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Rules About Ash Scattering in the Top 10 National Parks

Bison grazing in Yellowstone’s meadows, the stark beauty of Joshua Tree, the majesty of Yosemite’s Half Dome...

Beautiful Locations to Honor a Loved One

Bison grazing in Yellowstone’s meadows, the stark beauty of Joshua Tree, the majesty of Yosemite’s Half Dome – these are the treasured memories of many nature-loving families recalling their visits to the nation’s national parks. 

For some seeking simple memorial service ideas, these national parks may be the perfect setting for a goodbye in nature. If you are looking for creative things to do in memory of a loved one, a beloved national park can be a particularly poignant choice for those who were most at home in the great outdoors.

But you’ll want to know the rules before you start planning.

Scattering of “ashes” is regulated park by park. Many national parks allow the practice, but always check park websites for information about permit requirements, rules, and suggested sites for scattering ashes. 

Most parks ask that you “leave nothing but footprints” (no markers, no piles, no identification tags) and that you avoid specific environmentally sensitive areas and choose undeveloped regions away from the public portions of the parks. 

Make sure you know the laws in your state for cremated remains scattering, as they vary. 

Unlike most national parks, national forest lands do not allow scattering

If you’re considering scattering cremated remains at a national park, we’ve done some legwork for you, researching the rules at the top 10 locations. Nine allow the scattering of ashes, but one does not. 

Acadia National Park

A special use permit is required to scatter ashes at Acadia National Park in Maine. However, there is no charge. The park says in areas that are accessible only by trail, there is a limit of 20 people. You can find additional guidelines on the park website.

Glacier National Park 

At Glacier in Montana, you will need a special use permit. The park’s website advises that winter-like weather can occur anytime between November and April. Ashes can only be disbursed in undeveloped areas and not within 200 feet of any developed location. The ashes must be scattered, and no container may be left, nor can a marker or memorial be placed. When you send in the permit application to park officials, you will receive a letter that you should bring to the scattering.

Grand Canyon National Park 

The Grand Canyon no longer allows the scattering of cremated remains. According to the park website, the park stopped the practice practice after consultation with 11 Native American tribes. The park’s website explains, “The practice of scattering ashes at Grand Canyon is considered disrespectful to many indigenous people and traditional communities. As such, permitting the activity could have an adverse impact on the Traditional Cultural Property at Grand Canyon and is incompatible with the park’s goal of recognizing indigenous beliefs.” 

Grand Teton National Park

At the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, a permit is required to scatter ashes, and the administrators ask for it two weeks before the event. There is no fee. The park will evaluate each request based on the application. There are several conditions to meet, including not using drones, not leaving behind anything like a memorial or marker, and not scattering within 100 yards of a flowing stream, river, or body of water, among other rules. The park generally wants to ensure the scattering will not impact or restrict other visitors.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

All that the nation’s most famous park, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (in Tennessee and North Carolina), requires is that you download a letter of permission from its website and have it with you during the scattering. If fewer than 25 people will attend, no further contact is necessary, the park’s website states. The park’s website does ask that you keep the scattering private and not disturb other visitors, among other guidelines. The authors recommend mornings as the best time to scatter “as the afternoons are usually more crowded and afford less privacy and solitude.”

Joshua Tree National Park

There is one location the California park allows, and though it is free to scatter, you’ll need a permit. The park will then send you a map once you are approved. There is a $500 fine if you don’t get the required access. 

Rocky Mountain National Park

At the Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, a permit is required at no charge, but like the other parks, there are rules to follow. The park offers suggested meadow locations to scatter ashes on its website and advises that mornings will be less crowded and more private. You must be 70 adult steps (or 200 feet) away from any water source like a lake or stream. Additional guidelines are similar to other parks, such as avoiding developed areas. 

Yellowstone National Park

You need a permit to scatter ashes at Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, but there is no fee. The park requests that you submit the application form 10 days before your planned memorial and that you keep your event as a “small, private affair” and “held away from high visitor use areas.” Once your request is approved, you will receive a permit to sign and return. After you receive the final permit, bring it for the ash scattering event. There are a dozen or so guidelines to follow on the park website.

Yosemite National Park

California’s Yosemite does allow scattering with a letter of authorization. The park has several rules about where to scatter ashes (out of sight of public areas, not in a dry or running creek bed, and nothing left behind as a marker). The chapel keeps a Book of Memories with the names of the deceased. You can contact them before your event to include your loved one. The application process may take up to three weeks. According to the park website, you can put the relationship with your loved one on your request form in the “proposed activity” field.

Zion National Park

The Zion National Park’s website explains that the park is a special place for many people. You need a permit and to pay the $25 application fee. The park requests at least three week’s notice to receive consideration. Two locations are approved for scattering. They are the Watchman Trail and Angel’s Landing. No memorialization or markers can remain.

Whatever park you choose, we hope the majesty of our nation’s national parks serves as a beautiful environment that pays special tribute to your loved one’s appreciation of nature and love of country from sea to shining sea. Afterall providers can help plan a scattering ceremony. Find a nearby Afterall location here.

To learn about more options for memorializing your loved one's ashes, take a look at our article Spring To-Do List: Finding a Permanent Place for Loved One’s Ashes.