Estes Park is a northern Colorado town that includes part of the Rocky Mountain National Park as well as Lake Estes, Longs Peak, and the Estes Park Aerial Tramway.
Are you allowed to fly your drone in Estes Park, Colorado?
Estes Park does not have any local drone laws prohibiting you from flying your drone, but UAVs are off-limits at Rocky Mountain National Park. When flying your drone in areas besides the park, always follow local laws as well as FAA guidelines.
In today’s article, we’ll further unpack drone flight rules in Estes Park.
Whether you’ve lived here all your life and you’re new to drone piloting or you’re an established drone pilot who’s visiting this part of Colorado, there’s great information ahead that you won’t want to miss!
To help, we’ve identified and reviewed the best drone courses for beginners and professionals.
Can you fly a drone in Estes Park, Colorado?
Colorado cracks down on drone activities with a series of local laws forbidding or restricting UAV access. We wrote about those laws in our article on Colorado drone laws.
» MORE: Drone Laws in Colorado
Locally, Lakewood, Aurora, Boulder, Denver, Telluride, and Cherry Hills all have enforceable ordinances in place but not Estes Park.
So what does this mean? Without any specific restrictions on flight, Estes Park legally allows drones to fly within the city limits.
That’s not to say that other restrictions aren’t at play, as they absolutely are. You’re still required to abide by federal and state drone laws, but we’ll go over those later.
Can you fly a drone at nearby Rocky Mountain National Park?
We’re sure you’re very curious about flying a drone around or even within Rocky Mountain National Park.
This Colorado park is 265,461 acres, with part of its entrance in the Estes Park area. The rest of the park is in Grand Lake.
While it would be wonderful to capture the park’s gorgeous slopes, pristine vistas, tree-lined canopies, and mountainous peaks with your drone camera, the National Park Service has something to say about that.
According to the NPS’s page on Rocky Mountain National Park, all unmanned aircraft are prohibited.
Here’s their policy on drone use in full:
“Launching, landing, or operating an unmanned aircraft from or on lands and waters administered by the National Park Service within the boundaries of Rocky Mountain National Park is prohibited.National Park Service
Unmanned Aircraft – means a device that is used or intended to be used for flights in the air without the possibility of direct human intervention from within or on the device, and the associated operational elements and components that are required for the pilot or system operator in command to operate or control the device (such as cameras, sensors, communication links).
This term includes all types of devices that meet this definition (e.g., model airplanes, quad copters, drones) that are used for any purpose, including for recreation or commerce.”
Those rules, which have been in place since early 2015, are quite clear. Whether you’re a commercial or recreational pilot, the NPS does not allow you to fly your drone at Rocky Mountain National Park.
There don’t appear to be any permits you can acquire or other exceptions, so you’ll have to stay out.
The NPS, being a federal agency, will dole out swift punishments if you’re caught breaking the law by flying your drone within the park.
You could have your drone confiscated, and you will more than likely be fined as well. You could even be sentenced to time in jail.
While only the lands within the confines of the Rocky Mountain National Park are under the NPS’s jurisdiction, in the vicinity of the park are the Arapaho and Apache Peak Roosevelt National Forests, which may also prohibit drone pilots.
You’re better off exploring a different part of Estes Park to fly your drone just to ensure you stay out of legal trouble.
Colorado drone laws to abide by
When flying your drone in Estes Park, you’re subject to these Colorado and United States drone laws as well as the Federal Aviation Administration’s rules.
Have the right license before you fly
Federal drone law, which applies throughout the country, requires that only licensed pilots operate drones on a recreational or commercial level.
The recreation license is the TRUST certificate, which is administered by the FAA to those pilots who successfully complete the TRUST exam.
Known in full as The Recreational UAS Safety Test, the TRUST exam is a free-to-take online exam with under 40 questions.
You can get a perfect score on the exam since every incorrect answer is displayed to you as you take the test, and you’re also granted the chance to answer those questions again.
The TRUST certificate never expires but take care not to lose it if traveling to Colorado. Then you’d have to take the TRUST exam again.
TRUST is a collaboration between the FAA and industry to provide TRUST and educational safety material to Recreational Flyers.
Commercial pilots must carry what’s known as the Remote Pilot Certificate, another FAA-issued license that’s only obtainable after passing the Part 107 commercial pilot exam.
This paid, in-person exam features more than 50 multiple-choice questions. You must have confidence in your answers, as you won’t know which are right or wrong until after you submit the test. You’ll need a score of 70 percent or higher to pass.
The Part 107 license is valid for two years. Then you can take the FAA’s free commercial renewal exam, which is all done online.
All courses offered by Pilot Institute are taught by remote pilots, flight instructors, FAA commercial pilots, and other certified professionals.
Recreational pilots must register drones over 0.55 pounds
Besides your plane tickets, your ID card, and your TRUST certificate, you may also need your drone registration as a recreational pilot flying a UAV in Colorado.
If your drone is 0.55 pounds or over, then you have to register it with the FAA. You’ll pay $5 for the registration, which is valid for the next three years.
Should you fly only toy drones that are less than 0.55 pounds as a recreational pilot, you can skip the registration.
Commercial pilots must register drones
That’s not the case for commercial pilots. The FAA requires you to register your drone regardless, so be ready to cough up the $5.
You cannot fly a drone in Colorado state parks
In our post on Colorado drone laws, we discussed the Colorado State Parks Regulation #100-c.24, a 2018 law that makes it illegal to fly a drone in most Colorado State Parks.
Some state parks do have designated model airfields for drone pilots, such as Cherry Creek State Park and Chatfield State Park.
Neither park is particularly close to Estes Park, though. Cherry Creek State Park is in Arapahoe County, which is an hour and 54 minutes from Estes Park.
Chatfield State Park is in Littleton, which is an hour and 40 minutes from Estes Park.
You must fly your drone within the visual line of sight
When operating a drone in Estes Park or in Colorado as a whole, your drone must stay within your visual line of sight the entire time you’re flying it.
Your visual line of sight is how far out you can naturally see when watching your drone. If you wear visual aids like contacts or glasses, those are allowed when gauging your visual line of sight.
Augmentative visual aids like binoculars are not!
Keep your drone within 400 feet
In the US, the altitude limit for drone flights is 400 feet. Your drone should not surpass that height when flying in Estes Park.
Only fly your drone during daylight hours
So your drone is easily seen when out and about in Estes Park, you should only fly it after sunrise and before sunset.
Do not fly your drone in inclement weather
If your trip to Estes Park is marred by unexpected rains, be sure to postpone your planned drone flight until after the weather passes.
It’s inadvisable to fly your drone in inclement weather, as you could crash the drone due to weather interference. Otherwise, it will be soaked with rain so it becomes inoperable.
Stay away from large crowds
The average person has an expectation of privacy when in public, so do not use your drone to violate anyone else’s privacy such as by stalking, watching, or harassing them with your drone.
Keep away from large crowds as well, as drones are regularly prohibited from accessing large events for public safety reasons.
Estes Park is a beautiful Colorado city that permits drone pilots, but you are barred from flying in Rocky Mountain National Park by the National Park Service, a federal agency.
When flying in other parts of Estes Park, follow FAA guidelines and Colorado state laws. Have fun out there!
U.S. National Park Service (link)