There's nothing more peaceful than disconnecting with a trip to any of the U.S. National Parks. However, many of them have lead to unfortunate disappearances. Yes, hiking is a fun, relaxing sport, that can be safe, if it's done right. But exploring the great outdoors can lead to a wide range of disasters.
People go missing in national parks every year — but how many?
"From Yosemite to the Grand Canyon, some of America’s crown jewels are its many national parks. But there is a darker side to this unspoiled and stunning wilderness," Elizabeth Nicholas of The Culture Trip writes.
"The National Parks Service leaves it to local law enforcement to track and solve or file away as cold the cases of people who have gone missing."
"And since there is consequently no federal database of people who have disappeared on these federal lands, it is difficult to track any trends or commonalities in their disappearances," she continued.
"Of course, some of the cases of missing persons can be explained by tragic accidents that are inherent risks of exploring the great outdoors... But as for the rest?"
How many people go missing in National Parks every year?
It's unclear exactly how many people go missing in National Parks every year. In fact, many believe the number is underreported, though the reason for that is unknown.
Between 1958 and 2021, there were only 29 open cold cases for missing individuals at national parks, according to Trail and Summit. The Grand Canyon and Yosemite make up over half of those missing cases, with the most having vanished from California's iconic Yosemite National Park.
But as previously mentioned, many think those numbers are much higher. Some think that more than 1,000 people on average go missing from National Parks and public lands every year.
"Aficionados of the vanished believe that at least 1,600 people, and perhaps many times that number, remain missing on public lands under circumstances that defy easy explanation," Jon Billman wrote for Outside Online in 2017.
The reason why the number isn't exact, per Strange Outdoors, is because the NPS doesn't track disappearances on their lands. Neither does the Department of the Interior, nor the Department of Agriculture’s U.S. Forest Service.
The NPS Search and Rescue (SAR) Dashboard, however, shows how many people have been reported missing and how many have been reported dead — data from 2017 shows there were 3,453 reported missing missions and 182 deaths that year alone.
Hence, why hiking safety is important.
Again, though you're less likely to encounter many of the dangers of cities in National Parks, you're more susceptible to getting lost, succumbing to the wilderness, or accidentally falling from a dangerously high elevation while hiking.
That's why hiking safety is so important to consider, if you're exploring the outdoors.