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Are Drones allowed in National Parks in the US? (COMPLETE GUIDE)

Updated in 2022 by Paul Posea
Drones in the US national parks

You may want to take to the skies and explore places where you'll capture breathtaking pictures with your drone. National parks are some of the places that give the most picturesque views. The temptation is logical; nothing beats grabbing wildlife footage from the sky. 

You cannot fly drones over National Parks in the US. In 2014, the National Park Service (NPS) banned flying drones in all 417 national parks in the US.

Although not being allowed to fly drones in National Parks is a lost opportunity for photographers and hobbyists, preservation of nature and national history is important.

Why Drones are Prohibited in US National Parks

There had been individual drone bans in various national parks before the NPS's official restriction. The park administrators issued their bans following numerous cases of irresponsible and intrusive drones flying in the parks.

According to the NPS, flying drones in national parks is a safety threat to visitors, staff, and wildlife. Noise from drones disturbs the tranquility that visitors desire when visiting national parks.

The ban on flying drones in national parks includes places within the park such as historical sites, walking trails, cycling trails, rivers, wells, and seashores.

There have also been cases of drones crashing in national parks and causing damage to the natural landscapes. For instance,

A drone crashed into the 120-foot geothermal spring in Yellowstone National Park causing fears that it could alter the incredible colors of the waters that the park is famous for.

Drones interfere with the quality of life of wildlife in national parks. Since animals are populated in the park, flying drones scare and scatter them. A drone scattered bighorn sheep at Zion National Park, making the young ones scatter in distress.

The ban was put in place when drone flying wasn't so popular, yet several crashes were reported. You can imagine the number of damages that could have been reported if the ban wasn't introduced.

Following numerous recorded evidence of irresponsible flying of unmanned aircraft, NPS prohibited drones in all US National Parks. Some of these incidences were:

  • A drone crashed scattering elegant terns from their hatching area. 2,500 of the birds flew away leaving about 1,500 eggs that turned unviable as a result of the abandonment.
  • In 2013, a drone crashed on Abraham Lincoln's head statue.

Are Drones Allowed in Yellowstone National Park?

It is illegal to fly drones in Yellowstone National Park for recreational purposes. Currently, there's no permit available for recreational drone flights.

Drones are not allowed in Yellowstone National Park. However, to fly a drone for commercial purposes in the park, you can obtain a permit.

These are the rules you must abide by when given a permit to fly drones in Yellowstone National Park:

  • You shouldn't fly over people or populated areas.
  • Ensure your drone doesn't interfere with people's privacy.
  • Flying is allowed only in daylight hours under favorable weather.
  • You shouldn’t fly over other drones and aircraft.

Are Drones Allowed in Yosemite National Park?

In past years, Yosemite National Park experienced an increase in drone operators filming views and taking footage of the park. It has some of the best views, but are you allowed to fly drones over the park?.

As per the rules defined in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Yosemite National Park doesn't allow drones to fly within its boundaries.

The use of drones in the park interferes with emergency operations by causing distractions for rescue personnel. According to the park administrators, drones cause disturbance to animals and people.

What Happens if You Fly a Drone In a National Park?

Flying a drone in a national park with or without knowledge of the ban will cost you a fine. Park rangers have permission to enforce the ban and evaluate all violations.

If you fly a drone in a national park, you'll pay a $5,000 fine. In addition, you'll face a six-month sentence in prison. The administration of a national park can confiscate your drone and ban you from visiting the park for a given duration.

Breaking the NPS laws tarnishes your image in the state and national park. You'll be deemed as a rebel or a lawbreaker, even if you had no prior knowledge of the ban.

Situations That Permit Drones to Fly in National Parks

You can only take off and land a drone from outside a national park. Park administrators are allowed to fly drones to capture pictures for use on their websites. In addition, with a Special Use Permit, you can fly drones in a national park for rescue, search, research, or safety purposes. 

Fire Safety

In case of a fire outbreak in a national park, drones equipped with extinguishers are dispatched to contain the situation. Using drones in such a situation helps in stopping the fire faster, thus keeping people and wildlife safe. If people were to do the work, it would take them more time, leading to injuries to both people and animals.

Search and Rescue

If someone is reported missing within a national park and some identification is provided, drones are used to search the area to find the missing person. In case of emergencies like drowning, drones will help in rescuing. In both instances, people are rescued and found faster.

Research Studies

With a Special Use Permit, drone users can fly in national parks for research purposes on wildlife and nature. With drones, researchers can take clear footage and pictures necessary for study.

Few National Parks allow people to obtain permits for flying drones within their borders and some don't allow them. The process of obtaining these permits is demanding and experience has proved that it's almost impossible. There are only two known instances where the Special Use Permit has been granted to drone users.

  1. The Great Sand Dunes National Park issued a permit to a drone that was collecting data for use in creating geospatial maps of the dunes.
  2. The Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historic Park gave a permit to a drone user to capture a map of the park for display purposes.

Conclusion

United States' national parks don't allow drones to fly within their borders. The only exception is when you have a Special Use Permit, which is almost impossible to obtain. If you're caught flying a drone in a national park, you'll be fined and might face jail time. It's best to avoid flying drones in national parks altogether.

author-paul-posea-picture
Hi, I'm Paul.
A big drone enthusiast, reviewing, comparing and writing about drones since 2015. I'm all about helping people enjoy and even monetize their hobby.
paul posea
Paul Posea
Hi, I'm a long-time drone reviewer and I hope my articles and comparisons on this site as well as Dronesgator's youtube channel are of as much help as possible.

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