Photography Permits in Moab, Utah

The photography permits in Moab, Utah can be a bit confusing to navigate at first since there are a combination of BLM lands, national parks, a state park, & a national forest. Each of these areas has different rules & regulations regarding permits, weddings, elopements, & photography workshops in Moab. I work in the Moab area often since I live right along the border of Colorado & Utah. I keep up to date on all the photography permits & wedding permits for Moab & wanted to put this together for anyone looking for permit information for Moab.

Please note! I try to keep this information as up to date as possible but it is up to you to always double check what permits are needed & what the current regulations are.

Are Photography Permits Really Necessary?

The short answer is yes. Permits for photography in Moab help reduce user conflict & permit fees go to the maintaining & upkeep of public lands. Moab has seen an explosion of popularity recently for weddings, elopements, photography workshops, photography, & just general use. Not to mention, Moab has seen an increase in use from other people as well for vacations & adventures throughout the area.

The Moab area is a whole combination of public lands & navigating all the different rules & regulations can be confusing! Each place requires different permits but each place also has certain requirements where permits may not be needed. Some places in Moab have permits that are required for each use, other places only have yearly permits available. The cost for permits in Moab can cost between $50-$300+ for different activities & locations.

The Importance of Leave No Trace in Moab

Leave no trace in Moab is super important for every area you go to. When applying for permits, if you can demonstrate a knowledge of LNT specific to the Moab area & ensure the permit officer that you follow leave no trace, it can really make a difference. One of the more unique aspects of leave no trace in the deserts of Moab is not damaging cryptobiotic soil. Most all of the desert may look just like regular dirt or sand but it is alive! Just a few steps on crypto soil can cause decades of damage. Another thing to note is you need to leave desert potholes of water alone. These potholes provide water for animals & some smaller creatures even make these rare puddles home for a time.

You can become an official Leave No Trace photographer to get the below badge for your site!

Learn more about what being a leave no trace aware photographer means!

Wedding & Photography Permits for Arches National Park

Arches National Park is one of the most popular locations in Moab for just about everything! This park gets a lot of visitors & a lot of couples & photographers use this amazing park. Arches National Park requires permits for anything with a ceremony. This includes for vow renewals, small elopements, weddings, or even styled shoots if they will be doing a vow reading or letter reading.

Bride and groom have an elopement ceremony at Double Arch in Arches National Park.

When permits are required: Permits are required for anything with a ceremony, vow reading, letter reading, or setup. Permits are also required for any sort of photography workshop. Be sure to start the permit process at least 4 weeks in advance. Arches National Park has 10 designated locations. You can request other locations but other locations may result in a longer turnaround time for permits.

When permits are not required: Permits are not required if it is just photography, even if your clients are more dressed up in wedding clothes. As long as there is not a ceremony & as long as it is not part of a workshop, permits aren’t required for small photoshoots or small styled shoots with no setup.

Cost of permits: The cost of a wedding, elopement, or vow renewal sort of special use permit is $185. For photography workshops & other commercial uses, you need a commercial use authorization (CUA) & the cost starts at $300, a CUA is mainly for use by things like photography workshops. You will also have to pay entrance fees for the park or have an annual parks pass.

Who gets the permit: The special use permit for weddings or elopements must be requested by your clients, you cannot submit this permit for them. The CUA must be requested & submitted by you, the photographer.

Regulations & other info: Be sure to practice leave no trace in Arches National Park! Stay on trails, drones are not allowed, no pets are allowed, you can only be under arches for 10 minutes at a time, no alcohol, amplified sound, or instruments are allowed. Read my other blog on Arches. Or you can read more about special use permits or read more about CUAs.

Wedding & Photography Permits for Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park is the least visited of the national parks in Utah. The Island in the Sky district is closest to Moab & the most popular area. This part of the park gets a lot of visitors whereas other parts of the park are a lot less visited. Canyonlands National Park requires permits for anything with a ceremony. This includes for vow renewals, small elopements, weddings, or even styled shoots if they will be doing a vow reading or letter reading.

When permits are required: Permits are required for anything with a ceremony, vow reading, letter reading, or setup. Permits are also required for any sort of photography workshop. Be sure to start the permit process at least 4 weeks in advance. Canyonlands National Park has 3 designated locations. You can request other locations but other locations may result in a longer turnaround time for permits.

