Estimated reading time: 12 minutes
Drone pilots tremendously enjoy their flight, but drones can sometimes be disturbing to other people especially to fly a drone in national parks.
The activity of drone flying is normally forbidden due to this reason. The same goes for historical sites, monuments, and other similar areas.
However, if you are a drone pilot who would like to take pictures in a national park, then you will have to follow some rules.
The drone must not take off and land in the park property, which is definitely difficult for the pilot. In some areas, there is a complete ban on drones flying inside and around these areas.
So, the question is, can you fly a drone in a national park?
The short answer is no. In 2014, a ban was put in place by the U.S. National Park Service (NPS), which banned the use of drones in all 417 national parks, 23 trails, and 60 rivers that they manage.
Table of contents:
- What Are the Top National Parks In USA?
- What Are the Policy and Referendum?
- If Caught, What Are the Penalties?
- Why Is There a Ban on Drones In National Parks?
- What About Flying a Drone Around National Park?
- Can You Fly a Drone In the National Forest?
- Can You fly a Drone In State Parks?
- Dos and Don’ts for Flying Your Drone Over National Parks:
What Are the Top National Parks In USA?
The National Parks in the U.S. would be a great place to get aerial pictures of nature and its infinite beauty.
Some ways you can work around the ban on drones are to fly just outside the National Park boundaries or obtain authorization from the NPS.
If you can make either of these two options work for you, you should check out these are the top national parks.
Yosemite National Park In California:
The most visited park in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountain, Yosemite, stands out for its amazing waterfalls and incredible panoramic views.
Unfortunately, in 2014, a park helicopter transporting materials was forced to land when a drone was flying too close. Yellowstone National Park is also in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.
It holds the distinction for being the first national park in the world, Yellowstone is a 2.2-million-acre park with many opportunities for unique aerial images.
This is what the owner of a drone was trying to capture when his drone crashed into Yellowstone’s largest hot spring in 2014.
Zion National Park In Utah:
Zion National Park is a paradise for aerial images, filled with famous landmarks.
Angel’s Landing is a nearly 1500-foot natural staircase, and the Narrows is a ten-mile stretch through the thinnest part of the Zion Canyon.
In 2014, a drone was caught separating several young bighorn sheep from their parents.
This raised the NPS’s concerns because sheep who are separated from their parents are more likely to die. It seemed that the drone pilot either wasn’t aware that this happened or didn’t care that it did.
Grand Teton National Park In Wyoming:
Offering over 200 miles (ca. 322 km) of trails weaving through the prairies, lakes, and the iconic snow-capped mountain range, Grand Teton is an example of stunning photography.
Grand Teton is also home to many species of wildlife. In 2017, a drone operator trying to get pictures of grizzly bears put nearby visitors at risk when he was annoying the animals with his drone.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park In Hawaii:
Encompassing two of the world’s most active volcanoes, Hawaii volcanoes national park protects geological, biological, and cultural landscapes.
In 2015, the lava lake around the Kilauea Volcano was rising, and someone decided to use their drone to get an image.
When asked to bring the drone down, the man chose to run, resulting in him being tasered for flying a drone in restricted airspace?
Grand Canyon National Park In Arizona:
If you fancy desert views, you’ll love the Grand Canyon. It’s one of the most popular National Parks, and it’s characterized by canyons and ridges that have been expanding for millions of years thanks to the Colorado River.
Grand Canyon is located in Arizona, and it spans over 277 Miles. The more than 6 million tourist visits annually show you that everyone in the world wants and can’t get enough of this scenery.
The Grand Canyon has had its fair share of drone incidents. At one point, hikers complained about the noisy buzzing sound of a drone that kept flying over them.
In 2017, a drone delayed the efforts to stop a fire at Williams, Arizona, when a drone happened to fly over the fire when a helicopter was supposed to make a water delivery.
What Are the Policy and Referendum?
On June 19th, 2014, Policy Memorandum 14-05 went into effect. The purpose of this policy memorandum was to restrict the use of unmanned aircraft from launching, Landing, or operating in national parks.
Unmanned aircraft was defined as a device where its intended purpose is flight in the air without direct human intervention from within the device.
This includes the operational elements such as cameras, or sensors required for the system operator to control the device.
In the policy memorandum, it is stated that the NPS has the authority to regulate and prohibit the use of drones launching, landing, and operating only from or on the lands and waters that are managed by the NPS.
This means the policy referendum does not apply to launching and landing a drone off park property and being flown in the airspace above the park.
One exception to the Policy Memorandum was created to allow for activities using a drone under a special use permit. It must be authorized in writing by the Associate Director, Visitor, and Resource Protection.
Before submitting a request for a special use permit, it is requested that the request meets the following activity criteria
- Violate any of the Federal Aviation Association regulations for the use of the drone.
- Cause any injuries or damages to the park resources.
- Go against the purpose the park was established for, or negatively impact the atmosphere of peace and tranquility maintained in the parks.
- Unreasonably interfere with any of the services or activities of the NPS within the park
- Disrupt the interpretive visitor services offered by the park.
- Present a clear danger to public health and safety.
- Result in significant conflict with other existing uses of the space.
If all the above conditions are met, and the special use permit is granted, the designated areas in the park that can be used are to be clearly outlined.
In addition to the standard special use permit, it will be required that the user agrees to the following conditions:
- The drones must not interfere with wildlife.
- Drones must not interfere with any NPS operations.
- Drones must not be flown recklessly and must stay in the designated area.
- Operators must not operate the drone under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
- An experienced operator must accompany inexperienced drone operators.
- Drones must not be flown directly over people, vehicles, structures, or vessels and must not endanger others’ lives or property.
