With rugged peaks towering above 6,000 feet, the White Mountains of north-central New Hampshire and western Maine are a true wonder.
Maybe you have plans to spend a long winter weekend ice climbing in North Conway. Or, perhaps you hope to hike a section of the Appalachian Trail. Either way, you’re probably wondering:
Can I fly a drone in the White Mountains?
According to the U.S. Forest Service, the agency responsible for managing the White Mountain National Forest, recreational use of drones is permissible. However, you cannot land your drone within .25 miles of a Forest Protection Area, alpine zone, or other protected area listed in Exhibit B of Forest Order R9-22-19-01.
Continue reading to learn more about the drone rules in the White Mountains.
Federal drone laws in the White Mountains
Before delving into the specific regulations mandated by the U.S. Forest Service, it’s necessary to discuss federal drone laws.
Federal drone laws are mandated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and apply to all areas of the United States. These rules, as noted in Part 107, require that UAV pilots:
The FAA also offers other safety guidelines, including:
- Keep the drone in sight at all times
- Do not interfere with other aircraft
- Fly at or below 400 feet
- Do not fly at night or during bad weather
- Avoid flying over crowds
State drone rules in the White Mountains
A segment of the Appalachian Mountains, the White Mountains extend for 87 miles across north-central New Hampshire and western Maine. Because of this, drone hobbyists who want to capture photos of these stately peaks must be aware of UAV regulations for two different states.
New Hampshire drone regulations
If you want to see the hardwood landscape of the White Mountain National Forest from above, you’re not alone. Each year, this 780,000-acre plot of public land sees six million visitors—many of whom are eager to fly their drones.
However, there are several New Hampshire state laws you should be aware of before you take to the skies. Though we encourage you to read our more detailed overview of drone regulations in New Hampshire, we have distilled the most important points below.
- No flying in state parks. UAV pilots are prohibited from flying drones in any New Hampshire state park. This includes Franconia Notch State Park, which is confusingly located inside the White Mountain National Forest.
- No disturbing hunters and anglers. According to SB 222, you cannot use your drone to disturb people who are lawfully hunting or fishing. That means a UAV pilot cannot fly above, say, a herd of deer to scare them away from an archer. UAV pilots are also prohibited from using their drones to capture footage of hunters and anglers.
Maine drone regulations
Though most of the White Mountain National Forest is located in New Hampshire, about 50,000 acres of it can be found in western Maine. Because of this, UAV pilots must be conscious of the Pine Tree State’s rules as well.
Drone laws in Maine are fairly straightforward. There are only two state rules: Commercial UAV pilots are prohibited from flying in state parks and, according to LD 25, law enforcement cannot use drones to collect information.
Prohibited drone areas in the White Mountain National Forest
The White Mountain National Forest is stunning. Mount Washington, for instance, towers at 6,288 feet in elevation—one of the tallest peaks on the East Coast. There are also sheer granite faces, rushing waterfalls, and lush vegetation.
As a drone hobbyist, you may be eager to capture this natural beauty. However, there are several no-flight zones in the White Mountains.
Detailed in Exhibit B of Forest Order R9-22-19-01, these areas include:
1. All trailheads in the White Mountain National Forest
Since trailheads are typically busy, highly-trafficked areas, the U.S. Forest Service prohibits drone usage in these spots.
2. All campgrounds in the White Mountain National Forest
In addition to campgrounds, you must also avoid picnic areas, huts, shelters, cabins, developed tent sites, and day-use recreation areas.
Why? Because flying above these crowded areas negatively affects the visitor experience. (No one wants to hear a buzzing drone while relaxing in their hammock.) Irresponsible UAV pilots can also be a safety hazard.
3. All alpine zones in the White Mountain National Forest
Alpine zones are high-elevation areas above the tree line. Though the U.S. Forest Service offers little explanation as to why drone pilots are prohibited from flying in these areas, we assume it’s because of extreme weather patterns and limited visibility.
