From the Redwoods to Joshua Tree, California’s national park sites attract millions of visitors annually. Unfortunately, some never leave.
According to the most recent data released by the National Park Service, over 2,000 visitors died in national parks between 2014 and 2021. Of those deaths, nearly 350 were reported in California’s national parks.
Nationally, the leading cause of death – with the exception of fatalities deemed “undetermined” – was motor vehicle crashes, which accounted for 415 deaths over eight years. In California’s national park sites, the leading cause of death (again, with the exception of “undetermined” deaths) was medically-related issues.
Seventy of the 347 deaths reported at the 17 California parks included in NPS’s report were labeled as medical deaths. Falls were listed as the cause of death in 68 deaths, followed by drowning, the cause of death in 46 cases.
Alternatively, deaths caused by poisoning and homicides were among the rarest – accounting for 2 and 5 deaths, respectively – and there were no deaths listed as being caused by wildlife or animals.
Among those homicide cases include the death of 54-year-old Henry Stange, whose remains were found inside Joshua Tree National Park in June 2018. Two people, including former Marine Curtis Lee Krueger, were arrested on suspected murder charges. Krueger was sentenced to 18 years to life in prison in 2020 for the murder and assault of Stange, according to the Desert Sun.
More than one-fourth of the deaths reported at California’s national parks happened in Yosemite National Park, where 94 deaths occurred between 2014 and 2021. That’s the third-highest in the nation, coming in behind Lake Mead Recreational Area (145) and Grand Canyon National Park (97).
Like the Grand Canyon, the leading cause of death in Yosemite was medical deaths.
Some of those deaths are likely caused by the heat hikers experience in the park. Officials often warn hikers to stay hydrated, rest in the shade, and hike during the cooler parts of the day.
These five California national parks reported the most fatalities between 2014 and 2021:
Proportionally, based on the available mortality data and visitor data from NPS (not every park is listed in the mortality report, and not every park tracks visitors), far less than 1% – technically, less than 0.0002% – of visitors died within U.S. national parks.
Nationally, North Cascades National Park has the highest mortality rate at 0.004%, reporting nine deaths and over 220,500 visitors during the same time period.
Based on death-to-visitor rates, the deadliest park in California is Sequoia and Kings National Parks at 0.0007%. Of the more than 9 million guests the site served over eight years, 64 died, according to NPS data.
The leading cause of death at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks was falls, which claimed 22 lives between 2014 and 2018. Following falls were medical deaths (11) and drownings (10).
Here are the five California parks with the highest mortality rates:
|Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks||64||9,013,826||0.0007100%|
|Death Valley National Park||35||10,233,444||0.0003420%|
|Redwood National and State Parks||12||3,625,920||0.0003310%|
|Yosemite National Park||94||31,386,822||0.0002995%|
|Pinnacles National Park||4||1,766,030||0.0002265%|
While Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks have the highest mortality rate, the average mortality rate across California’s national parks is 0.0002%.