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How To Safely Travel With Your Firearm to National Parks

national park guns

There are 59 wonderful and amazing National Parks in this blessed country. Since Yellowstone was established in 1872 the US Congress has established National Parks in 28 US states (Alaska has 8 of them). My family visited two National Parks this past week and I thought it would be an appropriate time to discuss how Gun Owners can safely and legally navigate to and through National Parks.

National Parks are operated by the National Park Service which is an agency of the Department of the Interior of the US Government.  On February 22nd, 2010 Congress approved a new law allowing loaded firearms in national parks. It was a provision inside of the Credit Card Accountability and Responsibility and Disclose Act of 2009 which was approved by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama. HOWEVER, don't stop reading here or you could get yourself into some serious trouble.

The devil is in the details as they say… so lets get started.

From the new law here is the relevant text:

Protecting the Right of Individuals To Bear arms in Units of the National Park System and the National Wildlife Refuge System—The Secretary of the Interior shall not promulgate or enforce any regulation that prohibits an individual from possessing a firearm including an assembled or functional firearm in any unit of the National Park System or the National Wildlife Refuge System if—(1) the individual is not otherwise prohibited by law from possessing the firearm; and (2) the possession of the firearm is in compliance with the law of the State in which the unit of the National Park System or the National Wildlife Refuge System is located.

What this then essentially does is apply state law to the possession of guns in National Parks. So, with that in mind here are considerations you need to study and be familiar with:

Individual States Can Prohibit Guns In Their National Parks

Since the new law essentially extends state firearm regulation into the National Parks located in that state you need to research state laws before traveling into a National Park. Since you likely have to drive through that state to get to the park, and because you are a responsible gun owner you know it is best to research gun laws in any state before you travel to or into that state. Add an extra step to check that state's regulations relative to having a firearm in a state or national park within that state. The Legal Boundaries Travel Book has a section on each state's page to answer that specific question.

In addition, our mobile app was recently updated to include a legal summary for each of the 50 states that includes information about the restrictions in State and National Parks. You can find it on our site here: Gun Law Summaries by State

Some Parks Cover Multiple States

If you are traveling to Yellowstone National Park for example, you may be in the boundaries of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho at one point or another. Be sure to be familiar with and in compliance with each state's laws in their respective state boundaries within the park.

Some Guns Could be Prohibited

The state may have regulation about what specific firearms may be allowed or legal including limitations on magazine capacity.

Concealed Carry Permit May Be Required

The state may require that you have a valid and recognized permit in order to have your firearm concealed on your person and/or in the vehicle.

Public Transportation Like Shuttle Buses, Ferries or Boats May be Prohibited

Riding or using public transportation within the park could be another thing that is prohibited within any given state.

Hunting is Illegal in Most National Parks Except Under Special Permits

Don't shoot at that deer. I like the meat as much as the next guy but the discharge of a firearm in a National Park is a big no-no and unless you have a special permit or license any form of hunting will be prosecuted.

Guns Cannot Be Carried Into Federal Buildings (And Their Parking Lots)

At Lake Lodge In Yellowstone National Park 2017

If you have researched all the above state specific nuances and are moving forward with carrying your gun into the park beware of the federally owned or operated buildings. Despite any other local law, Federal law continues to prohibit firearms inside of any federal building or any building at which federal employees operate full time. Within national parks most of the buildings would qualify and they only sometimes go to the effort of posting a sign. Also, an appellate court ruled in 2015 that gun owners do not have the right to keep/store firearms in their cars when on Federal property so even getting caught with your gun in your car in the parking lot of a Federal Building could be an issue.

Target Practice is Banned in National Parks

While it is lawful for gun owners to discharge firearms in National Forests, National Parks remain off-limits to any sort of target practice or discharge of a firearm.

Other Weapons (Bows, Swords, & Airguns) Remain Prohibited

And lastly a reminder that while the law that went into effect in 2010 removed the firearm possession restriction it did not appeal or remove the restrictions in place on other forms of weapons. Take the Glock but leave the BB gun home.

If you want to freely travel the wonderful natural beauty of the United States you should consider having in your car with you a copy of “Legal Boundaries By State – The Travel Guide For American Gun Owners.” This simple but intuitive book will make it easy to research the various state-specific laws that affect your travel plans!

