Yellowstone National Park: 20 Ways it Can Kill You

Yellowstone's boiling paint pots

Remember: if mud can boil, so can you.

My friend Tara over at Calming Conner is planning a family trip to Yellowstone National Park, and she needs to know more about the place. Since she has a half dozen or so kids, and I have an ornery streak, I’m going to do my best to scare the crap out of her.

In my last post about Yellowstone, I tried to make the point that this hellscape on Earth is one of the most dangerous, exciting places to visit. This time, I intend to make the point that the place really should scare the hell out of you. Not only have there been enough deaths at Yellowstone to fill a book, there have actually been enough new material since the 90s to spawn a second edition!

Beware the Buffalo

TL;DR. Let’s pet some buffalo!

The 16 years between the two edition were filled with grizzly bear attacks, a deadly hot springs accident, a freak avalanche and a photographer getting gored by a bison.

Bears! In July of 2011, a 57-year-old man was found dead after being attacked by a grizzly bear. On August 29, 2011, a 59-year-old hiker was found dead after being attacked by a grizzly bear. Yes, those were two grizzly-related deaths within two months.

On October 30 of the same year, another man survived a grizzly bear attack just south of Yellowstone in Grand Teton National Park. Although 2011 was a dangerous year for grizzly attacks, the previous 25 years went without serious incident.

Boiled Alive! Twenty Yellowstone visitors have met their untimely demise thanks to the geothermal springs that have attracted people to the park in the first place. The first recorded death is believed to be a seven-year-old boy from Livingston, Montana, who fell into a hot spring in 1890.

Most recently, a six-year-old Utah boy suffered serious burns in 2006 after slipping on hot water near Old Faithful. Fortunately, he survived, but the most recent boiling death came in 2000, when a park employee suffered severe burns after jumping over what she thought was a small stream and falling into 10-foot deep boiling water. She died several hours later, and two friends who were with her suffered from severe burns and had to stay in the hospital for several months.

Oh, and then there was the dog.

On July 20, 1981, a dog named Moosie met his demise when he mistook 200-degree spring water of the Celestine Pool for a swimming hole. It gets worse, though. Moosie’s owner’s friend tried to rescue the dog by jumping in after him – despite pleas from onlookers to let him go. After he was pulled from the pool, he acknowledge he had done something terribly stupid. Some of the details were so gruesome that I won’t repeat them, but I will point you to the Snopes article that spells it all out.

Yellowstone’s own website warns that its rangers have to save at least one or two children each year who have strayed from the boardwalks and fallen through crusty ground. You hear that, Tara? Control your kids! Put them on a leash or something!

buffalo at yellowstone

They may look lumbering and peaceful, but these beasts can kill you without notice.

Bison! Yellowstone is home to 3700 bison, which can weigh as much as 2000 pounds. They seem like big, fluffy, slow-moving cows, but they can kill you. They lure you into a false sense of security by doing a lot of grazing. Mostly, they just eat grass. Sometimes, they like to walk up and down the road to mess with traffic.

The guy in the picture to the right here led a procession of cars each day we went through this area. We joked that he liked to lead parades, so we named him Grand Marshall. I felt so secure taking this picture, because the leisurely animal seemed the very image of serenity. However, I was not obnoxious about it. I was probably stupid to take this picture, but I saw many people whistling, yelling, mooing and clapping at these animals. These monsters could easily turn and gore the more annoying of our species (i.e. Tara and her kids). In a few cases, I may have cheered the bison on. Don’t be a jerk to the animals, mkay?

Drowning! This park, like many others, has water. In fact about 5% of the park’s surface area is water. People drown. Be careful.

Traffic! During the summer rush, about three people are evacuated from the park by life flight after automobile accidents. There are so many beautiful things to look at, but make sure your driver is keeping his or her eyes on the road. Traffic is actually the #1 killer in Yellowstone, but it’s not nearly as exciting to discuss as boiling flesh, so I’ll just leave it at that.

Snowmobile Traffic! Not kidding. Snowmobile accidents have killed people in Yellowstone.

Poor Health! The second-leading cause of death in Yellowstone is poor health. Between 1998 and 2006, 23 people died from heart attacks or diabetes complications while visiting the park. If you aren’t in the best of health, don’t overdo it. Even the easy trails can get your blood pumping.

Gravity! Even gravity can kill at Yellowstone. In 2005, two people feel from the Gardner River Bridge and a photographer lost her balance and fell into the Yellowstone Canyon. There are a lot of heights to be seen, so don’t be stupid.

Suicide! It reportedly has happened several times in Yellowstone, and most of the areas are so remote that there’s nobody there to stop you – or help you if you change your mind halfway through.

Avalanche! Over the holiday season in 2014 four people died in avalanches in a one-week period in the Yellowstone/Grand Teton region.

Exposure! Wintertime is especially dangerous in Yellowstone. If the avalanches don’t get you, and you are out too long, hypothermia will surely kick in.

Wolves! While we’re on the topic of winter dangers: If the avalanches don’t get you, and exposure hasn’t completely set in, the wolves might notice you’re moving kind of slow. Yum.

Lightning! Just like anywhere else on earth, people in Yellowstone get hit by lightning.

Forest Fire! When I last visited Yellowstone, a section of the park was inaccessible due to a forest fire. On September 8, 1988, the entire park was closed to everyone except emergency personnel to fight the fire that involved more than 30% of the park. Nobody died on-site in that fire, though a firefighter and an airplane pilot died outside the park during the fire fight.

Poison Plants! Yellowstone is home to water hemlock, which might be tempting for some idiots who see unfamiliar plants and think it’s snack time. Water hemlock can look like a wild carrot, and it has fooled at least two Yellowstone visitors, who had their last meal there.

Poison Gas! In 1939 a worker digging a pit learned how dangerous hydrogen sulphide can be. More accurately, though, his co-workers learned the lesson. He was too dead to learn.

Falling Rocks! Several Yellowstone deaths have been reported from natural and man-made rock slides.

Falling Trees! Beware if the wind is high or if you’re hanging around lumberjacks. Big trees can hurt or kill you if they fall.

Volcano! Yellowstone is so freaking amazing with its geysers and what-not because it is the caldera of a volcano that could blow up and vaporize you and your family without notice.

No. Not just volcano. Supervolcano! Never forget that when you are in Yellowstone National Park, you are standing in the world’s largest supervolcano, capable of blowing every living thing for miles and miles around and covering half the United States in your vaporized dust. Enjoy your vacation!

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