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This Is the Most Dangerous National Park

This Is the Most Dangerous National Park

Are national parks dangerous? Yes. People die in our nation’s parks every year from environmental exposure, lack of preparation, injuries, or wild animal encounters. You must respect the dangers of exploring any wilderness area. 

If you’re wondering which park tops the list as the most dangerous, perspective is important. Denali National Park in Alaska got the top listing, and the reason why might surprise you. Learn more about the true expanse of danger in this national park. 

Are National Parks Dangerous?

Most of the time, a trip to a national park is simply a good excuse for family fun. People like exploring nature, and our nation’s national parks are a breath of fresh air. 

Denali Highway & Denali National Park| Go North Ep.10

When planning a family trip, you may not have danger first on your mind. You think of camping, hiking, swimming, and grilling with some of your favorite people. You may wonder, “Are national parks dangerous?” Fortunately, in the grand scheme, they’re quite safe. 

However, knowing some potential dangers you may encounter could save your life should unexpected circumstances arise. It’s wise to be aware of the common pitfalls faced by park visitors. 

Which National Park Is the Most Dangerous? 

Determining the most dangerous national park depends on what you are measuring. If you look at the number of deaths divided by the number of visitors to the park, Denali is number one. The fatalities reported per million visitors also forms a more efficient observation of just how dangerous a park may be. In those terms, Denali National Park is the most dangerous and deadliest national park in the nation. 

Most national park deaths in Denali occur from exposure to the elements. Though rare, animal attacks do happen. For instance, Denali only has one fatal bear attack on record. In 2012, a bear mauled a 49-year-old backpacker to death. 

Mt. Denali in Denali National Park
The natural elements from Mt. Denali can make the national park dangerous for underprepared visitors.

About Denali National Park

Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska covers a lot of land. More than 7,000 square miles (or more than 6 million acres) of nearly trackless terrain will challenge the most experienced hikers. 

Mount McKinley, also known as Mount Denali, is North America’s highest peak, stretching more than 20,000 feet into the air. Mountaineers from all over the world visit the mountain to set new records. 

The park is also home to a wide array of wildlife. Denali provides a safe space for more than 39 species of mammals, 169 species of birds, and one species of amphibian. 

Pro Tip: Make sure to include these Top 10 Things to Do in Denali National Park in your itinerary.

Mortons on the Move truck camper driving next to Mt. Denali
For the inexperienced hiker, a trip to Denali National Park can be dangerous.

What Makes Denali National Park Dangerous?

The sheer expanse of Denali National Park makes it one of the most deadly and dangerous. Exposure is the number one concern park visitors face when spending extended time exploring. It’s near the arctic and can get very cold depending on the time of year and your location in the park. 

Hikers don’t have many well-marked trails to follow. You’ll have to understand how to navigate without the assistance of a trail. Getting lost in the woods could put you in a dangerous situation. You’ll face extreme weather and animals. And you likely won’t come across people for many miles.

Flowers growing in Denali National Park
Hiking Denali is a scenic experience but can be dangerous if you’re not properly prepared.

How Dangerous Is Hiking Denali (Mount McKinley)?

The mountain once called Mount McKinley changed its name in 2016 to mark the park’s centennial anniversary. Denali preserves its Native American name meaning “The Great One.” Thus, many people still use the names interchangeably. The mountain isn’t the tallest in the world, but it’s a challenging climb because of its elevation. 

The air gets thinner there than it would if you were closer to the equator. The elevation, weather, and extreme temperatures pose a serious danger to climbers. The success rate lies around 50%. More than 100 climbers haven’t made it out alive. This makes it one of the most dangerous national parks.

Just How Dangerous Are the Grizzly Bears in Denali?

Many people may jump to the conclusion that grizzly bears make Denali a deadlier national park. Understanding bears is the best way to keep yourself safe while in the wild. The bears in Denali don’t pose a considerable threat to humans. You’ll find black bears and grizzly bears in the park, but they have a lot of room to roam. They don’t have to compete for space or resources with so much land. 

Bears are foragers and have a fantastic sense of smell. They likely know you’re there before you know they’re there. But always keep a sharp eye out and look for tracks when hiking. 

Bear in Denali National Park
Denali National Park only has one recorded bear attack.

How Many Bear Attacks Does Denali Have? 

For being the most dangerous national park, Denali only has one bear attack on record to date. For a 90-year history, one bear attack is a low number. This goes to show just how peaceful bears can be. As long as you keep bear safety in mind and avoid wildlife, you’ll be ok. Bears are likely the least of your worries. 

Do I Need Bear Spray in Denali? 

Despite this low number, you should always have some line of defense going to a place where you could encounter bears. However, you likely won’t need the spray. Packing it is a safe habit, but knowing how to avoid a bear encounter altogether is more important. 

Pro Tip: Use our Complete Guide to Denali National Park Wildlife when planning for your adventure.

Woman looking out at Mt. Denali
Stay safe while exploring Denali National Park.

Tips for Staying Safe in the Most Dangerous National Park

Educating yourself will best help you stay safe while exploring the deadliest national parks. First, know how to protect yourself from the elements. Also, learn how to avoid dangerous wildlife or how to handle them if you do have an encounter. And don’t try to do things outside of your skill set. Be cautious and prepared at all times. 

Additionally, you’ll want to bring the right gear for the weather and activities. You’ll need warm clothes, emergency kits, survival tools, and appropriate climbing gear. Check weather conditions before going, always have a plan, and tell people where you’re going. Use common sense and have fun.

Top 10 Things to Know When Visiting Denali National Park

Is Denali National Park Worth Visiting? 

Yes, of course, Denali National Park is worth visiting. This mostly undisturbed wonderland offers beautiful and unique experiences. The amazing scenery and adventures may make you want to visit again. 

Just put a lot of planning into exploring Denali. With so much to see and do, planning might make it easier and safer to accomplish it all during your visit. With more than 6 million acres, you’ll certainly have a plethora of experiences to traverse.

Interested in exploring more of Alaska’s beautiful and diverse terrain? We’ve got The Complete List of Alaska National Parks here.

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About Mortons on the Move

Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of “Go North” on Amazon Prime Video, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for and an Arizona travel guide.

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