According to the National Park Service (NPS), in January 2021, the federal government overturned a law regarding filing for social media permits in public parks. Previously, national parks visitors were required to apply and purchase permits to film or photograph certain areas. Now, a temporary order is in place–––and it deals with the practice on a largely case-by-case basis.
You can usually film or photograph for social media in national parks under one condition: you’re not disturbing the park’s operations or natural ecosystem.
So, if you want to film a POV video for TikTok, you usually can. For more ambitious media, you should consult the park’s administrators. Continue reading to learn about the NPS’s stance on wilderness filming, low-impact filming, and non-low-impact filming. Here, you can learn more about creating and sharing content in national parks.
Requirements for Filming or Photography in National Parks
There are a few requirements you may need to meet before you’re allowed to film or take photos in national parks, depending on the type of work you’ll be doing.
Get the Right Permissions
Right now, filming in national parks is something of a grey area. Before January 2021, the NPS had very strict rules regarding who could film, where they could film, and how to obtain a permit. Now, while the NPS is working with the government on a new law, there are temporary mandates in place for different categories of work.
The NPS classifies filming into three primary categories:
If you’re walking on a public trail and want to take a short video of your surroundings, go ahead. This is considered low-impact filming. It pertains to visitors taking videos on their phones or using small tripod cameras.
In this situation, you’re not disturbing the park’s ecosystem or its operations. You’re just making a video for yourself. Here, you don’t need a permit.
- You don’t have to ask the park’s administrators for permission.
- You cannot remain in the park after-hours or enter “off-limits” areas.
- You cannot have more than five people in your party and consider it “low-impact filming.”
Keep in mind that certain guidelines apply if you want to post your videos to social media. For instance, to film minors and post videos online, you must have their parents’ consent.
Filming in Wilderness Areas
The NPS manages over 70 million acres of untouched wilderness. When filming certain areas, you need the park’s permission. This isn’t an arbitrary rule; the park wants to ensure both your safety and the park’s.
For instance, suppose you’re visiting Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. The park comprises about 40 percent of untamed wilderness––some of which has never been seen by man firsthand.
Here, you should ask the park’s officials for permission to film. They can give more information about:
- The hours you’re allowed to visit
- What things you can and cannot film
- How many people you can bring with you
- What areas you’re allowed to visit
- Whether you must be accompanied by a park ranger
Do not venture into a park’s wilderness without consulting with the park’s authorities first. After all, according to the New York Post, about are 1,600 disappearances associated with the national parks. These events happen when visitors go into a restricted area, overestimate their limits, and stay after the park has closed.
If you’re filming something that interrupts other visitors’ experience, could harm the environment, or threatens others’ health and safety, this is considered non-low-impact filming.
Here, you must give the park written notice of your intentions at least ten days in advance. The park will respond to your inquiry about whether you should apply for a permit. If you’re not sure whether you need to tell the park about your activities, you should ask yourself:
- Will this film prevent other visitors from accessing certain areas or amenities?
- Will this film threaten the park’s natural resources, like its waterways or forests?
- Will this film “hog” certain amenities, not letting others use them?
You should always err on the side of caution and alert the park that you want to film. That way, you won’t run into any civil or criminal consequences.
Pay Any Necessary Fees
Depending on where you’re taking pictures, you may need to pay a small fee to the national park. These fees largely depend on the number of people in your party, what you’re photographing, and how many pictures you want to take.
Consider these basic price points:
- One to 10 people: $50 a day
- 11 to 30 people: $150 a day
- Over 30 people: $350 a day
If you want to have a “photography workshop” at a national park, authorities consider this a commercial enterprise. You should contact NPS officials to learn more.
What if I Don’t Tell the National Park About Filming or Photography?
The NPS takes violations seriously. If it finds that you filmed or took photos without necessary permission or remitting the appropriate fees, you could face:
- Jail time. Suppose that you visited Biscayne National Park in Florida, and while SCUBA diving and filming, you damaged some coral reef. You could face up to a year in jail for violating the Endangered Species Act.
- Fines. A few years ago, two popular YouTubers filmed an excursion in the Rocky Mountains. They were fined $1,000. For some offenses, that’s on the low end. If you film and photograph a coral reef and end up damaging the organism, you could face a fine of $25,000 to $50,000.
You could also face a lifetime ban from the park.
As a nature lover, you want to ensure that your visit keeps the national park the same way you found it. Even though the NPS has relaxed some of its filming and photography policies, you should always contact the park’s administrator if you’re filming or photographing beyond the scope of casual use.
For more information on your national park’s rules, visit the NPS’s website.