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Can You Fly a Drone in Yellowstone?

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Yellowstone National Park is another famed United States park with a level of acclaim akin to Yosemite, Zion, and Grand Canyon National Parks.

Statista[1] reports that the park regularly attracts three to four million visitors per year. You’d also love to visit, but before you go, you must know.

Are drones allowed in Yellowstone?

The National Park Service prohibits drone use in Yellowstone National Park without a commercial permit. If you obtain a Commercial Use Authorization, you must follow park flight rules and FAA laws.

This article will provide all the info you need if you’re heading out to Yellowstone.

We’ll talk more about whether you can fly a drone in the park, the proper authorizations you need to do so, and the park flight rules.

Can you fly a drone in Yellowstone? #

The NPS dictates whether drones can fly within the parameters of a national park. According to them, drones are prohibited in Yellowstone National Park, barring a Commercial Use Authorization.

That means no recreational pilots can enter the park under any circumstances.

This rule went into effect in 2014, which is when the NPS began cracking down on drone use around national parks. Drones became very popular through the 2010s, and their momentum has not slowed one iota.

The NPS created these rules to preserve the peace and quiet of the park-going experience, safeguard wildlife, and protect the park at large.

While most national parks don’t afford any drone use whatsoever, commercial pilots who wish to fly in Yellowstone can apply for a CUA.

NPS defines a CUA thusly[2]:

“Public Law 105-391, Section 418, which was signed in 1998, provides for the issuance of Commercial Use Authorizations (CUAs) to a private person, corporation, or other entity to provide suitable commercial services for park area visitors. Commercial activities are generally prohibited in National Parks unless authorized by a CUA or concessions contract.”

Obtaining a Commercial Use Authorization to fly a drone commercially at Yellowstone #

Although a CUA sounds like your in to fly a drone in Yellowstone, it’s not necessarily that easy. The NPA only issues activity-based CUAs for drone use in the park.

The CUA operating year begins on January 1st and lasts until December 31st. Your CUA is valid for a year.

Which services are permitted under a CUA? #

The following services are all permitted with an activity-based CUA:

  • Water access: If you provide water throughout Yellowstone, you can apply for a water access CUA.
  • Automotive and towing services: With this CUA, you’ll dispatch commercial tow trucks to remove abandoned, disabled, and wrecked vehicles throughout the park and Highway 191.
  • Portrait services: If you take portraits of wedding ceremonies occurring in Yellowstone, you need this activity-based CUA.
  • Guided shoreline and stream fishing: A fishing CUA permits you to wade in the water and walk along Yellowstone’s lakes and streams using a float tube to instruct others on how to fish.
  • Guided non-motorized boating: You can provide guided tours of Shoshone, Lewis, or Yellowstone Lakes using a non-motorized boat with this CUA.
  • Guided motorized boating: A guided motorized boating CUA allows you to take guided fishing or touring trips on Lewis or Yellowstone Lakes using a motorized boat.
  • Road-based tours: This CUA allows you to tour Yellowstone by road with up to 25 people. These photography tours must be non-instructional.
  • Guided photography and painting: If you lead painting workshops and/or road-based photography workshops with instruction in Yellowstone, you need a CUA.
  • Guided overnight backcountry trips: This CUA permits you to lead a group throughout Yellowstone for an overnight backcountry camping expedition. You likely also need a backcountry permit.
  • Guided snowshoeing and skiing: You can lead snowshoeing, telemark skiing, or Nordic skiing trips with this CUA.
  • Guided environmental education tours: You can lead step-on guide service, day hiking tours, road-based tours, or non-instructional photography tours with a guided environmental education CUA.
  • Guided bicycle tours: This CUA allows you to lead front-country hiking and road-based bike tours on trails and boardwalk areas less than a half-mile from roads.
  • Avalanche safety courses: Experienced CUA holders can lead avalanche safety courses.

