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Can You Fly Drones in National Parks? What You Need to Know!

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man flying a drone in the field

As recreational drone flying grows in popularity, it’s leading to many questions, such as: Can you can fly a drone at a national park? With all the open spaces and nature to see, it’s only natural to want to fly a drone there. 

However, with few exceptions, flying a drone in national parks is illegal. But why is it illegal, what are the exceptions, and what can you do if you want to fly a drone in a national park? We break it all down for you here.

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Can You Fly Drones in National Parks?

The short answer to this question is no. According to the National Park Service (NPS), there are a few exceptions to this rule, but for the most part, the NPS restricts the use of recreational drones within national parks.

However, the NPS does use drones for select jobs inside national parks to get accurate surveys and to complete other tasks. So, if you’re looking to fly a drone in a national park, your best bet is to become a professional drone operator for the NPS!

green grass and pavers in the park
Image Credit: Anom Harya, Shutterstock

What Happens If You Fly a Drone in a National Park?

While flying a drone in a national park is “just” a misdemeanor, it can come with a $5,000 fine and 6 months in jail if you don’t follow the rules.

Also, if you disturb wildlife or cause a nuisance, the NPS can deem that you’re breaking other laws, and it can tack on those charges to your offense, leading to more fines and potential jail time.

Why Doesn’t the NPS Want You to Fly Drones in National Parks?

It all comes down to trying to preserve nature.

The NPS doesn’t want drones flying around disrupting the atmosphere for other guests trying to enjoy nature. More importantly, it doesn’t want drones disrupting natural wildlife. A drone can interfere with birds and other wildlife because they don’t know what it is or how to respond to it.

Since national parks are wildlife refuges, there’s no place for drones to be flying around and disturbing both people and wildlife there.

people enjoying in the park
Image Credit: Piqsels

magnifying glass 2 divider Can You Fly Drones Into a National Park?

While you’re currently prohibited from flying drones while in a national park, can you take off, land, and otherwise operate your drone if you’re outside the national park and the drone is inside?

It might seem like a fine distinction, especially since the NPS doesn’t want you flying drones into a national park, but as long as you’re outside national park grounds, you’re not breaking any rules.

However, the drone must remain in line of sight when you’re operating it, and you’re still risking the NPS charging you with a lesser offense if they deem that you’re causing a nuisance or disrupting wildlife.

We recommend keeping your drones out of national parks, but if you accidentally fly into the edge of a national park and then fly right back out, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about.

Image Credit: david henrichs, Unsplash

What Can You Do to Fly a Drone in a National Park?

If a national park doesn’t allow you to fly drones there, does that mean you’re completely out of luck? You’re probably not going to find a way to get around it, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try!

The NPS recommends reaching out to the park superintendent to see if they’ll designate a specific area of the park for drone usage or if you can get a special use permit. There are no guarantees, and it’s probably a long shot, but if you reach out and ask, the worst that they can do is say no!

Can You Fly Drones at the Beach?

As long as the beach isn’t a national park or another protected area, there’s no reason that you can’t fly a drone there. However, you’re still subject to other rules, like keeping your drone in line of sight no matter where you fly it.

Also, keep in mind that if you’re flying your drone over the water and it happens to go down for some reason, there’s a good chance that you’re not going to get it back.

drone flying along the river
Image Credit: Karl Greif, Unsplash

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Final Thoughts

While drones are fun to fly around from place to place, if you’re operating a drone, you need to ensure that you’re following the rules so you don’t find yourself in trouble. Always double-check with the specific area where you’re trying to fly your drone to see if it’s allowed, and if you’re unsure, err on the side of caution and don’t fly it at all. Otherwise, you might find yourself with hefty fines or worse to deal with.

Featured Image Credit: DisobeyArt, Shutterstock

About the Author Robert Sparks

Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.