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Can You Fly a Drone in Rocky Mountain National Park?

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Northern Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park includes tundra, forests, mountains, and the Continental Divide.

You’ll also find the Keyhole Route, Old Fall River Road, and Trail Ridge Road inside the park.

Can you fly your drone in Rocky Mountain National Park?

The National Park Service prohibits the use of drones at Rocky Mountain National Park. Disobeying the rules and using your drone in the park can result in fines and possibly more severe punishments.

In this article, we’ll take a deep dive into the rules at Rocky Mountain National Park, what happens if you violate those rules, and if you can fly in the vicinity of the park.

There’s lots of great information to come, so don’t miss it!

Can you fly a drone in Rocky Mountain National Park? #

The National Park Service is a federal agency that establishes the rules about what’s allowed in national and state parks throughout the United States.

According to NPS website[1], since 2015, drones have been prohibited at Rocky Mountain National Park.

Here’s the NPS’s drone policy in full: “Launching, landing, or operating an unmanned aircraft from or on lands and waters administered by the National Park Service within the boundaries of Rocky Mountain National Park is prohibited.

Unmanned Aircraft – means a device that is used or intended to be used for flights in the air without the possibility of direct human intervention from within or on the device, and the associated operational elements and components that are required for the pilot or system operator in command to operate or control the device (such as cameras, sensors, communication links.)

This term includes all types of devices that meet this definition (e.g., model airplanes, quad copters, drones) that are used for any purpose, including recreation or commerce.”

What if it’s an emergency? Could you land your drone then?

Nothing in the NPS’s policy says you can, but then again, there’s nothing in there that says you can’t.

That said, you’re not supposed to operate a drone around Rocky Mountain National Park in the first place, so there shouldn’t be a situation where you have to make an emergency landing within or around the park.

To be on the safe side, we’d say don’t do it!

» MORE: Can You Fly a Drone in Big Bend National Park?

Why can’t you fly a drone in Rocky Mountain National Park? #

Why does the NPS prevent drone pilots from operating within Rocky Mountain National Park?

The NPS doesn’t need a reason, per se, but if you dig into the history and current uses of the park a little bit deeper, you’ll understand why the NPS prohibits drone usage.

In 1915, then-President Woodrow Wilson signed the Rocky Mountain National Park Act into law to preserve the park.

Then, UNESCO designated the park as a World Biosphere Reserve in 1976, the first of its kind.

If you’re unfamiliar, a World Biosphere Reserve is part of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves, which includes sustainable nature reserves.

The park’s Beaver Meadows Visitor Center is a National Historic Landmark.

The Rocky Mountain National Park is surrounded by National Forest lands, such as the Indian Peaks Wilderness, the Arapaho National Forest, Routt National Forest, and Roosevelt National Forest.

Besides all its esteemed history and protected lands, Rocky Mountain National Park attracts millions of visitors.

» MORE: Can You Fly a Drone in Kalbarri National Park?

The park brought in 4.7 million visitors in 2019, and in 2015, it was the third most-visited National Park System in the country.

People have differing opinions about drones. Some love them but don’t want them interrupting an experience at a park while others don’t like them, and certainly don’t want them in national parks.

That’s yet another reason the NPS has decided to crack down on drone usage laws since the mid-2010s. Drones have become ever more popular, an upward trend that continues to this day.

Without rules in place, drones could fly anywhere and everywhere, interrupting the park-going experience of others!

Can you fly a drone just outside of Rocky Mountain National Park? #

You’ll refrain from using your drone in Rocky Mountain National Park but could you fly it outside of the park instead?

Technically, once you leave the national park, the NPS’s rules no longer apply. However, that doesn’t mean you’re entering lawless territory. Far from it!

Be aware that several state and national forests surround Rocky Mountain National Park, including State Forest State Park, Medicine Bow Routts National Forests, and Pawnee National Grassland.

You’re not too terribly far from Fort Collins, Boulder, or Denver, but two out of three of these areas have local drone laws.

Boulder enforces the Open Space and Mountain Parks Drone Policy. According to that policy, without an OSMP permit:

“Operating unmanned motorized vehicles including any drone, unmanned motorized boat, plane, helicopter, hovercraft is prohibited.”

Denver’s municipal drone law through the Denver Department of Parks and Recreation prohibits drone pilots from operating in any city parks without areas for flying objects.

In other words, you cannot fly your drone there if the park has no model airplane or helicopter flying area.

What happens if you get caught using a drone inside Rocky Mountain National Park? #

Since the NPS has made it abundantly clear that operating a drone in Rocky Mountain National Park is illegal, there should exist no confusion about whether you can fly here.

However, we want to talk about the consequences of flying your drone in the park, whether that’s accidentally or intentionally.

At the very least, you might get off with a warning, but not necessarily. You could also receive a fine. The fine could be two figures but is likely to be three or more figures.

The fine you receive from the NPS might not be all you have to pay. If you have to appear before a judge for your crime, the judge could charge you with an additional fine.

Even if you pay the fines, these drone crimes go onto your record, so it’s not worth flying in places where you’re prohibited.

Can you fly a drone in any Colorado park? #

What about Colorado’s other parks? Can you operate your drone there?

That depends on what kind of park we’re talking about. If it’s a state park, the answer is no. In 2018, the state of Colorado passed the Colorado State Parks Regulation #100-c.24.

Under this law, it’s illegal to fly a drone in a state park unless the park has a model airfield. At current, only Cherry Creek State Park and Chatfield State Park permit drone usage due to their model airfields.

Okay, but what about public parks? That depends on local ordinances.

Pilots can often not use their drones in public parks, as ordinances and other drone laws prohibit it. If a park has a model airfield or a designated area for drones, you should be able to operate your UAV.

For instance, Estes Park permits drone usage. If you fly a drone in a Colorado park, you must follow FAA guidelines.

» MORE: Can You Fly a Drone in Estes Park, Colorado?

Let’s quickly go over those laws:

  • Recreational pilots must have the TRUST certificate on their person.

  • Commercial pilots must have a Remote Pilot Certificate. The license must be current, as it expires every two years.

  • If a drone weighs more than 0.55 pounds, register it with the FAA. The exception is for commercial pilots, who must always register their drones. Keep your registration current when visiting Colorado.

  • Only fly your drone within your visual line of sight, which refers to the distance you can naturally see your drone. If you can’t keep your drone in your line of sight, the FAA requires you to have a spotter who can.

  • Do not use your drone in inclement weather, including rain, fog, snow, hail, mist, and strong winds.

  • Do not fly your drone over 400 feet or at speeds exceeding 100 miles per hour.

  • You cannot fly your drone over moving vehicles according to the FAA’s Operations over People law. If the vehicle is parked and you have the permission of those inside, you can fly over it.

  • Limit your distance from crowds per the FAA’s Operations over People law.

  • Do not fly your drone within five nautical miles of an airport or heliport in Colorado.

Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado is protected airspace. The NPS strictly prohibits drone pilots from flying to preserve the lands and the peace of the people.

We hope the information in this guide help you safely plan your Colorado flight route sans Rocky Mountain National Park!

References:1. U.S. National Park Service (link)


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