Weird Laws In The US National Parks & More
The best thing America did was to create national parks not only for the people, but to help protect everything that resides within it. One of the best ways to see some of the national parks is a good old fashion road trip through some of the states. With travel comes the need to know some of the weird laws in the US.
What you do not want to do is break any rules or laws to impact that hard earned vacation you’ve been waiting for. It can be easy for tourist, foreigners or locals to get confused on what not to do sometimes. Make sure to check out the laws in the US when it comes to the national parks, nature, and the federal government.
The US Explained
The US is big, very big. Is that enough explanation for you? No, oh well let me continue then. Yes it is big and composed of 50 states which can be anywhere from a few hours to drive through to a whole day’s trip.
That is why I have only been able to see 44 out of the 50 states so far. That’s how big it is and with so many places to see, it can take time. If you are planning on traveling through the US, then be prepared to encounter sometimes drastic change not only in landscapes but laws, as well.
As the US grew, people started to expand outward to new territories where new laws where created. Individualism happened for each state when it came to how they sometimes saw fit to govern their people. That’s why sometimes weird laws that are still in tact exist. Each state can enact laws they think will protect its citizens and their interest in the best way.
National parks were created to help preserve the land through conservation methods and is overseen by the U.S government. The very first created was, Yellowstone National Park in 1872 with the famous geyser, Old Faithful, which isn’t really very faithful.
From here, the service grew to over 60 national parks that are located over 84 million acres in the U.S territory. Only 29 states and two of the territories have national parks, with California having the most at 9. Below is some of the weird laws in the US when it concerns the federal and state parks you most likely don’t know about. I know there are a few I sure didn’t!
Laws Protecting Nature You Never Knew Existed
The USA is definitely unique when it comes to laws protecting the wildlife and its animals, with each state being responsible for their own. To put it in a simple way, each state is its own sovereign government with making laws and protecting its people, land, and wildlife. Our government is more of a delegated one where they help to enforce laws and is limited in what they can or can’t do when it comes to states.
Of course there are federal laws that every state has to abide by. But when it comes to the uniqueness of each state, it can be a good idea to know before you go in some cases. So let’s begin the list of some weird laws in the US for nature and a few of the national parks!
1. Collecting Bald or Golden Eagle Feathers
If you are designated as Native American and you go through the correct steps, then you can pick up and keep an Eagle feather. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services recognized the importance of these feathers for religious and cultural aspects when it came to Alaskan Natives and Native Americans by implementing the National Eagle Repository to help protect them.
So what dose this mean for the public that by luck finds a Bald or Golden Eagle Feather in nature? Well, you get to admire it, then you have to drop it. Yes, you read that right. It dose not matter whether there is no bird around or if the feather will be destroyed by nature eventually. You can not take that feather or bird with you.
Don’t know if you found a Bald or Golden Eagle feather then check the feather atlas. Additionally, do not disturb or kill any eagles. Under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, if you “take”, or do any killing, wounding, shooting, poisoning, capturing, trapping, or disturbing of any Bald or Golden Eagle, then you will be prosecuted.
The first offense is a maximum of 1 year in prison and $100,000 fine. Bottom line, do not touch them or go near them. They are beautiful and protected for a reason. A spectacular area, which is also perfect to see a few eagles on occasion in the wild, is the Grand Tetons, in Wyoming. Only an hour away is the first national park, Yellowstone.
2. Do Not Bother The Marine Mammals
Let’s talk about the Marine Mammal Protection Act. To put it in simple terms, this act protects any marine mammals from you harassing them or feeding them in the wild. Even if you see an animal and it looks like its starving, you can not physical help it. What you can do is look up the local marine mammal rescue center and they can help tend to that animal.
Why would feeding an animal be so bad? Well, over time if those animals get use to humans feeding them, they will become dependent on that food source. If by some chance that source stops, it could cause those animals to then starve to death, since they learned to rely on humans to feed them.
Also, wild animals can become aggressive over food very easily. Especially if others are trying to compete for it. They will have no problem doing whatever it takes to get that food out of our hand before the others.
Additionally, we humans can have all types of bacteria and germs on our hands. By touching them or what they eat, you could be transmitting a disease or more to them that could eventually in worst cases, kill the population off.
Disturbing them, or potentially disturbing them could be considered harassment and land you in trouble. Penalties you could face are fines up to $11,000, forfeiting your vessel if you are on one, and up to a year in prison. The best thing you could do for any wild animal is leave it alone. If it needs help, call one of the recuse organizations.
Some Weird Laws In The US National Parks You Never Heard Of
1. The Grand Canyon - Arizona/Colorado
It sure is big and grand. I can honestly say that as being a local of this state. Another thing it isn’t though is it is not open to the freedom you might think comes from America. Many of the most beautiful places that are protected are also sacred to the Native Americans who still occupy this are.
To help respect their land, culture, and to precent overcrowding, most things actually need permits. This would include hiking to the famous Havasu Falls or even rafting down the Colorado or rafting down the Grand Canyon River. Oh, and unfortunately you can not take your cat down the river with you, just a heads up for those cat lovers. Always check the official website for permits, closures, weather conditions, and more.
2. Death Valley National Park - California
So there isn’t much when it comes to Death Valley and it has been known to have some of the highest temperatures in the world. One of the few things you will find in the park is the Saline Hot Springs. Which is where we come to our rule that you cannot give birth in the hot springs. Yes, I wrote that correct and the fact they have to make a rule like this makes me wonder who thought it would be a great idea to do it in the first place. This is perhaps at the top when it comes to the different weird US laws or rules.
