When you think of the most dangerous national park in the country, you might think of the Grand Canyon with its towering cliffs or Denali with its high peaks and bitter cold. But the national park with the highest mortality rate is neither of these.
It’s a park you may never have heard of, with only 30,154 visitors in 2022. North Cascades National Park in Washington is one of the least visited parks in the country, yet it has the highest mortality rate of all 63.
Let’s learn more about what’s going on in Northeast Washington.
How many national parks are there in the U.S.?
There are 63 national parks in the United States. These are the largest units and range from Alaska to Florida, with dozens of parks in between.
The most visited is Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the Tennessee-North Carolina border. In 2022, it had 12.9 million visitors.
Other top national parks include the Grand Canyon and Zion National Park, each with 4.7 million visitors, and Rocky Mountain National Park, with 4.3 million visitors. Acadia National Park ranks fifth with 4 million visitors in 2022.
This compares to 30,000 visitors to North Cascades National Park. Among the least visited parks are several parks in Alaska such as Kobuk Valley National Park, Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, and Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.
Isle Royale National Park in Michigan is also less visited, with only 25,844 visitors in 2021.
Is visiting national parks dangerous?
Visiting these national treasures is not dangerous per se. However, there are vast wilderness areas in some national parks that are far from help and modern conveniences.
Others have rocky cliffs and dangerous wildlife that can pose a threat. Each park has its own risks.
However, as long as visitors heed the signs and warnings, follow the guidelines established by the National Park Service, and use common sense, a trip to these 63 places is as safe as a week-long family vacation at the beach.
Where is North Cascades National Park located?
North Cascades National Park is located in northwest Washington near the Canadian border. Highway 20 passes through the park, but there are very few other roads, making this a very remote location.
Limited highway access is one of the reasons the park is one of the least visited national parks in the country. It is located about 2 hours northeast of Seattle and 2.5 hours southeast of Vancouver, Canada.
About North Cascades National Park
The alpine landscape of North Cascades National Park is unique in the Lower 48, with more than 300 glaciers on its jagged peaks. It is a place of tranquility where water cascades into forested valleys.
More than 500 lakes and ponds dot the mountain ranges. There are also over 1,600 species of plants in this diverse wonderland.
Mountain goats, bighorn sheep, moose, elk, mountain lions, wolverines, black bears, grizzly bears, and river otters call this area home. Dozens of other birds, small mammals and reptiles also live here.
There are few structures or roads in North Cascades National Park, as it is almost entirely protected as wilderness. Camping is regulated by a permit system and requires hiking, horseback riding, or boating to reach designated campsites.
Please note: Is Gerber’s prediction of the “death spiral of the RV industry” coming true? Click on the link to find out!
Why does North Cascades National Park have the highest mortality rate?
Due to the large amounts of snow and the high mountain peaks, avalanches are not uncommon in North Cascades National Park. This is another reason why the park is not as heavily visited.
Very few guests come during the winter season. But this is also a risk for hikers and mountaineers who visit the park in the cold, snowy months.
However, climate change is also affecting snowmelt. Snowfields are becoming looser, leading to more falling rocks and ice. These huge boulders and ice can easily send a hiker or climber plummeting to their death.
From 2007 to 2021, there were 3.7 deaths per 100,000 visitors to the park. In those 15 years, 14 people died in North Cascades National Park. This may not seem like much (less than one per year), but it is concerning when the park is visited by fewer than 20,000 people annually.
In other parks, the death toll is higher. For example, more people die in Death Valley National Park due to heat exhaustion and other factors. However, the park also had 1.1 million visitors in 2022.
Although causes of death are not listed in the federal report, park rangers in Washington state that climbers and hikers were the visitors most often rescued or found dead.
Falls from ice and rock are not uncommon, and unfortunately, due to the nature of alpine climbing, falls from the mountains are also the cause of these deaths.