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 best resource for keeping up with all the various state gun laws is our Concealed Carry Gun Tools smartphone app. It has a full legal rundown for every state's gun laws, reciprocity maps and so much more. And it is completely free!

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.

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

About Jacob Paulsen

Jacob S. Paulsen is the President of provides in-person and online firearm training for American gun owners. The Company is currently teaching in-person classes in 25+ states with a team of more than 55 instructors. Jacob is a NRA certified instructor & Range Safety Officer, USCCA certified instructor and training counselor, Utah BCI instructor, Affiliate instructor for Next Level Training, Graduate and certified instructor for The Law of Self Defense, and a Glock and Sig Sauer Certified Armorer. He resides in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado with his wife and children.


  1. Jay on 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. on 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 on 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 on 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 on 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.

      • MM on June 10, 2022 at 10:54 am

        Which court of appeals had this ruling and are any cases pending in others court of appeals?

  3. John on 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 on 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 on 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.

    • Michael Nistler on June 11, 2022 at 12:33 am

      In fact, you may be surprised that bears commit more homicides than the NPS would care to let you know! Try googling “National Park bear killing human.” If fact, Wikipedia conveniently gives you data of bear attacks by each decade!

      Happy hunting… bears, I hear humans are tasty and quite a delicacy!

  5. Don on 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.

    • Valerio Andujar on May 19, 2022 at 9:01 am

      That’s why we need to work on have a national reciprocal gun law to all abiding citizens no matter the state, county or place. The second amendment community should work with your state and congress to push for it.

    • Theodore on February 24, 2024 at 5:10 am

      Respectfully Don, I disagree that it needs to be a uniform policy because of the vast differences in the park themselves. Terrain and population density could make weapons more or less dangerous, wildlife endangerment levels could make it more or less critical to prevent guns and it may be drastically more or less important for one to have a weapon for protection from wildlife. To be fair, it wouldn’t bother me if the fed maintained a few rules. No guns in buildings they own seems fair, maybe maximums for weapons, ammo, etc. Overwhelmingly widely agreed on safety measures that every state should adopt anyway. However, I think any decision more specific than that should be left to the state, or even better the county government, that the park resides under. Again, I respect that your view is valid, I just feel differently

  6. Eric Burger on 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 on 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 on 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 on 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 on 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 on 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 on 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 on 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 on July 20, 2020 at 11:30 am

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

    • Jacob Paulsen on 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 on 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 on 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 on 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 on 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 on 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 on 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 on 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.

      • Tom on February 26, 2022 at 8:31 am

        I can tell you that a semi truck sleeper has no more protection from a search than a regular automobile does. So I doubt your camper does either.

      • MM on June 10, 2022 at 10:56 am

        This may be a dumb question but does this also cover outhouse/pit toilets as a federal building?

  16. JIm on May 18, 2022 at 9:54 am

    We need to have a discussion about Indian Reservation. My state, Arizona, has an open carry law and a concealed permit law, but I can not carry on a Reservation without the approval of that specific tribe. We have 22 Federal recognization tribes covering 28% of the state. If I am on a state or federal road that crosses through a reservation; do I need to be concerned?

  17. R. Lee on May 18, 2022 at 10:38 am

    Wow, it’s a good thing the federal government doesn’t allow criminals in the parks. Oh, wait a minute…..

  18. Mike Maloney on August 7, 2022 at 3:56 pm

    I am planning a motorcycle trip which will include a couple nights tent camping in a National Park. I have a concealed permit which is respected in all states involved, so long as I take a detour to avoid one particular state. When I enter the park, I will be carrying. Does the ranger station count as a federal building? I’ll just be showing them my “old fart” pass and rolling through. I have no practical way to secure my firearm other than on my person. My tent certainly isn’t secure and my motorcycle has soft bags which cannot be locked. Any thoughts?

  19. J on June 22, 2023 at 2:40 pm

    I knew a fellow that was attacked (mauled, 130-140 stitches) by a cougar in a fed forest – so it would be illegal for him to defend himself except with his hands correct? Sounds quite ignorant of reality. I’ve been able to scare off 3 black bear encounters my self – but that was luck on my part.

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