Ultimate Guide to Planning a National Park Elopement

April 21, 2023

Table of Contents:

You probably already know how much we LOVE taking couples to the incredible national parks this country has to offer – so we put together a whole guide talking about it! This complete guide to planning a national park elopement goes through everything you need to know to elope in a national park in the U.S., from how to get the appropriate permits, to how to pick the best time of year to elope, to ALL of our favorite parks according to the type of landscape you’re looking for. Happy planning – let’s adventure to an epic park together and get you MARRIED!

How to Plan a National Park Elopement

1. Pick 2-3 potential national parks

We recommend picking a few parks at first, in case one doesn’t work out (e.g. you aren’t able to get a permit in time, permits are too limited, or your guests can’t travel to one of them) – that way, your hopes aren’t crushed if you need to change your plans! Pick out a few parks based on your vision for your elopement and the type of landscape you’re envisioning: are you dreaming of saying your vows in front of a gorgeous alpine lake? Do you love being in the mountains together? Are you happiest at the beach? Or maybe you had your first date in a beautiful rainforest and you want to recreate those memories with your elopement!

2. Choose what time of year you want to elope

There are a few things you should keep in mind when choosing what time of year you want to elope:

  • Crowds + other tourists
  • Weather
  • Potential extreme conditions (e.g. wildfires/smoke)
  • Seasonal road/trail closures
  • What activities you want to plan (e.g. if you want to hike, don’t elope in the mountains in the winter)
  • What time of day you want to elope (are there locations that look good at sunrise, sunset, etc.)
  • Travel costs
  • Accommodation availability
  • Ability for your guests to travel/take time off of work
  • Vendor costs

3. Research the permitting process

Next, find out what the permitting process entails at the parks you’re considering. 

  • How much does the permit cost?
  • How difficult is it to apply?
  • How far in advance do you need to apply?
  • Will you need to reserve a location ahead of time?
  • What rules/restrictions are there?
  • Does your photographer need a separate permit?
  • What locations are you allowed to have your ceremony at?

4. Look at costs + come up with your budget

Now it’s time to look at all of your potential costs and come up with your ideal elopement budget! Here are some costs to consider for your national park elopement:

  • Permit application fee
  • The permit itself
  • Entrance fee for you, your guests, & your vendors
  • Airfare/gas
  • Accommodations
  • Meals
  • Vendors
  • Marriage license
  • Wilderness/backcountry passes
  • Campsite fees

5. Hire your national park elopement photographer + videographer

We recommend hiring your national park elopement photographer + videographer before the rest of your vendors, simply because they usually book out much farther in advance – and they can help you plan the details of your elopement! Especially if they’ve been to the national park you want to elope at, or are familiar with it in any way 😎We’d love to help you plan your big adventure!!

6. Hire the rest of your vendors

Once you’ve hired your photographer + videographer, narrowed down your location, and chosen your date, it’s time to hire the rest of your vendors! Here are some to consider for your national park elopement, depending of course on your budget and priorities:

  • Officiant
  • Planner/coordinator
  • Flowers (keep it simple, usually parks don’t allow big installments/arches)
  • Outfits
  • Accessories
  • Stationary
  • Hair/makeup
  • Caterer/private chef/food truck for your evening meal

7. Invite your guests

If you’re having any guests at your elopement, now’s the time to figure out your guest list! Remember: this is YOUR day, so only invite the people that YOU want to invite – not the ones you feel like you “should” invite or that you feel pressure to invite. Bring along the people who you love most, who will be there to fully support you, and who you want to create these unforgettable memories with!

8. Apply for your permit

Applying for your permit may come earlier or later in the planning process, depending on how early the park requires you to apply. Most parks require you to apply at LEAST a month in advance, and some even allow you to apply up to a year in advance! Start the application process as soon as you’re able to so that there’s plenty of time for you to apply, and for your park contact to get you your permit in time. 

9. Book your travel + accommodations

It can be easy to forget to actually book your travel + a place to stay in the craziness of planning, so this is your reminder to book your flights and any other travel you need to book in advance for you or your guests! This is also the time to look for an Airbnb, hotel, resort, lodge, or campsite to stay at for your elopement – where you stay is totally up to you and what vibe you’re looking for, as well as how many guests you have + whether or not you want to stay at the same place as them.

10. Plan your national park elopement activities

The day is getting closer, so make sure to plan your elopement activities!! If you want to do anything that requires advance booking (e.g. excursions, 4×4 tours, helicopter tours, etc.), this is the time to look into that and make sure you get it all planned ahead of time. You can also start looking into trails you want to hike, or specific parts of the park you know you want to explore!

Need some ideas to help spark your creativity? Check out these 60 Unique Elopement Ideas for Your Dream Elopement Day!

