Woman scattering cremated ashes in lake

Where Can You Legally Scatter Cremated ashes?

The funeral is over. The mourners have gone home.  And now you have the ashes, or cremated remains, of a loved one.  People often leave the ashes of their loved ones someplace special – outside of a cemetery or mausoleum.  The scattering can symbolize the body’s return to nature or God, honoring a life’s passion, letting go, or any or all of these.  A scattering ceremony can be a beautiful way to honor someone, but it also raises lots of questions.  One of the biggest… where can you legally scatter cremated ashes? 

Determining a final resting spot for cremated ashes is a deeply personal process.  This choice can be incredibly meaningful to the mourning friends and family as the last act of honoring a loved one who has passed.  However, before plans go too far, it is best to make sure that you’re not putting yourself or others in legal jeopardy with the ceremony!

The most important guideline for anywhere you’re considering to scatter the cremated ashes is to respect the will of the property owner or manager!  Whether you’re considering parks, public land or private property, the advice is the same – check first!  There are a few tips below for common scattering locations.

Scattering Ashes on Parks & Public Property

Most US national parks allow the scattering of ashes, but request that you secure a permit before proceeding.  A quick search of the National Park Service website will provide individual park rules.  The Bureau of Land Management website has a good guide as well.  The generally accepted rule is to go off the trail or road for at least 100 yards before scattering or burying the remains.

Treasured national parks, state parks, trails or other public lands can be a beautiful final resting place.  We build beautiful memories in these outdoor places year after year.  Obtaining a permit may seem like needless bureaucracy.  However, doing so can keep you on the right side of the law and helps respects the experience of other visitors. 

Environmental Impacts?  Are Ashes Toxic?  Dangerous?

Cremated remains aren’t a biohazard or toxic to humans.  All of the organic materials are eliminated through the cremation process, leaving mostly just calcium phosphates from bones.  This is similar to fertilizer.  Anyone who has been overzealous in fertilizing their lawn knows that the excess nutrients can cause ‘burns’ in the grass.  The same caution applies to scattering ashes.  Some of the park rules are put in place to ensure we don’t inadvertently damage sensitive wildlife areas such as tundras or waterways.  

For more information on the environmental impact of cremations, see our article answering the question Is Cremation Greener Than Burial.

Scattering Ashes on Private Property

If you want to scatter ashes on private property (other than your own), you’ll need to get permission before proceeding.  Remember, many seemingly public spaces are actually private property.  For example, sports stadiums are private, not public property.  Some venues are more welcoming than others.  NASCAR’s Bristol Motor Speedway for example typically accommodates requests.  Others like Disney World flatly reject all such asks.  Contacting the owner or those responsible for managing the site before you proceed will help ensure a dignified ceremony without charges being filed!  What’s worse, instead of spending eternity in the ‘Happiest Place on Earth’, Mom may end up in the bottom of a shop vac…

Keep in mind that stadiums or other buildings are subject to be demolished and or moved.  The old home of the Denver Broncos, Mile High Stadium, is now a parking lot!  Who knows what became of ashes that may have been spread there years ago?

Scattering At Sea

The EPA allows the burial of human remains at sea (or the scattering of cremated ashes).  However, they require that this takes place at least 3 miles from shore in a biodegradable container.  The EPA asks that you report back to them about the scattering within 30 days with a short, 2-page form.

Final Thoughts 

With the increasing popularity of cremation, there will be more non-traditional final resting place. It is important that you find someplace where you can legally scatter cremated ashes.  Whether you secure permits/permissions or take a “don’t ask, don’t tell” strategy, there are a few points to consider as you plan the scattering ceremony.  

  • Be Considerate of Others – People may have emotional reactions to human remains.  Finding a pile of white cremated remains can be upsetting to people.  If you’re scattering ashes somewhere special, please don’t ruin it for others who share the same affection for a place.

  • Be Discrete – Cremains have a lighter color than most rock and dirt, so try to spread them around or bury them to help them blend in.  If you’re in a park, try to get at least 100 yards from the trail to minimize the visual impact.  

  • Be Mindful of Environmental Impacts – Cremains can have similar effect on plants as fertilizer.  A concentration of ashes on tundra for example can create a dead zone that may last for years.  Grasses may be burned if the ash isn’t spread out enough.  Return your loved one to the earth responsibly!   

Plan ahead and prepare for things to not always go as expected.  We want you to be able to legally scatter cremated ashes, and most importantly, do it with respect, dignity, and love.  Thanks for reading this and feel free to email us if you have additional questions on deciding where to scatter ashes.  Thanks and #celebratelifespassions!

– Lawrence

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