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How To Safely Travel With Your Firearm to National Parks

There are 59 incredible and unique National Parks in this blessed country. Since establishing Yellowstone in 1872, the US Congress has established National Parks in 28 US states (Alaska has 8 of them). My family likes to travel and explore. We visited two National Parks this past week. In light of that, I thought it would be an appropriate time to discuss how Gun Owners can safely and legally navigate to and through National Parks.
travel to national park guns

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

What Does the Law Actually Say?

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:

The 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 includes a legal summary for each of the 50 states providing current 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 comply with each state's laws in their respective state boundaries within the park.

Some Guns Could be Prohibited

The state may have regulations 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 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 may be 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, you will likely face prosecution for any hunting.

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. Federal law continues to prohibit firearms inside of any federal building or any building at which federal employees operate full time despite any other local law. 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-Banned in National Parks

While it is lawful for gun owners to discharge firearms in National Forests, National Parks remains off-limits to any firearm's target practice or discharge.

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 rules in place on other forms of weapons. Take the Glock but leave the BB gun home.

legal boundaries by state

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

*this has been updated and republished from a 2018 post*

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26 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.

    • Jean Manson May 25, 2021 at 4:31 pm #

      All guns should be allowed without restriction with one proviso: They should be used in self defense against another human being.

  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.

    • Tom McMinn May 25, 2021 at 3:17 pm #

      (h) Notice of the provisions of subsections (a) and (b) shall be posted conspicuously at each public entrance to each Federal facility, … and no person shall be convicted of an offense under subsection (a)… with respect to a Federal facility if such notice is not so posted at such facility, unless such person had actual notice of subsection (a) or (e), as the case may be.

  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.

  11. Roy May 25, 2021 at 4:04 pm #

    Just a point go clarify on parking lots. If you are going to the Ranger’s Office to check in and register for a hiking trail or campsite, you cannot have the weapon on your person or in your vehicle. However, if you are stopping at a concession and in their parking lot, that is not a federal building or federal parking lot. Same with a general public parking area. Fine line but one as conscientious concealed carry citizens that we should understand and abide. As stated in the article, understand the state laws also.

  12. Skipper Wallace May 26, 2021 at 6:04 pm #

    Open carry should be the law everywhere, because the crooks don’t pay any attention to the Law.Skipper

  13. Sonny June 16, 2021 at 11:00 am #

    So in California you can open carry in national park if you have a license to own a gun.just not in any federal building or parking lot?

    • Jacob Paulsen June 16, 2021 at 11:05 am #

      That appears to be the case. You can always contact the National Park Service with questions.

  14. Tom June 29, 2021 at 5:53 am #

    Could it be safe to say that my Devil advocate would be correct when applying the “it’s all legal until you get caught “. I am and always will be a responsible gun owner, but in those occasions when the restrictive gun laws interfere with good common sense I will take the risk bending the law. My gun is always safest with me, period.

  15. Jimmy Cartee July 1, 2021 at 7:23 am #

    What is fine if you have your firearm in your vehicle or camper in a parking lot in Nat. Park? Is not a camper considered your home?

    • Jacob Paulsen July 1, 2021 at 7:47 am #

      Jimmy, this is a question I don’t think anyone can answer with certainty. The federal law only specifies that you can’t have a firearm in a federal building. It doesn’t specify that you can’t have it in the parking lot of that building but there is a court precedent out of Colorado where a man was convicted for having a firearm in his vehicle in the parking lot of a post office. He appealed that decision and it went up to an appellate court where the decision was supported. As such, we assume that precedent would be or at very least could be followed in all other jurisdictions. As to if your camper or vehicle somehow becomes an exception to that rule becomes difficult to answer since we have limited information and precedents to guide us. I will emphasize however that the idea that your vehicle is an extension of your home is mostly a false myth. A small number of states do extend similar rights of protection to the vehicle as they do the dwelling but for the greater part that isn’t the case. A camper on the other hand that is specifically designed to be slept in and inhabited is much more likely in a much larger number of states to be viewed as a temporary habitation and as such it MIGHT have SOME of the same rights as your home. Regardless it may not apply here since we are talking about Federal law and Federal Property where no such protections exist so far as I’m aware.

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