Can You Fly A Drone In A National Park? Is It Allowed?


can you fly a drone in a national park

National parks are one of the places where you can get an amazing view of nature and wildlife. There are lots of national parks everywhere in the world that people visit every day. However, there are some rules one must follow when visiting a national park.

No, you cannot fly a drone in any national park as it is prohibited by the National Park Service. However, if you have a Special Use Permit you can fly a drone in a national park. The National Park Service banned the flight of recreational drones within all national parks in June 2014.

Being an enthusiastic hobby drone pilot, it is perfectly normal to want to explore different places where you can get a stunning view and breath-taking pictures with your drone. Nevertheless, all national parks are off-limits for drones as enforced by the National Park Service for various reasons.

What Happens If You Fly A Drone In A National Park?

National parks are under the authority of the National Park Service. This regulatory body is in charge of making and enforcing every rule and regulation regarding all national parks. Flying a drone in a national park is illegal according to the laws of the National Park Service and the consequences for violating this law are very severe.

The National Park Service takes the ban it has placed on drones very seriously and will not hesitate to take extreme measures against anyone who refuses to abide by the rules.

The ban which was issued as a Policy Memorandum 14-05 states that “operating, launching, or landing an unmanned aircraft (drone) from land or waters within the boundaries of a national park is prohibited except it is approved by the superintendent.”

When you fly a drone in a national park because you are not aware of the law on the ban of drones in national parks, you might be given the warning to leave or asked to pay a little amount of fine. Nevertheless, you must always remember that ignorance is no excuse before the law.

However, if you are aware of the ban of drones in a national park and you deliberately decide to violate the rules, you will be fined a sum of up to five thousand dollars. You can also be sentenced to six months in prison as a result of your disobedience and disregard for the National Park Service rules and regulations.

Also, your drone might be confiscated and you might also be banned from visiting that particular park for a certain period, however, this is determined by the officials of the park.

No one wants to lose their expensive drone or be banned from visiting their favorite national park, so it is better to abide by the National Park Service laws on drone than to do as you like and end up in prison or pay a huge amount of money.

Violating the laws of the National Park Service can tarnish your image in your state or environment. There is a high possibility that you will be regarded as a lawbreaker or a rebellious person, even if you were not aware of the law when you violated it.

Hence, as a drone pilot, you must have done extensive research on the dos and don’ts of flying a drone. Learn and study about all the laws, rules, and regulations made by authorized bodies concerned with drone flying. Also, follow every instruction and law given and you will have nothing to worry about.

Why Are Drones Not Allowed In National Parks?

The ban on drones in national parks has been enforced since June 2014. A lot of people have been wondering what caused the National Park Service to bring the law and continue to enforce it even taking severe actions against those who violate the law.

Well, there is a reason for every action taken by people. The ban on drones applies to four hundred and seventeen parks, twenty-three nature trails, and sixty rivers which are all managed by the National Park Service. The law on the prohibition of drones in national parks is also approved by the Federal Aviation Administration.

The ban on drones in national parks includes areas like walking trails, seashores, historic sites, monuments, biking trails, rivers, and other areas managed by the National Park Service.

The ban on drones in national parks was implemented because the noise drones make can be disturbing to the wildlife ant the parks. Visitors of the park are said to have had a nearly uncomfortable experience in the past as a result of the noise and visual disturbance of a drone.

Aside from this, there are some situations that have happened regarding flying of drones in national parks that have led to the implementation on a ban on drones in national parks. An example of those situation includes:

  • A drone flying in a park buzzed over a herd of sheep which separated several young sheep from adults in a herd which is alarming as sheep who lose their parents can die easily.
  • A drone video was posted on the internet, it was said that the flight of that drone disrupted the local bird population in a park.
  • People crashed a drone into the lake and spring in the parks which is said to have a possible impact on the spring’s thermal water and chemical balance.
  • A drone was seen landing on Lincoln’s head (a statue) which is said to have caused the statue some damage.
  • A rouge drone forced a national park’s helicopter to land when it is not supposed to just to avoid a collision.

These situations are some of the reasons why the National Park Service implemented a law on the ban of drones in national parks. The ban on drones at national parks has helped improved the experience of visitors, thereby creating the atmosphere you require to enjoy your visit.

It has also improved the activities of the wildlife as they are now free to enjoy their stay without feeling disturbed by the buzzing sound or clicking of a drone. Other artifacts like statues are safe from damages that can be caused when a drone crashed on them. Visitors and people touring the park also have the liberty to enjoy the environment in peace and quiet.

girl on canue looks at bear mountain national park

Are Drones Permitted In National Parks?

The National Park Service has placed a drone ban law in all national parks, and the drone ban applies to both recreational and commercial drones. However, it is important that you keep in mind that there are some drones that are permitted to fly in national parks.

These drones permitted are used for special purposes and only allowed when there is a Special Use Permit given by the National Park Service to the drone pilot. Without the permit, flying a drone in any national park is illegal and there will be consequences to pay.

Drones are only permitted at national parks in special cases such as:

Fire Safety

In situations where there is a fire outbreak in a national park, drones are dispatched with extinguishers so that the fire can be terminated. The use of drones in this situation helps kill the fire faster than if it is a human doing the work. This helps prevent any case of injuries both to the visitors and the wildlife.

Search and Rescue

In situations where someone reports a missing friend or family member, drones are used to scout the entire park for traces of the missing person as long as a form of identification is provided. This helps people find whoever is missing faster and easier. It also keeps people safe and secure. Also, in cases where there is an emergency or someone needs rescuing like if a person is drowning, the drones dispatched by the park authorities will help rescue that person.