- All accidents resulting in injury, including minor first aid, must be reported to the NPS immediately.
- Drones must stay in the long of the visual site of the operator at all times.
- Operators must have liability insurance or show proof of membership with an organization that includes insurance.
If Caught, What Are the Penalties?
Choosing to ignore the ban on drones within National parks will come with consequences. In the U.S., a violation of the ban is considered a misdemeanor.
This means that you will face up to six months of jail time and a fine of $5,000. The jail time and fines are in addition to potentially having your drone seized.
Can You Fly a Drone for Government or Official Purpose?
If a drone will be flown over a national park for government or official purposes, it is required that the operator goes through the motions of getting the special use permit.
This rule can be bypassed when the drone is being flown for emergencies, such as locating a missing person or if a forest fire.
Why Is There a Ban on Drones In National Parks?
The reason the NPS decided to place a ban on drones flying over national parks is that they can be disturbing to both people trying to enjoy the park and the wildlife who live there.
The umbrella ban occurred after individual bans were placed at various parks throughout the U.S.
In some situations, the individual bans happened as a result of someone flying a drone irresponsibly and intrusively over a park. There have been many instances of this.
Maintaining the natural beauty of national parks is essential to those who are running them.
This goal was compromised when a drone crashed into the largest hot spring in Yellowstone in 2014.
For safety reasons, staff could not retrieve the drone from the hot spring and hope it will disintegrate without affecting the hot spring’s natural processes.
In 2014, a drone separated several young bighorn sheep from their parents in Zion National Park.
This raised the concerns of the NPS because sheep who are separated from their parents are more likely to die. It seemed that the drone pilot either didn’t care that it happened or wasn’t aware.
How does the NPS Ban Intersect With the Creation of Commercial Drone Regulations?
Due to the ban that the NPS placed on National Parks, all commercial activities within the National Parks require a permit.
This means that all operators that want to use national parks for filming or taking pictures must apply.
This is different from most other situations where commercial drone use does not require a special permit.
What About Flying a Drone Around National Park?
As long as you are not on national park property when your drone is launching or landing, the NPS cannot limit where you fly your drone.
It is, however, imperative that you have permission from the owner of the land that you are using.
If you don’t, you face repercussions from whoever owns the property. It is also essential that you ensure the airspace you are using isn’t part of a no-fly zone.
This is because the FAA is responsible for all airspace, including the space above national parks.
Can You Fly a Drone In the National Forest?
Yes, you can. Unlike national parks, national forests are controlled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The USDA’s stance on commercial filming and photography is vastly different from the NPS.
If your primary focus is to inform and educate the public and the activity you are engaged in has no more significant impact on the land than the public, a permit is not required.
If the photography is occurring in a space that is not open to the public or uses models, a set, or props and the photography is being used to sell a product or service as profit, a permit is required.
It is also vital that you know the rules the USDA has in place for people who are flying drones.
They are clear that you cannot operate in wilderness areas, near campgrounds and trails, or near wildfires. Also, be aware of any temporary flight restrictions that might be in place in national forests.
Can You fly a Drone In State Parks?
Yes to fly drones are allowed in state parks. At the state level, the rules around flying your drone can vary widely.
Every state, county, and city is allowed to make its rules regarding how they regulate drone operations, and if the state park is within five miles of an airport, it activates a whole new set of rules as to what is and isn’t allowed.
As the rules for flying drones in state parks are not as clear cut as they are for national parks and national forests.
The best thing to do if you want to fly your drone in a state park is to call ahead or ask at the state park ranger station before flying your drone.
Always better to ask permission; then, it is for forgiveness as the penalties for flying your drone in a state park where prohibited include hefty fines and the confiscation of your drone and gear.
Dos and Don’ts for Flying Your Drone Over National Parks:
When operating your drone over a national park, it is crucial to keep some dos and don’ts in mind.
- Be aware of where you are and if you are allowed to fly your drone
- Ensure that your drone is registered, and you are licensed
- Be aware of any temporary flight restrictions
- Be sure that you have permission to use the area you are launching from and landing on
- Launch and land your drone in the national park
- Fly your drone near wildlife or people
- Allow your drone anywhere near an aircraft
- Fly your drone near a wildfire
If you have been finding an answer to whether you can fly a drone in a national park or a historical site, this article would prove to be a comprehensive guide.
While you are not able to launch and land your drone in a national park, there are still ways to get pictures, as long as you make sure that you are launching and landing on a property that is not part of the park.
If you are looking to take some great wilderness pictures, the best thing to do is take your drone to a national forest or a state park, as long as it allows for drones to be flown.
Don’t forget to follow the rules and regulations as discussed in this article if you want to avoid legal trouble later.
We have also mentioned that it is allowed to fly a drone around a national park especially if you want to take pictures of the surroundings.
7 thoughts on “Can You Fly a Drone In National Parks in the USA?”
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Thank you for this article.
The information is very informative and useful for us drone affictionados.
In regards to the restriction of flying in National Parks, when you quoted the reasoning of “The reason the NPS decided to place a ban on drones flying over national parks is that they can be disturbing to both people trying to enjoy the park and the wildlife who live there.”
I had two initial thoughts.. The first was that as drone pilots, we ‘are’ part of the people trying to enjoy the park.. The second was that the people themselves (which again, we are a part of, to be fair..) can be disturbing to the animals who live there. (and there are surely more people in any given National Park at any given time than there are drones!
However in describing the incedent where the drone crashed onto the largest hot spring in the park brought to light the impact that drone flight in areas like these can have.
Anyway.. Very well put together and thought provoking article.
Thanks a lot.