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Can You Fly a Drone in Bryce Canyon?

Bryce Canyon, which is known as Bryce Canyon National Park in full, is a southern Utah reserve with spired rock formations referred to as hoodoos.

It’s a beautiful stretch of the state that brings in well over 1.5 million visitors every year, according to the Bryce Canyon website.

Can you fly a drone in Bryce Canyon?

All remote-controlled equipment, including drones, is illegal in Bryce Canyon National Park. This law was established by the National Park Service, a federal agency. Breaking the law could lead to a misdemeanor charge, including fines and time behind bars.

Ahead, we’ll further clarify the rules so you understand exactly why you’re prohibited from flying a drone in Bryce Canyon National Park. You won’t want to miss it!

Is it legal to fly a drone in Bryce Canyon?

The National Park Service’s laws and policies, which are established “to protect the visitors and resources of Bryce Canyon National Park,” make it quite clear that you’re not allowed to fly a drone in Bryce Canyon. 

The law is outlined in the Aircraft-based Remote-controlled Equipment section of the NPS’s rules. 

Here it is in full:

“Use of remote-controlled equipment (including but not limited to helicopters, drones, and other aircraft-based equipment) within Bryce Canyon National Park is prohibited by law.”

National Park Service

There’s no misinterpreting that, that’s for sure!

Now, the NPS does allow for still photography and filming in Bryce Canyon with a permit (link).

The NPS defines commercial filming as:

“The film, electronic, magnetic, digital, or other recording of a moving image by a person, business, or other entity for a market audience with the intent of generating income.

 Examples include, but are not limited to, feature film, videography, and documentaries. Commercial filming may include the advertisement of a product or service, or the use of actors, models, sets, or props.”

While the above definition of commercial filming falls right into the wheelhouse of some commercial drone pilots, since drones are outlawed, you cannot obtain a commercial filming permit at Bryce Canyon for a UAV. 

Why are drones outlawed in Bryce Canyon?

You just don’t understand it. Many state and national parks throughout the United States allow drones to fly, so why not Bryce Canyon?

Well, that’s at the discretion of the NPS, which says that drones can have a “negative impact…for safety of visitors, staff, and wildlife.”

You might not agree, but it’s ultimately the decision of the NPS. This federal organization is speaking from experience.

Per the link above, the NPS has described instances of park visitors complaining about the presence of drones and the noise levels they bring to an otherwise very peaceful place such as Bryce Canyon.

Other park visitors have complained not of noise but of safety.

Think, for a moment, not of yourself as a drone pilot but as an everyday civilian. When you visit a public place, you have a reasonable expectation of how your experience will be.

You can’t guarantee a quiet environment in a restaurant in a busy city but when it comes to national parks, there’s generally a higher expectation of serenity. This is something that everyone in the park does their best to uphold for the good of all visitors.

Drones can disrupt that expectation of serenity, sometimes by their noise volumes and other times by their very presence. It’s hard to take a photo of Bryce Canyon’s famous hoodoos with a drone lingering in the background!

Let’s go back to a very pertinent reason for outlawing drones in Bryce Canyon, and that’s the protection of the park and its wildlife.

Bryce Canyon is the home of mule deer, Utah prairie dogs, racoons, and porcupines. These animals deserve to live out their lives widely undisturbed.

That’s why, in addition to banning drone flight, the NPS also has other strict rules about what you can and cannot do in Bryce Canyon.

These rules are designed to keep encounters between people and wildlife to a minimum to preserve the peace and environment these animals have a right to.

The NPS also believes that it’s within the best interest to bar drones from Bryce Canyon for the sake of the park itself.

Although we’re not sure if it’s happened in this park specifically, other national parks that have allowed drones to fly at one time have reported that drones have crashed or landed in areas where they should not be.

What happens if you fly a drone in Bryce Canyon?

Should you decide to try to sneak in a drone to Bryce Canyon National Park and fly there anyway, you’re violating a laundry list of rules under the Code of Federal Regulations.

One of these is 36 C.F.R. §2.12(a)(3), which bans devices “powered by a portable motor or engine, except pursuant to the terms and conditions of a permit” in non-developed areas.

