Scattering your loved one’s ashes is a way to say goodbye and pay respect to the departed. If a family member, spouse, or close friend chose cremation over burial, you might want to scatter their ashes in a meaningful location. And for people who love the outdoors, a national park might seem like the perfect choice.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Which National Parks or Forests Allow You to Scatter Ashes?
- How to Apply to Scatter Ashes at a National Park or Forest
But is it legal to scatter ashes in a national park? What about national forests? The good news is that yes, you can scatter ashes in most US National Parks. However, the Forest Service prohibits the scattering of ashes in US National Forests.
And if you want to scatter ashes in a national park, there are specific rules you’ll need to follow, and they vary based on the park you choose.
Tip: Even if you decide to scatter a loved one's ashes, you might choose to hold on to a small amount of the ashes, too. You can display them at home in a one-of-a-kind urn from Foreverence, or you can turn them into a real diamond with Eterneva or cremation stones with Parting Stone.
Which National Parks or Forests Allow You to Scatter Ashes?
The National Park System in the United States comprises 419 park sites. Additionally, there are currently 10,234 state parks.
Most national parks in the United States allow ash scattering with a special use permit, including the 10 most popular parks, below.
- Great Smoky Mountains
- Grand Canyon
- Rocky Mountain
- Grand Teton
How to Apply to Scatter Ashes at a National Park or Forest
Before you can scatter your loved one’s ashes at a US National Park, you need to file an application. Here’s the process for applying to scatter ashes at a national park.
Step 1: Visit the park’s website
To determine whether or not ash scattering is permitted at a specific park, you’ll need to visit the park’s website. Alternatively, you can call the site’s guest information line or ask the site’s visitor information staff in person.
Each US National Park has its own National Park Service website, which you can find by searching the name of the park or going to NPS.gov.
State parks often have the same guidelines and application process as national parks. You can find your state’s regulations by searching “[your state] state parks.”
Many state park departments have a similar application process to the National Park Service process, but your state might differ. California, for example, provides an application for scattering human remains.
The National Forest Service, in general, does not permit the scattering of remains on forest lands. That’s because placing cremains creates a “perpetual occupancy,” and may be “incompatible with the purposes for which the lands are managed.”
Some states also have state forests, which are protected by state-run agencies. State forests typically have similar rules and regulations to national forests, focusing on impacting the forestland as little as possible.
However, you can visit your state park’s website or call a visitor information phone number to request information about ash scattering.
Step 2: Choose a specific site
Some applications for special use, including scattering ashes, require you to state a specific location where your activity will take place. For example, if you’re scattering ashes at Yosemite, you might choose an area of land with a view of Half Dome.
Many applications for scattering ashes won’t request this type of specific information, but you might find it helpful to research potential locations anyway. Making your decision about where, exactly, in the national park you’ll scatter the ashes can also help you plan your trip and prepare.
Step 3: Plan your ash scattering
It’s also important to plan how you’ll go about scattering the ashes. Determine how many people will be present, as well as what kind of ceremony, if any, you’d like to have.
Some national parks prohibit music or other factors you might be considering. You can also plan what you’d like to say when you scatter the ashes and decide whether anyone else will say a few words.
Step 4: Submit the application and fees
Next, you’ll need to download, print, and mail or hand in your completed application. On the website where you found the application, you should also find information about where to send the finished paperwork. Some parks also require an application fee of around $25 to submit a special use permit, but many have no fees in addition to the park’s entry fee.
Once you’ve turned in your finished application to scatter ashes in a national or state park, you may need to wait for two to three weeks for an approval response. Once you’re approved, you should receive information about downloading or receiving a paper permit by mail.
Step 5: Obtain additional permits
If you plan on doing anything other than scattering ashes during your ash-scattering ceremony, you may need to obtain additional permits. For example, scattering ashes in the water via boat may require a boating permit, and camping off the beaten path could require a wilderness camping permit.
If you’re bringing a large party to observe the scattering of ashes, you might need an event permit. And if you want to scatter ashes from the air, which is allowed in some parks under certain circumstances, you’ll need additional permits.
Step 6: Keep your permit handy
When you’re ready to go scatter ashes at the national or state park, make sure you take your permit with you. If a park ranger sees you scattering ashes, you should be prepared to provide your permit for the activity. Otherwise, you could face a fine.
Step 7: Understand the regulations
Once you’ve filed your application and received approval, it’s important to review the regulations for the specific national park.
Regulations for Ashes at a National Park or Forest
You can find the regulations for scattering ashes on the national park’s NPS website. Once you’ve decided on the national park where you’d like to scatter a loved one’s ashes, it’s important to make sure you follow that particular set of rules.
However, many national parks have similar regulations for ash scattering. Below are the ash-scattering regulations for Arches National Park, as an example of what you can expect:
- Your group size is limited to six people.
- You may scatter ashes on land only, away from cultural features, in an area that will not impact other visitors.
- You may not leave any monument, cairn, or other marker at the site.
- You may not bury human ashes.
- Your event must comply with all other park regulations.
Most national parks prohibit the burial of ashes, as well as scattering ashes in more developed areas. And although you can’t leave markers at the site where you scatter ashes, many national parks have memory books you can sign to mark the occasion.
National parks also have their own unique regulations depending on the location and park features. For example, at Yellowstone Park, scattering ashes in the park’s thermal areas is prohibited. And Bryce Canyon National Park limits ash scattering to its Pirates Point area.
Scattering a Loved One’s Ashes
Choosing a place to scatter your loved one’s ashes isn’t easy. And once you decide on the location, the ash-scattering process is emotionally taxing.
Luckily, national parks and many public locations allow ash-scattering through a relatively easy process. You don’t have to break the law, or the regulations of a park or agency, to scatter your loved one’s ashes in a place they held dear.
If you choose to scatter ashes in a national park, make sure to go through the appropriate process of gaining the park’s approval. Doing so helps ensure that people can keep scattering ashes in national parks, in a manageable way, for many years to come.
- Ash Scattering Regulations. www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/ashscattering.htm
- Skidmore, David. “Most national parks can be final resting place.” Chicago Tribune. 18 November 2015. www.chicagotribune.com/travel/sc-spreading-ashes-park-travel-1124-20151118-story.html
- “Application to scatter human remains, California Department of Parks and Recreation.” California State Parks. www.parks.ca.gov/pages/627/files/Permit%20to%20Scatter%20Ashes%20Tehachapi.pdf
- “Guidance for Scattering Ashes and Erecting Memorials on Forest Service Land.” United States Department of Agriculture. www.fs.usda.gov/main/cibola/passes-permits/other