Deaths at national parks underscore risk of hiking in extreme heat

Hundreds of Americans die yearly from heat stroke, and national parks are among the places where people are most vulnerable.
Extreme heat sign
Posted at 1:44 PM, Jul 24, 2023

Extreme heat has caused five deaths at national parks so far this year, according to the National Park Service.

The deaths come as the Northern Hemisphere is experiencing the hottest summer on record.

The two most recent deaths occurred at Death Valley National Park in California. In both cases, officials said the daytime temperature exceeded 120 degrees.

Earlier this month, a 57-year-old woman succumbed to 114-degree heat at Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona.

Two men died in June when temperatures reached 119 degrees at Big Bend National Park in Texas.

Valley of Fire State Park in Overton, Nevada.

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The news comes as Nevada remains under an "excessive heat warning," and the local temperature reached 114 degrees Fahrenheit.


In the last decade, at least 26 deaths have been tied to extreme heat at U.S. national parks, according to press releases obtained by Scripps News. The National Park Service has also reported numerous summertime deaths at parks without listing a cause of death. 

While national parks are visited by millions of people every month, June, July and August remain the busiest time by far. Daily attendance at national parks during those months tends to be at least twice as busy as an average day in December. 

One notable exception is Death Valley, which sees more consistent visitorship throughout the year. The park reported 84,000 visitors in the month of January. It also reported 84,000 visitors in June. 

The incidents at Death Valley,Grand Canyon and Big Bend national parks underscore that heat in these regions can be deadly. From 2011 through 2020, Arizona, Texas and California were among the four states with the highest number of heat-related fatalities. 

Texas led the U.S. from 2011-2020 with 1,650 heat-related deaths, followed by Texas with 764, Nevada with 750 and California with 629,according to government data.

A billboard displays temperatures in Phoenix, Arizona

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At Grand Canyon National Park, officials discourage people from hiking the park's inner canyon between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. 

Big Bend National Park officials say its park offers no shade or water on trails, making it dangerous during the heat of summer. 

Hiking Death Valley at low elevations after 10 a.m. is discouraged during the summer. Officials suggest hiking Death Valley's higher-elevation trails or staying in air-conditioned vehicles. 

According to the CDC,an average of 658 Americans die each year due to heat stroke. 

@scrippsnews Deaths are on the rise at national parks this summer due to extreme heat. There are some symptoms to watch out for if you decide to venture out in the high temps. #heat #wx #NationalPark ♬ original sound - Scripps News