Virginia: State or National Parks: What’s the Difference?

A common question often asked is whether it is legal in Virginia to carry a firearm in state or national parks. In Virginia, the laws are complex with regards to firearms in its parks. Both open and concealed carry are generally allowed, with some exceptions, with the proper license in state parks. However, the open carry is not permitted in buildings belonging to an executive agency. Executive Order Number 50 (2015) prohibited open carry in offices occupied by executive branch agencies. These restricted places must post a sign to that effect.

In addition, you can concealed-carry but not open carry in Department of Game and Inland Fisheries-owned lands. [4 VAC 15-40-60G] Municipal parks are more restrictive. Semi-automatic or pistol with magazine that can hold more than 21rounds, or shotguns that can hold more than 7 rounds, or not permitted on or about one’s person in any public park in Alexandria, Chesapeake, Fairfax, Falls Church, Newport News, Norfolk, Richmond, Virginia Beach, or Counties – Arlington, Fairfax, Henrico, Loudoun, or Prince William. The exception is that this does not apply to persons with a valid carry permit.

Until a few years ago, firearms were not permitted on federal parklands. However, the law governing possession of firearms inside a national park or forest changed on February 22, 2010.

The law changed so that visitors may possess firearms within a national park unit provided they comply with federal, state, and local laws.

So guns are allowed in all but about 20 of the park service’s 392 locations, including some of its most iconic parks: Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, Great Smoky Mountains, Yosemite and Rocky Mountain National Park. However, more than 30 national parks span more than one state, so visitors need to know where they are in those parks and which state law applies

Guns will not be allowed in visitor centers or rangers’ offices, because firearms are banned in federal buildings, but they could be carried into private lodges or concession stands, depending on state laws.

While visiting National Forests in Virginia, you may carry a weapon. However, in addition to state laws, you must comply with Federal Regulations pertaining to the use of a firearm on National Forest System lands.

A firearm may not be discharged in the following National Forest areas:
1. Within 150 yards of a residence, building, campsite, developed recreation site, or occupied area; or
2. Across or on a Forest Development road or an adjacent body of water, or in any manner or place whereby any person or property is exposed to injury or damage as a result of such discharge; or
3. Into or within any cave. [36 CFR 261.10 (d)]

Some forest or districts have additional restrictions on discharging a firearm. You are advised to check with the authorities in the areas you will be visiting.

In accordance with 16 USC 1a-7b, in any national park, a person may possess a firearm if such possession is in compliance with the laws of the State in which the national park area is located. Therefore, in any national park in the State of Virginia, Virginia’s laws would apply.

Another Federal statute, in particular 18 USC 930, prohibits firearms or other dangerous weapons within a “Federal facility,” defined as a “a building or part thereof owned or leased by the Federal Government, where Federal employees are regularly present for the purpose of performing their official duties.” In national parks, such facilities may include visitor centers, administrative offices, and/or maintenance buildings. Any such facilities will be clearly marked with signs at all public entrances.

For more information about national parks, and park-specific regulations, visit the National Park Service website and search by park name, location (state), activity, or topic.

In summary, Virginia licensed holders are permitted to carry in Virginia’s National Parks, but not inside buildings within the park, and in Virginia State parks.