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Can You Fly a Drone in Michigan State Parks?

State parks separate us from the standard hustle and bustle of city life. Many states treat them as a trusted refuge.

You’re passing through Michigan and wonder if your drone can access its state park system.

Can you fly a drone in Michigan State Parks?

You can fly a drone in a Michigan State Park but only in limited circumstances. Commercial pilots must have a permit, and any other pilot has a list of rules to follow. For example, you’re forbidden from flying within 100 yards of a historical structure.

In this article, we’ll delve deeper into the state law on Michigan State Park use, discuss when you can use your drone in the parks, if you can operate outside of the parks, and what the rules are for doing so.

Let’s begin!

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Can you fly a drone in Michigan State Parks?

The rules on state park drone usage in Michigan[1] are in the 2019 state law, Order 5.1 State Parks and Recreation Areas.

According to that law, drone pilots must refrain from the following:

“(4) Launch an unmanned aircraft from state managed lands in conflict with 5.1(5).

(5) Operate an unmanned aircraft in conflict with the unmanned aircraft system act (PA 436 of 2016), and as follows:

(a) In a manner that knowingly and intentionally interferes with department employees and their designees performing official duties.

(b) In a manner that interferes with department staff when conducting search and rescues.

(c) Within 100 yards of a cultural or historical site or structure.

(d) Upon or over the viewing platform at Tahquamenon falls.

(e) Upon or over the platform at Palms Book SP.

(f) Over an occupied beach area.

(g) Over an equestrian facility.

(h) Over a campground.

(i) Over a restroom or open-air changing court.

(j) Over an area subject to an aerial right-of-way.

(k) For commercial purpose without first obtaining written permission from an authorized representative of the department, pursuant to administrative rule 299.922(dd).”

Since that was a lot we just threw at you, let’s break it down a little more simply.

Hobbyists or recreational pilots can operate a drone in Michigan State Parks.

However, you’re restricted from using your drone in many parts of any park, and you should never interrupt official park staff doing emergency duties.

You’re also supposed to give beachgoers plenty of privacy and avoid changing courts and bathrooms for the same reason.

Commercial pilots can also launch and use a drone in a state park here,  but you’re required to go through the extra step of obtaining a permit first.

Even with the permit, you’re still expected to follow the above rules.

This all goes back to the aforementioned Unmanned Aircraft Systems Act. In 259.322 Operation of unmanned aircraft system; harassment, violation of order, or invasion of privacy prohibited[2], the law states that:

“(1) A person shall not knowingly and intentionally operate an unmanned aircraft system to subject an individual to harassment…

(2) A person shall not knowingly and intentionally operate an unmanned aircraft system within a distance that, if the person were to do so personally rather than through remote operation of an unmanned aircraft, would be a violation of a restraining order or other judicial order.

(3) A person shall not knowingly and intentionally operate an unmanned aircraft system to violate section 539j of the Michigan penal code, 1931 PA 328, MCL 750.539j, or to otherwise capture photographs, video, or audio recordings of an individual in a manner that would invade the individual’s reasonable expectation of privacy.”

259.321 Operation of unmanned aircraft system[3]; interference with official duties prohibited makes clear that you cannot intentionally interrupt the duties of local corrections officers, state corrections officers, search and rescue personnel, emergency medical services personnel, firefighters, and law enforcement officials.

What happens if you violate these laws? That’s in the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Act too in 259.323 Violation as misdemeanor; penalty; other violation of law[4].

According to Section 23, you could receive a fine of $500 or spend 90 days in jail.

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How many state parks are in Michigan?

The Michigan State Parks system, managed by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, includes 103 state parks across 357,000 acres.

