Event/Commercial Permits

All commercial activities and events on the National Forests in North Carolina require a special use permit. Some non-commercial recreational gatherings require a permit, depending on the activity.



Recreation Events

A special use permit is required for any temporary event on National Forest System lands where an entry or participation fee is charged, or where paid membership in a group or organization is a prerequisite for participation. Examples of recreation events may include trail running events, mountain biking races, fundraising hikes, adventure games, and other similar events. A permit is required for these types of events, regardless of the number of people involved in the activity. Recreation event permits are subject to fees and commercial liability coverage.

Outfitting and Guiding

Who needs a special use permit for outfitting and guiding on the National Forest?

A special use permit for outfitting and guiding on National Forest System land is required when an individual, company, organization, institution or non-profit group charges a participatory fee for guiding services and/or provides recreation equipment.

This policy is based on the following official definitions:


Providing services or assistance such as supervision, protection, education, training, packing, touring, subsistence, interpretation or other assistance to individuals or groups in their pursuit of a natural resource-based outdoor activity for pecuniary remuneration or other gain.


Providing through rental or livery a saddle or pack animal, vehicle or boat, tents or camp gear, or similar supplies or equipment, for pecuniary remuneration or other gain.


Wedding events that have less than 75 people in attendance on National Forest System lands do not require a special use permit. Larger events are typically authorized by a non-commercial group use permit if they are approved; however, when wedding planning services are involved a special use authorization is required.

Individuals or companies such as elopement planning services, wedding planning services, or photographers who are leading or transporting groups onto the national forest for payment or other gain, no matter how many people are in the group are required to obtain a permit before they offer these services to the public.

Certain locations on National Forest System lands in North Carolina are not suitable for weddings or photography sessions. These areas have limited parking and this use may interfere with the use of other forest visitors in the area. The staff of the National Forests in North Carolina is requesting that the public not use these locations until the parking and safety issues can be resolved. The locations that are seeing the most impacts are mostly high elevation or easily accessible areas along roads.

The locations that we are requesting NOT be used are:

  • Max Patch along the Appalachian Trail
  • Black Balsam adjacent to the Blue Ridge Parkway
  • Looking Glass Falls 
  • Linville Gorge Wilderness
  • Middle Prong Wilderness
  • Shining Rock Wilderness

The parking is limited in these areas. In recent years, due to increased use, the safety of visitors is being compromised as visitors park along the roads in these areas. 

If you are a couple who is arranging or planning a small wedding on your own, a permit may not be required if you are arranging these services. Please contact the permit administrator for the location you are interested in. 

Considerations if you do choose to visit the National Forest:

  • The use of birdseed, rose petals, rice, etc. on the national forest is not allowed. Chairs, arbors, or other items associated with your ceremony cannot be accommodated
  • Keep in mind, the national forest is for the enjoyment of everyone. While you are on the national forest, you are not allowed to block a trail or any part of an area for your ceremony. Blocking off an area or hindering access to the trail or an area by others is in violation of Forest Service regulations.

Information about how to apply for a permit to offer guided services or photography on the National Forests in North Carolina

The USDA Forest Service issues a two-year priority special use permit for outfitting and guiding services. . The process for applying for this use is the same as for other guided activities, however we are requesting the information from applicants in a slightly different format.

If you wish to apply to guide hikes, for the purpose of conducting or photographing weddings or elopements, here are some clarifications to the process.

  1. You must submit an estimated use sheet listing the number of ceremonies you are requesting to have at each location. This estimate is for one year or the remaining of the year that you apply for the permit. In December, you will request use for the second year of your permit. Some restrictions and location availability may change, so check with us first before you change your offerings with the public. The number of guests is generally restricted to less than 10. Outfitter guides normally request service days. We estimate 10 service days for each wedding service.
  2. Provide commercial liability insurance for leading hikes in the amount of $600,000.
  3. Comply with the safety recommendations listed within your operating plan. The following restrictions will be applied to all requests

All commercial use of Max Patch is restricted until parking and safety concerns are addressed.

No use of Roan Mountain Garden area during middle weeks of June during bloom season,

No use of Black Balsam, or Looking Glass Falls during holidays or holiday weekends.

For more information or to obtain a permit for guiding weddings please contact:

Kimberly Lindeman – Pisgah Zone Customer Service Representative

kimberly.lindeman@usda.gov; 828 689-9694

Joseph B. Wood – Nantahala National Forest, Nantahala Ranger District Permit Administrator

joseph.wood@usda.gov; 828-524-6441

Bob Vance – Nantahala National Forest, Tusquitee and Cheoah Ranger District Permit Administrator

robert.e.vance@usda.gov; 828-837-5152

Uwharrie National Forest; 910-576-6391

Croatan National Forest; 252-638-5628

Noncommercial Group Uses

A noncommercial group use is an activity that involves a group of 75 or more people, either as participants or spectators. Noncommercial is any use or activity where an entry or participation fee is not charged, and the primary purpose is not the sale of a goods or service. Some examples of noncommercial group uses are weddings, church services, endurance rides, regattas, camping trips, hikes, music festivals, rallies, graduations, and races.

