If you’re here, you probably have adventure in your hearts and a deep appreciation for the outdoors. That’s us, too. We decided to create a national park elopement guide to serve as a database for everything you need to know on how to elope in a national park. An elopement is much easier to plan and execute than a 200 guest wedding. However, there are plenty of logistics to consider that can help you make the absolute most of your nontraditional wedding.
This is the fun part! If you know you want to celebrate your wedding day in the beauty of one of America’s national parks, that is a great first step. Now it’s time to brainstorm the type of landscapes you would like to be immersed in on your day.
Think about activities you may want to do on your trip like horseback riding, a helicopter tour, skiing, or snorkeling. This can help you narrow down the region or the type of weather you are hoping for(or hoping to avoid) for your elopement. Is there a national park you’ve already visited that you know would be the perfect backdrop for your day? Or maybe a park that you’ve always wanted to visit? Eloping can make it possible. Dream big and beyond what you think you may want by considering and researching a few options that maybe you typically wouldn’t have. Doing so can help you find a place you love or rule out what you aren’t interested in.
Many national parks offer a variety of geological features and bring different experiences with each season. Here is a list of some of the top parks for specific landscapes you may be interested in:
Almost every national park requires you to apply for a special use permit for your wedding ceremony.
The permit application process can vary depending on the park. Visit the National Park Service’s website and check the specific park’s regulations in regard to special use/wedding permits. Each park has various rules about the number of people permitted in your party and how far in advance you can apply for the permit. Some of these rules can include only allowing wedding ceremonies to partake in designated locations within the park. This could be limiting and something to consider if it is the right park for your elopement. Keep in mind that although the ceremony may be limited to a handful of options, there is flexibility with where you can take your portraits and explore.
Most parks recommend applying at least 4 to 6 weeks in advance. Check your specific park to ensure you apply with plenty of time. In addition, your photographer will need to apply for a film permit that is separate from the special use permit that you will apply for. We included a full alphabetical list of all the national parks and their wedding and permit information below.
Once you decide on which park you want to elope in, visit the national park’s website and check the basic information listed to see when peak seasons are if you want to avoid the crowds. However, this may mean you will be eloping when the weather isn’t as accommodating or ideal.
Also, some of those “Pinterest goals” locations are the busiest spots in a park. It may be best to have your ceremony at sunrise in the off season to have as little people around as possible if you prefer something private. However, that still doesn’t guarantee having a spot to yourselves! For instance, that one Pinterest famous lookout could still be crowded and have you waiting for your turn to stand in that perfect spot. National parks have acres upon acres of unique views, so we recommend searching for off the beaten path, hidden gem locations for your ceremony or portraits.
We highly suggest avoiding holidays and weekends. A weekday elopement, especially at sunrise, typically means fewer visitors and crowds.
Each park has rules regarding special use permits for wedding ceremonies, so the question of where to elope may be easy. On the other hand, some parks are flexible with where ceremonies can take place. Regardless of this, research your park and be conscious of the accessibility of the park and certain lookouts or hikes.
Construction, snow, floods, and even lava flow can cause road closures and impact accessing certain parts of the park for considerable lengths of time. There are also seasonal closures to be aware of, too. When you visit the national park service website for a specific park, you can check for current alerts and detailed information to be prepared for choosing the right time and place to elope in the park.
If you plan on camping in a national park after your elopement, check the park’s website to see when booking campsites open up for availability. Many parks book up fast, so get your calendar alerts ready! Backcountry permits are required for some parks if they do not have designated campgrounds or if you want to venture out somewhere in the park to camp.
Some national parks have unique Airbnb’s and hotels nearby. Many parks are fairly remote, so be sure to book far in advance and check the closest cities for information on where to buy groceries and such.
You want to elope in a national park probably because you’re inspired by nature’s raw beauty. It is something special to have a “just us” experience of exchanging vows in an epic landscape. Please consider that is a privilege and that the lands became national parks in order to preserve this beauty. That one viral Instagram photo in an off-limits area in a park can encourage thousands of people to do the same and ultimately impact the plants and wildlife in the parks. Some of these ecosystems and species are incredibly vulnerable.
Do your part by learning the Leave No Trace Principles and respectfully educating others. “The organization accomplishes its mission by providing innovative education, skills and research to help people care for the outdoors. By working with the public and those managing public lands, the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics focuses on educating people—instead of costly restoration programs or access restrictions—as the most effective and least resource-intensive solution to land protection.” In other words, bring admiration and respect, clean up trash if you see it, and only take photos and memories with you!
We hope you found this guide helpful for planning your national park elopement! Check out our other resources like our Hawaii elopement guide for more info on planning your epic nontraditional wedding!
We are Sydney and Ryan Kroll, a husband and wife adventure elopement photographer and videographer team. We are currently based in Joshua Tree, California, but travel for work and leisure throughout the US and beyond. Our work is best described as candid, true to color, storytelling that blends images of love and natural beauty in the great outdoors.