Which services aren’t permitted under a CUA? #

For as many activity-based CUAs as Yellowstone and the NPS issue, you cannot obtain a CUA for out-of-park rentals, pick-ups, or deliveries of camper units and RVs. 

How to apply for a CUA #

If you’re interested and eligible for a Yellowstone CUA, here’s how to apply for one.

  • Complete NPS Form 10-550 – CUA Application (link). This form asks for the type of CUA you’re applying for, your legal business name, any authorized agents, and your contact information (address, email, phone number, and website).

You must also include business information like your business type, business license, proof of liability insurance, and the type of business vehicles you drive, including the passenger capacity.

  • Include a signed operation plan for every activity you apply for.
  • Pay the application fee on You’ll pay $300 to apply whether the NPS accepts your application.
  • Include your proof of insurance, such as auto liability insurance or commercial general liability insurance.
  • Complete additional forms as required, like a Visitor Acknowledgement of Risk form and a guide card request form.
  • Email your materials to
  • Wait the 45-day processing time.

Yellowstone and FAA drone laws #

Did your CUA get approved? Now you have a year to use the CUA to the fullest extent around Yellowstone.

The park has its own set of guidelines for drone usage, and you’re also required to follow FAA laws.

Here’s an overview of what you need to know.

Be mindful of the wildlife #

Many rare animal species live in Yellowstone National Park, including bighorn sheep, bison, elk, and eagles.

The sight and sounds of drones can stress out animals, sometimes causing them to abandon their nests or otherwise flee and not return. This can negatively impact Yellowstone’s animal preservation efforts.

If you must use a drone near wildlife, do so a reasonable distance away and try to keep it quick. This way, the animals shouldn’t feel threatened.

Don’t harass the wildlife #

Yellowstone is a Montana state park, and Montana happens to take animal harassment very seriously.

You could be fined or receive jail time for harassing animals in and around Yellowstone National Park with a drone.

The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act prevents US citizens from taking golden or bald eagles.

Although “taking” in this sense sounds more like theft, the definition includes disturbing or molesting the animals.

Since the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act is a federal act, you could receive a year’s imprisonment and/or a fine of $100,000 for violating the act.

Fly within the recommended guidelines #

You cannot use your drone around any restricted airspace, including within five nautical miles of military bases and airports.

The Yellowstone Airport by West Yellowstone is 10 minutes from Yellowstone National Park, so take heed.

The Idaho Falls Regional Airport is about two hours away from the park and may not be applicable in all flight scenarios.

Keep an eye on your drone #

You must always be capable of following your drone visually unless you have a spotter who can assist you.

Keeping your drone in your visual line of sight prohibits unsafe operation, which can put others’ health and safety at risk.

Maintain altitude limits #

Besides applying restrictions on airport distance, the FAA also requires pilots to fly their drones no higher than 400 feet from the ground. This will keep you even further from manned aircraft.

Register your UAV #

Register a drone with the FAA if it exceeds 0.55 pounds.

The registration process is quick, simple, and inexpensive, costing only $5. Your drone registration will be good for three years.

If you use more than one drone, you must register each one.

Carry a drone license #

You must have a valid drone license to operate a UAV in the US.

Since recreational pilots can’t fly a drone in Yellowstone National Park, we’ll focus this section on commercial pilots only.

You require a Part 107 license, obtainable by taking and passing the rigorous Part 107 exam as administered by the FAA.

You must be 16 or older to be eligible for the test, pay the testing fee, and find a testing center near you.

You’ll receive your license if you score at least 70 percent on the exam.

Your license is valid for two years from the date it’s issued to you, then you must reapply for a license by taking a brief online exam through the FAA.

Recreational drone pilots cannot use a drone in Yellowstone National Park, and commercial pilots can only operate with a permit known as a CUA.

If you can use your drone around Yellowstone, follow the park’s rules and FAA laws!

References:1. Statista (link)2. CUAs (link)


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