Allow me to address some confusion and contentious points that have arisen over the past six months since I wrote this…
Perhaps a more appropriate title should have been, “Where you can launch a drone in Lake Tahoe.” Yes, you can absolutely fly a drone wherever the FAA allows it. But jurisdictions such as some state parks, national parks, and land protected by the Wilderness Act prohibit the launching of drones. Yes, you can stand right at the border, launch your drone, then fly into those places, but you’ll have to keep your drone in sight the whole time and recover it outside the boundary.
Why do I feel compelled to talk about flying drones in Lake Tahoe…
If you have a drone, I hope you know by now that you just can’t fly them anywhere. The Lake Tahoe region has many restricted areas under different jurisdictions, and visitors (locals too) may not know about all of them. So I’ve created some files that you can download below and load into a GPS app, and always see if you can fly.
Note – I wrote this post towards the end of May and scheduled a publication date of June 2nd. On May 31st I saw this article in the local news you may also want to read: Confusion persists on the usage of drones in Lake Tahoe.
Please don’t ruin it for everyone
Many agencies have outright banned drones altogether. Either because
- they didn’t know what kinds of rules to put into place, or
- they did allow drones, but some people were flying dangerously, and now no one can fly (as just happened with California State Parks).
If anyone ever wants to be allowed to operate their drones in these places again, we need to cooperate to get those privileges back. So let’s work with these agencies and find a middle ground for everyone, okay?
The same goes with public opinion. Many bystanders look at drones and say, “keep that thing away from me” or, “is that legal?” Don’t give them a reason to hate drones more!
Keep yourself out of trouble
There’s a fairly infamous YouTube video of a guy explaining how he was prosecuted for flying in Yellowstone National Park, caught because he posted his aerials on YouTube. The video is just a lot of him saying, “I can’t believe I got busted on YouTube because I didn’t know you couldn’t fly in a national park.” That’s a poor excuse – he knows it – and it won’t keep you out of trouble. You have to do that yourself!
Know where you can & can’t fly a drone in Lake Tahoe with this map
State parks, recreation areas, wilderness areas, national forests, and municipal parks surround Lake Tahoe. It makes knowing where you can and can’t fly around Lake Tahoe a little difficult, especially when you throw a couple of airports in the mix.
The FAA B4UFLY app doesn’t include all of these no-fly zones. I supplement this with the Gaia GPS app.
You should still always check the B4UFLY app for notices of uncharted flight restrictions like firefighting.
Map of Lake Tahoe No-Drone Zones
This map was created using the Gaia GPS mentioned above. Some of the boundaries were already drawn, and some I had to draw myself. This gives me an excellent first-glance idea of where I’m legally allowed to
fly launch when I’m planning a trip.
Download these restricted areas
You can download these files here. Then import them into your favorite GPS app, and you’re all set!
Boundaries included in these files:
- California State Parks: Edwin Z’berg Natural Preserve, Emerald Bay State Park, D.L. Bliss State Park, Ward Creek State Park, Burton Creek State Park, Sugar Pine Point State Park
- Nevada State Parks: Lake Tahoe State Park (Sand Harbor, Spooner, Cave Rock)
- Van Sickle Bi-State Park
- Wilderness Areas: Desolation, Granite Chief, Mt Rose, Mokelumne, Carson-Iceberg
- Airports: Lake Tahoe Airport & Truckee-Tahoe Airport Class E SFC areas
Obligatory disclaimer: these are only for a primary reference. You are ultimately responsible for knowing where you’re at and the rules for that location.
Lake Tahoe drone restrictions in more detail…
California State Parks – PROHIBITED
As of publication, the California State Parks website says that recreational drones are allowed in California State Parks except where posted. This is not entirely accurate.
I recently spoke with the superintendent for the Lake Tahoe Region, and she told me that recreational drone flying is illegal in all California State Parks, classified as a dangerous recreational activity under California Code of Regulations Title 14, Section 4319. The chief ranger for the Lake Tahoe sector was also recently quoted in the news stating that they’re prohibited here.
