Are Drones Allowed in National Parks? [Updated 2024]

Drones have become increasingly popular for capturing breathtaking aerial views and exploring areas that were once unreachable. National parks, with their stunning landscapes and diverse wildlife, often seem like the perfect setting for drone enthusiasts. Every year millions of people come to the national forests to see natural wonders from Yellowstone to the Grand Canyon.

Do most drone enthusiasts ask the question are drones allowed in National Parks? However, regulations and guidelines surrounding drone usage in national parks need to be carefully considered before taking flight.

After a deep analysis, I will provide a comprehensive overview of the rules and restrictions associated with flying drones in national parks, and some noteworthy incidents as well as the reasons behind these regulations in this article.

Overview of Drone Laws in National Parks:

Rules and regulations for drones in national parks are handled by the National Park Service (NPS), the legal authority over all national parks in the United States. However, FAA’s Part 107 for small unmanned aircraft is implemented in every state and area within the United States including the National Parks.

In 2014, NPS issued Policy Memorandum 14-05, by director Jonathan Jarvis. On lands and waters administered by the NPS, such as national parks, national monuments, national recreation areas, national historic sites, national coastlines, national monuments, and other memorials, this policy prohibits the launch, landing, and fearless operation of drones. 

According to NPS, if someone is willing to fly a drone in the park must obtain a special permit from the National Park’s superintendent in written form. Most National parks like Yellow Stone National Park, Zion National Park,  Grand Prismatic, Kobuk Valley National Park, and Denali National Park and Preserve disallow to operate drones.

However, some National parks may allow the use of drones because their lands are not designated as wilderness. The restrictions on drone use in National Parks may be different from another depending on the ecosystem, wilderness, or upon local and state laws.

Before taking off your drone you must check the airspace restriction by using the B4UFLY app, National Parks are also restricted areas marked in this app.

Are Drones Allowed in National Parks?

drones are not allowed in National Parks

Are drones allowed in National Parks? Drones are not allowed in national parks, to put it briefly. Drone use is now completely prohibited in all U.S. national parks, according to the National Park Service (NPS). Any type of drone commercial or recreational, regardless of size, weight, or use, is subject to this ban.

Visitors planning to bring their drones to a national park must adhere to the NPS rules. These rules prohibit launching, landing, or operating drones from or on lands and waters administered by the NPS. All of the NPS’s national parks, memorials, and other land and water resources are included in this.

How to Get a Drone Use Permit in National Parks?

The general rule that drones are not allowed in national parks has some exceptions to them. The NPS may issue permissions for the use of drones for non-recreational objectives, such as support of the administration of the park, scientific research, or rescue activities.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations must also be followed, and an aeronautical knowledge test must be passed in order to obtain such a permit. Follow these steps to submit a permit request:

  • Choose the type of commercial photography or filming you want to do. All commercial drone users are required by the FAA to register with them and obtain a Remote Pilot Certificate (RPC). For additional information on this, see the FAA website.
  • Contact the specific national park in question and inquire about their process for issuing permits and the required documentation.
  • Submit any required information, such as insurance documents, proof of FAA registration, and your permit application.

Why Drones Are Not Allowed in National Parks?

There are so many reasons that drones are not allowed in the National Parks, which are given below:

Drones and Wildlife:

wildlife disturbance

The main reason why drones are not allowed to fly in National Parks is due to the safety hazards of wildlife. Drones can create noise pollution, which can be disruptive to the natural environment and wildlife habitats. Additionally, drones can pose a physical threat to animals as they can easily crash into trees or collide with birds in flight.

Additionally, drones can disrupt nesting sites, cause birds to abandon their natural habitat, or even injure animals with their rotating blades. Moreover, this is against the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, which disallows the disturbance of federally protected birds.

Visitor Experience and Safety:

Drones can interfere with the enjoyment of national park visitors seeking a tranquil and immersive experience in nature. The noise and presence of drones can be a nuisance, detracting from the peaceful atmosphere that many visitors seek. The risk that drones could crash or hit people, things, or vehicles also puts the visitors’ security in danger.

Drones also have the capability to disturb the privacy of other park visitors because they are able to take pictures and videos without permission from them.

Employee Safety:

Drones may interfere with park team members’ work and interfere with critical tasks like search-and-rescue missions, research missions, and wildfire management. Drones could endanger the park’s crew members’ safety, especially during low-altitude aircraft operations like helicopter flights or evacuations in emergencies.

Search-and-Rescue Operations:

The possibility of disruption with rescue and search operations is an additional issue with drone use in national parks. Drones can hinder the ability of rescue personnel to effectively carry out their duties. Drones are banned from hindering search and rescue operations thanks to regulations put in place by the National Park Service.

Notable Drone Incidents in National Parks:

actually the prohibition, there has been an abundance of drone-related accidents in national parks, demonstrating the significance of strict rules and greater awareness among the public.

