Nestled in the mountains of eastern Tennessee, Gatlinburg is a quaint village known for its convenient accommodations, close proximity to Dollywood, and endless outdoor recreation opportunities.
If you’re planning a backpacking trip or a weekend getaway, you may want to pack your drone to capture some nature shots.
But before you begin snaking through the hills and hollers of Tennessee, you need to know more about drone rules in Sevier County.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), you can fly your drone in Gatlinburg. However, you cannot fly your drone in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which is located just five minutes from Gatlinburg.
Continue reading to learn more about drone rules and regulations in this Tennessee town.
Federal drone laws in Gatlinburg
Whether it’s early spring or late fall, the Smoky Mountains can offer a dazzling display of color. However, before you take to the skies, you must be aware of federal drone laws in Gatlinburg.
First and foremost, to fly a drone as a hobbyist in Gatlinburg, you are required by the FAA to take The Recreational UAS Safety Test (TRUST).
You must follow other federal regulations as well. These include, but are not limited to:
- Keeping your drone within the visual line of sight
- Flying at or below 400 feet in Class G (uncontrolled) airspace
- Refraining from flying over crowds of people
- Operating your drone in the daylight during good weather
Additionally, if your drone weighs more than 0.55 pounds, the FAA mandates that you register your aircraft and label it with your registration number.
State drone laws in Gatlinburg
When flying in Gatlinburg, you must be mindful of state drone laws as well.
We cover these restrictions in great detail in our overview of Tennessee drone regulations. Though we encourage you to read this article closely, we have rendered a few important highlights below.
- You cannot use a drone to take photos of others. According to SB 1892, you cannot use your aircraft “with the intent to conduct surveillance on the individual or property captured in the image.” If you do, you could be charged with a Class C misdemeanor.
- You cannot use a drone to hunt or fish. According to SB 1777, drone pilots cannot use their aircraft to abet hunting or fishing. Pilots are also restricted from using their drones to disturb others who are lawfully hunting or fishing.
- You cannot fly at an open-air event. According to HB 153, you cannot fly an unmanned aircraft to capture images at an open-air event with more than 100 attendees.
- You cannot fly near critical infrastructure: According to SB 2106, you cannot fly a drone within 250 feet of “any critical infrastructure facility for the purpose of conducting surveillance of, gathering evidence or collecting information about, or photographically or electronically recording critical infrastructure data” without the consent of the business.
» MORE: Drone Laws in Tennessee
Can you fly a drone in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park?
With 6,000-foot peaks, rushing waterfalls, and stunning hardwood forests, you may be tempted to fly your drone in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
However, according to the National Park Service, drone usage is “incompatible” with the agency’s mission. Why?
Because unmanned aircrafts can:
- Create noise pollution: The Great Smoky Mountains National Park sees more than 12 million visitors each year. Imagine the ruckus if each visitor flew a drone!
- Disturb wildlife: Since the park is so heavily trafficked, park rangers go to great lengths to ensure that wildlife (e.g., deer, elk, black bear, small game) is not disturbed by drones.
- Interfere with the visitor experience: With more than 800 miles of trails, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise. Unfortunately, uncourteous drone pilots can interfere with hikers’ serenity and solitude.
- Increase the risk of forest fires: Drone motors can overheat, and batteries can ignite, causing a forest fire. To avoid this risk, drones are not allowed within park boundaries.
Areas to avoid flying your drone in Gatlinburg
There are several tourist attractions in Gatlinburg that are off-limits to drone pilots because they are located in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
These areas include:
- Cades Cove
- Clingman’s Dome
- Mount LeConte
- Newfound Gap
- Nature Trailhead Campground
Of course, this list is not comprehensive. However, it gives you a general idea of places you should avoid.
If you aren’t sure if you are within a no-fly zone, reference the B4UFLY App. Even a simple Google map demarcates the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in a dark shade of green.
Consequences of flying your drone in a national park
What happens if you break the law and fly your drone in Great Smoky Mountains National Park?
Unfortunately, flying an unmanned aircraft in a National Park could result in a $5,000 fine and six months of jail time.
Considering these steep consequences, the risk simply isn’t worth it.
Can I fly my drone in Dollywood?
Besides hiking and backpacking in the Smokys, visitors flock to Gatlinburg because of Dollywood.
A family amusement park founded by its namesake—Dolly Parton—this tourist attraction offers roller coasters, shopping, entertainment shows, and more. Needless to say, it’s a fun and exciting place to be.
Because of this, you may be tempted to bring your drone. However, Dollywood is considered a no-fly zone.
There are simply too many people congregated in one area for drone usage to be considered safe. Flying above crowds is also considered a privacy violation.
Though beautiful, Gatlinburg is a tricky place to fly a drone because it’s so close to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
If you fly a drone in a national park, even unintentionally, you could face a $5,000 fine and six months of jail time. Because of this, always double-check before taking to the skies. The B4UFLY App is a helpful tool to make sure you’re not in a no-fly zone.
You should also avoid flying your drone in Dollywood. Since so many people congregate at this amusement park, flying an unmanned aircraft is considered dangerous.
If you keep these general guidelines in mind during your Gatlinburg vacation, you’re sure to have a great time. (And capture some stunning footage too!)
The Recreational UAS Safety Test (link)