Locations where you may not fly your drone in Lake Tahoe California State Parks include:
- Emerald Bay State Park
- D.L. Bliss State Park
- Sugar Pine Point State Park
- Burton Creek State Park
- Kings Beach State Recreation Area
Lake Valley State Recreation Area and Washoe Meadows State Park also lie within the Lake Tahoe Airport Class E Surface area.
Nevada State Parks – PROHIBITED
Nevada’s official policy does not allow any recreational drone flying from Nevada state parks. Lake Tahoe State Park includes:
- Sand Harbor
- Cave Rock
- Spooner Lake
- Marlette Lake
- Tunnel Creek & The Flume Trail
- All shoreline from the Ponderosa to Bonsai Rock (Bonsai Rock does lie just outside of the boundary)
I have heard of a few instances where park rangers will allow 107 certificate holders to fly in some of these areas during the off-seasons without obtaining a permit, but you didn’t hear that from me 🙂
Wilderness Areas – PROHIBITED
The Wilderness Act prohibits motorized vehicles in congressionally-designated wilderness areas. This includes aircraft, and aircraft includes drones.
Let’s talk for a minute about Wilderness areas since some people believe that since the Wilderness Act was written in 1964 that it shouldn’t apply to little drones – only larger aircraft.
The Wilderness Act was created to preserve specific areas of land in their most natural state, and allow people & wildlife to enjoy these areas without the distractions of modern life. Rangers can’t even bring motorized tools into these areas for trail work. Nothing with a motor is allowed to operate from these areas.
Flying drones in Wilderness areas violates the intent of the Act and ruins the experience for those who go out to enjoy it for the reasons it’s preserved. Wilderness areas only make up a small percentage of National Forest land so please, protect these areas for others and fly elsewhere. We’ve gotta give our fellow Americans some areas where they can go to escape the world, and these relatively small wilderness areas are it.
Regardless of how you may interpret that rule, the Department of Agriculture directs that drones not be flown from Wilderness per the Act.
Wilderness included in this restriction in the Tahoe area:
- Mount Rose Wilderness
- Mokelumne Wilderness
- Carson-Iceberg Wilderness
- Desolation Wilderness
- Granite Chief Wilderness
National Forest – ALLOWED (But prohibited in Wilderness)
There are currently no restrictions for flying in strictly National Forest land unless it’s a wilderness area. I have verified this with some people in the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit. National Forest land makes up the majority of land around Lake Tahoe.
Municipal areas – ALLOWED
No towns in the Lake Tahoe area outright prohibit drone flying yet. However, some of these areas fall within airport Class E Surface areas.
Please respect the privacy of others. In California, for example, you can be prosecuted for flying over someone else’s backyard.
Best practices for flying in populated areas:
- Always fly over “public” land, not private homes or businesses
- Do not operate directly over people
- Always keep your drone in sight
Airports – RESTRICTED
Lake Tahoe Airport in South Lake Tahoe and Truckee-Tahoe airport in Truckee have Class E Surface areas that overlap their respective towns.
- Hobbyist flyers: you must notify airport management before you fly in this area. They reserve the right to tell you that you can’t fly.
- Part 107 flyers: you must get an airspace authorization from the FAA before flying in these areas. You can only do this from the FAA sUAS web portal.
Respect Tahoe – the Golden Rule
The best thing to do is to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.
Visitors come to Lake Tahoe to escape the noise of city life and enjoy this treasure in as much of a natural environment as they can. Buzzing over their heads in parks & wilderness areas ruins their experience and makes them hate drones even more. Especially when they think that they’re being filmed against their will, or worse yet, hit by one.
Ditto for the locals who live here x 2.
Lake Tahoe is renowned worldwide for its cleanliness, serenity, and natural beauty. Let’s keep it that way and obey the rules!
Apply these principles everywhere
These basic concepts don’t just apply to Lake Tahoe, they apply to all areas where people go to enjoy raw nature. Play your part and happy flying!