Can You Fly Drones in State Parks for Fun, Work, or Research?


When I first got my drone, my idea was to go to my state park and create sample footage that I can show to clients.

Why? State Parks are some of the most scenic areas, and with a good drone, you could produce some incredible footage.

However, state parks aren’t like any other place where you can just get your drone in the air and start flying. They have stricter regulations whilst also following the standard FAA guidelines. 

So, can you fly drones in state parks? 

Yes and no — different states have different drone flying rules. You can’t fly drones in US national parks as it’s part of the Federal land, but states like Oregon do allow drone use. Washington also allows drone flying but only with a permit. On the other hand, Arizona is strict against drones in state parks.

If you’re wondering if your next park to visit allows the use of drones, this article covers the different laws in different states and what to expect the next time you’re flying in a state park.

Can You Fly Drones In State Parks?

You can fly research, commercial, public agency, or recreational drones in state parks. But, for some reason, some state parks may prohibit their use or request evidence of approval by the authorities to fly drones in those areas. 

Can you fly drones in state parks

The most common reasons for state drone laws include: 

  • Park units’ privacy threats
  • Threats to the visitor’s privacy
  • Bossing the safety of the public
  • The risk of drone-caused fires in parks
  • Protection of natural and cultural resources 
  • Presence of species that drones could endanger

In such cases, the District Superintendent posts orders against drone use in some parks, for example, in Florida and North Carolina (NC).

NC, for example, clearly states that no visitor is permitted to ascend or take off in or within their state parks. 

So, always find out the drone rules governing a state. How?

Visit the park’s website: Every state has a website you can visit to know drone use rules. Be careful, as there are many look-alike websites. To be sure you’re on the right page, you should see ‘.gov’ at the end of that website URL.  

Once on the website, type the state name and then ‘park rules,’ for example, ‘Florida State Park Rules.’ This will lead you to the pages with information on the state park rules. 

Go to the website drone rules page: On the page, look for the drone rules. If you can’t see them quickly, use the ‘ctrl+F’ keys to get the ‘search option.’ On it, type’ drone rules’ or ‘drones.’ You should see all the sections covering the use of drones, including the rules.

Note though, different websites might use different terms for drones. So, if you don’t get results, try using other names such as quadcopters, unmanned aircraft, UAVs, or remote control machines. 

What Are The Laws Around Flying In State Parks?

rules for recreational drones

Some rules forbid the total use of drones, while others give directions on how to use them.

Even with the rules, you may be required to have a permit to use your research, public agency, or recreational drone in some states. 

Recreational Drone

You can fly your recreational drone in most state parks. However, each park has its laws and regulations for hobbyists. 

In most cases, flying over is allowed, but landing and taking off within state park borders is illegal.

As a recreational drone pilot, you must find a good and isolated spot to launch or land your drone in the state park. But, always talk to a park ranger.

Furthermore, some state parks have clear rules for drone flying on their official websites. North Carolina’s state park, for example, has provided a clear set of rules on its page.

Other standard rules for recreational drones in state parks include: 

  • Stay away from birds and animals. This ensures a haven for all animals without being harassed by drones.
  • Observe the line of sight rule. It’s not just a park rule but also an approved FAA law.
  • Avoid flying in bad weather conditions. Choose another day to fly if there’s heavy rain, wind, or snow.
  • Keep drones away from park visitors to maintain safety and respect their privacy.
  • Ensure your drone isn’t flying close to any building.
  • Avoid reckless flying. This applies mostly to hobbyists who go to the parks to race through buildings and gaps.
  • Don’t fly when there’s an emergency.
  • Fly your drone no higher than 400 feet above the ground to avoid entering the airspace.


rules for research drones

To use your drone for research in a state park, you must get authorization from the FAA. This requires you to fill in and submit your request to the FAA.

After getting the approval, present the authorization from the FAA to your state park authorities. The state park will then allow you to fly as long as you follow its guidelines and use it for its intended purpose.

Public Agency

Using your drone for a public agency in a state park requires a permit from COA.  The Certificate of Waiver or Authorization gives your drone access to specific zones. 

So, apply for COA and wait for the approval. Then, submit a copy of COA’s authorization to your state park authorities. They will provide access to fly, but you must adhere to their regulations.  

Why Can’t Drones Fly In National Parks?

The US National Park Service has prohibited drones from flying in national parks’ airspace and waters. This rule has no exception unless in stringent conditions like the filming of documentaries but only with authorization.

Still, if the documentary is of no benefit to the park, the NPS drone policy won’t allow it.

A signed Special Use Permit is the only permit for drones to fly in national parks. But, it’s near impossible to get that permit.

A Special Use Permit also allows other types of access, like rescue missions, research, and fire safety. Remember that recreational and commercial drone purposes cannot get such a permit.

But what caused the ban on flying drones in national parks?

why are drones banned in national parks

According to Jonathan Jarvis, the director of NPS, the ban originates from the reckless flying of drones over parks. Consequently, the administration found it invasive and irresponsible.

