Can You Use Drones in National Parks? [Regulations and Guidelines]

In recent years, drones have become a popular tool for capturing breathtaking aerial footage and performing various commercial as well as recreational activities. Our national parks, with their natural beauty and expansive landscapes, are particularly attractive destinations for drone enthusiasts.

However, it is crucial to understand the regulations that govern the use of these devices in such protected areas. We must recognize that the National Park Service (NPS) has specific rules in place regarding drone use within national parks.

These regulations are enforced to preserve the natural environment, protect wildlife, and ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for all visitors.

Flying drones in these areas without proper authorization may lead to penalties, and it can disrupt the natural habitat and the enjoyment of other park visitors.

Therefore, if we consider using a drone in a national park for any purpose, we must be fully informed of and compliant with the current policies. This ensures the protection of our precious national treasures while respecting the rights and experiences of all who visit.

Legality of Drone Use in National Parks

In this section, we explore the legal frameworks that govern the operation of unmanned aircraft systems, commonly known as drones, in the domain of national parks.

Federal Regulations and NPS Policy

NPS Policy Memorandum 14-05 prohibits using drones in national parks. This policy was enacted to preserve the natural soundscape, prevent disturbance to wildlife, and ensure the safety and enjoyment of park visitors.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) also has jurisdiction over all national airspace, including that above national parks, and their regulations must be complied with by drone operators.

Understanding the Ban on Drones

No drones all remote controlled aircraft are prohibited sign

The ban on drones within national parks stems from both resource protection and visitor experience concerns. Unmanned aircraft disrupt wildlife and can create noise pollution that detracts from the natural serenity of national park settings.

Drones can also pose a safety risk in crowded areas or near sensitive historic sites. The NPS enforces operational bans and applies to all areas under its management.

Penalties for Non-Compliance

Operating a drone illegally in a national park can lead to significant penalties. According to NPS regulations, unauthorized drone use is a misdemeanor and may result in:

  • Fines: A violator may be subjected to a fine.
  • Imprisonment: In severe cases, a maximum penalty may include imprisonment.

The Bureau of Land Management and other federal entities work in concert with the NPS to uphold these regulations, ensuring that national parks remain places of natural beauty and tranquility.

Operational Guidelines for Drones

In navigating the complexity of drone usage, especially in sensitive areas like national parks, we must adhere to established regulations and consider both the permitting process and the broader implications of our activities.

FAA Drone Regulations Overview

The FAA maintains strict regulations for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), commonly called drones. For us to operate drones legally, we must comply with rules that dictate when, where, and how we can fly them.

Unmanned aircraft (UA) flights are prohibited in national parks, including highly visited ones like Yosemite National Park and the Grand Canyon National Park, to prevent potential safety concerns and preserve the natural experience for all visitors.

Recreational Use

Hobbyists must fly under the Exception for Limited Recreational Operations, following safety guidelines, including maintaining visual line-of-sight, avoiding restricted airspace, and not interfering with manned aircraft.

Commercial Use

For commercial drone operations, pilots must hold a Remote Pilot Certificate and adhere to Part 107 regulations.

Permitting Process for Drone Operation

A special permit is typically required to operate a drone within a national park. This process involves:

  • Submitting an application detailing the purpose of the flight.
  • A review of potential environmental impacts.
  • Consideration of other park activities that could be affected by drone flight.

For any commercial project or research, we must have all permits in place before commencing drone operations.

Safety and Ethics of Drone Flying

Man controlling a drone with a remote control stands in a field

Safety concerns play a pivotal role in our approach to drone flying. Not only must we ensure the physical safety of people and wildlife, but we must also respect the ethical considerations of privacy and tranquility in national parks.


Always follow the FAA’s aerospace safety rules to minimize risks. This includes not flying over groups of people, near other aircraft, or in sensitive areas.


When flying for recreational purposes, we must do so responsibly, respecting the experience of others and preserving the integrity of the natural landscapes we’re capturing.

By conscientiously adhering to these guidelines, we ensure our drone operations are both respectful and lawful, balancing the invaluable opportunity for aerial photography with the rights and safety of others.

Drones’ Impact on Park Ecosystem and Experience

While drones offer innovative opportunities for managing and enjoying national parks, we must consider their effects on wildlife and the environment, as well as the experience and privacy of visitors.

Protecting Wildlife and Natural Resources

Yosemite National Park Mule Deer

The presence of drones in wilderness areas can disrupt the natural behaviors of wildlife, leading to potential long-term ecological impacts. This is particularly crucial during breeding and nesting periods when any form of disturbance can have adverse consequences.

Drones might also contribute to the erosion of delicate ecosystems if not used responsibly. For instance, the unintentional dispersal of seeds or pathogens could result from drones traveling between different areas within a park.

Visitor Experience and Privacy Concerns

The influx of drones can detract from the serene natural experience that park visitors seek. The noise and visual presence of drones disturb not just the wildlife but also the peace and quiet that is the hallmark of natural settings.

Additionally, drones equipped with cameras raise privacy concerns among visitors, as such devices can inadvertently capture personal moments without consent.

Use of Drones for Research and Search & Rescue

Drone with camera flying over the mountains

Drones have become vital tools for conducting environmental research and monitoring. They enable park rangers and researchers to study hard-to-reach areas, assess the health of the park’s ecosystems, and even track wildlife movements without direct interference.

Equally important are drone applications in search and rescue operations. Drones provide a significant advantage in locating lost visitors, especially in harsh or inaccessible terrain, and assessing and responding to fires or other natural disasters within parks.