Alpine areas to avoid include:
- Presidential Range
- Franconia Ridge
- Kinsman Ridge
- Moat Mountain Range
- Baldface Range
- Mt. Chocorua Summit Forest Protection Area
4. Roads in the White Mountain National Forest
The U.S. Forest Service strictly prohibits drone usage near and along roads in the forest, including:
- Base Station Road (State Road 173) from its junction with NH RT302 to the Cog Railway Station
- Bear Notch Road (FR 26)
- Beebe River RR Grade (FR 400) from FR 98 West to the forest boundary
- Breezy Point Road (FR 186) from the forest boundary to its intersection with the Carriage Road Trail
- Gale River North and South Gale River Road (FR 25 and FR 92)
- Haystack Road (FR 402) from its junction with NH 3 to North Twin Trailhead
- Jefferson Notch Road (SR 220) from the Base Station Road (FR 173) to Caps Ridge
- Trailhead Kiah Pond Road (FR 418) from its junction with FR 98 to the end of the road
- Lower Hall Pond Road (FR 417) from its junction with FR 98 to the end of the road
- Mad River Road (NH 49)
- NH 302
- NH 16
- North and South Gale River Road (FR 25 and FR 92)
- Old Cherry Mountain Road (FR 14) from its junction with NH 302 to its junction with NH 115
- Passaconaway Road from the South Moat Trailhead to the Kancamagus Highway
- Pinkham B Road (SR 207)
- Rocky Branch Road (FR 27)
- RT 112 (Kancamagus Hwy)
- Stillings Road
- Sandwich Notch Road (FR 98)
- Sawyer River Road (FR 34)
- Stinson Lake Road (FR 410) where it crosses Brown Brook, .25 miles from the crossing of Tunnel Brook Road (FR 700) from the junction with NH 112 to the end of the road
- Upper Hall Pond Road (FR 422) from its junction with FR 98 to the end of White Ledge Road (FR 369)
- Wild River Road (FR 12)
- Zealand Road (FR 16)
5. Trails in the White Mountains National Forest
UAV pilots should also avoid the following trails:
- Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail
- Appalachian Trail Corridor from the summit of Mt. Moosilauke to the Connecticut River
- Champney Falls Trail from the Kancamagus Highway to the Champney Falls
- Cedar Brook Trail from the intersection of Hancock Notch to the junction of Hancock Loop Trail
- Falling Waters Trail
- Franconia Falls Trail
- Liberty Springs Trail
- Lower Falls Trail
- Old Bridle Path
- Valley Way Trail from the intersection with the Scar Trail to Madison Hut
- Wild River Trail from Wild River Campground to a point one mile south on Wild River Trail
- Zeta Pass, 0.25 miles from the junction of Carter Moriah Trail and Carter Dome Trail
6. Bodies of water in the White Mountains National Forest
To avoid distributing wildlife and visitors, drone hobbyists are not allowed to fly above:
- Black Pond
- Champney Falls
- Dianna’s Baths
- East Pond
- Greeley Ponds
- Kiah Pond
- Long Pond
- Sabbaday Falls
- Sawyer Pond (Big and Little)
- Thoreau Falls
- Unknown Pond
- Virginia Lake (south shoreline)
7. Alpine ski areas in the White Mountains National Forest
Lastly, drone pilots should avoid four alpine ski areas in the White Mountains National Forest:
- Loon Mountain
- Waterville Valley
Consequences for flying in prohibited areas in the White Mountains
What happens if you break the law and fly your drone in a prohibited area?
According to the U.S. Forest Service, flying in a prohibited area in the White Mountains could result in a fine ($5,000 for an individual, $10,000 for an organization), six months in jail, or both.
That being said, it pays to know where you can and cannot fly. If you aren’t sure if you are within a no-fly zone, reference the B4UFLY app.
Rugged and wild, the White Mountains of New Hampshire and Maine are a great place to escape the hustle of modern life. But not all areas of this national forest are great for flying drones.
In addition to federal and state laws, UAV pilots must be mindful of protected areas detailed in Exhibit B of Forest Order R9-22-19-01. These protected areas range from trailheads to campgrounds to sections of specific roads.
If you heed these restrictions, you’ll be sure to enjoy your stay in the White Mountains. However, if you don’t take the time to learn the rules or if you knowingly ignore these rules, you could face a hefty fine and a jail sentence.
1. Forest Order R9-22-19-01 (link)