So what happens if you’re caught flying a drone in a national park illegally?

You get a permanent ban from the park, a fine of not less than $5,000, and a jail term of six months. Even worse, you’ll lose your drone and any other gear you have.

Can You Fly Drones In Florida State Parks?

Flying drones in Florida state parks is prohibited and only allowed in very rare circumstances.

First, all drone owners must register their drones as per Florida’s drone registration law.

Herein, the owners must provide honest and all information as required. Failure to keep this law attracts a third-degree felony.

Nonetheless, keep in mind that the state of Florida allows drones in other areas like beaches, as long as you don’t fly over people, large crowds, private property, airports, and protected areas.

Florida has also given strict regulations for drone pilots taking images and videos of anyone without consent. Such laws are to protect the personal privacy of residents of Florida.

Florida’s police officers also have the right to use drones to gather information but only with a signed warrant.

Read more: Are You Allowed To Fly A Drone At The Beach?

Guidelines for Flying in a State Park

The guidelines for flying a drone in a state park depend on the purpose of the operation. For research, recreational, or rescue missions, regulations govern each purpose.

Recreational Purpose

Using a drone for recreation mainly involves meeting your enjoyment and personal interest requirements. For instance, you can use your drone to take videos and photos for personal use.

However, there are guidelines to follow should you decide to take your drone to a state park for recreational purposes.

  • According to part 107 of FAA laws, recreational drones should weigh less than 55 pounds.
  • Fly your drone only for enjoyment.
  • Follow FAA safety guidelines for all drones.
  • Ensure your drone stays in your line of sight. You can also have an observer next to you to ensure you don’t stray away.
  • Avoid flying in the airspace of manned aircraft. If it happens, make way.
  • Don’t fly beyond 400 feet above the ground.
  • Fly your drone soberly and carefully. Avoid flying your drone when you are drunk or sick.

Research Purpose

Researchers use drones because of their high-level accuracy in collecting data compared to humans. In most cases, scientists are using drones to count species more accurately.

The guidelines for researching drones fall under the same rules for recreational drones. However, research drone pilots must also have authorization from the FAA and State Park District.

Also, you must stick to your purpose. Don’t go drone racing if you only have the approval to do research.

Rescue Missions

drones for rescue missions

Some drones have unique abilities that emergency service providers use. Without a doubt, drones are already saving lives by participating in rescue and emergency missions.

However, there’s a particular drone use that significantly benefits public safety endeavors; the use of drones for search and rescue missions.

However, the FAA only provides one regulation for emergency cases. FAA restricts flying a drone over rescue missions like wildfires and hurricanes. This is because you’re likely to lose your drone to disaster.

However, special permits and approvals are provided only for those who qualify to handle the rescue operations like the military and firefighters.

All in all, you must operate a registered drone and gain authorization for whatever purpose. 

Are There Penalties For Flying Your Drone In A State Park?

There are penalties for drone flying in a state park if you are caught flying drones without authorization or not following the rules. Usually, the penalty is a fine of $5000 or a six-month jail term. 

Generally, you can fly your drone in a state park as long as you observe all the necessary laws restricting you in the first place. But, if there are no laws, it’s safe to assume that flying your drone in that particular state park is okay.

However, U.S states hardly offer National Park drone permits, making the national parks a no-fly zone for all drones.

While your city may permit flying drones in a state park, remember that it’s not the same everywhere. Check all the rules and regulations if you go to a different state park.

What to Do When Flying In a State Park

flying in state parks

Being a responsible pilot is the next step after securing authorization to fly your drone in a state park.

Always remember that people, animals, and birds expect a peaceful environment. So, it’s best to ensure you pose no harm or threat to the park’s everyday activities.

To become a responsible drone pilot in a state park, here are some tips to consider: 

1.  Verify the Classification of the Airspace and Gear

Some apps can help you check on various airspaces. If everything is clear, ensure you stick to the particular area. Most parks have geofences that don’t allow you to fly in them.

Also, ensure you check your gear before you start flying. This way, you guarantee public safety and no risk of crashes from low batteries and other issues.

2.  Always Seek Consent Before Capturing Photos and Videos

Courtesy dictates that it’s best to get consent before taking anyone’s picture in state parks. Some people might take offense and term that as an invasion of privacy. So, be safe and ask for permission first, always.

3.  Don’t Fly Directly Over People’s Heads 

If your drone is for recreational or commercial purposes, it would be best not to fly directly over the heads of people in the park.

Flight rules state that you should avoid this flying, especially over the heads of people who are not part of your drone’s purpose, because it poses a high risk to people’s safety.

Final Word

So, can you fly drones in state parks? The best answer would be not to assume that flying drones in state parks is okay. 

What’s important is to thoroughly research before launching your drone in any park.

Some states and local authorities may have stricter laws and regulations against drone flying in state parks than others. Therefore, ensure you keenly go through all the general laws to be on the safe side.

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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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