No Drone for You! National Park Service Bans Camera Drone Usage in Yosemite


Would you like to photograph the Upper Yosemite Falls by drone? Attach a GoPro to your newly-acquired DJI Phantom 2 and just have at it, capturing views that Ansel Adams would envy? Well, you can’t, because it turns out “use of unmanned aircraft systems (drones)” is prohibited in Yosemite National Park.

The rule was shared in a National Park Service (NPS) news release published on Friday. The release, aptly titled “Use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (Drones) Prohibited in Yosemite National Park” explains why using the unmanned aerial vehicles to capture the park from a unique vantage point is a no-go:

The park has experienced an increase in visitors using drones within park boundaries over the last few years. Drones have been witnessed filming climbers ascending climbing routes, filming views above tree-tops, and filming aerial footage of the park. Drones can be extremely noisy, and can impact the natural soundscape.

Drones can also impact the wilderness experience for other visitors creating an environment that is not conducive to wilderness travel. The use of drones also interferes with emergency rescue operations and can cause confusion and distraction for rescue personnel and other parties involved in the rescue operation. Additionally, drones can have negative impacts on wildlife nearby the area of use, especially sensitive nesting peregrine falcons on cliff walls.

According to the release, this has in fact always been a rule “due to regulations outlined in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR).” Those regulations (specifically Thirty Six CFR 2.17(a)(3)) states that “delivering or retrieving a person or object by parachute, helicopter, or other airborne means” is illegal.

And if that’s not clear enough for you, the NPS goes on to elaborate that this includes, “drones of all shapes and sizes.”

(via DIY Photography)

Image credits: Upper Yosemite Falls by Diliff

  • Sergio De Bona

    They sure got it right with the first paragraph. Those things are noisy as heck, but then you see how they try to make up forced excuses on paragraph two so they can skip coming up with a better solution for everyone.

    Would it cost them so much to make some kind of a list and just allow a couple drone filmographers per week or something? Nah, it’s easier to just ban everything.

  • Scott M

    Ruin the soundscape? Like all those screaming kids, diesel campers, trash trucks, semis, thumping music, and car horns? The valley is not a pristine sound scape IMO.

  • Uncle Wig

    “Would it cost them….”

    You seem to be operating under the illusion that the Park Service has funds to mess around with nonsense like this. They way their budget has been slashed, they barely have enough to run the parks at all.

  • Adam Cross

    “Additionally, drones can have negative impacts on wildlife nearby the area of use” … you mean like humans in general? >__<

  • Rob Elliott

    The Falcons are reason enough, during nesting season people should be kept out of most of the park. Drones though are a needless danger, because they get up to area’s where people can’t it leaves birds that are nesting at risk and can disturbed that cycle.

    The rest of the year it should be a significantly smaller issue… but honestly better to ban them before drunk red necks figure out how to repair them and start air jousting.

  • Mr Hogwallop

    I agree except for the part about confusing and distracting the rescue personnel. Typical government over exaggeration of a problem.

  • Andy Austin

    You are correct, but it is a lot more pristine when you get off the road and on the trails. That’s how it is in Yellowstone anyway. Getting a quarter mile off the road and it’s insanely quiet. So I could see how a bunch of quadcopters buzzing around on the trails would classify as obnoxious.

  • Skip Bradley

    I’m a photographer and have been looking into the ‘Phantom 2 Vision+. They are noisy and I agree 100%. Let’s keep it the park ALL ‘natural’!

  • vonrock

    Wow, I thought it was public land. no drones, how about snowmobiles too.

  • ksporry

    The key making this law irrelevant is “delivering or retrieving a person or object by parachute, helicopter, or other airborne means”. A drone doesn’t do that. A drone takes photos and videos. it does not retrieve objects, living or not-living.

    You can also argue that visitors are no longer allowed to carry with the food of any kind, drink of any kind, cigarettes, or other consumables of any kind. And the reason for that is because the park is littered with crap all over the place. There’s not an inch that is not covered by some sort of human manufactured debris. So are they going to ban consumables out of fear for littering too?

    And how are they going to enforce any of these? By sending in Chuck Norris and Rambo with Apache attack helicopters to blow up the communist drone operator?

    As for the ACTUAL underlying reason, i.e. the disturbance for flora and fauna, I can actually understand that the use of drones is undesirable. I don’t know if the park organises helicopter rides, but obviously they need to stop as well. Likewise cars would no longer be allowed in the park.

  • Andy Austin

    It is “public land”, but as with all public land there are rules. You can’t go hunting in the parks, you’re not allowed to take anything out of the park or leave trash behind. In Yellowstone you’re not allowed to even make animal calls. Public land doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want.

    And with snowmobiles it is highly regulated in Yellowstone. You can only go with guides an only on certain routes.

  • Don Tusk

    Good ! What next ? Cameras !

