tourists visiting National Parks. This study investigates the distribution of visitor fatalities in US National Park Service (NPS) units and identifies the predeath activities and contributing factors associated with them.

Methods: A retrospective study was conducted of visitor fatalities from all NPS units during 2003 and 2004.

Results: There were 356 reported fatalities during 2003 and 2004. Fatalities were most common during the summer months and on weekends. Males accounted for 75% of the reported fatalities, and visitors aged 20 to 29 and 50 to 59 years accounted for 51% of all deaths. Only 99 of 388 (26%) NPS units reported at least 1 fatality, and only 10 units reported 10 or more fatalities. However, these 10 units were responsible for 36% of all fatalities. Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Blue Ridge Parkway, Grand Canyon National Park, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and Yosemite National Park reported the highest number of fatalities. Domestic visitors accounted for 73% of the fatalities, and European visitors accounted for 13%. Transportation and water-based activities recorded the highest number of fatalities. Motor vehicle crashes accounted for 20% of fatalities and was followed by suicide (17%), swimming (11%), hiking (10%), plane crashes (9%), climbing (6%), and boating (5%) incidents.

Conclusions: Fatalities in NPS units are not widespread and are related to more common events such as motor vehicle crashes, suicide, swimming, and hiking rather than exotic causes such as bears or other wildlife. It is recommended that preventive techniques first be developed in the 10 NPS units responsible for 36% of the total NPS-wide fatalities.

MeSH terms

  • Accidents / mortality*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Recreation*
  • Seasons
  • Travel
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Wounds and Injuries / mortality*
  • Young Adult