United States Drone Flying Regulations for Hobbyists
Rules for flying drones depend on who manages the land. The USA has federal, state, and local governments. Local governments include counties and cities.
If you haven’t bought a drone before, click here for tips on getting your first drone. Also, keep reading and check where you can fly in your area to ensure you won’t just have a drone sitting in your closet once you buy it.
Most places limit drone flying height to 400 feet (121.92 meters). In terms of where you can fly, use this app, B4UFly by the Federal Aviation Administration to check any places for flying rules.
U.S Forest Service Land (U.S Government Agency)
You cannot fly a drone in many places operated by the Forest Service. This is because the areas are meant for people to be able to enjoy quiet places. In fact, if you are injured the Forest Service will not even fly an emergency helicopter to rescue you, either. A ranger will hike to you and help you walk out.
National Park – Not allowed to fly. Here is a list of national parks in the United States by state. This includes National Seashore, National Monuments, National Recreation Area, as well as any other similarly designated place.
National Wilderness – Not allowed to fly.
National Forest – Allowed usually. Check with the local Ranger Office. The easiest thing is to google the name of the forest where you will fly for their telephone number and call that specific Ranger Office.
Relevant USA Forest Service Drone Websites
- Tips for Responsible Hobby or Recreational Use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) or “Drones” on National Forest Systems Lands
- Unmanned Aircraft Systems
Bureau of Land Management Land (U.S Government Agency)
Drones are allowed to fly on land operated by the BLM. However, there are restrictions around people, wildlife, wildfires, and ‘no drone zones‘. It’s best to reach out to the local BLM office to determine the rules for the area you plan on flying in for current details. Fines can be in the $20,000 or more.
Other Places You Cannot Fly a Drone in the United States
You cannot fly near airports or in certain areas during a Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) areas during the prohibited times and days.
Rules for Flying a Drone in American Cities
Many cities have ‘no drone zones’, especially major cities like New York City and San Francisco. It is never allowed to fly over crowds of people at a parade, sports event, or similar.
Rules for Flying a Drone in the American Countryside
You should not fly over people’s homes without permission. In the countryside, many people own guns and may shoot down your drone. At the very least they will be bothered by the noise and worried that it’s the police or something else bad.
I have had good luck with finding a friendly looking home and asking if I can fly over their property. They think it’s a strange request, but they say ok. Smile, explain you’re visiting the area and offer to show them your photos or video.
Rules for Flying a Drone in California State Parks and Local Parks
Each place has its own rules. It’s best to look on the relevant website or call the park office if it is not clear. However, often there are signs at the park entrance if it is not allowed. Sometimes the signs are small, so be sure to look around. The parks have rangers or other park officials who are often quite strict with the rules.
Click here for the California State Park rules for flying drones. Drones are allowed many places, but I always call ahead, just to check on any current rules. Wildlife, like whales, sea lions, and birds migrate so drone rules may be different from one part of the year to the next.
Each city and local park makes its own drone rules, which are frequently changing. So, be sure and check their websites and sign postings for the most current information.
- San Francisco, California drone rules vary by who operates the land:
- No drone zones are in force for places operated by the National Park Service Golden Gate National Park and the Golden Gate Bridge.
- TheSan Francisco City Parks and Recreation rules vary by park. It’s best to email or call for the current rules. Here’s their contact information. Keep in mind that part of Golden Gate Park is operated by the city, so drones may still be permitted (rules change frequently).
Rules for Flying a Drone in Popular Places Outside of California
- New York City has completely banned drones from flying. Hobbyists fly illegally. Commercial pilots should have a permit to fly legally.