How to elope in a National Park
A 2022 guide to eloping outdoors
There’s no question that some of the most beautiful scenery in the United States is found in our national parks. From the towering glaciers and domes of Yosemite, to the rugged, rocky coast of Acadia, it’s no wonder why these parks draw thousands of visitors each day. It’s also no wonder that more and more couples are choosing to forgo the traditional wedding venues and opt for an epic elopement amidst the gorgeous scenery that our national parks offer. If you’re more comfortable in hiking boots than high heels, and you want to experience the beauty of nature on your wedding day, keep reading to learn how to plan a national park elopement!
1) Choose a Location for Your National Park Elopement
With 419 national parks that cover over 84 million acres of land in the United States, you might have a hard time narrowing down your elopement location to just one park. How do you even get started?
My recommendation is to think backwards. Start by imagining what kind of scenery you want on your elopement day. Do you picture yourselves surrounded by mountain peaks? Do you want to swim in the ocean, hike through the forest, or rock climb in the desert? Once you have an idea of what you want your elopement day to look like, start brainstorming which national parks could make that vision come to life!
Best National Parks for Mountain Elopements
Best National Parks for Desert Elopements
Best National Parks for Forest Elopements
Best National Parks for Beach & Ocean Elopements
2) Choose an Elopement Date
The elopement date you choose can depend on several factors, such as weather and crowds.
While summer is the best time of the year to visit Yosemite, Joshua Tree gets scorching hot during the day. Many of the national parks experience harsh weather conditions, so it’s important to be prepared! Many national parks located in the mountains are likely to have some snow on the ground as late as July, and those located in the desert can reach temperatures of up to 120 degrees during that same time.
Every park’s busy season coincides with the best time of year to visit that park. Which means that favorable weather conditions usually result in an increase of crowds! While the most effective way to ensure you’ll have more solitude on your elopement day is to elope in the off season, if you don’t have experience trekking through snow, this may not be ideal.
The best solution is to elope during “shoulder season.” Shoulder season is the time right before and right after the busiest season in the national park. Visiting during shoulder season will give you more privacy, and potentially cheaper lodging accommodations, but visiting during peak season will give you more ideal hiking conditions and less potential for road closures.
You can also avoid crowds by eloping on a weekday – especially Monday through Thursday. Because most people are off work on the weekends, weekdays are much less packed.
I also always recommend that my couples plan their ceremony for sunset, or better yet, sunrise. Most places are at their busiest mid day, and planning a sunrise ceremony is the best way to almost guarantee that you’ll have total privacy to say your vows.
3) Gather any special use or park permits for your ceremony
When you plan a national park elopement, it’s important to make sure that you have all the necessary permits. Most parks won’t allow you to have an elopement ceremony without one, and the fines for doing so can be hefty.
Each park’s requirements are different, so the best way to ensure that you’re aware of the permit requirements for your elopement is to visit nps.gov, find your park, and check the requirements for a special use permit. Most national parks require an application, along with an application fee, which can range from $50 – $400.
Make sure you apply for a permit as soon as possible, as it can take a few weeks to process. You can also call ahead to check with the park office and make sure the location is available and that they allow ceremonies. There may also be a limit to how many guests you are allowed to bring.
4) Park Entrance Fees
In addition to a permit, most national parks also require an entrance fee. This is usually $30 per car, but can vary. If you’re a frequent visitor to the US national parks, an interagency annual pass can be a great investment. This pass costs $80, and can be purchased online or in person at any national park.
5) Research State Marriage Laws
You need to get a marriage license in the state in which you’re having your ceremony. Every US state has different requirements when it comes to getting your marriage license. Some states allow you to apply online and receive the marriage license in the mail, while others require that you go into the county clerk’s office in person. Some states, like Washington, have a waiting period, so you must get your marriage license at least 3 days before your ceremony, while New Mexico allows you to get your license the same day you get married.
Most states also require an officiant and two witnesses, but there are a few, like Colorado, that will let you self-solemnize.
This guide breaks down marriage laws by state!
6) Get Educated on LNT
LNT, or leave no trace, means doing everything you can to preserve our nature and keep our parks beautiful. This includes packing out your trash, but also being aware of each park’s rules and regulations about where you can and cannot go and how best to protect fragile areas. Be careful not to wander off of established trails, and not to approach or feed any wildlife that you see in the park. Get educated on LNT as you plan your national park elopement, and if you want to learn more, click here to check out the Center for Outdoor Ethics. Let’s do our part to keep our outdoor spaces wild and beautiful!
7) Elopement Attire
When it comes to an adventure elopement, it’s important to consider comfort when you’re picking out dresses or suits. If you’re planning to do a lot of hiking or walking around, mermaid style dresses may not be the best choice. Lightweight fabrics are best for comfort – and for keeping you (mostly) sweat free.
Even if you don’t plan to hike, heels don’t work very well with dirt and grass. There’s something very badass about pairing a wedding dress with hiking boots – and it’ll keep you comfortable all day!
Another thing to remember is that in these wild places, the weather can change quickly. Make sure to bring jackets along, and maybe some layers that can go under your clothes if it’s going to be cold on your elopement day. Nude, thermal leggings can work wonders!
8) It’s time to elope!
After you’ve done all the legal stuff and figured out all the logistics, it’s time to do the dang thing! If you need help planning your national park elopement, don’t hesitate to contact me. As an elopement photographer, I’ve visited national parks across the country, both for work and just for fun. I’m here to guide you through the entire process of planning your national park elopement. From finding the perfect spot in the perfect park, to building your elopement timeline, I’ve got your back! Click here to learn more about how it works!