May 10, 2024 | Sammy Tran

America's Most Dangerous Camping Destinations

Dangerous Places to Camp

If you’re an outdoor enthusiast looking for a thrill, there are dozens of places within the United States that will scratch that itch for you.

From toxic critters to treacherous terrain, here are 10 camping destinations that attract the adrenaline chasers, and statistics that may shock you.

Dangerous Camping Split Gallery

The Grand Canyon, Arizona

I know what you’re thinking—lots of people camp safely at the Grand Canyon. And you aren’t wrong. It is one of the most popular tourist destinations in America.

But this geographical wonder offers routes that are reserved for only the most skilled outdoorsman.

Landscape Photo of the Grand Canyon National ParkDietmar Rabich, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

The Grand Canyon: Bright Angel Trail

For the more intense hiker, Bright Angel Trail offers the steepest route to the bottom of the canyon—which is a whopping 4,380 feet down.

This trail has earned the nickname “The Devil’s Corkscrew” as it poses a real threat to hikers.

A woman hiking near cliffs on Bright Angel trail, Grand CanyonThomas BLANCK, Shutterstock

The Grand Canyon: Statistics

The Grand Canyon may be a stunning tourist destination, but it is also one of the deadliest national parks in the US.

Since the 1800’s over 900 people have lost their lives at the Grand Canyon. Of those fatalities, 300 of them were falls from steep hiking cliffs, and 125 of them were from environmental factors like temperatures and cardiac arrest.

Grand Canyon South Rim photographed from Powell PointTuxyso, Wikimedia Commons

Death Valley National Park, California and Nevada

Death Valley is known as a stunning place for hiking, bird watching, and stargazing. But it also presents numerous dangers.

First, the park is full of lethal critters like rattlesnakes, scorpions, and black widow spiders. It is suggested to “never place your hands and feet where you cannot see first.” 

But that’s not all.

Zabriskie Point's signature rock formations, Death Valley National ParkDavid Rajter, Shutterstock

Death Valley: Losing Your Way

One of the top reasons people lose their lives in Death Valley begins with simply getting lost. A lot of the people who passed experienced extreme temperatures (summer can exceed 130F), dehydration, starvation, and even animal attacks.

Moonrise over Death Valley north of Furnace CreekAcroterion, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Death Valley: How It Got Its Name

Death Valley got its name a very long time ago when a group of pioneers got lost during the winter of 1849-1850.

Only one person from the group passed, but during their extreme struggle for survival they had all assumed it would be their final resting place.

Desert landscape of the golden Mesquite flat sand dunes, Death Valley National ParkStephen Bridger, Shutterstock

Denali National Park

Denali National Park gives campers a fantastic opportunity to sleep in the great Alaskan outdoors. Travelers from all over the globe trek here for a truly breathtaking experience.

However, it is not without its dangers.

Scenic fall landscape in Denali National ParkUwe Bergwitz, Shutterstock

Denali National Park: Tallest Mountain

Denali is the tallest mountain in North America, rising 20,310 feet above sea level. Many people who attempt to climb to its peak end up passing from the frigid temperatures, blizzards, and avalanches.

There have been well over 100 falling fatalities in Denali over the years.

But, that’s not the only danger it presents.

Landscape Photo of the Denali National Park, AlaskaPaxson Woelber, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Denali National Park: Wildlife

Even if you don’t plan on climbing Denali, the park has several other particular dangers.

Considering Denali is one of the less-developed parks in the national parks system, the wildlife that roam is abundant. Particularly grizzly bears.

Campers most often meet a grizzly during their stay, especially those who don’t pack their food accordingly.

Photo of a grizzly bear in Denali National ParkTroutnut, Shutterstock

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park is located on the border of Montana and the Canadian provinces of Alberta and British Columbia.

It is known for its stunning view of natural greens, blues, and whites along its 743 hiking trails and 13 different campgrounds.

So, what could possibly make this park dangerous?

Dusty Star Mountain centered in the Glacier National ParkDave Sizer, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Glacier National Park: Mountainous Terrain

The mountainous terrain poses more threat than you can imagine.

Rockslides and avalanches are a real issue for hikers and mountain climbers. Not to mention, some people have actually passed by simply walking too far off the trails and falling 500 feet to their demise.

That’s not all.

Photo of a Hiker in glacier national park enjoying the view of Grinnell lakeStefan Wille, Shutterstock

Glacier National Park: Drowning

Over the years, more than 300 people have passed within Glacier Park’s boundaries, and many more had survived close calls.

The leading cause of fatalities at the park are both falling and drowning.

Picturesque rocky peaks of the Glacier National Park, Montana, USA.Galyna Andrushko, Shutterstock

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona and Utah

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area stretches across 1.25 million acres of land. It has impressive, massive cliffs overlooking winding rivers and large lakes.

It’s a tourist hot spot popular for water activities like kayaking and fishing—which is actually part of the problem.

Landscape Photo of the Glen Canyon National Recreation AreaNational Park Service Digital Image Archives, Wikimedia Commons

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area: Cliff Diving

Lake Powell is a large lake with big cliffs that remain a favorite among cliff divers.

Cliff divers are prohibited from jumping over 15 feet, but some don’t follow the rules and jump as high as 50 feet. At that height, people fall at a speed of 40mph, often leading to fatalities when they hit the water.

This has led to dozens of fatalities each year.

View of narrow, cliff-lined canyon from a boat in Glen Canyon National Recreation AreaFischeron, Shutterstock

Glen Canyon national Recreation Area: Boating & Swimming

Lake Powell is also notorious for swimming and boating accidents. Apparently boaters are reckless and swimmers are often too confident

In 2013, six people passed within a ten-day period.