  • Rab Cummings

    I could not be happier about this. Yosemite under enough pressure from visitors, cars, climbers, crowds etc. People flying their drones over the waterfalls, meadows over themselves after they have hiked up the backside of Half Dome would be completely obnoxious.

  • Rab Cummings

    Spot on.

  • disqus_MLmlL96ffq

    I’ll never understand what you 47%ers have against those who grow the food that you buy with your EBT cards. You should have more respect for “red necks,” really.

  • disqus_MLmlL96ffq

    What about generators in RVs, and loud music?

  • disqus_MLmlL96ffq

    I spent several days in Yosemite fairly recently, and never saw a single drone of any kind. So I’m wondering how this problem came up. I do, however, have concerns about overzealous inexperienced pilots risking life and limb of others for that incredible shot. As with every group, you have a small percentage destroying everything for the responsible majority.

  • disqus_MLmlL96ffq

    Over exaggerating so they can raise revenue through fines.

  • Guest

    OH, WAIT! Now I get it! I just went to the grocery store, where plastic bags are banned. That’s right, they’re ILLEGAL. So now, you have to pay for them, which makes them legal. It’s also illegal to drive in the car pool lane on the freeway. UNLESS you buy a pass. Hm, is there a pattern here? Soon, you’ll be able to fly drones in Yosemite. You’ll just have to pay for it. Banning drones is just the first step in the government grabbing more $.

  • disqus_MLmlL96ffq

    OH WAIT! Now I get it! I just went to the grocery store, where plastic bags are banned. But you can have them if you pay for them, which makes them legal. It’s also illegal to drive in the car pool lane when you’re alone. But you can if you pay for it by purchasing a pass, which makes it legal. Is there a pattern here? Soon, you’ll be able to fly drones in Yosemite. You’ll just have to pay for it, which will make it legal. Banning drones is just the first step in the government grabbing more $.

  • Richard

    Over 30 years ago I spent summers climbing in Yosemite Valley. If you look at the image used in this post, you see Yosemite Falls and at the far right on that ridge is Yosemite Point. Just to the left of the point you can just make out a small pinnacle, detached from the cliff which is called The Lost Arrow Spire.

    When my then girlfriend and I climbed the Lost Arrow Spire what we didn’t consider was its proximity to the most populated spot in the valley: Yosemite Village. I happened to be wearing a red shirt when I lead this climb and when I topped out every car horn in the valley went off; I had no clue so many people were following us with binoculars and the sound about knocked me off the top (yes, I was tied in but I didn’t expect it, guess it was a tradition I didn’t know about).

    I’m pretty sure that had their been drones around in those days someone might have decided to get a closer look at us with one. Three things to consider:

    1. Had the drone gotten too close and knocked me off the A-4 pitch (back then) in the middle of this climb, it might have caused a serious problem.

    2. The falls wasn’t running when we did the climb so all we could hear (before the car horns went off) was a bit of wind. I’m not sure I’d have appreciated a drone hovering nearby, even with a quiet electrical hum. If it got in the way of our leader-belayer signals I’d have been unhappy about it and it was tough to hear each other on the very extended last pitch.

    3. We did take some pictures on the climb but I’d have paid a lot of money to the drone pilot/photographer for that video had it turned out well, or even if it was mediocre.

    One of my favorite movies on climbing in Yosemite back in the day, El Capitan, has been digitally remastered and is available on Amazon. When it was made, over a single summer, the climber/filmmaker Glen Denny did the climb with the three climbers but also got footage from a helicopter. All of that is cut together by Fred Padula. The film is dated but it remains one of the finest accounts of an early climb of the Nose Route on one of the greatest granite cliffs on earth.

    Bottom line: had Padula and Denny had drones, there is no doubt in my mind that they would have used them and it would have made the film better. That said, the Park service would have (correctly) warned other climbing parties on El Cap about the drones.

  • Andy Austin

    Generators are also highly regulated in Yellowstone. You’re only allowed to do it in certain campgrounds (which campgrounds are way away from where I want to be for trails anyway) and they’re only allowed from 8am to 8pm. The same goes for loud music in campgrounds.

  • Andy Austin

    You kind of killed your own point with your examples. There are reasons for all of those things. Plastic bags are terrible on the environment, and they don’t break down. So they’re encouraging reusable bags. The car pool lane is there for people..well car pooling. Which cuts down on traffic and polluting cars. Now if you want to bypass these rules you can pay for it. Having people pay for it cuts down on a lot of people wanting to do it.

    The same would go for drones if they make people pay to have a permit. They could regulate how many drones and where they are. That way you only have experienced drone pilots and not have 100 of them flying all over the park.

  • @JacksonCheese

    You’re one of those tourists who goes to a National Park, but never leaves their car, aren’t you?

    Sorry to hear that.

