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