Two Women Kayaking the Colorado River in Glen Canyon National Recreation AreaJim David, Shutterstock

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee and North Carolina

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the United States. It is full of dense forests and mountains—making it an excellent camping spot.

However, there is an intriguing danger within park boundaries with shocking statistics.

Landscape Photo of Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North CarolinaZack Frank, Shutterstock

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Roads

Believe it or not, it’s actually the roads within the park that are the cause of most park fatalities. With hairpin turns, slippery terrain, and poor visibility due to heavy fog, many motorists get into accidents while visiting the park.

Smoky Mountains at Clingman's Dome in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TennesseeZakZeinert, Shutterstock

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Fatalities

Motor vehicle crashes claimed 415 lives over an eight-year span, and injured so many others. And in 2022, there were eleven fatalities, and multiple injuries on park roads.

In addition to car crashes, the park guests also frequently experience dehydration, drowning, and coming into contact with severely poisonous plants.

Winter landscape of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina, USADean Pennala, Shutterstock

Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Nevada and Arizona

Lake Mead National Recreation Area is the largest reservoir in the United States, making the usual brown and dusty desert landscape into a stunning blue paradise.

Unfortunately, the inviting blue water is the problem.

Sapphire blue Lake Mead in the barren desert landscape of Nevada and Arizonatwogiraffe, Shutterstock

Lake Mead National Recreation Area: Fatalities

Apparently, many park guests underestimate the dangers of the reservoir.

Between 2014 and 2012, there were a total of 145 deaths at Lake Mead—making it the highest number of fatalities at any U.S. National Park or Recreation Area.

A boat at Lake Mead National Recreation AreaDylanMoz49, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Lake Mead National Recreation Area: Drowning

Many of the drownings that occur on the lake are due to sudden changes in weather, and swimmers and boaters not being well equipped with safety gear—such as lifejackets.

The lake is very unpredictable with high winds which often cause boats to drift away from swimmers, leaving them stuck in the middle of the lake with oncoming hostile weather.

Back in 1998, one person passed on average every week.

Lake Mead National recreation area above Hoover Dam in Nevada, United States of Americablazg, Shutterstock

Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier is the tallest peak in the Cascade Range of the Pacific Northwest. Given this information, it is a popular camping destination and also mountain climbing destination.

However, the park presents numerous dangers, and it is suggested that only experienced guests should visit the park.

Edith Creek in Mount Rainier National ParkIan Dewar Photography, Shutterstock

Mount Rainier National Park: Climbers

Each year about 10,000 people attempt to summit the peak of Mount Rainier, but only half of them make it. Most people are forced to turn back due to the treacherous climb.

Avalanches and rockfalls are a serious danger, which is responsible 11 people losing their lives in a single incident.

Paradise Subalpine Mount Rainier National ParkKelvin Kay, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Mount Rainier National Park: Fatalities

To further that note, in 2014 six people experienced a brutal demise when they tumbled thousands of feet down the side of the mountain.

Overall, upwards of 500 people have lost their lives attempting the climb, and numerous others have been severely injured.

Mount Rainier National Park Entrance SignJoshua Lehew, Shutterstock

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Named for its cactuses that fill the vast Arizonian desert, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is actually most frequently used for research on desert ecosystems and climate change.

Guests are welcome to stay and camp, but there is one major danger that are strictly warned about.

Landscape Photo of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument at sunrise.LHBLLC, Shutterstock

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument: Jaguars

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is home to America’s only wild jaguar population. Guests are warned to be on the lookout for this particularly aggressive wild animal.

But, that’s not the only predator that lurks within the park.

Desert View Trail in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizonadaveynin, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument: Traffickers

Unfortunately, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is very remote, making it the prime location for substance smugglers and human traffickers that flee to and from Mexico.

Between 2003 and 2014, officials closed off 70% of the park due to an influx of dangerous unlawful activity.

Organ Pipe Cactus and Saguaros in Organ Pipe Cactus National MonumentLHBLLC, Shutterstock

The Wave, Arizona

The Wave is a bright orange, striped sandstone formation that an absolutely stunning sight to see. It boasts the nickname, “The Devil’s Playground”—and for good reason.

Considering only twenty visitors are allowed per day, campers are given maps and directions and then set out without a guide.

The Wave, Arizona, Canyon Rock Formation.Katrina Brown, Shutterstock

The Wave: Unmarked Trails

The unmarked trails and awkward terrain are only the first of the problems. The area is notorious for spotty cell service, making it nearly impossible for visitors to call for help if needed.

Not only that, the weather poses a significant risk.

Hiker at the The Wave, Arizona, Vermillion CliffsGalyna Andrushko, Shutterstock

The Wave: Temperatures

Temperatures in the area can reach high above 100F—which is usually underestimated by campers. In 2013, three people lost their lives in a span of a few weeks all from cardiac arrest caused by extreme heat exposure.

Cliffs reflecting in the water surface in the wave ArizonaBarna Tanko, Shutterstock

Final Thoughts

All the parks listed here top the official list for America’s most dangerous national parks. While some parks have higher fatalities than others, it is important to remember that not all injuries and illness end in loss of life, and those numbers are not as easily reported.

These parks remain some of the most beautiful landscapes in the country and despite the dangers, they continue to be popular tourist hot spots.

Photography of a man and a woman sitting on the edge of the rimFreebilly Photography, Shutterstock


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