National parks can ban you from visiting: Here’s how

National parks are some of the most visited destinations in the U.S. However, some behaviors can leave you on the outside looking in.

Though it is relatively rare, some people have been banned from the parks, either for a short period of time or forever. Earlier this year, for example, a man was sentenced to probation after being caught for the second time leading an illegal packrafting expedition through the Grand Canyon. As part of his probation, the man is barred from entering national parks, monuments, or federal recreation areas for two years.

In many cases, the bad behavior is obvious.

Take, for example, spray painting or otherwise defacing park features.

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A San Diego woman was banned from all national parks sites and areas managed by the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Army Corps of Engineers for two years after she pleaded guilty to defacing rock formations in Death Valley, Rocky Mountain, Canyonlands, Zion, Yosemite, and Crater Lake national parks, as well as the Colorado National Monument.

Two Colorado residents were instructed to stay out of Canyons of the Ancients National Monument for a year after they pleaded guilty to taking artifacts from the site, located in the southwest portion of their state. If they adhered to that instruction, their $2,500 fine would be dropped to $500, the Denver Post reported in 2009. The pair reportedly took more than 40 artifacts from the park.

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Even something as innocent as flying a drone — a hobby that has gained popularity in recent years — can turn into a park ban. Flying a drone or any other unmanned aircraft, like a model airplane or quadcopters, is prohibited at national parks. It can be harmful to wildlife, a nuisance to other park visitors, and even pose a wildfire risk. They can also hamper iconic features of the parks: According to NPS, drones have crashed into Yellowstone National Park geysers and have disappeared over the edge of the Grand Canyon.

Violating this rule is a misdemeanor, according to NPS, which can result in up to six months in jail and a $5,000 fine. While NPS doesn’t list a park ban as a potential consequence, it has happened.

In 2014, just a month after NPS enacted its unmanned aircraft ban, a German national became the first to be prosecuted for a violation after they crashed a drone into Yellowstone’s Lake Yellowstone. She received one year of unsupervised probation, and a one-year ban from the park.

In other cases, the behavior is a bit more serious.

Last summer, a five-year ban was imposed on a woman accused of giving false information on a missing hiker in Grand Teton National Park, Nexstar’s KTVX reports. Her false report caused officials to spend more than 530 hours searching and investigating, all to no avail. She won’t be allowed back into the park until 2027. The man has yet to be found, according to NPS records.

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A Washington man was banned from all national parks and monuments and other federal lands in Arizona after he pled guilty to leading a 139-person, rim-to-rim hiking trip with the Grand Canyon without a permit. Any organized group with 12 to 30 participants requires a permit to hike rim-to-rim or other extended hikes in the park’s inner canyon. Park officials said in a March 2022 release that the man had been informed his group required a permit.

An Arizona man pled guilty in a similar case in April 2020 after illegally leading a backpacking trip through the Grand Canyon’s remote backcountry. He had previously been warned about his business operations, which had multiple names, but continued on, the park said in an April 2022 press release. He was ordered to serve two years of supervised probation, and is banned from visiting the Grand Canyon and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area until 2024.

NPS did not immediately respond to Nexstar’s request for information. There is no explicit explanation of behaviors that can result in a park ban listed on NPS’s website, but there are a number of resources encouraging visitors to recreate responsibly in NPS sites.

That includes giving animals space and not disturbing wildlife, storing food, stashing trash, and reporting visitors who are not adhering to park guidelines.

“Ultimately, staying safe and keeping wildlife wild is up to you!” NPS writes. “When you go out into a national park, it’s your responsibility to keep yourself, your family, and the wildlife safe.”

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