How Many People Fall to Death in the Grand Canyon?
Falling is not the most common way to die in the Grand Canyon, but it's a real hazard. Read these tips before your visit to enjoy the park safely.
The odds of dying from falling off the rim in the Grand Canyon are 1 in 1.8 million visitors.
About 12 deaths happen each year at the Grand Canyon, including from natural causes, medical problems, suicide, heat, drowning and traffic crashes. On average, two to three deaths per year are from accidental falls over the rim, park spokeswoman Kirby-Lynn Shedlowski says. But Grand Canyon National Park had 4.5 million visitors in 2021 making the risk nominal for travelers who are mindful of their surroundings.
Since the 1800s, about 900 people have died in the Grand Canyon, with the majority being from airplane or helicopter crashes – 128 from one event. But the #2 cause of death toggles between falling and heat-related/hydration causes, about 200-250 deaths each.
Although accidental falling deaths are rare, 2019 was a tragic year where three people fell within weeks of each other. Two involved losing their footing while taking photos. On March 28 at Grand Canyon West, a 50-year-old man was taking photos at Eagle Point near the Skywalk and fell. Grand Canyon West is a Hualapai managed area of the canyon and not part of the national park. The second event happened only days later on April 3. A 67-year-old man was taking a selfie and lost his footing near the Yavapai Geology Museum in Grand Canyon Village at the South Rim. The third was on April 23. A 69-year-old woman died after falling from a rocky point west of the Pipe Creek Vista on April 23, as reported by Vanessa Ceja-Cervantes, spokeswoman for Grand Canyon National Park.
According to the Arizona Daily Sun in 2015, of the “55 who have accidentally fallen from the rim of the canyon, 39 were male. Eight of those guys were hopping from one rock to another or posing for pictures, including a 38-year-old father from Texas pretending to fall to scare his daughter, who then really did fall 400 feet to his death.”
We want you to have fun at the Grand Canyon, but be safe. Read these safety tips to make your vacation a happy experience.
Stick to the Paths in the Grand Canyon
Planning on exploring the canyon rim? Then make sure to stick to the paved paths. “Remember this isn’t Disneyland,” Grand Canyon rangers will tell you if they see you reaching out over the edge to snap the perfect photograph. It might sound like a joke at first, but the words of advice are dead on. Many falling deaths have occurred when visitors decided to leave paved paths to get a better vantage point. The person in the below video was lucky that she could recover her footing.
One of the largest dangers with walking out on the rim is that though the ground may look stable, underneath it can be undercut. This means the ground beneath your feet is actually paper-thin due to erosion that has carved out the canyon wall beneath you. Since the Grand Canyon is ever changing and the southwestern rock can crumble at any moment, a ledge that appears stable may fall out unexpectedly. If it does, the gathering momentum can take a person hundreds, if not thousands of feet down into the canyon in a matter of seconds. Trust us, the odds of survival are not good if you start to fall.
Always Watch the Kids Near the Rim and On Trails
In 2007 tragedy rocked the park when 4-year-old Natalie Yeargan fell more than 400 feet from Mather Point. Natalie’s father scrambled down the canyon’s wall to try and rescue her, but she was pronounced dead at the scene after CPR was performed. Natalie was the youngest confirmed falling death in the Grand Canyon and a reminder about the potential dangers of letting your children explore the rim.
If traveling with young children make sure to tell them about the dangers of playing on the rim. Spend a Saturday at Bright Angel Overlook, and it’s not uncommon to see children balancing on the short rock wall overlooking the canyon. Off the paths and behind the walls, children can find small cracks to climb down into giving the perception of falling into the depths only to pop back up with a smile and ‘ta da!’ coming out of their mouths.
Though these opportunities might provide great YouTube clips and family portraits, it’s an incredibly dangerous position to be in. Losing balance just for a second can send children careening down the cliff struggling to find something to hold onto.
Read Over the Edge: Death in the Grand Canyon
Looking for some reading to put you in the safety mindset? Then make sure to check out Over the Edge: Death in the Grand Canyon by Thomas M. Myers. Myers, a prolific journalist and author, painstakingly documents every death in the Grand Canyon breaking down the casualties into categories. According to Myers, up until 2001 there were 53 fatalities from falls, 65 to environmental causes, 79 drowned, 242 in airplane and helicopter crashes, 7 caught in flash floods and several more deaths in freak accidents, rock falls, suicides and even homicides. (See updated statistics in the book’s 2012 edition.)
Though a tad bit morbid, Myers’s work is riveting and insightful into a topic most people tend to dismiss when visiting the park. Though the book can be overwhelming at first, the lessons learned could help save your life and give you a better understanding of what to do when faced with a life-threatening situation.
Think Twice Before You Take Risky Photos
Photography can be a beautiful part of a visitors experience to the Grand Canyon, but it’s important to always ask yourself if the photo is worth dying for. Many times photographers climb out on the edge to frame their picture without any people or man-made structures. Though the picture might be a nice souvenir, it’s also a life-threatening situation to be in. So next time you want to click the shutter make sure to take a second and step back and ask yourself, ‘is this really worth my life?’