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Planning A Trip to Yellowstone: How to Stay Safe

Are you planning a trip to Yellowstone National Park this summer? In all likelihood, you will find yourself in the park with many other individuals, families, and groups who have made national park vacation plans. While America’s national parks—and Yellowstone in particular—can be amazing places for travel, recreation, and encounters with nature, it is also important to understand that there are many different types of personal injury risks at Yellowstone and other national parks. Many visitors to Yellowstone will also visit Grand Teton National Park, and may even travel farther west or east to other national parks and forests.

What can you do to keep yourself and your family safe, and to ensure that your trip to Yellowstone is memorable for the right reasons? Our experienced Wyoming personal injury lawyers have information and tips to help you stay safe and healthy.

Understand the Risks of Injury in Yellowstone and Other National Parks

There are many different types of serious injury risks at Yellowstone and other national parks in the U.S., and the first thing to do when planning your trip and learning about how to stay safe is to understand the overall risks. According to a recent article in Forbes, national parks in the U.S., including Yellowstone, are the sites of visitor deaths from various causes, including suicide, accidents, and natural causes. For example, that article explains, “a 25-year-old man fell to his death at Glen Canyon national Recreation Area in Arizona” in October 2020, and a “young man was literally boiled to death in a thermal pool” in Yellowstone. While you are, statistically, unlikely to suffer a fatal injury in a national park, deadly injury risks do exist, and visitors frequently suffer serious nonfatal injuries.

What are the common causes of deadly injuries in Yellowstone and other national parks? Data from the National Park Service (NPS) shows the following figures:

  • Drowning is the leading cause of death in national parks, accounting for 668 deaths annually;
  • Motor vehicle crashes are the second-leading cause of deaths in national parks, accounting for 475 fatalities;
  • Slips and falls are the third-leading cause of death in national parks, accounting for 335 deadly injuries;
  • National causes and suicide are the fourth- and fifth-leading causes of deaths in national parks, accounting for under 300 fatalities each; and
  • Wild animal attacks are attributed to only 8 deaths in the last 12 years of national park visitors.

The NPS reports that the majority of deaths occur among males, and more than 50 percent of all deaths are preventable because they result from accidents. Deaths from natural causes most frequently occur while the person is physically active, such as while hiking. What can you do to avoid a serious or fatal injury? Consider the tips that follow.

Be Aware of Drowning Risks While Swimming

Drowning is the leading cause of deaths in national parks, and it is important to consider risks for drowning while you are in a swim area. There are only a couple of areas in Yellowstone where swimming or soaking is permitted, and it important to heed the safety rules set forth by the NPS, which include:

  • Check the conditions before you attempt to swim or soak, since the area may be dangerous for swimming or soaking;
  • Do not swallow any of the water;
  • Do not submerge your head or allow water to enter your nose;
  • Do not drink alcohol before swimming or soaking;
  • Never climb, dive, or jump from cliffs or trees; and
  • Ensure that you are never swimming or soaking alone.

Take Precautions to Avoid a Motor Vehicle Crash

Motor vehicle accidents are the second-leading cause of deaths in national parks, and many different types of car accidents can occur on the roads through Yellowstone. Whether it is a seemingly minor fender-bender at low speed while you are in traffic near Old Faithful, or a high-speed collision that occurs in another area of the park, you should only travel at the speed limit and should be aware of the possibility of animals, people, and vehicles in the road. Further, you should never drink and drive.

Understand the Dangers of Selfie Falls

Serious and deadly falls can result from selfies on cliffs and other high areas of the park. Do not stand on ledges and take selfies.

Be Prepared for the Physical Toll of a Long Hike in the Summer

Hiking and other physical activities in Yellowstone can be exhausting, especially in the summer. Be sure you have sufficient water, and make sure you bring any medications you may need.

Learn About Wildlife Safety

Be sure you understand the safe distance at which to see animals, recognizing that animals in Yellowstone are wild. You are not at a zoo.

Heed the Warnings Around Geysers and Thermal Pools

The hot springs, thermal pools, and geysers in Yellowstone are popular recreation areas for visitors to the park. Yet it is absolutely critical to heed the warnings about the temperature around these areas and to avoid walking off the pathways to take photos, to get closer to geysers or thermal pools, or to attempt to feel the heat of the water.

According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), Yellowstone is “an active geothermal area” that has hot springs, steam vents, and thermal pools that can reach temperatures as high as 275 degrees Fahrenheit. To put that temperature in perspective, the boiling point for water is 212 degrees Fahrenheit. In the thermal areas of the park, the USGS explains, “heat flow is over 100 watts per square meter, about 50 times that of Yellowstone’s average and [approximately] 2000 times that of average North American terrain.” To clarify, “this enormous heat flow is derived from the molten rock or magma in the crust beneath the caldera, which ultimately is generated by the Yellowstone Hot Spot, an anomalously hot region of the Earth’s mantle hundreds of kilometers beneath the surface.”

Failing to heed warnings about hot temperatures can result in fatal burns.

Contact Our Wyoming Personal Injury Attorneys

If you or a loved one sustained injuries while visiting Yellowstone National Park, it is important to seek advice from an experienced injury attorney in Wyoming. Depending upon the facts of your case, you could be eligible to file a claim for financial compensation. We can assess your case for you today and discuss your options for moving forward with a lawsuit. Contact Freeburg Law, LLC to learn more.


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