Most Dangerous Campgrounds

From snow capped mountains to unforgiving deserts, the U.S. National Park System is home to 84 million acres of land. These are visited by more than 300 million people each year. For lovers of the outdoors, it’s heaven. But for less experienced adventurers, treks into these American wilderness escapes can be dangerous.

Here are some of the most dangerous camping spots in the U.S.


Lake Mead

Lake Mead is the largest reservoir in the US and something of an oasis in the desert, with picturesque rugged terrain and sparkling waters. Just 24 miles from glitzy Las Vegas, it’s a quieter getaway from the bright city lights. But that doesn’t mean it’s a total jackpot. Park rangers consistently rank it among the most dangerous parks in the country for several reasons. It may be one of the National Park Service’s top ten most visited parks, but that comes with plenty of downsides — like boating and auto accidents, and drownings.

Surprisingly, most of those deaths don’t involve alcohol. Lake Mead spokeswoman Christie Vanover told the Associated Press: “It’s really not the party crowd. It’s people who don’t understand the danger of the lake. Some people think it’s like a swimming pool.” The park has also had trouble with assaults and other violent crimes, which don’t exactly make for the most tranquil vacation spot.

Glacier National Park

This gorgeous and dangerous park sits along the border of Montana and the Canadian provinces of Alberta and British Columbia.

Unfortunately, visiting it isn’t a walk in the park. On average, two to three people die each year. Though drowning deaths top the list, Glacier National has different challenges than many other parks, like avalanches and rockslides.

Inexperienced day-hikers also account for a lot of fatalities — one 74-year-old man stepped over a retaining wall to take a picture — and fell 500 feet to his death.

But at least 10 visitors to Glacier National Park have died in a far more grisly way: grizzly bear attacks. The most famous deaths occurred in 1967 when two 19-year-old women were mauled to death. This happened on the same August night at separate campsites within the park. The event became known as the Night of the Grizzlies, which spawned a documentary for PBS in 2010.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Named for the tall breed of cactus that dominates this stretch of the Sonoran Desert in Arizona. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is both desolate and beautiful. Plus, it’s the home of North America’s only wild jaguars.

But the desert terrain is also dangerous by a very different type of predator: drug smugglers and human traffickers. In 2002, a park ranger was killed in a shootout with two smugglers fleeing Mexican authorities. 70 percent of the park was closed due to illegal activity from 2003 to 2014.

Fortunately, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument has since reopened to the public with better security. So now all you have to worry about is the jaguars.

Glen Canyon

With million acres of land in northern Arizona into the southern portion of Utah. Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is home to stunning cliff formations, wilderness trails, and Lake Powell.

The scenic views and pristine waters have made Glen Canyon an especially popular destination for water-based activities. These activities are boating, kayaking, swimming, and fishing. And with all those boats on the water, Lake Powell is notorious for dangerous boating accidents and drownings. In June 2013 alone, six deaths occurred over a 10-day timespan. And then there’s the cliff jumping, which has claimed numerous lives over the years.

The Wave

Part of Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, the Wave is one of the most photographed landscapes in North America. Because of the sensitivity of the rock formations, only 20 visitors per day are allowed to hike out to the Wave.

Permits must be obtained via a lottery system. Winners get a map and directions to the Wave, but from that point on, you’re on your own. Most people who find the Wave are treated to amazing photographs. But if you don’t take enough water with you, go ahead and wave goodbye.

Temperatures in the Wave can climb well past the 100-degree mark, and the trails are often unmarked. In one month alone in 2013, three people died from heat and cardiac arrest.

Mount Rainier National Park

At over 14,000 feet above sea level, Mount Rainier is the tallest peak in the Cascade Mountains of the Pacific Northwest, and the extreme conditions can prove tricky to less experienced outdoor adventurers. But one spot in particular has proven especially deadly over the years: Liberty Ridge. Less than 2 percent of hikers attempt the climb, but it’s responsible for 25 percent of deaths on summit climbs in the park. Though it offers stunning views, the difficulty of the hike is not for the faint of heart.

In 2014, six climbers fell 3,000 feet to their deaths while trying to reach the summit. It was the single worst accident the park had experienced since the 1980s, when 11 people died in an avalanche.

Bright Angel Trail

The Grand Canyon is one of America’s most popular destinations with over four million visitors each year. And one of the most popular trails is the Bright Angel Trail, a steep path to the Canyon’s bottom. Though the Park Service maintains that it’s the safest trail in the park, hikers have died of heat stroke and heart attacks during their treks. As the temperatures rise, the dangers go up, especially near Indian Gardens where temperatures soar. Its name may be Bright Angel, but it sure is a devil of a hike.

Great Smoky Mountains

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, in both Tennessee and North Carolina, is America’s most visited national park. This densely forested mountainous area offers opportunities for hiking, camping, fishing, horseback riding, and…car accidents. Lots of car accidents. Automobile collisions account for most of the deaths in the park each year, thanks to the combination of beautiful scenery and treacherous, hairpin curves. The Great Smoky Mountains also have a reputation for missing persons.

At least three hikers have disappeared in the park and never been seen again.

Meanwhile, plenty of people get hurt or killed each year due to plenty of other hazards. Everything from falling off of waterfalls to bee attacks.