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17 Responses to How To Safely Travel With Your Firearm to National Parks

  1. Jay June 24, 2017 at 10:55 pm #

    Well, hmm. So you’re allowed to carry in the park, but not in any building in the park or to have your gun in any parking lot. And you probably can’t have your gun in a bus, so you can’t park outside and take a bus in. You’d have to park your car somewhere outside the park’s boundaries and then walk in, and you can’t enter any buildings.

    Seems like in practice this means you still can’t carry in a national park.

    • Richard H. July 10, 2017 at 9:13 am #

      I believe you have got it right. What kind of crazy B.S. are the laws that entrap law abiding people like this.

      • Melissa August 14, 2019 at 9:06 pm #

        Makes it a whole lot easier for the state to snatch your car under those asset forfeiture laws.

  2. Paul J. Scott October 11, 2017 at 2:24 pm #

    When it says no guns allowed in the parking lot does this mean even if it’s unloaded and locked in a gun box in the trunk of your car?

    • Jacob Paulsen October 11, 2017 at 3:19 pm #

      Correct. The recent federal district court decision said no guns allowed in federal buildings OR their parking lots regardless of the status of the gun or how it is kept in the vehicle.

  3. John December 28, 2017 at 3:17 pm #

    If you are legally allowed to carry, you should be able to. My gun is safest with ME, not locked in a car because I have to enter a NO GUN ZONE…….should be either you are in or out….too much gray area

  4. Bill January 12, 2018 at 1:49 pm #

    CA law prohibits open carry regardless so unless I have a permit for carrying a concealed weapon it’s a no-go zone. How often are people in areas where bears or mountain lions will go while in a national park? I’m guessing that it’s often. Oh well.

  5. Don August 15, 2018 at 12:48 pm #

    It definitely goes against my beliefs, but it is probably necessary for the Fed
    to step into this mess. It may be a States Right issue but uniformity is needed
    just as with Driver Licenses..Gun Licenses should be handled same way.

  6. Eric Burger August 15, 2018 at 3:26 pm #

    I believe the parking lot restriction is for the building parking lot only not a parking lot that is not intended to service a building ie: a trailhead parking lot. Even so I agree the parking lot restriction (applies to post office lots as well) is draconian.

  7. Robert Edmunds August 16, 2018 at 3:07 am #

    So if a bad guy comes in the park he will know that all the people and visitors won’t have any guns to protect them selves or any one else because of all the laws that stop law abiding citizens from carrying a gun.Easy pray come now law makers lets our HEAD OUT OF OUR A#&

    • Amanda May 23, 2020 at 1:52 pm #

      So, if we cannot discharge our weapon while in the park, what happens if we discharge our weapon in self defense? Or is that a grey area?

      • Jacob Paulsen May 23, 2020 at 2:46 pm #

        Amanda, I would say it isn’t clear by any national legal standard. It could vary depending on the state in which the park is located; but ultimately I think you should do whatever necessary to live to fight the legal fight.

  8. Maggie Valera April 11, 2019 at 3:32 pm #

    This is good news for me because it means that since I will be in an open carry state camping/hiking in a primitive area, I can open carry my sidearm for self-defense. I’ve had my fill of raccoons over the years but when it comes to coyote and bobcat, rattling a few pans might not do the trick.

  9. Roy Tiffner July 20, 2020 at 8:53 am #

    In Texas, a parking lot is not generally considered “property”.
    I.g. you cannot carry on school property But, you’re legal leaving it in the car or wearing concealed as long as you do not exit the vehicle.
    How does this align with three federal regulation?

    • Jacob Paulsen July 20, 2020 at 8:55 am #

      I don’t think the laws in TX have any bearing on the Federal definition. A few years ago someone was arrested for having their firearm in their car in the parking lot of a post office. That individual appealed the conviction and a federal district court upheld the decision so its seems both clear and recently affirmed that you cannot have a firearm in your vehicle in the parking lot of a federal building.

  10. jeff overocker July 20, 2020 at 11:30 am #

    is this just for handguns? how about a kel-tek fold up rifle?

    • Jacob Paulsen July 20, 2020 at 1:17 pm #

      Broadly speaking the federal law referenced refers to all firearms. But the state specific laws that may apply within a unit of the National Park Service may be specific to certain types of firearms.

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