Is Social Media Ruining the National Park Experience?

From feeding wild animals to perilous selfies, tourists risk their lives and the preservation of America’s national parks for fleeting social media fame

It may seem cute and fun for tourists to feed the wildlife at a national park until you realize this isn’t a Disney movie but is, in fact, reality. One woman who decided to feed a grown bull—not in a national park but on a Mexican beach last month—learned the hard way that if you mess with a bull, you may get the horns, literally. The video was posted online, per CBS News.

One Instagram account with nearly half a million followers posted videos of tourists risking their lives to get the picture no one else has to get a temporary sense of fame on social media. The account, TouronsOfYellowstone shares submissions mainly in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park but posted one photo of a tourist in Utah who had to be saved by search and rescue after jumping to a hoodoo rock overlooking the canyon thousands of feet below.

The phrase touron, the combination of tourist and moron describes those who don’t think before they act when it comes to interacting with wildlife in America’s national parks.

Bison in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 2022, influencer Katie Sigmund faced criminal charges after hitting golf balls into Grand Canyon National Park. “I was thinking in my head … ‘I can make golf content. Like, it’s such a pretty view. Let me just golf into the Grand Canyon,’” Sigmund said in an interview.

“Dumbest idea,” she added.

After posting the video of golf balls and part of her golf club breaking off and being thrown below Mather Point at the South Rim of the canyon some of Sigmund’s followers reported her to the park. She was handed three federal violation notices and a $285 fine.

Carmen Holbrook has visited many popular scenic spots through the years and says she has seen a few people in national parks get too close to danger for comfort.

“I haven’t seen people hitting golf balls but I have seen people get way too close to the waterfall and they just don’t understand the power and beauty of nature,” Holbrook told the Deseret News. “It becomes so risky.”

Elk in Jasper National Park, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The National Park Service mortality dashboard from 2014 to 2019 shows that the top three causes of unintentional deaths are motor vehicle crashes, drowning, and falls. Fifty percent of all deaths inside parks are reportedly unintentional and also occur when the individual is participating in physical activity.

While at Yellowstone National Park, Holbrook said she saw multiple instances of people tempting their fates. In one instance, she witnessed a tourist walk off the guided path even though the signs warned of a thin crust that resembled solid ground.

“I felt like I was going to have a heart attack watching him walk on the crust,” she said. “It’s annoying when people do dangerous things. They think it’s only affecting them when everyone else around them is like, ‘You’re destroying the park and you’re stressing us out. You are doing something so disrespectful.’”

Another occurrence happened when she and other tourists were driving along a river in the park when someone spotted a grizzly bear on the opposite side of the bank.

“Everyone was getting out of their cars and standing across the river which was a small river, probably only like 30-50 feet away from this grizzly bear,” Holbrook emphasized. “It was just so sad, because you do hear all these grizzly bear attacks. There was a runner last year in Yellowstone who was attacked.”

“Why can you not just look from your car? Why do you have to get out and get close and risk your life when you could just still enjoy it the same way, just in the safety of your car?”

Here is some more helpful information on bear safety: You Come Across a Bear. Your Next Move Is Very Important. Do You Know What To Do?

Rocky Mountain Goat in Jasper National Park, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Social media for those who behave

The power of social media is that it influences—some for good and others for bad. That said, there have been some positive outcomes for America’s breathtaking landscapes in the digital world.

Research by Georgia Tech’s School of Economics looked at different social media outlets tied to national parks in the last decade and found that “parks with high exposure see increases in visitation that are 16 percent to 22 percent larger than parks with less exposure that see little change.”

“Visitation to national parks in the United States has increased by more than 25 percent since 2010 rising from roughly 70 to 90 million annual visitors,” the study added. “Anecdotes suggest that this increase was driven by the advent of social media in the early-to-mid 2010s, generating a new form of exposure for parks and has led to concerns about overcrowding and degradation of environmental quality.”

One account that provides both comedic relief and interesting information regarding the national parks and the wildlife within is the National Park Service’s social media itself.

“We often get referred to as the dad joke,” Matt Turner, the social media specialist for the National Park Service told The Weather Channel. “I’m like, well … you know, I think that fits with the National Park Service personality, maybe of outdoors and going camping and spending time with family.”

“We often kind of say, like safety with a smile,” he added. “As a government agency, we don’t want to say ‘no’ all the time or ‘stop doing that.’”

Bison in Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here are a few great articles to help you stay safe in national parks:

Worth Pondering…

I love the term touron. It’s a delicious portmanteau.

—Aspen Daily News

Tourist + Moron = Touron… And National Parks Have A LOT of Them

Invasion of the idiots

Ever see a video of a tourist at a National Park and all you can do is shake your head?

