Going to a national park? Leave your drone at home

It’s summer. And, perhaps more than usual, some of us will be wanting to get outdoors after months of being relatively cooped up. Just remember, though, to be sure you know the rules before popping up a drone. This is especially true in National Parks, where – with rare exceptions – drones are banned.

Let’s say you’re about to take a trip. You’re going to visit, say, Yellowstone Park. Fantastic! But in preparing for the great outdoors – it’s best to leave the drone indoors. You’ll save yourself a hassle that could wind up costing you thousands of dollars and might even lead to a temporary ban from the place.

The inevitable conflict

For many, drones are simply a camera in the sky. And so visiting places of spectacular beauty makes it tempting to get out the drones. It started becoming an issue for major parks in 2013, as the first DJI Phantom really took off. By 2014, it was becoming an issue at locations like Yellowstone National Park. People were flying drones over geysers, bubbling mud pots, and even pristine lakes. By 2014, the Park decided it needed to start cracking down – and it did:

This was a very expensive 2014 flight…

The fine print

In June of 2014, the director of the National Park Service issued Policy Memorandum 14-05. This directed each park superintendent to exercise authority under the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) to prohibit the launching, landing, or operation of drones. This memorandum is “still in force with very few exceptions.”

Don’t even think about it

Of course, some with Part 107 Certification might think their license gives them a little more leeway in flying UAS in these areas – but they would be mistaken. These policies have now been in place for several years, and many parks feature signage saying drones are banned within their limits. Some have wondered if they could skirt the rules by piloting from just outside the park’s boundary and then flying to a park’s interior. Nope. That would involve Beyond Visual Line of Sight flight, and you’re not going to get an FAA waiver in these locations.

And, make no mistake, Park authorities are on the lookout for drones. Here’s an excerpt from the National Park Service:

In some cases, their use has resulted in noise and nuisance complaints from park visitors, park visitor safety concerns, and one documented incident in which park wildlife were harassed. Small drones have crashed in geysers in Yellowstone National Park, attempted to land on the features of Mount Rushmore National Memorial, been lost over the edge of the Grand Canyon, and been stopped from flying in Prohibited Airspace over the Mall in Washington DC.

Do the parks use drones?

Why yes, they do. According to the NPS the uses “may include search and rescue operations, fire operations, scientific study, and aerial photography.”

But if you use them, please be aware you could face being charged – and potentially be fined up to $5,000. That’s a lot of coin for a drone flight. And remember this: Yellowstone and other national parks are so beautiful that even shots from the ground can look amazing. (Maybe not quite as amazing as a drone, but you get the idea.)

Some beautiful non-drone footage

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