The USA’s national parks, seashores, monuments, and other natural areas attract millions of visitors every year. Whether taking in the history of the area or appreciating its natural beauty, visitors flock from near and far to see what these places have to offer.
However, some of these areas can present a number of dangers and thousands of visitors get into trouble every year. This is when the public relies on the National Parks Authority to conduct search and rescues or to respond to incidents.
At Outforia, we are concerned with staying safe when you are enjoying the natural beauty of the United States, providing outdoor guides for those who are interested in getting outside and exploring. With this in mind, we conducted a Freedom of Information request to the National Parks Authority, asking for information on the number of incidents and search and rescues that took place across the USA’s national parks from 2018-2020.
When taking search and rescue incidents as a whole, some of the best-known parks top the list having the largest number of incidents over the past three years.
Attracting so many visitors every year means that incidents are much more likely so these parks see a high volume of reported incidents.
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1. Grand Canyon National Park – 785 incidents
Covering over one million acres, this national park is home to the awe-inspiring Grand Canyon. As one of the wonders of the world, the gorge is known for its incredible size and recognizable red stone.
Between 2018-2020, the park saw 785 search and rescue incidents with just four of those cases remaining open.
2. Yosemite National Park – 732 incidents
With 732 search and rescue incidents, California’s Yosemite National Park ranks second. Of these incidents, five are still open and one was closed after an unsuccessful search, with the person in question not being found.
3. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks – 503 incidents
Combining two parks into one authority, the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are also located in California and cover an area of 1,353 square miles. In the three-year period, there were 503 search and rescue incidents with three remaining open and one being closed without finding the missing individual.
When we break these figures down by state, we see that some states see far more search and rescue incidents in their national parks than others. As some parks cover areas that fall into multiple states, each incident has been counted for each state it falls into.
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1. California – 1,868 incidents
Featuring parks such as Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon, and Joshua Tree, it’s no surprise that California tops the list with 1,868 search and rescue incidents across the state.
2. Arizona – 1,643 incidents
As the home of the national park with the most search and rescue incidents, it’s again, not so surprising to see the state of Arizona of the top three states, with 1,643 incidents across parks such as the Grand Canyon National Park, Saguaro National Park, and Canyon de Chelly National Monument.
3. Utah – 1,043 incidents
Utah rounds out the top three states with the most search and rescue incidents, totaling 1,043 over the three-year period. These incidents come from parks such as Zion National Park, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, and Arches National Park.
Sometimes search and rescue operations can go on for a number of months with cases remaining open for months or even years before a resolution is found for the case. In some cases there may not be a missing person involved but an incident being investigated, leading to numerous cases remaining open.
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1. Mount Rainier National Park – 101 open incidents
Located in Washington State, Mount Rainier National Park covers an area of 369.3 square miles, including the mountain itself. With elevations up to 14,000 feet, it doesn’t take much to imagine how one could find themselves in trouble in this park. With 146 search and rescue incidents, 101 of them are still open, accounting for 69% of total incidents in the park.
2. Blue Ridge Parkway – 28 incidents
As America’s longest linear park with a length of 469 miles, this park covers an awful lot of ground, so getting into trouble in this park poses a unique challenge to search and rescue teams who have a huge area to contend with. With 78 incidents in the past three years, 28 remain open, accounting for 36% of total incidents in the park.
3. Rocky Mountain National Park – 19 open incidents
Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park features mountains and alpine lakes with a number of environments to contend with and a number of animals that can prove dangerous, from black bears to coyotes. Although this park has 19 open incidents, this only accounts for 6% of the total 341 incidents across the past three years.
Sadly, not every search and rescue incident has a happy outcome, and sometimes, cases are closed despite not rescuing the missing person. While these make up a particularly small percentage of the total cases, they are nonetheless important.
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1. Arches National Park – 6 unfound cases
Named for the 2,000 natural sandstone arches in the park, Arches National Park is located in Utah. With a semi-arid climate, temperatures can be extreme with lows as low as -22℉ and highs as high as 47℉. In the past three years, there have been 202 search and rescue incidents in the park, with six of those being closed having failed to rescue the person, accounting for 3% of total incidents in the park.
2. Guadalupe Mountains National Park – 4 unfound cases
Located near El Paso, Texas, and featuring the state’s highest peak is Guadalupe Mountains National Park. With a mountain range covering nearly 135 square miles, the park has seen 40 search and rescue incidents over the past three years, with four being closed without finding the person involved, accounting for 10% of incidents in the park.
3. Rocky Mountain National Park – 3 unfound cases
Rocky Mountain National Park ranks sixth among the parks with the highest number of incidents, having 341 search and rescue incidents from 2018-20. However, although it ranks in the top three for unfound cases, as this only numbers three, they account for just 1% of the total park incidents.
4. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore – 3 unfound cases
The area in which this Michigan lakeshore is located was crowned as ‘The Most Beautiful Place in America’ back in 2011, bringing in tourists from near and far. However, being on the water presents a number of dangers, with 85 search and rescue incidents between 2018-20. Of these, three resulted in the case being closed without the person being found or rescued, accounting for 4% of all incidents in the National Lakeshore.
You may also like: Find Out Which U.S National Parks Are The Most Dangerous.
- We submitted a freedom of information request to the National Parks Service asking for information relating to the number of search and rescue incidents between 2018-20 across all national parks in the USA.
The information provided here is directly taken from the data provided by the NPA.
In some instances, national parks cover multiple states, so when counting the number of incidents in each state, the instances that covered multiple states were counted for each state.
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