drone flying on cloudy day amid pine trees

Are Drones Allowed in the Boundary Waters?

The beauty of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area is breathtaking; however, you may not be able to capture your own aerial footage due to drone restrictions in the area.

Drone operation is prohibited in the BWCA Wilderness.

“Drones” refer to any recreational unmanned aerial system. The National Park Service (NPS) has banned the use of drones in all national parks. Further, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has also banned the use of drones in all state parks.

Why are drones prohibited in the BWCA?

Maybe you’ve seen drone footage from the Boundary Waters and wondered what’s the big deal? It’s a wilderness area and beautiful at that — who does it harm to fly a drone over a lake or out in the remote forest?

The reasons for the restrictions are:

  • Drones may interfere with wildlife
  • Drones create noise and visual disturbances that interfere with people’s enjoyment of the wilderness
  • Drones create privacy issues when aerial photography captures non-consenting individuals

Beyond that, people in the BWCA are often trying to get away from noise and technology. No motors are allowed in the the area and even sails on a canoe are discouraged. Out of respect for fellow paddlers, people are asked to put their drones away prior to entering the wilderness area.

What happens if someone does fly a drone in the BWCA?

If someone flies a drone in the Boundary Waters and gets caught, violations are punishable under federal law. Best to avoid the felony and keep your drone at home!

Prohibited airspace

To understand how serious the BWCA is about its airspace, consider that as part of the wilderness act of 1964, the FAA has it listed as permanently prohibited airspace.

This is an uncommon designation and only applies to a handful of other areas, most of which are military or other government facilities. This law in the Boundary Waters isn’t just for drones, but also limits all flight below 4,000 feet. The exception, of course, is emergency evacuations and fire planes.

This all contributes to the world-famous quietude that the Boundary Waters is known for.

Where to fly your drone instead

Drones are allowed over the Superior National Forest, which makes up much of northeastern Minnesota and the area surrounding the BWCA. So you can still get that northwoods shot, just be sure to check for Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) and keep it under 400 feet altitude.


USDA Forest Service: Drones on the Forest