I mean, what is with these folks?

They go into completely wild environments and act like they know what’s going on.

No ma’am, that bull elk will kill you, the bison will hit you like a truck, and that grizzly bear is not a teddy.

It’s funny, annoying, and scary all in one when you see a tourist do some stupid crap trying to get a photo of wildlife. We all know you’re not a professional photographer so please tell me why you’re putting your life on the line for a few photos for the ‘Gram?

It just ain’t worth it, not even a little…

On a typical internet search for all things wildlife, a video surfaced on my feed. The video itself was nothing special but I came across a term I hadn’t seen or heard before, touron.

Don’t be a touron! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s pretty simple… Tourist + Moron = Touron!

Urban Dictionary defines it as “any person who, while on vacation, commits an act of pure stupidity.”

Not only does touron roll oddly smooth off the tongue but it also really is just the perfect description of all the people who ignore the painfully obvious signs of what to do and not do with the wildlife.

However, wherever there is a touron with a cell phone, there’s probably someone else close by capturing the stupidity.

These videos are living proof of the kind of idiots that walk into National Parks on a daily basis. It is not a zoo, there are no cages for a reason, and these animals have the ability to seriously harm you…

The one with a fella trying to scare a mother black bear off is insane. Rule number one is stay away from a mother and her young. You are just asking to get attacked.

Don’t be a touron! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can see a mother bear and her three cubs. The man walks around a vehicle to try and scare a bear. Two big no-no’s! Don’t approach a mother bear or try to scare any bear. That’s a good way to, oh, I don’t know… die?

In this case the man got off lucky. She just bluff charged and slapped at the man as he ran off.

Grade A Touron.

Here is some more helpful information on bear safety: You Come Across a Bear. Your Next Move Is Very Important. Do You Know What To Do?

Once you’re aware of the word touron, it seems to come up everywhere. There’s an entire subreddit dedicated to visitors who hike off trail, get too close to wildlife, and bathe in the hot springs at Yellowstone National Park.

The popular Instagram account @touronsofyellowstone which posts videos and photos of park visitors misbehaving has amassed 486,000 followers while @touronsofnationalparks has 176,000 and dozens more accounts have popped up (there’s @touronsofhawaii, @touronsofthepnw, and @tourons_of_joshuatree just to name a few).

Instagrammer Jackie Boesinger Meredyk (@jaboes) posted video footage of a tourist getting too close to a herd of bison that caused a road blockage near Bridal Veil Falls at Yellowstone National Park.

The video was reposted on @touronsofyellowstone and the caption describes how the person got out of their vehicle about 20 cars back and walked along the mountain road, all while holding an iPad to get a unique picture.

The park’s law enforcement was trying to get the herd moving and they were stunned to see the tourist getting unreasonably close. After calling for the man to follow the park’s rules by standing at least 25 yards away, he retreated.

Don’t be a touron! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The comments section was not impressed.

“Entitled seems fitting,” said one Instagrammer with another adding, “The ranger needs to fine him.”

While getting in the personal space of bison is unwise at the best of times, this bunch featured a couple of calves increasing the risk to anyone who approaches.

“They had their babies with them,” another observed. “He’s lucky he’s still alive.”

The Government of the Northwest Territories advises never to get within a herd of bison or to come between two of the mammals, especially between a mother and calf.

Bison can be unpredictable and charge at any moment and threatening behavior from humans is sure to make this more likely.

Don’t be a touron! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Male bison can weigh up to 2,000 pounds, according to Yellowstone National Park while females can be as heavy as 1,000 pounds. Being charged by either isn’t likely to end well. The park says bison have harmed more people at the park than any other animal.

There are plenty of other reasons to be respectful of wildlife. Yellowstone has noted that feeding animals in its parks can lead to them getting too familiar with humans and reliant on the food they offer meaning they can become aggressive when trying to get it.

We can observe nature from a distance and still be amazed by what we see. Getting too close can be a recipe for disaster.

These reckless actions by uninformed or careless tourons put themselves, park resources, and others at severe risk of injury or death. Responsible behavior and respecting all park rules and regulations is crucial for safety.

These accounts and numerous news stories reveal that touron activity is often found in national parks and according to the Topical Dictionary of Americanisms, the term is considered “park ranger slang.” Urban Dictionary agrees. “The term has its roots in the resort, park service, and service industries and can easily be dated back at least as far as the mid-1970s,” the entry states.

Don’t be a touron! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The lists could go on and on…

Either way, I’m very happy to have stumbled upon the word Touron, it’s just so perfect.

Friggin’ Tourons….

Here are a few great articles to help you stay safe in national parks:

Worth Pondering…

I love the term touron. It’s a delicious portmanteau.

—Aspen Daily News