A Brief Roundup of the Dangers of Yellowstone National Park

"There are many risks in Yellowstone," Brandon Gautheier, the park's chief safety officer, says – "It's something you ve got to respect and pay attention to"

Photo: Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post via Getty

Tuesday, an Oregon man died after leaving a path in Yellowstone National Park and falling into one of the Park’s acidic hot springs, where temperatures can exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Colin Nathaniel Scott, 23, of Portland, Oregon, was “about 225 yards” off the boardwalk when he slipped and fell into a hot spring. Efforts to recover his body ceased Wednesday due to the extreme temperature and high acidity of the hot spring Scott fell into.

Yellowstone, the U.S.’s first national park, is home to some of the most spectacular sights the country has to offer. It attracts four million visitors a year from all over the world to its hot springs, wildlife and scenic views.

But Yellowstone isn’t Disney. And while occasionally animals can be the ones that suffer because of people’s actions – as in the case of a newborn baby bison that was euthanized earlier this month after two tourists placed it in the back of their SUV to “keep it warm” – it’s usually people who are learning hard, and occasionally fatal, lessons.

Recently, Charles Gamble, Alexey Lyakh and Justis Price-Brown got in trouble for walking on the park’s Grand Prismatic Spring. U.S. Park rangers have filed a criminal complaint against the men, but they got off lucky: At least 21 park visitors have died in hot-springs-related accidents in the park’s history. (Some of the park’s springs can reach up to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.)

Park historical archivist Lee H. Whittlesey combed through National Park Service records and came up with 19 fatalities for his 1995 book Death in Yellowstone. One of the most tragic was David Allen Kirwin, a 24-year-old Californian who died in 1981 attempting to rescue his friend’s Great Dane, which had run into the park’s Celestine Pool. In 2000, it was a park employee who died, walking back to their car in the dark after a day at Yellowstone’s Firehole River. Along with two other friends, they attempted to jump what they thought was a small spring, but they instead landed on what turned out to be the 178-degree Cavern Spring.

More frequent are incidents involving animals: In 2010 and 2011, there were four grizzly bear fatalities in Yellowstone after 25 years without a bear-related death. One possible reason for that is the rise of camera phones: Tourists seeking the perfect Yellowstone selfie often get too close to the park’s animals, which are, after all, wild. However, one of the worst bison-related incidents was the 1983 goring of a French tourist who was posing six feet from an animal when it attacked him. He wound up with a torn colon, punctured stomach, four broken ribs and injuries to his spleen.

Last year was a banner year for bison-selfie-related incidents. In just July, there had already been five cases of tourists being thrown around by the animals; all the individuals were attempting to photograph or take selfies with the animals.


There have been eight people killed by bears during Yellowstone’s 144-year history. The most recent was in August 2015, when a day hiker was killed by an adult female grizzly bear with two cubs. Last August – though it wasn’t at Yellowstone – visitors at Waterston Canyon in Denver, Colorado, were approaching so many bears for pics that officials decided it was easier to shut the park down than police them all.

“We try to educate people starting when they come through the gate,” Brandon Gautheier, the park’s chief safety officer, said in a post on Yellowstone’s official site. “There are many risks in Yellowstone,” he added. “It’s something you’ve got to respect and pay attention to.”

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