The real story: Smoky Mountains National Park not the most dangerous

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has been ranked as the third-most dangerous. But is it really among the most dangerous? (stock photo)
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has been ranked as the third-most dangerous. But is it really among the most dangerous? (stock photo)

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Have you heard some buzz about the Great Smoky Mountains National Park being ranked as the third-most dangerous national park?

Well, fear not, because we have reason to believe that the Smoky Mountains are actually among the least dangerous national parks (new ranking at the bottom of this article).

We’ll circle back. But first, why was it ranked among the most dangerous?

Outforia recently published an article that ranks some of the most dangerous national parks in the country, which are listed by the total number of deaths in the span of ten years.

According to the article, more than one thousand people have lost their lives in America’s national parks.

How is this happening? Well, let’s dissect the numbers.

How is the national park danger ranked?

The rankings were based on number of deaths over the last ten years.

The Smoky Mountains were ranked third, with a total of 92 deaths.

Was it bear attacks? Drownings? Falls?

Actually, it was motor vehicle crashes. 37 total in the last ten years.

The stats for deaths in the Smoky Mountains are as follows:

  • 37 motor vehicle crashes
  • 15 medical/natural deaths
  • 13 undetermined deaths
  • 7 “other” deaths
  • 6 drowning deaths
  • 5 bike or boat accidents
  • 4 environmental deaths
  • 3 falling deaths
  • 2 poisoning deaths

There were zero deaths documented from wildlife. But that doesn’t mean you should try to be the first.

Read Also: What to do if you see a black bear in the Smokies; 3 safety tips

Black bear in the Smoky Mountains
Black bears are generally not dangerous in the Smoky Mountains, but please practice safe wildlife viewing to protect both people and bears (stock photo by Don Grall/DanitaDelimont.com)

So which national park is the most dangerous?

The Grand Canyon was ranked No. 1 and Yosemite was ranked No. 2.

But I’d like to point a major flaw of this reporting …

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the country.

To put this in perspective, the Grand Canyon sees about 5.97 million visitors annually, while the Great Smoky Mountains sees more than twice that number at 12.5 million visitors.

Read Also: Why the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is free and others are not

So what do the numbers look like when you account for the number of visitors?

It’s time for some math. (And I told my math teacher I’d never need this …)

A new ranking: The most dangerous national parks

So is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park actually the third-most dangerous park?

Nope.

I say it’s not. No offense to the kind folks at Outforia, they didn’t adjust for the massive amount of visitors we receive here in the Smokies.

Here’s my humble new ranking, a death rate calculation based on number of deaths compared to number of visitors:

  1. The Virgin Islands (0.016492%, originally tied for No. 16)
  2. Denali, Alaska (0.008484%, originally tied for No. 6)
  3. Big Bend, Texas (0.004743%, originally tied for No. 16)
  4. Redwood, Calif. (0.004161%, originally No. 18)
  5. Sequoia & Kings Canyon, Calif. (0.003993%, originally No. 4)
  6. Mount Rainer, Wash. (0.003396%, originally tied for No. 6)
  7. Yosemite, Calif. (0.002849%, originally No. 2)
  8. Channel Islands, Calif. (0.002441%, originally No. 25)
  9. Death Valley, Calif. and Nev. (0.002355%, originally No. 11)
  10. Grand Canyon, Ariz. (0.002243%, originally No. 1)
  11. Canyonlands, Utah (0.001771%, originally No. 24)
  12. Shenandoah, Va. (0.001754%, originally No. 14)
  13. Saguaro, Ariz. (0.00147%, originally No. 22)
  14. Grand Teton, Wy. (0.001409%, originally No. 9)
  15. Glacier, Mont. (0.001312%, originally No. 12)
  16. Yellowstone, Wy., Mont.and Idaho (0.001293%, originally No. 5)
  17. Everglades, Fla. (0.001252%, originally No. 23)
  18. Rocky Mountains, Colo. (0.001049%, originally No. 8)
  19. Zion, Utah (0.000958%, originally No. 10)
  20. Olympic, Wash. (0.000986%, originally No. 13)
  21. Indiana Dunes, Ind. (0.00089%, originally tied for No. 19)
  22. Cuyahoga Valley, Ohio (0.000804%, originally No. 21)
  23. Joshua Tree, Calif. (0.000803%, originally No. 15)
  24. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tenn. and NC (0.000733%, originally No. 3) 
  25. Acadia, Maine (0.000553%, originally tied for No. 19)

As a disclaimer, I only calculated the first 25 parks from the original “most dangerous” list.