3. Arches National Park - Utah
Do not try to walk on the arches. Plan and simple really. You can easily slip to your death or damage the natural arches. In fact, it was Dean Potter’s climbing of these arches in 2006 that lead to them starting the banning of people walking on the arches. That is why the park dose offer many climbing routes if you wish to itch the scratch of climbing. Want to know more about this park and Canyonlands, then check out our guide to both parks when you are visiting Moab,Utah.
4. Joshua Tree National Park - California/Arizona
The prohibited item for this park is simple, balloons. No water balloons or any other type of balloons are allowed. A lot of the other national parks have this rule as well. Some are more stricter on enforcing it.
5. Petrified Forest National Park - Arizona
All of the fossilized wood pieces at the Petrified Forest National Park looks gorgeous when the light hits them. They are scattered throughout this park. What was once a vast forest over 200 million years ago. Time and natural elements helped to contribute over time to the fossilization of those wood pieces, which eventually turned into rock like structures. What you will see when you enter this park is signs reminding you to not take any of the petrified wood pieces with you.
If people are allowed to do this, then over time, there will not be anything left. In fact, it is estimated that visitors take a few tons of the fossilized wood each year still. Imagine if no one would of taken any to begin with, how much would be present to change the look of the landscape.
Even now, most of the areas with the highest selection of pieces are actually privately owned. So stop by one of the gift stores to buy a piece if you wish, but leave the park ones alone.
6. Arcadia National Park - Maine
They have banned geo-caching at this National Park. It is due the prior people who have left trash behind or have damaged the once pristine land. So do not plan to leave behind one or go looking for any. In fact, you shouldn’t go off trail not only to protect yourself but the ecosystem around you as well.
7. Yellowstone National Park - Wyomying
It is sad to think that the park service had to make it illegal to approach any of the geysers in order to try to help protect people as well as the natural environment at this park. Never go off trail. The trails are marked for a reason to protect you and Yellowstone for future generations.
I even remember a sad tragedy I read about a few years ago when a man jumped in a hot springs to try to save his dog. The water sometimes is hotter than any animal or person can handle. It is not worth losing your life or your animals to get a closer look. Stay a safe distance away!
8. Shenandoah National Park - Virginia
Only 75 miles from Washington D.C. in Virginia is the Shenandoah National Park. This park is filled with waterfalls, lush fields, and wood filled lands. Perfect to get a permit and do some backcountry camping. With camping in the backcountry comes other obstacles you must adhere to like burying your human waste more than 3 inch deep. This park makes it illegal if you do not follow this.
9. Hawaii Volcanoe National Park - Hawaii
What comes from volcanoes spewing hot lava or years? Well that would be high mountaintops with pristine views. That is the Hawaiian islands in a nut shell. Mother Nature made some spectacular geological sites here, which is why many are left wanting to climb them. This is very dangerous in certain areas, since volcanic rock isn’t very stable to begin with.
Best to stay away from trying to climb in the Hawaii Volcanoe National Park if you do not want to get fined, jailed or suffer a worst fate, death. Instead head over to the Oahu island where you can find climbing options at Mokule’ia.
Only have a short amount of time when visiting the Big Island of Hawaii, then make sure to check out what to do in 36 hours. Every Hawaiian island has something special to offer and they shouldn’t be passed up. What each one dose have in common is a wide selection of hiking trails to view the islands. These are great alternatives if you want to get up high.
A part of the past can be viewed when visiting the Petrified National Forest in the northeast portion of Arizona. Stepping into this “forest” is an experience you won’t have anywhere else. Don’t expect to see standing living trees. Rather you will encounter fossilized trees that were alive over 200 million years ago, but now are rock like.
Federal Laws Most Break Without Realizing It (Yes You Did!)
- Planning to skateboard at the Alaska Savage River Loop, well think twice since it is illegal.
- Well since you decided to set up that camp in one of the National Forest, be prepared to commit to it. It is illegal to have an empty tent on your first night of camping. This falls under the protection of national forests code 551.
- In some of the national parks, you have the opportunity to go fishing. Make sure to acquire a permit beforehand. What you do not do though is dispose of any of those fish remains on national park lands. It is illegal under the law of 2.14 sanitation and refuse.
- Yes, you know you can not harass any animals in national parks. What you probably didn’t know is if those animals are breeding and you are teasing them, well that technically is illegal under the 2.2 Wildlife Protection law. This also goes with it being illegal to feed, touch, or disturb them in any way.
- Put that rock down and do not roll it down that hill. In fact the law says, no “tossing, throwing, or rolling rocks or other items inside caves, caverns, into valleys, canyons, or caverns, down hillsides or mountainsides, or into thermal features”. This is under the law, 2.1 Preservation of natural, cultural, and archeological resources.
- Visiting one of the national parks and see that beautiful flower over there? Yeah that one you wanted to pick. Go ahead and you will be breaking the law. If you do not have a scientific permit to collect or prior permission, then it is illegal to take any plants from the land. An example of this is the California state flower, which is the Poppy. By law, you cannot pick it if it is on any state property. That includes the parks.
- Setting your sights on metal detecting or gold panning? Set your sights on an area you can do it in then, because you cannot metal detect in any national parks. As for panning for gold, well you can in a few places. One of them is the Whiskeytown National Park, located in California, as it should be. Always check before you commit to doing something you want to do.
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Have you visited some of the national parks? Know of any other weird laws in the US or any rules others should be aware of?Let us know in the comments.
Have any other activities or places we should see, let us know in the comments section. From Phoenix? Hello neighbor! Comment and let us know of any other places we should add!
The information on this website has come from research and by experiencing it ourselves. Opening hours, closures, prices, etc. are always subject to change. We try to keep up to date on any new information, or tips to help make your adventure more enjoyable. Thanks for checking out this article on the Weird Laws in the U.S for National Parks and Nature.
Always make sure to check all websites and national park services before you go to see what new restrictions they have during Covid.