By Last Updated: March 7th, 2023

Scattering Ashes in California in 2023: A Complete Guide

With a coastline spanning 840 miles and the largest state park system in the country, California offers the largest range of options for scattering ashes, also referred to as cremated remains or cremains.

California families have many options when it comes to scattering ashes in the Golden State: From the world’s tallest trees to historic landmarks, from national parks to urban beaches, you’re sure to find a place that celebrates your loved one’s life in a fitting way.

Scattering ashes on public lands is legal in California, with some restrictions. For instance, ashes may not be scattered at National Park sites, without a permit and an adherence to some strict rules.

The State of California has a number of laws that specifically address scattering human remains. It is important to understand these laws before making your arrangements. Opal Cremation has created an easy-to-follow guide that focuses specifically on California regulations. This guide will make it easier to plan ahead while avoiding unnecessary fines or criminal charges.

State Rules and Regulations for Scattering Ashes

Depending on the scattering location, The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) has specific rules and regulations that families and friends must follow. This list provides details on each location and instructions for how to proceed before your scattering ceremony.

Before You Begin: Get a Permit

The process for getting a California burial or scattering permit varies depending on the county. Counties maintain their own death records, so the process will be different in each place. In most cases, though, you must follow two general steps:

  1. Obtain a certified copy of the death certificate.
    You can order copies of death certificates through the state’s registrar office, or you can get them through your funeral home. This is a service that Opal Cremation includes in their service package.
  2. Complete the permit application. This may require the assistance of the funeral home.

This is usually done by filling out a form online, by mail or in-person at your county health department. You’ll need the death certificate to complete this step. Depending on where you live, you may also be able to apply online through California’s Office of Vital Records website. Check with the vital records office for processing times.

view of yosemite state park in california

Scattering Ashes in California State Parks

The family of an avid hiker may know the perfect spot to spread their ashes on the trails. However, scattering ceremonies in California state parks must be done in a manner that does not disrupt other visitors. The release of cremains is an activity that falls under the park’s rules and regulations, so prior permission is required.

The California Code of Regulations specifies that funeral directors, family members, friends or clergy may obtain a permit to scatter ashes at sea or in a State Park. Permits can be obtained by submitting a request form to the Office of State Parks and Recreation.

Scattering Ashes in California National Parks

If your adventure-seeking aunt loved the beauty of California’s National Parks, it’s a great idea to sprinkle her ashes in her favorite nature retreat. While scattering ashes in California National Parks is permitted, there are rules that must be followed. The U.S. National Park Service (NPS) policy permits scattering of cremated remains “in a manner that does not disrupt the natural setting.” It also asks that the public areas are not disturbed. For instance, NPS states that ashes may be scattered at Yosemite National Park, as long as “the scattering of cremains is accomplished out of the sight of any public use areas including roads, walkways, trails, and parking areas.”

Due to the number of regulations surrounding the scattering of ashes on federal land, it’s imperative to plan ahead. Most notably, you’ll need to complete an application process, which can take several months. California State Parks have a written statute allowing for the scattering of ashes. But it is ultimately up to the Park Superintendent. Some National Parks are more accommodating than others. No scatterings are permitted anywhere Native American remains have been discovered. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to secure the permits.

In addition, you’ll need to decide exactly where you want to scatter your loved one’s ashes and what kind of memorial service you’d like to have. It’s best to choose a spot that was special for your loved one, but also away from beaten paths and notable landmarks.

Scattering Ashes at Sea

Scattering the ashes of your sea-loving mother on the sparkling sea is a lovely idea. But there are a few things you should know before you set sail. The Environmental Protection Agency requires that you keep your distance from the shore. The Federal Clean Water Act mandates that cremains be scattered at least three nautical miles from land. For rivers or lakes, you’ll need to get a permit from the state agency in charge of that particular body of water. After you scatter the ashes, you must notify the EPA within 30 days of the scattering.

view of ocean from boat off coast of San Diego, california

Scattering Ashes on Private Land

Suppose you want to scatter your grandfather’s ashes at his favorite spot in the woods behind his house. Before you do, you may want to find out who owns the land. California law requires you to get written permission from the property owner or land managing agency.

If you decide to release the ashes from an airplane, that is allowed. Cremains aren’t considered to be hazardous material. However, you must make sure you’re only dropping ashes. For safety reasons, be sure to remove the remains from their container before you release them from the plane. Federal law prohibits the dropping of objects from the air that hurt people or damage property.

Urn Options For Cremains

When choosing the vessel for your loved one’s ashes, it’s important to note that not all cremation urns are alike. For scattering at sea, you can get eco-friendly, biodegradable, water-soluble urns. These urns are designed to remain afloat on water until they degrade, naturally. To add a personal touch, artwork or messages can be engraved onto them. If you intend to transport the ashes to a scattering site, it is necessary to choose a lightweight urn that can pass through airport security checkpoints without hassle. The available options for such urns include transparent glass, cloth, plastic, or cardboard. We recommend contacting your airline beforehand to inquire about their specific guidelines for transporting cremated remains.

Distributing Ashes

Families may choose to only scatter a portion of their loved one’s ashes and distribute the rest among family as a keepsake. There are many ways to do this. For instance, ashes may be formed into beautiful rocks. Another option is to create custom jewelry, including diamonds made from ashes. Families may also choose to keep a small amount of ashes in separate decorative urns to display on the shelf at home.

California is a beautiful place to scatter ashes. The Golden State provides a wide variety of scenic options for families looking for a special way to celebrate the life their loved one. As long as families understand the laws and regulations, a scattering ceremony can be a memorable experience for everyone.

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