How to elope in a National Park - By Destination Wedding and Elopement Photographer Meg Lawson
How to Elope in a National Park?
So you LOVE hiking, being outside and doing ALLLL the outdoorsy things. Why not elope and bring that passion into your special day?! That being said, you might be thinking, “Well how the heck do I even go about that!? Are there fees? Who can I bring? Can I bring my dog?” (This will be VERY important for my wedding day, lol.) Well, I’m here to give you all the details on how to elope in a national park including some tips and tricks on how to make it the best day ever!
Do I need a Permit?
Yes. Most National Parks allow for ceremonies but they do require you to have a “special-use” permit. This permit can be anywhere from $50 to $200 depending on the park, but, make sure to apply early. You’ll need to mail the application in with a money order or check, then it will take a few weeks to be read, approved and mailed back. Applications are taken up to a year in advance so I suggest getting that in AS SOON AS POSSIBLE so that any issues can be dealt with well before your special day.
If it’s just you and a photographer, you STILL need a permit. I’ve read a ton of blogs on this topic and the bottom line is that a ranger can stop you at any minute and ask to see your paperwork. I wouldn’t want your special day to end abruptly because you didn’t have the right permits. I also believe in supporting our National Parks so, personally, I will not take on any elopements unless this documentation is in order.
How do I pick a location?
Many national parks have a list of places that can be used for a ceremony. Another cute idea I read about was that the two of you do the actual hike and find a location, together, before the day of your ceremony.
If you don’t have time or don’t live near the park you want to elope to then research, research, research! Instagram has a TON of elopement photographers and is a great place to look for ideas. Looking at other elopement photography pages and reading blogs about elopements are great ways to get started. Lists of locations will usually be included and you can find a lot of inspiration if you have NO idea where to start.
Don’t be afraid to ask park rangers! They know the area and,chances are, they can lead you to a number of beautiful locations that would be perfect for a ceremony. Research the heck out of your location and find the perfect one, but, do this BEFOREHAND. I mean, I’m all for spontaneity and adventure but when planning a ceremony, it’s smart to have a location in mind so you aren’t stuck in a park for hours wandering around with no idea where you want to go or what you want to do. Planning and research will help make your special day stress free and enjoyable.
If you want family to come along but hiking wouldn’t be doable for them, find somewhere that is easily accessible for the ceremony and then take your photographer on a hike to a beautiful spot for portraits. You can have the view you crave and your family and friends can celebrate with you.
How much time should I schedule for an elopement?
I would say 4 hours MINIMUM. When planning an elopement, take into consideration hiking time, getting ready (you will most likely be hiking with your wedding clothes in a backpack and changing at the ceremony site), the ceremony and portraits for the family, bride/groom, etc. An elopement is as much a celebration as a huge wedding but can be much shorter than a traditional wedding day. It may seem like you won’t need much time but plan for EXTRA time so that you can enjoy, remember and cherish every second. After all, you don’t want to miss those getting ready photos no matter where you get ready.
Take your time! Like HELLO! You’re in a national park – don’t rush, document every wonderful moment and enjoy!
(PRO TIP: Plan, Plan, Plan around sunset or sunrise. If you want your ceremony at sunset, plan tons of extra time beforehand so not to miss it! This also allows you to enjoy the entire day and gives you time to get ready, hike and enjoy the ceremony. Allow lots of cushion time for portraits before the sun actually sets.
If you’re okay with waking up early, sunrise ceremonies are BEAUTIFUL and are very peaceful. Parks tend to be less crowded in the morning and this leaves plenty of time for photos without having to worry about losing sunlight!)
How many people can come?
Some parks, like Yosemite, have a limit of 50 including your photographer and officiant. Others, like Rocky Mountain National Park, allow for up to 100. Do all of this research beforehand so that you know for sure how many people are allowed at your specific park.
Besides the restrictions made by the Parks themselves, the amount of people is up to you. If you simply want it to be you, your photographer and an officiant, do it! Just want the photographer? Ask them to get ordained and they can actually be the one to officiate your wedding! If you want your families there, bring them! The biggest advice I have is to do what YOU want. Bring who you want or don’t bring anyone. This is YOUR day. You can always have a big party at home for friends and family to celebrate at a later date!
What should I bring?
Treat this like a hike to start off your packing. Bring snacks and WATER. Bring comfy shoes to hike in and, if you are doing a long hike, put your wedding clothes in a backpack and change once you are at the location. Bring headlamps or flashlights just in case you are caught on the trail after dark.
CHAMPAGNE. Let’s pop the champagne baby. You just got married!! Might as well celebrate after the ceremony!
Confetti, sparklers and all that jazz would NOT be permitted in most national parks. Confetti would be littering and sparklers would be a fire hazard. My advice for the perfect celebration photo is to use all natural materials like rose petals, lavender, birdseed etc. Get creative – it will go better with your elopement theme anyways! ;)
If you want to dress up the ceremony area, bring details such as a boho rug or something that is special for you as a couple.
PS-don’t forget the rings!!
Can I bring my Dog??
DOGS – Okay, to all my dog lovin’ brides out there who want your fur baby at your wedding, a lot of national parks don’t allow dogs. Some specific hikes are dog friendly so just make sure to research that FIRST so you aren’t devastated if your dream location turns out to be “no dogs allowed.”
This TOTALLY depends on the park, the trail and the rules there. A lot of National Parks allow dogs onto the campgrounds, public areas and in buildings. However, to conserve the wildlife, many trails do NOT allow pets.
When I visited Mt. Rainier, there were specific trails that did allow dogs and specific trails that prohibited pets. This ALL has to do with the national park and the specific trails. If having your dog at your elopement is a big deal then you can TOTALLY make it happen, you just need to do your research beforehand to specify which areas allow them!
Will it be just as special as a real big wedding?
For brides that are still on the fence. Personally, I would say hell to the yes. Elopements are so intimate and special that the focus is on YOU as a couple and the vows you are making to one another rather than on decorations, cakes and wedding venues. To me – that sounds special, personal and stress free.
BUT – this is completely a personal question because every couple is different. If you aren’t the outdoorsy type and you’ve always dreamed of the big, white wedding then DO IT. There’s NO shame in wanting a traditional wedding. The bottom line is what do YOU want? Don’t do what your mom or mother-in-law wants. Don’t do what you think your friends or family would do. This is your wedding and it’s okay to do what really makes your heart happy. Consider what the two of you, as a couple, would enjoy the most and go for it!
If this sounds amazing and you want to hella book an elopement NOW – hit the button below and let’s make all your elopement dreams come true!!! It will be my honor to join you.