When permits are not required: Permits are not required if it is just photography, even if your clients are more dressed up in wedding clothes. As long as there is not a ceremony & as long as it is not part of a workshop, permits aren’t required for small photoshoots or small styled shoots with no setup.

Cost of permits: The cost of a wedding, elopement, or vow renewal sort of special use permit is $185. For photography workshops & other commercial uses, you need a commercial use authorization (CUA) & the cost starts at $300, a CUA is mainly for use by things like photography workshops. You will also have to pay entrance fees for the park or have an annual parks pass.

Who gets the permit: The special use permit for weddings or elopements must be requested by your clients, you cannot submit this permit for them. The CUA must be requested & submitted by you, the photographer.

Regulations & other info: Be sure to practice leave no trace in Canyonlands! Stay on trails, drones are not allowed, no pets are allowed, no alcohol, amplified sound, or instruments are allowed. You can read more about special use permits or read more about CUAs.

Wedding & Photography Permits for Dead Horse Point State Park

Dead Horse Point State Park is located right near Canyonlands & offers many of the same views. One good thing about Dead Horse is that it does allow decor, setup, & the permit cost is cheaper for the state park. The national parks are much more likely to fill up during Moab’s busy seasons, but you can usually find Dead Horse to be a somewhat less visited area. Currently the park requires permits for any paid photography work, photography workshops, or any sort of shoot with decor or a setup.

When permits are required: Permits are required for any sort of wedding or ceremony, they are also required for any photoshoot with a setup. Permits are also required for any sort of photography workshop. Be sure to start the permit process at least 30 days in advance. Dead Horse Point State Park has certain designated locations where ceremonies, decor, arches, rugs, & setups are allowed. Be sure to include this information on your permit application & contact the park to get the most up to date info on where decor is allowed. Drones are also allowed from November through February but a separate permit must also be submitted & certain locations are off limits for drones. Read more about drones.

When permits are not required: Permits are currently not required if it is something like an unpaid styled shoot & as long as there is no set up or decor. If it is not part of a workshop or wedding, permits aren’t required for small photoshoots or small styled shoots with no setup where you are not getting paid. Permits are also not required for general portrait sessions such as for families, bridals, or other small sessions with no ceremony or setup.

Cost of permits: The cost of any sort of special use permit starts at $60. You will also have to pay entrance fees for the park or have an annual Utah state parks pass.

Who gets the permit: Dead Horse Point State Park requires both photographers & wedding clients to get permits. So you as the photographer have to get a permit & if your clients are getting married there, they need to submit a copy of the same permit & pay the fees. It if is just a photoshoot, only you the photographer need a permit.

Regulations & other info: Be sure to practice leave no trace in Dead Horse Point State Park! Stay on trails, drones require other permits & are only allowed from November through February, no pets are allowed on biking trails, no alcohol, amplified sound, or instruments are allowed. You can read more about permits in the park & read more about wedding regulations.

Wedding & Photography Permits for BLM Lands (Bureau of Land Management)

Moab is absolutely full of public lands, even outside of the parks! If you are in the desert but outside of the parks anywhere around Moab, you are likely on Bureau of Land Management land (BLM land). The BLM lands are vast, remote, & totally epic. If you want to get away from the crowds of the parks, having a permit for Moab BLM lands is super beneficial. BLM lands around Moa do have some of the stricter permit requirements though.

Elopement in the remote desert of Moab, Utah with a bride and groom overlooking a cliff.

When permits are required: Permits are always required for BLM lands in Moab. Free shoots, paid shoots, workshops, elopements, weddings, regular photoshoots, & more all require permits. Drones also require authorization & permits. Some think that BLM lands are a “free for all” but they’re really not. We need to respect these places & follow the regulations or we could lose access to these areas. When you have the yearly permit, be sure to request use of locations at least 30 days in advance.

When permits are not required: There isn’t a time when permits are not required for photography, elopements, shoots, workshops, or weddings on BLM lands in Moab. Permits are always required.