We won’t list them all, but here’s a smattering of the parks you could visit with your drone in tow:

  • Algonac State Park in St. Clair County
  • Aloha State Park in Cheboygan County
  • Belle Isle Park in Wayne County
  • Clear Lake State Park in Montmorency County
  • Duck Lake State Park in Muskegon County
  • Grand Mere State Park in Berrien County
  • Hoeft State Park in Presque Isle County
  • Lakeport State Park in St. Clair County
  • Michilimackinac State Park in Cheboygan and Emmet Counties
  • Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park in Ontonagon and Gogebic Counties
  • Seven Lakes State Park in Oakland County
  • Tahquamenon Falls State Park in Luce and Chippewa Counties
  • Watkins Lake State Park and County Preserve in Washtenaw County
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Can you fly your drone just outside of a Michigan State Park?

While recreational and commercial pilots can fly within the parameters of a Michigan State Park, remember that you’re subject to a variety of rules.

If you feel like the rules are too restrictive or there’s simply too much to remember, know that you can always operate your drone outside state park boundaries.

However, you must still follow federal and state laws and possibly local laws as well depending on where you fly your drone.

For example, West Bloomfield, the University of Michigan, and the Mt. Brighton Ski Resort  have local laws on drone usage.

In West Bloomfield, you cannot use your drone in any town park according to its municipal ordinance. The Mt. Brighton Ski Resort similarly prohibits drone usage on and over its property.

The University of Michigan also bars drones from any property the school owns, and that goes for students on campus and those outside of the school system.

Michigan drone rules to know

As a Michigan drone flier, you’re expected to follow the FAA’s federal guidelines when operating your UAV. To get you up to speed, here’s what you need to know.

You must be a licensed drone carrier

To fly your drone anywhere in Michigan, you need an FAA-issued license first.

Commercial pilots, besides your permit, make sure you’re carrying a valid Remote Pilot Certificate. If you have yet to take the Part 107 exam, you’ll have to do that first to receive the license.

Remember that the Remote Pilot Certificate expires within two years. You can recertify for free by taking a short online exam administered by the FAA. That will keep your license current so you can continue enjoying drone flights.

Recreational pilots don’t need a Remote Pilot Certificate. Instead, you’re required to hold a TRUST certificate, with TRUST short for The Recreational UAS Safety Test. That’s the free online exam you have to take to earn your license.

Good news – your hobbyist license never expires. However, don’t lose it when traveling to and from Michigan, as you’d have to take the test again.

You often need to register your drone

Lightweight drones that weigh 0.55 pounds or under needn’t undergo FAA registration before flying. However, that only applies to recreational users and not commercial pilots.

Since you’re using a drone for business purposes, you must register it with the FAA no matter its weight.

You cannot use your drone within five miles of an airport

To keep the skies as safe and navigable for manned aircraft as possible, federal drone law strictly prohibits drones from operating within five miles of any Michigan airport.

No flying over people or vehicles unless permitted

The FAA recently unveiled its Operations over Vehicles and Operations over People laws.

The crux of the two laws is this. If you’re using a lightweight drone, you get more leeway than a pilot with a heavier drone.

You can fly over people aware and consenting to your drone use but not strangers. Even if you have consenting parties in a vehicle, you still can’t fly your drone over that vehicle while it’s in motion.

You cannot fly more than 400 feet

From the ground up, your altitude limit is approximately 400 feet into the sky. You can fly lower than that, but never go higher!

You must keep watch over your drone

Drone pilots must always maintain a visual line of sight over their UAVs when in the sky. Don’t let your drone drift too far into the distance.

Only fly your drone during daylight hours

Unless your drone has proper lighting, you should plan to use it during civil twilight hours only, meaning after the sun rises until it sets.


Michigan State Parks permit drone pilots on the grounds.

Hobbyists and commercial pilots must follow a slew of rules, and commercial pilots also need a permit granting them access to the parks.

Flying a drone in a state park is a gift and a big responsibility.

Avoid crowds, don’t fly too close to historical structures, and obey FAA guidelines so everyone can enjoy the parks!

1. (link)
2. Michigan Legislature – Section 259.322 (link)
3. Michigan Legislature – Section 259.321 (link)
4. Michigan Legislature – Section 259.323 (link)