You’re also breaking the disorderly conduct rule per 36 C.F.R. §2.34, which is as follows:

“(a) A person commits disorderly conduct when, with intention to cause public alarm, nuisance, jeopardy or violence, or knowingly or recklessly creating a risk thereof, such person commits any of the following prohibited acts:

(1)  Engages in fighting or threatening, or in violent behavior.

(2)  Uses language, in utterance, or gesture, or engages in a display or act that is obscene, physically threatening or menacing, or done in a manner that is likely to inflict injury or incite an immediate breach of the peace.

(3)  Makes noise that is unreasonable, considering the nature and purpose of the actor’s conduct, location, time of day or night, and other factors that would govern the conduct of a reasonably prudent person under the circumstances.

(4)  Creates or maintains a hazardous or physically offensive condition.”

Should you use your drone to disturb wildlife in any way, including disrupting activities of wildlife such as breeding or nesting, then you could be charged with violating 36 C.F.R. §2.2.

Since these are quite serious laws to disobey and the NPS is a federal agency, you will be charged with a misdemeanor for flying a drone in Bryce Canyon and for violating the above laws.

The misdemeanor charge would be a max penalty, which would require you to pay $5,000 in fines and spend six months in jail.

Considering the severity of the crime, these sentences are relatively light. That’s not to say that $5,000 is cheap or that a six-month prison sentence wouldn’t majorly disrupt your life, but you could face a felony in some states for flying a drone in outlawed areas.

Can you fly a drone near Bryce Canyon?

Bryce Canyon National Park is a very generously sized 35,835 acres. That said, the park does not take up the entirety of the southern Utah area in which it’s situated.

What if you wanted to fly your drone right outside of Bryce Canyon without venturing onto official national park grounds? Can you?

Possibly, yes.

The park is surrounded by Bryce Canyon City, a small Utah town with only 191 people living there as of this writing.

Since the area around Bryce Canyon National Park is so rugged, it’s certainly not a home for everyone, but since it’s a home for someone, flying your drone in Bryce Canyon City means you’re encroaching on someone’s private property.

You would need permission from the property owner to fly your drone.

If you don’t have that permission, then you’re violating Title 76 or 76-6-2-206(2)(A), a law that we discussed in our post on Utah drone laws.

» MORE: Drone Laws in Utah

According to Title 76 of the Utah Criminal Code, Chapter 6, Part 2, “A person is guilty of criminal trespass if, under circumstances not amounting to burglary as defined in Section 76-6-202, 76-6-203, or 76-6-204 or a violation of Section 76-10-2402 regarding criminal obstruction:

  • The person enters or remains unlawfully on or causes an unmanned aircraft to enter and remain unlawfully over property and:
  • Intends to cause annoyance or injury to any person or damage to any property, including the use of graffiti as defined in Section 76-6-107;
  • Intends to commit any crime, other than theft or a felony; or
  • Is reckless as to whether the person’s or unmanned aircraft’s presence will cause fear for the safety of another;
  • Knowing the person’s or unmanned aircraft’s entry or presence is unlawful, the person enters or remains on or causes an unmanned aircraft to enter or remain unlawfully over property to which notice against entering is given by:
  • Personal communication to the person by the owner or someone with apparent authority to act for the owner;
  • Fencing or other enclosure obviously designed to exclude intruders, or;
  • Posting of signs reasonably likely to come to the attention of intruders; or
  • The person enters a condominium unit in violation of Subsection 57-8-7(8).”

Violating Title 76 is a Class B misdemeanor, which carries with it a $1,000 fine as well as six months in county jail.

Since Bryce Canyon City has so few residents, it shouldn’t be too hard to find the appropriate landowners and request their permission to fly your drone!

Once you have it, you can legally fly your drone in the city but cannot cross the threshold to Bryce Canyon National Park.

Conclusion

Bryce Canyon National Park is a famed Utah reserve that has stunning natural rock formations. Drones are barred outright according to the National Park Service. Disobeying NPS laws is a federal crime, and a fully punishable one at that!

References:
Bryce Canyon National Park (link)
Bryce Canyon National Park (U.S. National Park Service) (link)
36 CFR § 2.34 – Disorderly Conduct (link)
Unmanned Aircraft in the National Parks (U.S. National Park Service) (link)