You’re a landscape photographer (or videographer) in the Upstate New York area that just bought a new drone to create a new form of exciting artwork – yay! After you unbox it, do some test flights, and become familiar with the drone, you have but one question: “Where do I go to take scenic landscape photos with my drone, legally?”. Upstate and Central New York has many beautiful landscape features worth of photographing; Lakes, Rivers, Streams, Forests, Mountains, and more. But can you fly a drone in State Parks? County Parks? What about flying a drone in the Adirondacks, or State Forests and Wildlife management areas? Fear not, I will help you out with this the best that I can.
A while back, I published another article about how to find locations to fly your drone legally. I recommend giving this article a read, as there’s many tips and pointers in it to finding your own locations. For your convenience, as you read on, you will also see I am maintaining a handy list of locations to fly a drone in Upstate New York. But before we get to the list, let me get to the criteria for locations that made the list:
1. Always public land.
For all the locations on my list, they are publicly accessible property. They can be NY state forests, roadside scenic pull-offs, parks, wildlife management areas, and more. It’s crucial you do not take-off, operate, or land your drone on private property without permission from the property owner – that’s trespassing!
2. No state parks or historic sites.
In the state of New York, it’s against the law to take-off, operate, or land your drone inside of a NY State Park and/or historic site without a valid permit. Obtaining the permits has been shown to be difficult. On my NY drone location map, no state parks will be listed. However, it is legal to fly over a state park, as the FAA has domain of the airspace above the ground, not the state park. If I find a take-off location that allows for good visual line-of-sight while flying over a state park, it may be added to the list – but the actual take-off location will always be outside of the state park.
3. Only certain areas of the Adirondacks and Catskills.
The Adirondack park is the crown jewel of Upstate New York – forests, rivers, lakes, mountains are plentiful here, and it’s a landscape photographer’s dream. However, only certain areas of the Adirondack park permit take-off, operation, and landing of drones. According to The Adirondack Council, “In the Adirondack Park, it is legal to launch a drone anywhere the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) allows, except on state lands classified by the Adirondack State Land Master Plan (SLMP) as “Wilderness,” “Primitive” or “Canoe.”“
To find these areas, the New York State Adirondack Park Agency provides an online map of the Adirondacks, showing you the boundaries of these special areas. My online list of Upstate NY drone operating locations will always include only areas where operating a drone in the Adirondack park is legal.
The Catskills are also a beautiful area. Similar rules apply here, and you can find a map of the Catskills with the above areas in PDF form here.
4. Only certain county, city, and town parks.
In my area of Onondaga County in CNY, drones are also prohibited from Onondaga County Parks without a permit. I will not list any locations inside of these parks. Neighboring Cayuga County parks do not have any rules posted online or signs at the park as of the publishing of this article, so I may list Cayuga County Park locations. I will list other locations that are in town parks and city parks that have no rules against drone use posted online; I always recommend giving them a call before flying to be sure they do not have any unlisted rules!
5. Sometimes in DEC Wildlife Management areas (read!)
According to all the sources I have found, it is perfectly legal to operate a drone inside of NY State DEC Wildlife Management areas. However, it is important to understand that most of these areas are public lands designed to offer hunters a public place to hunt animals. As such there may be gunfire in these areas, and I do not recommend flying a drone here during hunting season, and always wear a bright orange vest for safety. Keep in mind that some small game hunting seasons are year-round, and some hunters may come to these areas at all times of the year for target practice. Generally, most of these areas have a parking lot, and I choose to not fly a drone here if there are any other cars in the parking lot. But just because there’s no cars in the parking lot does not mean that no one is hunting! So be alert and stay safe at all times.
I will also be including locations that are at DEC Fishing Access sites – these sites are state land to provide people a place to fish publicly. Do not give the drone community a bad name – if there are fishermen there, do not fly your drone near them or disturb them. Fishermen like peace and quiet.
6. Scenic or interesting natural views.
I will only list drone operating locations on my map that are nearby some type of scenic view. It could be a river, a lake, a pond, hills, mountains, fields, or just a general interesting landscape feature. In the satellite view of the map, you can zoom out and get an idea of why I put a map pin at that location.
7. Obeying other rules with special notes about airports and controlled airspace (read!)
Some (but not many) of the locations on my map might be within 5 nautical miles of an airport or in controlled airspace (Class A, B, C, D, E). I will not put any locations on my map that are very close to an airport, and only put locations in areas where it is possible to obtain permission to fly via LAANC or a written Authorization, even if at a reduced altitude limit. It is your responsibility as a drone operator to check the VFR Aeronautical Charts, or a mapping app such as AirMap, and obtain authorization before you fly. There may be other smaller airports nearby that do not have controlled airspace – always be sure to check the maps and fly safely.
I will not put any locations on the map that are inside of restricted areas such as military bases, prisons, schools, etc, though some of my locations might be near to them, so be sure you consult the VFR Charts or AirMap before you plan your flight to be sure you will not be flying into or over these areas. It is also illegal to operate a drone in Manhattan, and will not be putting any of these locations (this is a map about Upstate NY anyway!)
And without further ado, here’s the map…
This map can be saved to your Google Maps account for easy access on your phone; I am always adding new locations I find to it. Although I try my best to add locations based on all of the above criteria, it’s not impossible that I may have made a mistake. If you find any locations that should not be on there or if you are the owner/manager of any property of a location listed on the map and prohibit drone operation, please contact me so that I can remove it from the map. Before flying at any of these locations, always do your own due diligence to find out if these locations are legal to fly at, and stay safe at all times.
If you would like to help me add new locations to the map, just contact me with the coordinates or name of the location, and why you think it should be added.
This article is not to be considered legal advice, always check the laws, rules, and regulations for where you plan to fly your drone; if you are unsure, call the government and ask or consult an attorney. I give no warranties to the accuracy of the information in this article of on the provided map, and by using the map you will not hold me liable for any civil or criminal repercussions.