Colorado Man Admits Illegally Landing Helicopter In Grand Teton National Park

The owner of a Colorado-based business that charters helicopter tours admitted Monday that he did illegally land his helicopter in Grand Teton National Park, but said he had a sick passenger on board and was unaware he was in the park. He also said he didn't have a picnic there.

Jimmy Orr

July 10, 20232 min read

Photo of Peter Smith's helicopter in Grand Teton National Park on June 24, 2023.
Photo of Peter Smith's helicopter in Grand Teton National Park on June 24, 2023. (Courtesy, Grand Teton National Park)

The owner of a Colorado-based helicopter tours business is planning to fight charges levied by the National Park Service for illegally landing his helicopter in Grand Teton National Park.

The Park Service on Monday announced that Peter Smith is being charged with two violations for an unauthorized landing of his helicopter at Moran Bay on the west shore of Jackson Lake, inside Grand Teton National Park on June 24.

The statement said rangers were alerted of the helicopter and responded by boat where they found Smith and a companion “picnicking along the lake.”

Smith, the owner of West Elk Air, told Cowboy State Daily he did land in the park but that’s because he had an ill passenger on board and he wasn’t aware that the location was inside the park.

“We had a sick passenger and there was bad weather in the Tetons so we couldn’t cross the Tetons,” Smith told Cowboy State Daily on Monday.

Smith said he checked his maps before landing but the boundaries were unclear.

“We did not know we were in the park,” he said. “When you look down you see 10 motorboats circling around with water skiers, you don’t assume it’s a national park.”

Only two lakes in Grand Teton National Park allow motorized boats, Jackson and Jenny Lakes.

Smith wouldn’t discuss what he was doing in the area.

He did say he was annoyed at media reports stating that he and his passenger were having a picnic.

“All of these articles are coming up saying we had a picnic — there was no picnic,” he said.

“There was no enjoyment going on. We just landed there for 10 minutes before the U.S. Forest Service showed up. They gave us our ticket and then we were out,” he said.

Each violation is a Class B misdemeanor that could include up to a $5,000 fine and/or six months in jail. Smith is scheduled to appear in court before of a federal judge in Jackson in August.

The Park Service added that Smith was previously cited for flying a fixed-wing aircraft below minimum safe altitude against Federal Aviation Administration regulations in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park four months ago in February 2023. Smith paid a $530 fine set by a federal judge.

Jimmy Orr can be reached at

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Jimmy Orr

Executive Editor

A third-generation Wyomingite, Jimmy Orr is the executive editor and co-founder of Cowboy State Daily.