How to Elope in a National Park

10 Steps to the Perfect National Park Elopement or Wedding

From Yellowstone or Estes Park to Yellowstone, here are 10 tips to help you get the perfect national park elopement (or wedding)!

Mount Lassen Picnic in a National Park


Pick your Park of choice

Every national park is different, and not just in location or setting.

Each national park comes with different rules and regulations, as well as different demands on the elopement or wedding attendees. What one park allows, another might forbid. When scheduling your wedding or elopement at a national park, it’s important to plan things carefully.

And the park regulations aren’t the only issue.

Knowing where in the park you want your ceremony to occur is also key. Want a dramatic cliffside in the background? Or perhaps you’ve got the ideal golden field picked out. Maybe you’re after a golden hour ceremony in front of the sheer face of El Capitan in Yosemite. Or perhaps you want to capture your vows in front of the crashing waves on the coast of Acadia National Park.

No matter what romantic visual you want for your special day, having a location scouted out is critical.

As you can see, it’s best not just to have national park picked out, it’s also a great idea to have a an idea of where in the park you want to say your vows. After all, once you arrive at the park, you’ll have to adventure through it to arrive at the picture perfect location to say your vows.

And of course, your elopement or wedding photographer can help narrow down the perfect spot for your adventure, but make sure you coordinate with your Park!

Of course, which national park you choose will depend on where you’re located as well as the aesthetic you prefer. National parks offer gorgeous natural settings that provide a stunning backdrop for weddings (or elopements). Below are some of the most popular national parks for weddings:

  1. Yosemite National Park, California: Soaring granite cliffs, towering waterfalls, and groves of giant sequoias make Yosemite is a popular spot for outdoor weddings.
  2. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado: Stunning mountain views, pristine alpine lakes, and meadows spotted with blossoming wildflowers, Rocky Mountain National Park is a favorite for couples hoping to tie the knot in a setting worthy of their romance.
  3. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona: With sherbet-colored sunsets and awe-inspiring vistas, the Grand Canyon National Park provides a dramatic, unforgettable setting for a wedding or elopement ceremony.
  4. Acadia National Park, Maine: With its rugged coastline, rocky beaches, and dense forests, Acadia National Park combines the raw, powerful beauty of a Sottish Isle with the closeness of a New England village, making it a popular choice for couples seeking a rustic, romantic ceremony.
  5. Zion National Park, Utah: With towering sandstone cliffs, narrow slot canyons, and scenic overlooks that have been spotted on film in iconic weddings as well as famous western movies featuring John Wayne, Zion National Park is a stunning choice for an outdoor wedding.

Keep in mind: most national parks require permits for weddings and have specific guidelines and restrictions, so it’s absolutely critical to check in advance with the national park you’ve picked to ensure that your wedding plans don’t get locked down by bureaucratic red tape.


Decide how you are doing your Vows

With people, privately, with an officiant, or in a courthouse? The type of wedding ceremony you have will impact your national park wedding or elopement plans.

Speaking of regulations and red tape, how you plan on performing your wedding vows will directly effect your national park wedding plans.

Do you want a traditional wedding ceremony? Or perhaps you’d prefer a stripped down elopement ceremony with only you, your special someone and the requisite witnesses? Well, a traditional wedding ceremony in a national park may change the type of permit you need. Most parks require a full wedding permit if a traditional ceremony is held—even if no guests are in attendance. And, the permit can change based on the number of guests in attendance.

Meanwhile, holding your full wedding ceremony at a courthouse means you may not need a permit or hire an officiant to meet you on a trail in the middle of the woods. And having an elopement in the national park could relieve you of having to pay for or schedule any of the permits associated with a full national park wedding ceremony.

Determining just how you’re doing your performing your wedding or elopement ceremony can have a big impact on the types of national park wedding permits you might need to acquire before your national park wedding ceremony.


Check online first

Unfortunately, one of the best resources will be the national park’s website.

And honestly it’s the government, so the website is going to be about a decade behind. It might not have ALL the answers to where, when, and how you can elope in your park.

However, it’s the best place to start first because it can help you get started on any permit applications, as well as providing you with the phone number of your most critical help: the head of the Permits office.

While you might have seen an Instagram photo of the most idyllic spot in the park, some parks will have a list of pre-approved locations for your ceremony, often with the details of how many people can be at that location. Meanwhile, other parks may allow you to explore at your leisure.

Of course, you aren’t limited to those locations (or you can always pick another park, if needed) but another location will have to be approved by your favorite person—your spouse!


Email the permits office

Get the name and email online, and be ready to not get a response for a few days!

Its often one person handling all the permits for the national park, and hundreds of people apply all the time. These folks are constantly sifting through a ton of emails.

If all you need is permit guidance, these folks can point you to the exact permit you need for your day. That said, they can also help with a ton of other questions about guests and locations, as well as what you can and can’t do during your national park wedding.

National Park Rangers are fantastic and full of super great details about the park that aren’t readily available on social media, in blog posts, or Google reviews. After all, they get paid to spend their days exploring these beautiful sites where you want to capture your pefect moment.


