In early June 2016, a 23-year-old Portland man who went off the designated boardwalk at the Norris Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park died after slipping into the thermal waters.
A week before, a father and son suffered burns at the Upper Geyser Basin in the same park after, again, walking off a designated trail and getting too close to the hot springs.
Both were clearly marked, reminding visitors to stay on the boardwalk. This is just one of the key ways of practicing safety this season.
In fact, fatal accidents or injuries are not limited to any one destination in the National Park System (NPS). In fact, according to NPS Search and Rescue (SAR) statistics revealed that there were 168 fatalities in the park system in 2014, an increase from 148 fatalities in 2013.
As hundreds of millions of visitors from around the world enjoy the national (and state) parks every year, visitors are reminded, at the very least, to adhere to the park regulations, trails and road warnings, and other rules set out by park authorities. They are there for a reason and that is for your safety.
Here are five easy ways to stay safe and get the most out of your outdoors experiences this summer.
1. Start your destination safe
Long-distant driving is all part of enjoying RVing. There’s nothing like pulling into a long and scenic road to a National or State Park. Maintaining to traffic safety means adhering to all road signs, speed limits (in or out of a park), and road restrictions.
“The simplest thing RVers can do is obey the road safety measures,” explains Kathy Kupper, a spokesperson for the National Park Service. “Often times when accidents happen, someone is not following the posted rules, regulations or warnings. One of the most important things for RVers to remember is to be patient if they get lost or stuck in traffic. Many people who get seriously lost or get their vehicle stuck usually thought they had found the perfect short cut or a lesser traveled road to follow.”
Additionally, wildlife should be respected along the roads and any traveler should keep their distance at all costs.
2. Water safety
Regardless of the water sport—kayaking, boating, paddle boarding, white water rafting, or fishing—personal flotation devices should be worn and rules of the waterways be respected. According to the National Park Service, more than 50 people have lost their lives in Yellowstone, Lewis and Shoshone Lakes alone, with many more incidents and accidents on the countless of lakes, rivers, and larger bodies of water across North America.
Regardless of where your travels take you, recognize the dangers of fast-moving water, cold water, swift currents, and undertows. Swim, fish and enjoy water sports in designated areas only. Also, adhere to warning signs and keep a keen eye on the weather. “Another problem in many parks is water safety. Visitors should enjoy their pastimes in a safe area,” explained Kupper.
She strongly suggests paying attention to the signs, especially if it’s in a fast water environment. Weather, too, can be a cause for concern, especially on a major river and lake systems. Pay attention to the weather forecasts and approaching weather. If you plan on spending a lot of time on larger bodies of water, invest in a dedicated marine radio as there are many available on the market.
3. Be prepared
Whether you go on a day hike or a quick canoe trip, bring extra water, pack a warm jacket or rain gear, and healthy snacks (or anything that will sustain you if you get lost, have an accident, or get caught in bad weather).
For any given activity, buy the proper footwear for the environment, wear ideal clothing, and use required gear or equipment.
“Sometimes when people are on vacation they over estimate what they can do,” said Kupper. “Many of the search and rescue missions in Grand Canyon National Park used to be the result of people simply not being properly prepared. People would attempt to hike to the bottom of the canyon in flip flops or without enough water. A few years ago, rangers were on the trails to remind hikers of hazards and these simple interactions led to a reductions in the number of injuries and rescues.”
4. Use common sense
The parks are full adventure and there’s no denying their beauty. Sometimes access to natural attractions is simple, other times they are not. Be aware of what your physical capabilities are and always think twice.
If you’re a novice kayaker or paddler, stick to calm, easier water systems. If you’re not in top “iron man competition” form, avoid the eight-hour day hikes that require two-hours of hiking steep switchbacks.
“We don’t want to scare people, but even the most experienced find themselves in certain circumstances. They think they simply go off a hiking trail, well they shouldn’t. Warning signs are there for a reason,” said Kupper.
In addition, stick to the basics. Always let people know where you are going, tell them how long you will be and travel in groups of two or more.
5. Learn about the parks and your destination
Know the environment you are visiting. The NPS (and many other organizations) offer outreach programs, educational seminars with additional information at visitor centers. Read the newsletters and park maps that are provided at a National Park and pay attention to any warnings or immediate dangers.
Before your trip, at the very least, visit the NPS website, which offers a wealth of general safety information for all parks.
“We always recommend stopping at the visitor center or speaking to one of the park rangers,” explained Kupper. “When it comes to people obeying the rules, the best prevention is human interaction, but sometimes park rangers can’t be everywhere. People have to understand that parks are wild places and not amusement parks.”
More advice for RVers
Wonderful experiences can be enjoyed year after year in the outdoors. RVing is one of the best ways to access your destination and provides a relaxing means of enhancing a vacation.
Adhere to the campsite regulations, be aware of common wildlife in the campground (and beyond) and enjoy the parks and what they are there for. “You can’t be in a rush, simply enjoy the ride,” says Kupper. “Plan a trip accordingly and try not to fit too many activities in one day. The parks are really busy right now, but people must remember to enjoy the moment. Their parks are truly wonderful and offer meaningful experiences no matter where you go.”