Can I Fly Drone in Wilderness Areas? A Handy Guide


Are you planning on flying a drone in wilderness areas?

Before you take off, it’s important to know whether or not it’s legal to do so. The rules and regulations regarding drone flight can vary depending on the location, so it’s important to do your research beforehand.

In this article, I’ll answer the question: can you fly a drone in wilderness areas?

In short, the answer is NO! You cannot fly drones in wilderness areas due to safety and security concerns.

The laws around drone flight can be complex. So, I’ll also let you know about FAA regulations, security concerns, permissions needed, and penalties (if any) so that you’re fully informed.

Can I Fly Drone in Wilderness Areas

FAA Regulations on Flying Drones in Wilderness Areas

Due to the following FAA regulations, you are not allowed to fly drones in wilderness areas:

  1. UAS must be flown below 400 feet and remain clear of surrounding obstacles. They cannot take off from, land in, or be operated from congressionally designated wilderness areas or primitive areas.
  2. Do not fly over or near wildlife as this can create stress that may cause significant harm and even death. Intentional disturbance of animals during critical life history functions is not allowed unless approved as research or management.
  3. Follow state wildlife and fish agency regulations on the use of UAS to search for or detect wildlife and fish. Launch the UAS more than 100 meters (328 feet) from wildlife and do not approach animals or birds vertically with the UAS.
  4. Drone operations in wilderness areas are prohibited under the Wilderness Act of 1964 and subsequent clarifications by the National Park Service and other wilderness agencies.


Security Concerns

Flying a drone in wilderness areas comes with its own set of unique security concerns, which are worth considering before launching your drone. Here are some potential security concerns to keep in mind.

Security Concerns for Flying Drones in Wilderness Areas

  1. Wildlife Disturbance: Flying drones can disrupt the natural behavior of animals, causing them stress or forcing them to leave their habitat.
  2. Privacy Invasion: Drones equipped with cameras could potentially invade the privacy of other wilderness users or capture unauthorized images.
  3. Unauthorized Surveillance: Drones can be used for illegal surveillance of protected areas, leading to potential security breaches.
  4. Collision Risks: Drones can collide with other aircraft, wildlife, or obstacles in the wilderness, causing damage or injury.
  5. Loss of Control: Pilots may lose control of their drones in remote areas, resulting in potential harm to the environment or other users.

Permissions and Permits

To fly a drone in wilderness areas, you must adhere to several permissions and permits.

Firstly, ensure compliance with FAA guidelines and obtain airspace authorization using the LAANC system if you are flying in controlled airspace. Additionally, consult local and state authorities for specific permits and requirements unique to the particular wilderness area. It is important to note that recreational drone use is prohibited in NPS-managed areas; however, you may apply for a special use permit for exceptional cases.

In general, drone flights are not permitted in designated Wilderness Areas unless operating under a special use permit or for emergency purposes.

Penalties for Flying a Drone without Authorization

Flying drones without authorization in wilderness areas can result in penalties, as these areas are protected to preserve their natural conditions. Violators may face fines and/or imprisonment, depending on the severity of the offense. For instance, fines can range from $100 to $5,000, and imprisonment can last up to six months. Additionally, the drone may be confiscated, and the pilot may lose their FAA certification. Penalties aim to deter unauthorized drone usage and protect the ecological integrity and pristine nature of wilderness areas.

Also check:


1. Can I Fly Drones in Wilderness Areas if I am not a Licensed Drone Pilot?

No, you cannot fly a drone in wilderness areas if you are not a licensed drone pilot. Wilderness areas are designated to preserve their natural conditions and protect the wildlife, plants, and ecosystems within them. Flying a drone in these sensitive areas can cause disturbances to the wildlife and disrupt the tranquility of the environment. Moreover, specific permits and adherence to regulations are required to operate a drone in such areas, which are generally reserved for licensed drone pilots involved in authorized activities, such as research or land management.

2. Who can Authorize the Use of Drones in Wilderness Areas?

The authorization for the use of drones in wilderness areas typically falls under the jurisdiction of the respective land management agency, such as the National Park Service (NPS), U.S. Forest Service (USFS), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), or U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). These agencies may grant special permission or permits for drone use in designated wilderness areas, usually for specific purposes like research, search and rescue operations, or natural resource management. It’s important to contact the appropriate agency and inquire about their specific rules and regulations before attempting to fly a drone in any wilderness area.

3. Can the Police Fly Drones in Wilderness Areas?

Yes, the police can fly drones in wilderness areas for law enforcement purposes such as search and rescue missions, criminal investigations, or monitoring wildfires. However, they must follow specific guidelines and regulations set by the relevant authorities, like the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), to ensure public safety and protect the environment.


In conclusion, before flying a drone in wilderness areas, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the appropriate resources and tools. Download the B4UFLY mobile app to easily find safe and legal flying locations.

Drone laws are subject to change, and information in this blog may become outdated; always consult official sources for the latest regulations.

And if you have a related query, kindly feel free to let me know in the comments.

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Peter Karanja is a licensed drone pilot from Kenya, freelance writer and drone enthusiast. He has been using drones for land survey, GIS, and photography for the past three years. Being a drone user, he loves writing about drone applications, safety tips for using drones, and the best ways to get the most out of a drone.

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