Pick out your desired locations

Some national parks will provide pre-approved locations for your wedding or elopement ceremony, while other parks will allow you to roam.

From a pre-approved national park location to a bespoke spot that speaks to you, your spouse and your wedding photographer, having your ideal location picked out is critical. Expert tip: ask your wedding/elopement photographer!

Most photographers have a ton of experience selecting amazing spots (and angles, times of day, and outfits). Plus, we wedding photographers do a lot of research for the perfect locations for each point of your day, from your last single breakfast to the bridal dressing room to the tossing of the bouquet, the ceremonial kiss and even the father/daughter dance.

For my couples, I often make specific location guides, with multiple location suggestions, which includes details of the trails, hot spots, and even vendors local to the park! All the specific locations will be necessary for the last step, so it’s a good idea to make sure you have back up options—just in case the first choice falls through.


Find your Stay

With their dramatic vistas and wide open spaces, most hotels, motels and cabins are at least an hour outside of the park, unless you decide to camp.

It’s good to look at multiple options and find whats best for you! If you want to include your stay as a location for photos, make sure you include the travel time to and from your ceremony destination!

If you plan ahead, you can even have a private ceremony. Want to include family and friends but maintain a small wedding ceremony? You can plan a small national park elopement (with an elopement photographer present, of course) and host a reception back at the airbnb or hotel after the main ceremony!

When it comes to a national elopement or wedding, there are so many options. Make sure you chat with your photographer and set a schedule that reflects your dream day! After all, the most personal day anyone gets is their wedding. You may as well make it a truly bespoke event.


Create your timeline

Want a sunrise wedding? Prefer a golden hour elopement? Get your wedding timing right.

Whether you want to declare your vows at high noon or complete your ceremony at midnight, deciding the right time for your elopement or wedding ceremony is about you, your special someone, and all the guests you intend to invite along for the ride.

These things are critical to account for when creating a timeline for your special day. The most important part? Where you will be saying your vows, and around what time! And don’t forget, you can work directly with your photographer and spouse to create a schedule that reflects the individual personalities of you and your partner!

When you’re working with a photographer (like me) who is skilled in navigating the literal mountains and forests in national parks, you can schedule in fun things to do at particular spots, as well as other activities to make your elopement the day of your dreams!


Fill out the Permit

Here comes the boring bit: permits, time permitting.

While permits might not be the most fun thing to fill out, forgetting to file your permit could just cost you the joy and happiness of your special day. Usually, permits need to be done in a timely manner. If you’re a procrastinators (who isn’t a procrastinator these days?) you need at least 21 days for approval.

If they give you a more specific due date, please don’t be late! Payment depends on the national park, ceremony location(s), and the number of guests.

Some parks have the option to pay online, while others will require you to mail a check, which will require extra time. (They call it snail mail for a reason, y’all!)

Dancing on a Cliff in Yosemite National Park


Have the adventure of a lifetime

Your wedding, or elopement, or whatever you want to call your special day, truly is just that: your special day.

Whether it’s your first love coming to fruition or your second chance at true love, a wedding or elopement ceremony is the start of something totally new. A new love, a new dream, a new hope, a new life.

It’s not just the adventure of a lifetime, it’s the adventure of YOUR lifetime. Make sure to pause, take a deep breath, and enjoy every second of it.


Leave No Trace

National parks are a privilege, and we need to treat them with extreme care!

It’s your special day, and that means taking special care. I highly recommend following the following rules:

  1. Leave no trace
  2. Stay on the path
  3. Don’t bring material that can be damaged by feet
  4. Pack it in, pack it out
  5. Don’t feed the animals
  6. Leave the park better than you found it

We keep having the ability to get married in the parks as long as we treat the parks well. I want future generations to discover the beauty of America’s national parks, and that means treating them with respect now, and forever.

Some extra tips

Check for State Parks or National Forests nearby. They often have lax laws, and bonus points: that often allow dogs at more locations than the national parks!

Be ready for all sorts of weather. National parks are truly wild, and the weather is as unpredictable as it gets.

Be prepared with a change of clothes. With unpredictable weather and wild, unkempt trails, your clothes will most likely get dirty. having an alternate outfit is a surefire way to outwit the elements!

Drink water and pack snacks! Hydration and nutrition are key to survival, and I’m not just talking about during your wedding day. Very few of life’s ills can’t be cured by a bottle of water or a handful of trail mix. Max out your wedding/elopement day enjoyment with plenty of water and nutrition-filled snacks, just in case!

Be ready for potential crowds and a wait to get in at the popular parks! National parks draw in big crowds year round. Be ready to deal with an audience or long lines, if you’re after an Instagram-worthy shot of a scenic overlook!

Don’t forget any park passes or permits!

Nothing will ruin your day faster than arriving at the park of your choosing only to realize that you left your park pass or wedding permit back at the AirBnB, hotel or motel. Double check your bags, purses, fanny packs, or pockets and make sure you’re prepped with the requisite paperwork to make your wedding day go off without a hitch!

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