More information on noncommercial group uses can be found on the national website at: https://www.fs.fed.us/specialuses/special_non_com_uses.shtml#sp-noncom-a

Family Gatherings and Other Large Groups

A special use permit is required for groups larger than 75 people, or for any size group which charges a fee to attend an event. While a group of less than 75 people may not require a permit, there are some regulations that may apply.

Since each District is unique, we recommend that you contact the Permit Administrator for the district where you intend to hold your event or group activity for specific information.

Here are some things to consider. This list is not all-inclusive.

  • All garbage associated with the event must be picked up and removed. Incorporate "Leave No Trace" principles during your visit.
  • Any and all fire restrictions require full compliance, and the group is required to supply adequate water and tools for properly extinguishing any campfires built.
  • Introduction of non-native species is prohibited. This means, use of birdseed, rose petals, rice, etc. are not allowed.
  • Some areas of the forest will not accommodate groups due to resource damage. Please contact the Permit Administrator for information.

Filming and Photography

A special use permit is required for commercial filming or photography on National Forest System lands, such as film movie-making or commercials as well as for still photography for commercial use. Use of motion picture, videotaping, sound-recording, or any other type of moving image or audio recording equipment on National Forest System lands that involves the advertisement of a product or service, the creation of a product for sale, or the use of actors, models, sets, or props. Permits may be issued by the Forest Supervisor’s office or the District office in which the activity will take place.

When Do I Need a Filming or Photography Permit?

The type of photographic activity determines whether or not a permit is required. See examples and criteria listed below. Please contact the appropriate Permit Administrator if you have questions not answered here.

Photography Businesses

If you are guiding individuals to locations on the national forest, an outfitting and guiding permit is required.

Photography Workshops

Individuals or organizations offering guided photography instruction or workshops on National Forest System lands are providing a commercial service that requires a special use authorization. This activity also falls under the Outfitting and Guiding permit category.

Personal Use

If you are shooting still photographs or "home movies" for personal use (e.g. that does not involve advertisement of a product or service, the creation of a product for sale) then a special use permit is not required.

Breaking News

Breaking news is an event or incident that arises suddenly, evolves quickly, and rapidly ceases to be newsworthy. A special use permit is not required for activities involving breaking news. Examples of breaking news include coverage of wildland fire or search and rescue.

Still Photography

Still photography uses photographic equipment to capture still images on film, digital format, and other similar technologies. National Forest visitors and professional or amateur photographers need a special use permit to take still photographs if the still photography:

  • Uses models, sets, or props that are not part of the site’s natural or cultural resources or administrative facilities.
  • Takes place at a location where members of the public are generally not allowed or where additional administrative costs are likely.

Still photography of scenery only does not require a permit.

Commercial Filming

A special use permit is required for all commercial filming activities on National Forest System lands. Commercial filming is the use of motion picture, videotaping, sound recording, other moving image or audio recording equipment on National Forest System lands that involves the advertisement of a product or service, the creation of a product for sale, or the use of actors, models, sets or props, but not including activities associated with broadcasting breaking news.

For purposes of this definition, creation of a product for sale includes but is not limited to a film, videotape, television broadcast or documentary of historic events, wildlife, natural events, features, subjects or participants in a sporting or recreation event and so forth, when created for the purpose of generating income.

Commercial filming or still photography will not be permitted if the Forest Service determines that any of the following criteria apply:

  • There is a likelihood of resource damage that cannot be mitigated.
  • There would be an unreasonable disruption of the public's use and enjoyment of the site (beyond short term interruption).
  • The activity poses health or safety risks to the public that cannot be mitigated.

Commercial Filming and Still Photography Permit Process

Provide the Forest Service with detailed information about the proposal. Generally at least two weeks advance notice is needed to issue a permit. At a minimum, the following information will be needed in order to evaluate a proposal and complete the permitting process:

  • Special locations where activity is proposed.
  • Number of crew on site, vehicles, and all the equipment and props to be used.
  • Dates: locations and times by date.
  • Describe in detail what you are planning to do at each site, including special effects.

To obtain a permit application please contact the corresponding Permit

Joseph B. Wood – Nantahala National Forest, Nantahala Ranger District Permit Administrator

joseph.wood@usda.gov; 828-524-6441

Bob Vance – Nantahala National Forest, Tusquitee and Cheoah Ranger District Permit Administrator

robert.e.vance@usda.gov; 828-837-5152

Pisgah National Forest: 828-689-9694

Uwharrie National Forest: 910-576-6391

Croatan National Forest: 252-638-5628