  • disqus_MLmlL96ffq

    Maybe rather than ban drones, they should do the same. Only allow them at certain times, and in certain areas. But I’m afraid that they will do the same thing with drones as they did with plastic bags in grocery stores, and with driving solo in car pool lanes. They make them illegal, and then exempt those who pay $.

  • Rob Elliott

    I still have family that live on working farms, I have plenty of respect for hard working farmers.

    I have little respect for Racists or Obnoxious asses with no respect for the natural world, the environment or the people around them.

  • disqus_MLmlL96ffq

    The guest poster is right. It’s called corruption. Why can’t they just sell permits for these things, rather than play the smoke & mirror routines? Does honesty exist anymore in this State?!? Our taxes already funded the freeways. Then, they ban the use of one of the lanes for “noble” reasons. Then, they say, “Ok, you can have the lane back after you pay a huge tax for using it”. What a scam! We get what we already paid for after we pay for it again! And I think that the guest poster hit the nail right on the head. It’s all about more taxes and more corruption to get them.

  • Matt

    Yosemite is very different than Yellowstone. Yosemite is a relatively small valley, at least at the popular locations and it is much harder to get away from it. Yellowstone is much larger.

  • Matt

    I’m all for resonable regulation as opposed to a ban. A permit, banned dates, guidlines, communication; it would not be that hard. I bet there would be a drone user group that could do most of the leg work.

  • overturn

    And how much rescue experience do you have exactly?

  • disqus_MLmlL96ffq

    why did you post twice?

  • disqus_MLmlL96ffq

    That’s not a relevant question. He (and I) have concerns about the government’s encroaching on our rights, and being dishonest about it. How much experience do you have with Communist governments?

  • overturn

    It’s a very relevant question. He was objecting to the UAS’ being confusing and distracting to emergency personnel. Given that objection, I highly doubt that Hogwallop has any experience actually working in emergency scenes. I have extensive experience and I can say that having a helicopter buzzing and flying around would be extremely dangerous and distracting. The 1st priority of an emergency response crew is scene safety and having the UAS flying around would go a long way towards preventing that scene safety.

    There have been several news stories recently where UAS pilots have gotten into confrontations with the authorities in charge of an emergency scene and been forced to leave due to safety issues, particularly where medflight helicopters are involved. It’s a very real concern and a very reasonable reason for restricting UAS operation within the park.

  • overturn

    You’re exaggerating to a ridiculous degree. National parks are preserved “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people”. Clearly in order for that to happen cars need to be allowed into parks. But you will notice that roads are much less extensive in parks and attempts are made to reduce the impact of automobile traffic. It’s a balancing act. The NPS clearly feels that drone usage has way too many negative side effects to justify the benefit to a small group of people.

  • disqus_MLmlL96ffq

    The government is not interested in “reasonable”. They want ONE thing. MONEY.

  • disqus_MLmlL96ffq

    If you want it ALL natural, then ban people from entering. Many extremists have already suggested it.

  • disqus_MLmlL96ffq

    I agree with most of what you said. But I still don’t see why a person needs rescue experience to understand that irresponsible people get in the way of operations. Some things are pretty basic. But back to irresponsible people, can’t we say that uncorked Harley motorcycle gangs also disrupt operations with their noise (communications must be impossible with them around) and destroy the “soundscape”? I think it would be better to simply pass a law that any activity disruptive to rescue operations is illegal. But in my opinion, that’s not the issue. The government wants to ban and then tax drone use. In the end, it’s all about money.

  • Skip Bradley

    You’re right. ‘Extreme’.

    The parks, whether National, State or Local are there for us to enjoy and sometimes ‘escape’ from the sights and sounds of everyday life.

  • Skip Bradley

    Yes, humans in general too. In many parks, areas near nesting Eagles and certain other birds are temporarily ‘roped off’ and entrance is forbidden. This is also true in areas on the East Coast where turtles come ashore to lay their eggs.

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  • Sergio De Bona

    That’s a valid point, but I wasn’t strictly talking about money.

    Setting up an email account and handing out some permissions would both work and be cheap -and wouldn’t take more than a couple hours a week-. Sure it’ll be an extra effort, but they could even sell those permissions so it would even be worth it.

  • Uncle Wig

    Sergio, I don’t think you grasp what would be involved in setting up and managing a system such as you propose. I also don’t think you’re looking ahead to the proliferation of drones that we’ll see over the next few years. There’s going to be thousands and thousands of ‘em.

    And even with permits, it wouldn’t solve the problem of obnoxious, noisy drones disturbing other visitors and wildlife. Suppose one of these permit-holders misused their drone? (It WILL happen.) What then? Who’s going to keep track of stuff like that?

  • Adam Cross

    I was being sarcastic, they think drones have a negative impact – my point is that humans have a negative impact in general, period.