4 People Have Died at Grand Canyon This Year — Here’s How You Can Stay Safe
National parks are always a hot destination when summer comes around — but as millions of tourists hit the road this year to enjoy the great outdoors, experts say visitors should first study up on best safety practices.
According to Outside magazine, over 1,000 deaths have occurred at some of the most frequented parks in the country over the last decade, and just this year, four people have died in or around the Grand Canyon, which runs 277 miles through Arizona.
On March 26, the body of a Japanese tourist was found in the forest south of Grand Canyon Village, according to the AP. Just a couple days later, a male tourist from China fell hundreds of feet into the canyon while taking photos near the edge of Grand Canyon on the Hualapai reservation, PEOPLE confirmed. On April 3, a 67-year-old man from California died after falling from the edge near the Yavapai Geology Museum, CNN reported. Then a 70-year-old woman fell to her death on April 23, PEOPLE confirmed.
Brandon Torres, the branch chief of Emergency Services at the Grand Canyon, says for families planning to visit the park — which sees more than 6 million people visit each year — there are two things they should keep in mind before arriving: preparation and coming to terms with their own physical limitations.
“Have in mind some of the activities that you might want to do, and if you’re going to be hiking into the Grand Canyon, you really have to plan ahead,” Torres, 47, tells PEOPLE. “You have to have a fitness plan to get ready for hiking, especially if it’s a summertime activity because it’s super hot.”
These high temperatures, Torres says, mixed with the elevation, can catch visitors off guard and make hikes much more strenuous than they may have anticipated.
“The parks in the southwestern United States are all up on the Colorado Plateau, so we’re at this high elevation and lot of people don’t realize that,” he continues.
The National Parks Service also has a website page dedicated to helping families plan a trip, and the park offers many opportunities for people to experience great views without putting themselves at very much risk.
“There are great ways to visit Grand Canyon in the summer, especially if you’re there during the hot months like the middle May to middle September,” Torres says. “Hiking the rim, staying up top, staying at the high elevation is gorgeous. There are paved trails all along the top. There’s also dirt trails. Both are fantastic ways to visit the Grand Canyon in the heat of the summer.”
But for those who will want to explore a bit, Torres — who has worked at the Grand Canyon for 10 years and has been at the NPS for 20 — says families need to be ready to adjust their plans at the first sign things are going awry.
“It’s all about decision making. What’s your plan if things aren’t going to plan? Well, maybe it’s time to turn around and change the itinerary a little bit,” he explains. “If your ankle is sprained, someone is hiking slower or someone has a headache, it’s really time to redirect and say this isn’t going as to plan. Be ready to adjust based on what’s going on that reality of the day.”
In March, an Israeli teen died when he fell 600 feet while visiting Yosemite National Park in California. According to the Denver Post, the teen has climbed over a cliff’s edge to get a picture and was shouted at to stop before falling. Some of the deaths at the Grand Canyon have also involved risky picture taking, and Torres asks visitors to be focused when they’re near the rim.
“There’s been a couple of accidents where people took a picture and posed like they were going to fall off, and they really fell off,” he recalls. “You gotta be super focused about being next to the edge, and not just at the rim. Hiking down steep canyon trails, think about how much opportunity there is to fall off a trail. People don’t tend to fall off the trails at Grand Canyon because they’re pretty focused. They’re focused on what they’re doing.”
Still, Torres hopes people aren’t scared off by the stories of death at the Grand Canyon or other National Parks.
“It’s just a phenomenally big area of incredible landscape that changes with the light and changes throughout the day,” he says of the park’s natural beauty. “I mean, you can be in the same place at three different times of the day and it looks completely different based on the lighting, and it’s super, super fun.”
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