Ah, parks. They’re a splendid place to breathe in some fresh air, listen to the birds chirp, feel the rustle of wind in your hair, and…fly your drone?
That’s what you aren’t so sure about. You’d love to take your drone to the park with you, but what are the rules?
Can you fly your drone in a park?
Drones are sometimes allowed in parks depending on the type of park in question. Public parks have spotty rules on drone usage, while state and national parks largely bar drone pilots to preserve the wilderness and tranquility of the park for its enjoyers.
In today’s article, we’ll break it down by specifics to help you decide whether you can use your drone in a park.
If you’re new to drones or visiting a place for the first time and need more guidance, make sure you keep reading!
To help, we’ve identified and reviewed the best drone courses for beginners and professionals.
Can you fly a drone in a park? That depends…
Parks are more than greenspaces. Depending on whether the park receives a designation as a public, state, or national park, the rules around drone usage can change.
Without further ado, let’s delve into public vs. state vs. national parks and discuss if you should bother bringing your drone.
Public parks–also known as metropolitan, urban, or municipal parks–constitute open spaces that are available to the public.
You don’t typically have to pay to access a public park. It’s designed as a place of nature and enjoyment for the area’s residents, although outside residents can use a public park, as can tourists.
The agencies that regulate public parks vary. A local agency could oversee the park, but sometimes it’s a state or even a federal agency.
Keeping all that in mind, can you fly your drone in a public park? Of the three types of parks, a public park remains your best bet. However, that doesn’t mean you can fly your drone in a public park guaranteed.
Some cities, towns, or municipalities bar drones from public parks.
The reasoning behind the decision usually concerns the noise levels of drones or how pilots may fly their drones too close to others and wreck their day at the park.
Even if you live in a neighborhood where you can’t use a drone in a public park, don’t despair.
The rules might only apply to that city, town, or municipality. If you go a town or two over, you could find a public park allowing for drone flights.
Now let’s expand our definition of parks to a sub-national scale. States across the United States regulate state parks, which usually include protected lands.
A state park could include historical landmarks, and it’s certainly beloved for its natural beauty and features like snowcapped mountains, rushing waters, miles of open forest, and breathtaking waterfalls.
If you hoped to fly your drone in a state park, keep hoping. While exceptions exist to every rule–even this one–most states don’t allow drones in state parks.
The reason? It all goes back to those protected lands, natural features, and cultural and historical significance hidden in so many state parks. Drones can and have caused damage to state parks and protected lands.
It goes even deeper than that. Drones can disrupt people’s experiences at the park and affect wildlife as well. The presence of drones confuses animals and can make them abandon their nests.
You’re free to visit the nation’s great state parks without your drone, but unless it’s South Carolina or a paltry few others, you can’t expect to fly your UAV in a state park.
The last in the hierarchy of parks are national parks.
National parks exist to preserve the incredible natural environments we have throughout the US. Rather than managed by individual states, federal agencies such as the National Park Service oversee national parks.
From Yellowstone to Acadia, Joshua Tree, Grand Teton, Yosemite, and Grand Canyon, these parks receive the utmost protection for the same reason as state parks: preservation.
We’ve told stories on this blog about drone pilots who have landed their UAVs in the geysers of Yellowstone or deep within the plummeting cliffs of the Grand Canyon.
These unfortunate circumstances keep increasing as drones become more popular, so the NPS forbids drones on protected waters and lands.
Flying in a national park carries with it the heftiest punishments of all three types of parks since the NPS is a federal agency.
Considerations for Wilderness Areas and Wildlife Management Areas
State and national parks may also contain Wilderness Areas and/or Wildlife Management Areas.
Although the two sound similar, they’re not quite the same, so let’s quickly explain the differences.
Wilderness Areas can include wilderness or wildlands protected and overseen by the United States National Wilderness Preservation System.
Wildlife areas are also protected and include forests, beaches, deserts, summits, swamps, game preserves, and wildlife refuges.
It doesn’t matter if you come across a Wildlife Management Area or a Wilderness Area during your drone flight.
Both areas prohibit drones under the Wilderness Act of 1964. That law exists to protect natural lands against industrialization.
Although drones and industrialization are separate threads, the point of Wilderness Areas and Wildlife Management Areas is to limit the impacts of people on the lands.
Even certain types of vehicles sometimes cannot access these lands!
How can you be sure you can use a drone in a park?
While the rules about flying a drone in a national park, Wilderness Area, and Wildlife Management Area tend to hold steady across the US, that’s not the case for state and public parks.
Not every park has a sign posted about whether you can use a drone or not. Since you can incur fines, possible drone confiscation, and time behind bars for violating drone laws, you don’t want to chance it.
So how do you know if you can use a drone in a specific park? Let’s go over your options.
Use a drone mapping app or website
There’s no excuse not to know the lay of the land these days.
You can find a countless assortment of drone apps to download right from your smartphone, including B4UFLY, AirMap, Drone Buddy, DJI Fly, DroneDeploy, Aloft (once known as Kitttyhawk), and so many more.
You don’t have to pay to download these apps, so have at least one ready to go. If not that, then use a drone map website, as it offers the same information.
When you load up a map and see red zones, you’ll know to stay away, as those areas are restricted airspace. Yellow areas include warning zones, so while you should take heed, you may still have the right to fly there.
Call the park and ask!
You can also contact the park before you visit just for confirmation.
Send an email, pick up the phone and call, or stop into the visitor’s center and ask the staff at the park about the drone rules. You’ll know very quickly if you can fly your drone there.
All courses offered by Pilot Institute are taught by remote pilots, flight instructors, FAA commercial pilots, and other certified professionals.
The benefits of flying a drone in a park
You’ve found a park near you that permits drones. That’s great news, as now you can enjoy the following benefits.
Fresh air and natural beauty
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the average US citizen is indoors a lot more than outdoors, spending up to 87 percent of their lives at home or work and six percent in a vehicle.
If you do the math, that leaves a mere seven percent of life for outdoor time!
Flying a drone in a park allows you to increase your outdoor time quotient. You’ll breathe in the fresh air, feel the sunlight on your skin, and feel better for it.
After all, we absorb vitamin D from sunlight, which has a noticeable effect on mood!
Plenty of open space to fly
Do you stress about hitting your neighbor’s mailbox or that parked car up the block when flying your drone around town? Those are reasonable concerns, especially if you’re new to flying.
In a park, there’s a lot more open space with less to hit. You can relax, take a deep breath, and focus on practicing and improving your drone flights.
Nice scenery to take photos and videos of
Parks also present many opportunities to sharpen your drone photography and/or videography skills.
Depending on the park, you can take footage of grassy knolls, flowery fields, glassy bodies of water, mountainous regions, deep forests, or dusty deserts.
You can sometimes fly a drone in a park, especially a public park. National and state parks tend to prohibit drone pilots, mostly because these parks contain Wilderness Areas and Wildlife Management Areas.
If you’re allowed to fly your drone in a park, avoid wildlife and crowds, stay within altitude limits, and always follow FAA rules!
1. Environmental Protection Agency (link)