But, I think it’s safe to say that the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the least dangerous, when adjusted for the numbers.

That actually makes the Virgin Islands one of the most dangerous national parks, with 22 deaths and only 133,398 annual visitors.

The most common death in the Virgin Islands is drowning.

So what does this mean?

I say it means the Smoky Mountains are actually quite safe.

But with that being said, I hope we can all agree that even one accidental death is one too many.

Travel safe, my friends. Don’t litter. Respect the mountains. Don’t pet the bears.

And drive responsibly.

What do YOU think about this analysis? Let us know in the comments.

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15 Comments

  1. Good article.I hike the smokies and blue ridge many times a year. I think your math analysis is quite fair. Your math teacher would be proud.

  2. Excellent analysis! That first report was pretty misleading and the problem is most people will only look at the chart and not look deeper into the numbers to realize it’s no where near as dangerous as they say. I’m looking forward to my upcoming trip to the Smokies and appreciated the breakdown of the 92 deaths, I had no idea it was only 20 of what I would consider “park related” deaths.

  3. Great article. Where did you get the data? What would really be interesting to see is a breakdown of type of death (or all deaths minus medical, undetermined, car crashes) per park visitor. Essentially counting all the deaths that would be inherent to the park and recreation to the park. That metric would be very interesting to see, and I wonder how much higher parks like rainier, denali, zion, get with that.

  4. I agree with your sentiment. And in all honesty do not understand how they would throw these rankings out there without factoring in the number of visitors annually. Great information and glad to know the Great Smoky Mountains in my home state are safe for others to admire the most beautiful national park.

  5. Hey Logan! Details about those deaths are in the article above. The source was the original article at outforia.com who referenced the National Park Service.

  6. Great news! I love my Smokies. It broke my heart when they caught on fire. People admire the bears from a distance they’re not pets and if you provoke them it’s all on you!

  7. Well written. Regardless of how dangerous a national park is, it is the wild wilderness that God created, to the home wild animals which we should respect and understand that we are visiting their home. I don’t know what was written by the other party saying it’s 3rd most dangerous. It’s the wilderness!!! You must have respect for it. Just like any where you may visit.

  8. And yes! the wild fires that STARTED in the GSMNP did in fact kill people and destroyed many folks lives and homes! THE GSMNP SCREWED UP HARD THAT DAY, AND HAVE YET TO ADMIT IT! HOW BOUT ALL THE PEOPLE KILLED IN THE PARK NO ONE FINDS! RIDDLE ME THAT!

  9. I hope lots of people get the idea that the smokies are dangerous so they go somewhere else and leave the park to those of us who love it best.

  10. I lived in East Tennessee and it’s the most peaceful and beautiful place I’ve ever lived we often walked trails in the mountains and I never felt like I was in a dangerous place. I can’t understand how it was ranked one of the most dangerous national parks

  11. I completely disagree that the Smoky Mountains are most dangerous, I spent a calendar year hiking and camping the mountains and not one time did I ever cross a problem. I would greatly enjoy coming back and spending a few more weekends in the Great Smoky Mountains!

  12. If automobile accidents were the biggest factor in deciding “the most dangerous”, then almost any large city would outrank the parks. The original analysis was wrong on so many levels. Unfortunately, the press picked up on the original analysis, but most likely won’t cover this more accurate accounting.

  13. Never ever had a problem at the smokies just fun and respect the wildlife and enjoy! Been there almost every year since I was a kid 👍🙂❣

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