Drone Use on Public Lands

The popularity of drones, or unmanned aircrafts, is on the rise in the United States. There are many public lands that allow drone use, however, flying in prohibited areas could result in civil and/or criminal penalties.

First, all drone users must follow Federal Aviation Association (FAA) rules regarding registration and operation of recreational unmanned aircrafts. Consumer drones weighing between .55 and 55 pounds are required to be registered with the FAA.

Launching, landing, or operating of an unmanned aircraft is prohibited on ALL lands managed by National Park Service. All national parks, many national monuments, and other designated public lands, including the Mojave National Preserve, are managed by the National Park Service and, therefore, prohibit drone use.

Because all mechanized equipment is not allowed in congressional designated Wilderness areas, launching, landing, or operating of an unmanned aircraft is drones is not allowed.

The use of drones is currently allowed in State Parks, State Beaches, State Historic Parks, State Recreational Areas, and State Vehicular Recreation Areas except where specifically stated otherwise. In some state parks such as Red Rock State Park (near Jawbone) and Anza Borrego Desert State Park, drone use is not allowed. Always check with your local State Park District before flying, as most rules for drones are on a case-by-case basis.

On BLM and USFS land, drone use is generally allowed, except where specifically prohibited. In addition to following all FAA rules, steer clear from flying over Wilderness Areas or Primitive Areas to avoid bothering those seeking desolate and solitary opportunities. Flying or launching near wildlife is not permitted, as this can cause disturbances and harmful stress to nearby animals. Never fly near search and rescue or fire operations. Contacting the local Ranger District Office or FAA for scheduled flights in the area can help avert dangerous situations.

Flying etiquette calls for operators to respect peoples’ expectations and privacy on public lands; just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Always be courteous to others when operating your drone.

Most importantly be safe and have fun!