Yellowstone National Park: (Drone Crash into Hot Spring)

In a single case, a drone flying over Yellowstone National Park smashed with a hot spring, causing damage to both the drone and the hot spring as a whole. The good news is that there were no observed injuries, but the accident was an important reminder of the dangers that drones in national parks can create.

Grand Prismatic Spring: (Vent Damage)

Another incident occurred at the Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park, one of the park’s most famous thermal features. A drone struck a vent at the spring, causing minor damage to the boardwalk surrounding the area. Over the Memorial Day weekend, tourists to the park have been reported to have operated the drone.

Zion National Park: (Close Encounters with Helicopters)

Drones have also flown dangerously close to helicopters and other aircraft in national parks, posing a serious risk of collision. In a single instance, a drone in Zion National Park arrived within a distance of 50 feet of a helicopter carrying researchers, causing the pilot to take off to avoid a collision.

Thankfully, the instant action of the helicopter pilot saved the deadly accident of the researcher team and helicopter and the visitors in the park.

Penalties for Violating Drone Regulations in National Parks:

Violating drone rules in National parks could result in heavy fines and legal actions. The law enforcement agencies like National Park Service and Federal Administration can enforce these penalties in any national park.

The range of fines depends op-on the crime, a drone pilot may have to pay from $5000 to $25,000 or could be sent to jail for imprisonment for about six months or in some cases both.

Safety Tips for Flying a Drone in a National Park:

Drone flying in a national park can be pleasurable and interesting. To protect the park the natural world and other tourists, it’s of the utmost importance to put safety initially and comply with the rules. Here is a detailed guide on how to fly a drone safely in a national park:

  • Check the Rules: Learn about and become familiar with the particular drone policies and guidelines for each National Park before going.
  • Register Your Drone: Ensure your drone is registered with FAA and that you have your registration number displayed on the aircraft.
  • Get permission: Before flying a drone in any National Park, you must get permission in written form by contacting the National parks authorities. 
  • Choose the Right Time: Consider the time of day and weather conditions before flying your drone. Avoid flying during busy periods to minimize the risk of collisions with other visitors or wildlife.
  • Respect Wildlife: National Parks are home to diverse wildlife, and it’s crucial to respect their habitat. Avoid flying your drone close to animals, as it can cause stress and disturbance. Maintain a safe distance to avoid any potential harm to wildlife or interference with their natural behavior.
  • Fly Responsibly: Follow responsible flying practices while operating your drone. Always keep the drone in your line of sight, and stick by the park regulations’ maximum altitude and distance restrictions. Be mindful of other park visitors and maintain a safe distance from people, structures, and other aircraft.
  • Noise Considerations: Drones can generate significant noise, which may disrupt the tranquility of the park. Be mindful of the noise level and try to minimize disturbances to other visitors and wildlife. Avoid flying during quiet hours or in sensitive areas where noise may have a more significant impact.
  • Capture Carefully: While capturing aerial footage or photos, be respectful of the environment. Avoid flying over restricted or sensitive areas, such as archaeological sites, protected habitats, or cultural landmarks. Ensure that your drone’s activities do not damage any natural or cultural resources.

FAQ: Are Drones Allowed in National Parks?

Is It Illegal to Fly a Model Aircraft in National Parks?

While it’s not explicitly illegal to fly a model aircraft in national parks, the NPS rules regarding drones still apply. You must ensure that your model aircraft operates within the guidelines set by the NPS and FAA.

What’s the Maximum Jail Time for Illegally Flying a Drone in a National Park?

If a drone pilot violates drone laws implemented by NPS and FAA may have to pay a fine of $5000 to $25,000 or up to six months of prison in jail or both in some cases. So before, flying a drone in any National park must follow the drone laws and ask permission from park authorities to fly a drone. 

Can you Fly Drones around National Monuments in National Parks?

No, flying drones around national monuments in National Parks is generally not permitted. The National Park Service has strict regulations regarding drone use to protect the park’s natural and cultural resources. Drone flights can disturb wildlife, disrupt visitors’ experiences, and potentially damage sensitive areas.

Can I use My Drone for Personal use in Nearby Areas Outside of the National Park?

Flying a drone for personal use in areas adjacent to national parks may be allowed, but it’s essential to research and comply with local regulations and airspace restrictions. Always prioritize safety, privacy, and respect for the environment.

Conclusion:

Drones provide unique vantage points of the world and can be extremely useful tools for taking beautiful photos and videos. However, their use in national parks raises problems with tourist security, wildlife preservation, and protection of the environment.

Therefore, the National Park Service has put strict guidelines and rules in place that influence the use of unmanned aircraft in national parks. Drone enthusiasts have the chance to enjoy their hobby while providing security and keeping our country’s most priceless natural landscapes by following these rules and flying wisely.

Hi! I'm John Romero a drone enthusiast and a FAA certified drone pilot. I've been in love with these UAVs for 8 years when I bought my first drone. Now I have started Drone Guider to share my experience and knowledge with people like me around the world. Happy Flying!

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