Thinking of getting married in a National Park? Here are the top five things you need to know when planning your epic National Park Wedding.

National Park Elopements: 5 Things You Need to Know

How to Elope in a National Park: Updated for 2020

How to Elope in a National Park

So. You’re considering getting married in a National Park.

::confetti and glitter:: YES! That is so friggin awesome. If it wasn’t totally obvious I absolutely LOVE National Parks and think they can be the perfect location for your super rad elopement or wedding. Maybe you dream of being surrounded by the granite cliffs of Yosemite or a funky forest of Joshua Trees or the majestic peaks of the Cascades. Maybe you have *no idea* where you want to elope you just know you want to be surrounded by the jaw-dropping splendor of nature. Regardless, I’m so stoked this is on your mind. I’ve spent a loads of time in National Parks, either for my own enjoyment or for the purpose of taking epic pictures, and there are some things I’d love to share so you can better know what to expect and plan for.

I also want to prepare you for how COVID is impacting things, so I share a little about that on the bottom section of this post.

You Will Need to Get a Permit

Every National Park requires a permit in order for you to get married there (yup, even for elopements), and some require a commercial permit as well. Even if you aren’t officially saying your vows, if you’re in a formal dress/suit combo, chances are you’ll. need a permit. It is absolutely essential to get the required permits. Not only does it help support the park, the risk is just to great to skip this step. No one wants to get stopped by a ranger and then kicked out of their own National Park elopement. That would be…super sad.

How Much Does a Permit Cost?

They tend to range in price from park to park and they can even vary in price depending on *where* you are in a given park. Take Grand Canyon, where typically a permit is $150. However if you dream of getting married at Shoshone point, it’s $450. In general, they tend to range from $150-$300, so be sure to check with the specific park (or parks) you’re interested in.

Who applies for the permit?

Due to the personal nature of the information on the permit application, couples fill out their own permit requests. If a commercial photography permit is required, that’s the photographers job to handle.

When Should I Apply for a Permit?

Basically as soon as you can, especially if you have your heart set on a specific location inside the park- a finite number of people get permits at certain locations, and spots can fill up. Some parks can provide a pretty quick turn around time but I very much suggest not to rely on that. Sometimes the permit process can take a while so apply ASAP.

Why Do I Need a Permit?

I’m going to talk about this a little bit in the next section, but for a bunch of reasons. The park service wants to make sure that nothing is going on in the park that could endanger other visitors or the park itself. The park service is all about balancing needs. The needs of the park, of events happening, of day visitors, etc etc. Having a permit process is a way of keeping tabs on that balance.

Some Restrictions Apply

When you elope in a National Park, it’s important you have expectations that align with the level of support, infrastructure, and facilities the park has available. Different parks have different rules/expectations/restrictions, but here are a few to be prepared for:

Ceremony Location– Where can I get Married?

For some parks, the place where you can actually have the marriage ceremony is limited to options that the park has previously designated. Not all parks work this way but a fair few do. Remember that balance I was just talking about? This comes into play here, too.

With National Park Elopements and weddings on the rise, it’s important the park be able to make sure that certain areas are not overrun by folks getting married. Can you imagine multiple couples showing up to the same spot at once and having to basically fight for the spot? It would be like the elopement hunger games and the Park Service is NOT about that life.

The park also wants to make sure your locations are safe for you and anyone in attendance. Maybe you’ve seen pictures of Angels Landing in Zion and have dreamed of you and your SO saying your vows there with your parents and best friends looking on… except the hike up to Angels Landing is no joke and having a ceremony with any guests there would be pretty much impossible. You can take portraits there (or anywhere in the park) whenever… but a ceremony is a no go.

Guest Size– How many people can come?

Different ceremony locations can handle different amounts of people, so if you plan on having any guests be sure to check your specific park and location for this! There are larger National Park venues and smaller ones, so chances are you can find a spot that suits you(though I don’t accept weddings with a guests list larger than 30!).

Also! There are often loads of gorgeous options *outside the park* if you want to have your wedding there, then venture into the park for portraits and exploring. Even if you have the ceremony off property, it still counts as a National Park elopement 🙂

Decor- The do’s and don’ts of decorations

As in every outdoor location, park or no, it’s important to follow Leave No Trace principles so things like confetti, champagne corks, flower petals, etc, will all have to be packed out. Yes every individual piece of confetti. 🙂 So really think on if you want that confetti.

Photography Style– To drone or not to drone

If you dream of epic aerial photos of you and your SO, you will have to get them outside the park. Drones are 100% forbidden in all National Parks.

Time of Year Matters

The date of your National Park Wedding is all about balancing two opposing variables: busy season and weather.

Busy Season vs. Shoulder Season

If having a private to semi-private experience is important to you, visiting a park during shoulder-season or off-season is a really great option. This time can vary from park to park but generally speaking, summer is busy season. Some parks handle summer well but others, like Yosemite, are absolutely mobbed during high visitation months. Check with the park you’re interested in and see when those months are.

Keeping Weather in Mind

So it makes sense to pick a time of year like off season, right! Easy peasy. Well… sort of. A lot of popular locations in parks actually aren’t accessible to the public during winter months due to snowfall (such as Taft Point in Yosemite or Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park). A lot of parks can be absolutely beautiful during off season but weather is definitely something you want to consider, especially if extreme heat or cold is something you struggle to manage.

Weekdays Are Your Friend

Piggy-backing off my above topic, if you want to avoid crowds and also get a better chance at securing your dream location, then weekdays are your friend.

So… What Days are Best?

Any weekday is preferable to the weekend, but Tuesday-Thursday are your best bet if you’re hoping for minimal onlookers. Also avoid any holidays or school breaks (like spring break or thanksgiving break). National Parks often experience surges in visitation during those times.

And finally…

Every Park is Different… and the Rules Are Always Changing

You may have noticed that a lot of these tips are fairly general… and you’re right! They are! So many things vary from park to park, from permit price, to location restrictions, to where dogs are allowed. *This is especially true during the COVID outbreak.* Some parks have ceased issuing permits due to how much uncertainty there is right now. There are also certain areas that are closed or at half capacity. Make sure to talk to your elopement photographer about any COVID national park concerns you have!

It’s so so so important to check out the rules to the Park you want to elope in and get that information straight from the source- that Park’s website, and to ask help from your photographer when you need it. This post is the first in a series; keep a look out for posts on specific parks, where I’ll offer more specific and in-depth information to help you plan your National Park wedding. Stay tuned!

  1. maya lora says:

    I love how informative this blog post is! What a great resource for brides looking to do a national park elopement 🙂

  2. Puf creatif says:

    This could easy be a paid content, because it’s really valuable

  3. Traci says:

    Great tips and suggestions, love these landscape shots!

  4. Lot’s of great information in here! I love national parks too and there’s a lot to consider when planning to elope there.

  5. Kara says:

    Wow your images are incredible. And these are such great tips for any couple looking to elope in an a national park!

  6. Samantha says:

    Amazing tips! Love the photographs as well. You’re turning me into a fan girl Aimee!! Ha. Love your knowledge and expertise 🙂

  7. Greg Hastain says:

    Yesss!! Weekday elopements just make so much sense. Also beautiful landscapes in this, love your tones <3

  8. Sarandy says:

    So helpful! And those landscape images are lovely! Makes me want to go on a road trip!!

  9. Kya says:

    This is SO incredibly helpful!!!!! Thank YOU!!

  10. Justyna Butler says:

    Such a great post with all you need to know!

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