Can You Fly A Drone In A State Park as a Hobbyist?

State parks are beautiful locations to get some great drone footage. But are you legally allowed to fly in them?

Since park boundaries and rules apply to park airspace, you are allowed to fly your drone OVER a state park. However, if you want to take off or land in a state park then it depends on the state that you’re visiting. The best way to know in this case is to call a park ranger.

Most state parks probably won’t let you take off your drone or land, however, it’s perfectly legal to fly over a state park.

Keep reading to see what the law says about all this.

Legal to fly OVER a state park?

As mentioned at the beginning of the article it’s perfectly legal to fly your drone over a state park. As long as you don’t take off or land within park borders. It’s not just legal, but it’s common practice. Most hobbyists will find a suitable spot right on the park border, then launch from there.

How can I be so sure about this? Well, because state parks have said it on their own park rules page. Here’s a perfect example of North Carolinas state park rules page;

Notice that under the drone rules section they state “Park visitors are prohibited from ascending or taking-off within or upon any state park area.

Some websites might word this differently. For example, some state park websites will just say that “you can’t fly a drone” without further explanation. But this doesn’t change anything. The law stays the same.

The bottom line, you’re allowed to fly your drone over state parks across the U.S.

How to stay out of trouble while flying OVER a state park

If you’re planning to take off and land outside of the park, and fly your drone over the park, you could still get into some serious trouble if you fly like a maniac. Here’s a list of rules you need to be wary of that might still get you in trouble.

  • Stay away from any animals. State parks are designed to protect threatened species and to create a safe haven for animals. Don’t disrupt this by harassing any animals in their natural environment. Keep a safe distance away from them so that they don’t feel disturbed.
  • Keep to the line of sight rule. This isn’t just a park rule, this is a law enforced by the federal aviation authority. So make sure you don’t lose line of sight.
  • Don’t fly in bad weather. If it’s raining, misty, windy or snowing, rather fly another day. There are two main reasons for this. First, it can make it harder to keep line of sight on your drone during bad weather. And second, it’s more difficult to fly your drone in a safe manner. Especially for beginner drone pilots. The last thing you want is for a gust of wind to blow your drone into a park ranger!
  • Stay far away from other park visitors. And I mean FAR away. People like to complain about anything. Even if you don’t fly close to people, they might still complain to a park ranger. This will get the attention you don’t need.
  • Don’t fly too close to buildings. People get a bit nervous when you fly too close to buildings and towers. So again, to avoid getting the wrong attention, stay away from them.
  • Don’t fly recklessly. So no racing your drone through small gaps and around buildings. Just keep it respectful.
  • Don’t fly over 400 feet. If you fly over 400 feet above ground level you’ll fly into active airspace. Keep it low! Even if you don’t see other aircraft around.
  • Don’t crash in the park! If you crash in the park you might have a problem. Does this constitute as landing in the park? Well to us not really, but an angry park ranger that has been looking for a reason to get you to stop all day might see this as an opportunity.
  • Don’t fly during emergency situations. If a forest breaks out or someone injures themselves there will be a lot of activity on the ground and in the air. Make sure you stay out of their way.

A great summary of the above is just to fly as carefully as possible, and stay respectful. As long as you do this you shouldn’t get the wrong type of attention, which would equate to a great day with plenty of amazing drone footage!

What if a park ranger approaches you?

Some park rangers might not even be aware of this rule. So don’t be surprised if a park ranger questions you. If they do, don’t freak out and don’t cause an argument. Remember, you’re not doing anything wrong.

Respectfully let them know that the law states that what you’re doing is perfectly legal.

That being said, don’t give them a reason to want to approach you. If you fly recklessly or break any FAA regulations, legally they can still report you to the relevant authorities.

How to check if you can take off or land in a state park?

Some state parks welcome drones, other parks despise them. It all depends on how they view drones and their experiences with drones in the past. At the end of the day, it’s up to the park manager if they will allow it or not.

So the best way to know is to simply ask them.

IMPORTANT: Don’t rely on signs and boards at state parks. A lot of them have not been updated with drone laws.

There are a few ways you can do this, the first method is obvious. Check their website and find the park rules page.

Check the state park website step-by-step:

  • Find the website. You can find the website by googling “PARK NAME drone rules” *replace “park name” with the park you’re going to visit. The first result should be a government website ending in .gov.
  • Open the park rules page. Open the page and find the section where they talk about drones. Hit Ctr-f to search for the word “drone.” It’s a lot quicker than scanning the page with your eye.
  • They might word drones differently. Such as UAVs, remote control machines, unmanned aircraft, quadcopters Here’s an example of North Carolinas state park rules

Notice how in the above example they state “Park visitors are prohibited from ascending or taking-off within or upon any state park area…” This is a perfect example where you would rather want to take off and land outside of the park.

No website? Call the park administrative or PR offices:

Some state park websites might be a bit outdated and show nothing about drones. So what do you do in the case?

The best thing to do is call the administrative or PR offices before your trip. If you’re already at the park then you can also speak to a park ranger.

INSIDER TIP: This might seem small but it could make a HUGE difference. When you speak to a ranger, or any staff, rather tell them you want to fly your “remote control airplane.” The word “drone” has got such a bad stigma attached to it especially for park rangers.

What happens if you get caught breaking the rules in a state park?

Reason Why They Banned Drone Takeoff and Landing in State Parks

I’ll be honest, there are some valid reasons why most state parks don’t allow drones. It all usually starts with a few rebellious drone pilots that have been reckless in the past. Unfortunately, it’s one of those cases where a handful of people ruins it for the majority of us, but I won’t go too much into that. Here are their listed reasons:

  • To protect endangered species and other animals in the park
  • They want to keep the park as noise-free and peaceful as possible for others to enjoy.
  • To make sure that park visitors and staff don’t get injured a drone.
  • Park fires. Drones crash often. This could cause a LiPo fire. Especially in state parks that are in dry areas.
  • Some people just don’t like drones. So most parks will try to avoid the drama all-together by just banning them completely.

Final Thoughts

Just because you can’t take off or land in a state park, doesn’t mean you can’t fly over them. Just make sure you fly safe, and remain respectful to others around you.

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