UAS - Drone Guidelines

The following information will help people who operate Unmanned Aircraft Systems – or drones -- comply with Tonto National Forest guidelines.


  • It is capable of sustained flight in the atmosphere.
  • Weighs 55 pounds or less (including equipment, payload and fuel).
  • Flown strictly for recreational or hobby purposes as a means of enjoyment and/or relaxation; not for work, business, or for compensation or hire.  Taking photos or filming for personal use from a drone is permitted.
  • Only flown within visual line-of-sight of the person operating it. The drone must remain within visual line-of-sight of operators using their own natural vision (to include vision corrected by standard eyeglasses or contact lenses). Operating the drone from a first person view, where the operator controls the aircraft while wearing goggles that display images transmitted from a camera mounted in the aircraft, is prohibited.

Registration requirements for recreational drones

  • Operators must register their drone with the FAA if it weighs between 0.55 pounds (250 grams) and up to 55 pounds (25 kilograms).
  • Operators must label their drone with the registration number; the registration number should be clearly visible.
  • FAA Registration Web site

Additional rules for use of recreational drones on forest lands

  • Ensure that you comply with all FAA regulations and guidance for flying your UAS. The FAA has authority over all airspace.
  • Flown at a maximum altitude of 400 feet above ground level.
  • Flown in daylight only.
  • Cannot fly over people or in developed recreation sites such as campgrounds, picnic areas, trailheads and marinas.
  • Must obey all privacy laws.
  • Cannot fly over or in close proximity to any wildfire or prescribed fire.  Flights over fires disrupt aerial firefighting operations and create hazardous situations.
  • Flown at least five miles from an airport or back country airstrip. 
  • Must not interfere with and must give way to any manned aircraft.
  • Cannot take off from, land in, or be operated from congressionally-designated wilderness areas. Examples within the Tonto National Forest include the Superstition Wilderness and Four Peaks Wilderness areas.
  • Drones cannot be used to frighten or harass wildlife as this can create stress, potentially resulting in significant harm and even death.
  • Cannot fly within or over designated seasonal wildlife closures (i.e., bald eagles).

Commercial drones

  • The Tonto National Forest must authorize use of commercial (non-recreational) drones.

Drones & Wildfire

Drones and Wildfires

Flying drones within or near wildfires without permission could cause injury or death to firefighters, and hamper their ability to protect lives, property and natural resources.  Drones pose a risk to pilots and aircraft flying at low altitude, and could result in major damage and potential injuries to the pilot and crew on board.  Drones have caused helicopters and air tankers to be grounded because pilots can’t communicate with drone operators.  For the safety of the pilots and crew, air operations have been halted until it can be confirmed the devices have left the area.   

Flying a drone near a wildfire is breaking the law. Per the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, 43 CFR 9212.1 (f), it is illegal to resist or interfere with the efforts of firefighter(s) to extinguish a fire. Doing so can result in a significant fine and/or a mandatory court appearance. So, be smart and just don’t fly your drone anywhere near a wildfire. No amount of video or photos are worth the consequences.

Additional Information