Cost of permits: The cost of a yearly special recreation permit from the BLM office starts at $115. This is where things get a little more complicated! At the end of the year, you need to also submit a post use report. You will have to pay 3% of what you charge for services. But the $115 goes towards that 3%. If 3% is less than the $115, you won’t have to pay anything extra. If that 3% is more than $115, you will have to just pay the difference. You can also deduct time spent off BLM lands & you can also deduct local Moab business expenses (with receipts) such as if you are staying at a campground or hotel in Moab for work.

Who gets the permit: The special recreation permit is only available as a yearly permit & all vendors providing on-site services must have an up to date permit. This includes videographers, decor or rental companies, musicians, & others providing any on-site services or setup. The couple cannot get this permit but instead will get a letter of authorization through you from the BLM office. So they basically get the permit through your yearly permit.

To get the permit you will need to fill out a permit application, fill out an operating plan, submit a business license (if applicable), & provide proof of liability insurance that names the BLM as additionally insured. The BLM office in Moab only processes these permits twice a year– December 1st & June 1st, so be sure to get your permit applications submitted by these dates. The annual fee & up to date insurance in required to keep the permit current, regardless of use.

The comprehensive operating plan will ask how familiar you are with the Moab area, what risks there may be & how you will manage risks, & they just want to make sure you understand & will follow leave no trace & that you are aware of outdoor risks. You may also be asked to provide a copy of your contract & possibly current pricing. The Legal Paige elopement contract is great since couples agree to permit requirements, risks, & leave no trace in the contract.

Regulations & other info: Be sure to practice leave no trace when on BLM lands, it’s even in your contract you sign to get the permit! Stay on trails or durable surfaces, stay off the crypto soil, drones are allowed with restrictions & authorization, BLM lands are very pet friendly, setups can be allowed in certain areas with approval. Visit the Moab BLM website or email them at blm_ut_mb_srp@blm.gov for more information or to start the process on permits.

Wedding & Photography Permits for the Manti La-Sal National Forest

One of the most underrated areas in Moab is the national forest just outside the desert. With peaks towering 12,000+ feet high, the mountains get a lot more snow, offer cooler temperatures in the summer months, & have such things as wildflowers & fall colors in the aspen trees.

When permits are required: Permits are required for the Manti La-Sals when you are charging any amount of money for services or if there will be decor or a setup. So if you are a photographer charging for services, permits are required. Unless you’re doing the wedding for free, you need a permit as a photographer! They also require permits for other paid services such as caterers, event rentals, & other vendors providing on-site services. Permits are also required for any sort of photography workshop. When you have the yearly permit, be sure to request authorization for locations at least 45 days in advance but I recommend at least 60 days in advance.

When permits are not required: Permits are not required for small weddings under 75 people, but are required for any vendors charging for on-site services. The forest service told me they are understaffed & do not have the capacity to issue permits for one time photoshoots. Permits would not be required for styled shoots with no setup (but are required for workshops). So if you contact them, they may authorize a one time photoshoot or small elopement with no permit needed, but it is important to contact them.

Cost of permits: The cost of a permit for Manti La-Sal National Forest starts at $115. The minimum use fee is $115 & then you pay 3% of total revenue beyond that initial fee. So the pricing system works exactly the same as the Moab BLM permit.

Who gets the permit: This permit is only available as a yearly permit & all vendors providing on-site services must have an up to date permit. This includes videographers, decor or rental companies, musicians, & others providing any on-site services or setup. The couple cannot get this permit but instead will get authorization through you from the forest service office. So the couple basically gets the permit through your yearly permit.

To get the permit, you will need to submit the information to the forest service. Like the BLM office, they only process these yearly permits twice a year & information for the permit must be submitted by November 1st or March 1st.

Regulations & other info: Be sure to practice leave no trace in the mountains of Moab! Stay on trails or durable surfaces, don’t pick wildflowers, throwing things like confetti, seeds, or rice is not allowed, drones are allowed with authorization, & pets are allowed in the national forest. You can read more about permits in the mountains of Moab or contact them at zachary.lowe2@usda.gov.

Permits, laws, & regulations constantly change. Please always do your own research. I work in the Moab area a lot & am usually up to date on most things Moab permits. I’ll try to keep this current as best I can!

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