Research Purposes

Drone pilots who have the Special Use Permit can also fly their drone in a national park for research purposes. The drones help them with their researches on wildlife and other things found in the park. They are able to take clear videos and pictures for their research. Also, drones are also used by the park authorities to captures specific areas of the park as a display for their website.

Flying a drone in any national park without a permit has its consequences. To get a permit from the National Park Service is almost impossible, so as a recreational drone pilot, you might not have a valid reason for the permit and it will not be given to you.

So far, there have only been two popularly known cases where the Special Use Permit was granted to drone pilots. The parks where the permits were used are:

Great Sand Dunes National Park

In January 2017, a drone was granted permission by the National Park Service to take pictures at the Great Sand Dunes National Park for a collection of aerial data to enable the creation of accurate geospatial maps of the sand dunes.

Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historic Park

In August 2015, a drone pilot was offered a permit to take pictures at the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historic Park to help create a large illustrated map of the park to display for visitors.

grand canyon bridge like rock formation at sunset

Which Other Park Can I Fly A Drone?

As a hobby drone pilot, you might be wondering where else you can fly your drone since the national parks are off-limits to drones. It is important you know that even though drones are banned from the national parks, there are other places you can fly your drone and still get the view a national park will provide.

At these locations, you can fly your drone without any fear of defying any law of both the National Park Service and the Federal Aviation Administration. You can get an amazing view, exquisite pictures, and stunning scenery. The regulatory agencies of unmanned aircraft have no ban or limitations on these places.

The other parks you can fly a drone without restriction are:

National Forests

At the National Forest, there is no form of restriction to the flying of drones. However, the National Forest Service has provided laws and tips that drone pilots will have to follow to be able to fly their drones without any trouble. There are some areas that is restricted for drone flying like the wilderness, campgrounds, wildfire, and trails so that the laws of the Federal Aviation Administration can be kept.

Local Parks

The local parks are under the control of the local government and allow free flight of drones in absence of any rules. As a drone pilot, you do not have to worry about any rules or laws concerning drone flight in a local park. The local park is open to all and serves as an avenue for recreational activities. Although there are no laws guiding the flying of drones, a member of the park staff has the authority to stop a drone pilot if they believe the drone is a threat to people’s safety.

State Parks

Parks maintained at the state level are the State Parks. Each state has the authority to create orders that regulate or prohibit drone flight. However, they are many state parks that allow drone pilots to operate their drones. Nevertheless, you must be careful when flying in a state park making sure you are still five miles away from the nearest airport. You must make sure you check the park’s website to be sure you can fly your drone at that park. Also, when flying it is very important to obey the Federal Aviation Administration laws.

Even though these places will not give you a quality view at national parks, they will still serve as a great place to take videos and breath-taking pictures. Remember to always obey all the Federal Aviation Administration’s rules and regulations for recreational drone pilots. You must also obey all the rules made by the authorities of the parks concerning drone flying.

Can You Fly A Drone In Yellowstone National Park?

The Yellowstone National Park is the first national park in the United States that can offer some unique experiences like hiking trails, geysers shooting water, waterfalls, and wildlife. This park spans almost 3,500 miles making it one of the largest parks in the United States.

This park is seated on a dormant volcano and houses more hot springs and geysers than anywhere else in the world. The most famous geyser in the Yellowstone National Park is Old Faithful which is one of the most recognized and popular natural wonders in the United State. There is about fifty percent of the world’s hydrothermal at the Yellowstone National Park which makes the ground of the park look like it is on fire.

Flying a drone in the Yellowstone National Park is prohibited. The Yellowstone National Park provides visitors and tourists with a wonderful experience of seeing the beauty of the pristine wilderness.

For most visitors at the park, the urge to capture the memory as well as take a clear picture of the amazing view is very strong. Most of these activities can only be fully captured with the use of a drone. A drone helps capture an aerial image of the mountains and other amazing things.

Although the use of drones in these situations are very helpful, drones can still potentially be a threat in the park. Drones can cause harm and stress to the wildlife in the Yellowstone National Park.

The buzzing and clicking sound made by drones can raise the stress levels of the animals and even cause some animals to flee which is very dangerous. Some animals might even try to attack the drone which will damage not only the drone but also harm the animal.

yellow stone national park hot multicolored spring

Photo: Unsplash

The National Park Service has prohibited recreational drone use in all national parks meaning once you are within the environment of the park, you are not allowed to operate your drone for any reason at all.

Also, one of the laws of the Federal Aviation Administration is the prohibition of the harassment of wildlife. Your drone activity must not in any form affect wildlife, this is one of the reasons why you cannot fly a drone in the Yellowstone National Park.

The harassment of wildlife in any form is punishable by jail time or payment of a fine, depending on the severity of the situation. Birds are also included as a member of the wildlife, so your drone flight must not disturb them.

The Yellowstone National Park is a national park which automatically makes it off-limits for drones without a Special Use Permit granted by the National Park Service. There is a penalty for disregarding the ban on drones in any national park including the Yellowstone National Park.

Final Thoughts

One of the best spots to fly your drone is a national park. Every natural feature of a national park looks even better from above so wanting to fly a drone in a national park is not strange.

Unfortunately, you cannot fly a drone in a national park because of the law put in place by the National Park Service. We can never know if those laws will be abolished due to the recent developments taking place in the drone industry. The only thing you need to do as a drone pilot is to make sure you obey the laws concerning drone flight in national parks.

Shawn Manaher

Shawn Manaher loves to play with new toys and dive into new hobbies. As a serial entrepreneur, work definitely comes first but there is always room for hobbies.

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