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Can You Fly a Drone in Lake Tahoe?

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For a memorable getaway, Lake Tahoe never disappoints. The lake, situated in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, borders Nevada and California.

You’d rather skip the ski resorts and the beaches and go straight to flying your drone.

Can you fly a drone in Lake Tahoe?

You can use a drone in parts of Lake Tahoe but not airports, Wilderness Areas, and state parks in Nevada or California.

While towns in the area usually allow drone usage, be on the lookout for signs prohibiting drone activity and abide by those signs.

Using a drone in Lake Tahoe is tricky since the lake technically encompasses two states with differing rules and drone policies.

This article will clear up any of your questions so you can fly with the law on your side in Lake Tahoe!

Restricted drone areas in Lake Tahoe #

Ultimately, you’ll find that you’re outlawed from flying your drone in more places across Lake Tahoe than those you’re allowed.

We recommend using a drone map to differentiate no-fly zones and unrestricted airspace.

In general, stay away from these areas.

Wilderness Areas #

Whether you’re approaching Lake Tahoe from the Nevada or California side, you’re strictly prohibited from using your drone in a Wilderness Area.

This should come as no surprise to you if you’re a regular reader of our blog, as we published a post outlining drone laws in Wilderness Areas.

» MORE: Can You Fly a Drone in a Wilderness Area?

The 111.7 million acres of land that comprise Wilderness Areas in the United States are protected under the 1964 Wilderness Act.

The creation of that act limited the industrialization of lands in the US to safeguard certain areas for the preservation of wildlife.

Wilderness Areas ban motorized vehicles of all kinds, not only drones.

Around Lake Tahoe, the Wilderness Areas you’ll have to avoid include:

  • Granite Chief Wilderness
  • Desolation Wilderness
  • Carson-Iceberg Wilderness
  • Mokelumne Wilderness
  • Mount Rose Wilderness

Nevada State Parks #

Our article on Nevada drone laws cited Nevada State Parks’ policy on drone usage.

» MORE: Drone Laws in Nevada

For those who need a refresher, here’s the policy:

“Use of drones is prohibited in Nevada State Parks unless in an area designated for that use by a park supervisor or by issuance of a special use permit for an unmanned aircraft.”

Nevada has a total of 27 state parks drone pilots must avoid unless they’re properly permitted.

Here’s the list:

  • Wild Horse State Recreation Area in Elko County
  • Washoe Lake State Park in Washoe County
  • Ward Charcoal Ovens State Historic Park in White Pine County
  • Van Sickle Bi-State Park in Douglas County
  • Valley of Fire State Park in Clark County
  • Spring Valley State Park in Lincoln County
  • Spring Mountain Ranch State Park in Clark County
  • South Fork State Recreation Area in Elko County
  • Rye Patch State Recreation Area in Pershing County
  • Old Las Vegas Mormon Fort State Historic Park in Clark County
  • Mormon Station State Historic Park in Douglas County
  • Lake Tahoe – Nevada State Park in Carson City
  • Lahontan State Recreation Area in Churchill and Lyon Counties
  • Kershaw-Ryan State Park in Lincoln County
  • Fort Churchill State Historic Park in Lyon County
  • Elgin Schoolhouse State Historic Site in Lincoln County
  • Echo Canyon State Park in Lincoln County
  • Dayton State Park in Lyon County
  • Cave Lake State Park in White Pine County
  • Cathedral Gorge State Park in Lincoln County
  • Big Bend of the Colorado State Recreation Area in Clark County
  • Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park in Nye County
  • Beaver Dam State Park in Lincoln County

California State Parks #

Over on the California side of Lake Tahoe, you’re still prohibited from using your drone in a state park under the California Department of Parks & Regulations (Cal. Code Regs. Title 14, §4351).

As we discussed in our article on California drone laws, the law states that “motorized equipment (including UASs)” cannot fly in Wilderness Areas, cultural preserves, natural reserves, and state parks in Cali.

» MORE: Drone Laws in California

California has 280 state parks, so we won’t name them all. Some parks nearer to Lake Tahoe that you must avoid include:

  • Kings Beach State Recreation Area
  • Burton Creek State Park
  • Sugar Pine Point State Park
  • D.L. Bliss State Park
  • Emerald Bay State Park

However, don’t take that the wrong way. The California Department of Parks & Regulations bars drones from all California state parks.

» MORE: Can You Bring a Drone to Catalina Island? 

Airports #

Finally, Lake Tahoe’s airports constitute restricted airspace, including Class D and Class E airspace.

While this section gives you a reliable list of places to forego flying your drone, we’d still recommend using a drone map so you can see restricted airspace ahead of your flight.

Here’s where you can use a drone in Lake Tahoe #

Okay, so those are all the places where you can’t use a drone around Lake Tahoe, but what about those where you can?

Well, if you comb the local drone laws for Nevada and California using our drone laws articles as your guide, you won’t see Lake Tahoe mentioned for either.

The cities and municipalities around the area do not expressly prohibit drone usage.

That said, you have to keep your eyes open. As you venture through South Lake Tahoe in California, especially around its beaches, you’re likelier to see signs saying, “no drones.”

Even if these areas are otherwise marked on a drone map as unrestricted airspace, you should still do the right thing and obey the sign.

» MORE: Can You Fly a Drone in Big Sur?

If you’re caught flying a drone in these areas despite the sign, that’s your own mistake.

You’re required to follow the FAA’s guidelines whether you’re on the Nevada or California side of Lake Tahoe, as both states are in the United States.

Here’s a list of FAA rules to ensure safer drone flights:

  • Commercial pilots must have a current Remote Pilot Certificate issued by the FAA
  • Recreational drone pilots must have a TRUST certificate issued by the FAA
  • If your drone weighs more than 0.55 pounds, you must register it through the FAA
  • Only use your drone during civil twilight (i.e., don’t fly after dark unless your drone has lights and the proper permissions)
  • Keep your drone in your line of sight during your operations; if you can’t do this, then you need an observer with you
  • Do not fly your drone higher than 400 feet
  • Avoid using your drone in inclement weather
  • Do not fly your drone over moving vehicles
  • Do not fly over people

There’s an additional rule we want to expand upon further, and that’s to only fly over public land.

Businesses and private homes constitute private land. Although in much of the US, where FAA rules reign, you’re allowed to fly over someone else’s home, that’s not the case in California.

You could face legal prosecution if you operate your drone over a private homeowner’s property, including the home itself or their backyard.

» MORE: Can You Fly a Drone in Death Valley?

You can be there if you obtain permission to use your drone from the landowner. Otherwise, do not fly around neighborhoods or other private property in California.

We should also warn you that even in states like Nevada, where you can fly over others’ property, you still cannot launch or land your drone from private property.

You’d have to trespass on their land to do so, and that’s illegal. That rule applies in California too.

What happens if you violate a drone law in Lake Tahoe? #

In Nevada and California, it’s a misdemeanor to go against the FAA’s guidelines. You could have to pay a fine, spend time behind bars, or possibly both.

It’s best to take those no-drone signs seriously!

Conclusion #

Lake Tahoe is a picturesque body of water situated between Nevada and California. That makes the drone laws here more ambiguous than in other places.

While Lake Tahoe permits drone pilots in many areas, you cannot use a drone near airports, state parks (in California and Nevada alike), or Wilderness Areas.

You should also limit flights near any parts of Lake Tahoe with no-drone signs.

Using a drone mapping app will help you chart a path to the skies in Lake Tahoe. Best of luck!


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