11. Tie the knot!

The big day is HERE: it’s time to celebrate! Enjoy the day that you’ve worked so damn hard to plan, and make sure you have a backup plan or two (or three) in place so that you’re prepared for anything that could happen last-minute. Take it allll in and enjoy this time with your new spouse!

Legalities of Getting Married in a National Park

Do you need a permit to elope in a national park?

Yes! No matter what national park you elope at, you’ll need a Special Use Permit. This permit is slightly different for every park, but most of the time you will need to pay a non-refundable application fee, fill out your application at least a few months in advance, and communicate with your park contact to nail down the final details. Make sure you check out the NPS website for the park you choose to find out how to get the correct permit + what it entails!

Do you need to pay the regular entrance fee if you elope in a national park?

It depends on the park, but most of the time you & your guests will still have to pay the regular park entrance fee in addition to paying for your Special Use Permit. However, some parks don’t have an entrance fee (such as North Cascades National Park) or may have different rules depending on the season/details of your elopement!

Where are you allowed to get married in a national park?

Every park has a different set of permitted locations, and some parks leave it open to you to decide where you want to elope as long as you follow their rules! You should talk to your park contact once you start the application process to find out exactly where you can have your ceremony.

Do you need a marriage license to elope in a national park?

Yep! In addition to getting the appropriate park-specific permits, you will need to get a marriage license in the state you’re eloping in.

Pro tip: the easiest state to get married in is Colorado, due to the fact that you can self-solemnize, you don’t need witnesses, and there is NO waiting period. If that sounds appealing to you, check out our Complete Guide to Colorado Marriage Laws + Licenses for more info!

What is the hardest national park to elope in?

A few national parks have become a bit harder to elope in, in recent years, due to the large volume of couples who want to elope there. While there’s not one park that’s necessarily the “hardest” to elope in, we’d say that Yosemite National Park & Rocky Mountain National Park are currently two of the harder national parks to elope in. This is because permits are much more limited, the parks are strict with what locations are allowed, and the permitting process is a little more complicated/lengthy than most other parks!

Best National Parks for a Mountain Elopement

Rocky Mountain National Park | Northern Colorado

We may be biased because it’s one of OUR personal favorite parks to take couples to, but Rocky Mountain National Park is definitely one of the top mountain elopement locations in the country in recent years. With over 200,000 acres of alpine tundra, subalpine forests, and craggy mountains, this area of northern Colorado is hard to beat.

Because we love RMNP so much (and because it’s one of the more complex parks to elope in), we put together an entire Rocky Mountain National Park Elopement Guide, which includes everything you need to know about eloping here!

Glacier National Park | Northern Montana

Glacier National Park is also one of the most popular mountain elopement locations right now, thanks to its gorgeous glacier-carved peaks, tree-covered valleys, and bright blue alpine lakes. Oh, and there are more than 700 MILES of hiking trails to check out!

Grand Teton National Park | Northwestern Wyoming

Located in northwestern Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park is one of the (slightly) more underrated mountain ranges in the U.S. for elopements. The scenery is rich with majestic mountain ranges, alpine lakes, and plentiful hiking trails that you’ll want to spend hours exploring!

Yosemite National Park | East-Central California

Of course we had to include Yosemite on this list!! Yosemite is most known for its dramatic cliffs, otherworldly sunsets, and massive waterfalls, all of which are what make it a phenomenal elopement location. It’s a little more challenging to elope here than most national parks simply because of how popular it’s become, so keep that in mind when you’re planning.

For some real-life Yosemite elopement inspiration, take a peek at Katie & Leo’s Epic Yosemite Elopement at Cathedral Beach & Rush Creek Lodge.

Mount Rainier National Park | South-Central Washington

Let’s head north a bit to Washington, because this list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Mount Rainier! Home to one of the most iconic, picturesque views in the whole PNW, Mount Rainier National Park is such a freaking dreamy elopement location, especially if you visit during wildflower season. There are so many epic trails to check out for hikers of all levels, and you can even enjoy views of other nearby volcanoes from certain parts of the park!

North Cascades National Park | North-Central Washington

Spanning across more than 500,000 acres of north-central Washington, the North Cascades mountain range offers SO many amazing spots to elope at. Whether you want to tie the knot in front of a vibrant, turquoise lake, in the forest, or on the side of the road with epic mountain views in the background, there is sooo much beautiful area to explore and tons of cute little mountain towns to stop at!

For more epic places to elope in the mountains, check out our guide to the Top 20 Worldwide Mountain Elopement Locations!

Best National Parks for a Forest Elopement

Redwoods National Park | Northern California

If you’re dreaming of eloping under some of the oldest, most massive trees on Earth, then the Redwoods National & State Parks are a MUST. Walking through the ancient redwood trees is an awe-inspiring experience that reminds you just how tiny we really are, and they provide one of the most stunning elopement backdrops in the country!

Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park | East-Central California

Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park is another phenomenal location for forest elopements in California, as its home to more of the world’s largest trees in addition to deep canyons and caverns that are super cool to explore! The giant sequoias in the southern Sierra Nevada mountains are iconic for a reason, especially the General Sherman Tree – which is literally the world’s largest tree.

Olympic National Park | Northwestern Washington

If you’re looking to travel further north for your elopement and want more of a lush, rainforest vibe instead of the drier redwood groves, Olympic National Park is home to one of the most incredible rainforests in the country: the Hoh Rain Forest. It’s one of the largest temperate forests in the U.S. and is filled with the most breathtaking, lush greenery, vibrant moss, and uniquely-shaped trees that make you feel like you’re legit walking through a fairytale! 

Best National Parks for a Desert Elopement

Zion National Park | Southwestern Utah

Zion National Park is one of our personal favorite parks for couples looking for a desert elopement location, because its dramatic cliffs, colorful canyons, and plentiful hiking trails are pretty freaking phenomenal. Check out Veronica & Jay’s 2-Day Zion National Park Elopement at Kolob Canyon for some Zion inspo that’ll leave your jaw on the damn floor. The fall foliage and sunny weather were 10/10 👌

Arches National Park | Eastern Utah

Arches is one of the most iconic national parks in the country, thanks to the picturesque natural stone arches that you’ve probs seen on a postcard somewhere, or on one of those default desktop wallpapers on new computers 😆The massive rocks, gorgeous colors, and close proximity to Moab makes this one of the best national parks to elope at in Utah. And if you’re dreaming of taking some epic nighttime photos, the starry skies of Arches National Park are pretty hard to beat!

Bryce Canyon National Park | Southern Utah

Now we’ve got a third Utah national park for you, but this one is a little different – Bryce Canyon is home to these crazy cool, kinda weird “hoodoos,” which are spire-shaped rock formations. And take it from us: these make up one of the most INSANE views in the country, the deep canyons filled with gorgeous shades of pink, rust, and crimson and surrounded by bright blue skies on a nice day. Even if you don’t have your elopement here, you HAVE to stop at one of the overlooks to see it for yourself, in person!

Death Valley National Park | Eastern California

If you want a TRUE desert elopement, Death Valley is the place to go. Located on the eastern California & Nevada border, Death Valley is literally the hottest, driest place on Earth – so be prepared to drink a LOT of water and plan your elopement during a cooler time of year. The colorful rocks, salt flats, and sand dunes are otherworldly!

Saguaro National Park | Southern Arizona

If you picture giant cacti all around you when you envision your desert elopement, Saguaro National Park is the place for you. Home to the country’s largest cacti, Saguaro is an absolutely gorgeous area to explore, whether you want to go hiking, biking, or just walking around the area. The sunsets in the desert are EPIC, and so are the night skies if you want some cool photos under the stars!

Grand Canyon National Park | Northwestern Arizona

The Grand Canyon makes for an incredible elopement location for couples looking for expansive desert views, overlooking massive canyons and layered rocks resulting from MILLIONS of years of geological history. The levels of color in the canyons are gorgeous and there are sooo many hiking opportunities!

Joshua Tree National Park | Southern California

California really has it all, from forests to mountains to deserts, one of the most popular deserts obviously being Joshua Tree! Located in southern California, Joshua Tree National Park is home to, well, Joshua trees and massive boulders, desert wildlife, & tons of hiking trails. Plus, it’s within driving distance of Palm Springs, so it’s easy to take a day trip to the desert for your elopement if you’re staying in Palm Springs – or the other way around!

Best National Parks for a Coastal Elopement

Olympic National Park | Northwestern Washington

Not only does Olympic National Park have one of the most amazing rainforests in the country – it also has some absolutely stunning beaches! Ruby Beach & Rialto Beach are probably the most popular ones, attracting tons of visitors thanks to their gorgeous sea stack formations, epic sunsets, and miles of beach to explore.

Redwood National Park | Northern California

While Redwood National Park doesn’t have any beaches within it, obviously, it’s located near multiple beautiful beaches that you can explore with great views of the northern Cali coast!

Best National Parks for a Tropical Elopement

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park | Big Island, Hawaii

Hawaii is one of our personal places to visit & share with our couples, so of course we had to include a couple of Hawaii’s best elopement locations – starting with Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park! Located on the Big Island, this park is home to two of the world’s most active volcanoes: Kīlauea and Mauna Loa. The history of this land is fascinating to learn about, and the hiking trails through the craters are some of the coolest ones you can find on the island.

Haleakalā National Park | Maui, Hawaii

If you’d rather take a trip to Maui, Haleakalā National Park is a stunning park featuring super cool Mars-like deserts, rock gardens, and even lush waterfalls. The stargazing at Haleakalā is also incredible!

Check out our guide to the 8 Most Beautiful Tropical Elopement Destinations in the U.S. if you’re open to more tropical locations that aren’t national parks!

Best National Parks for a Glacier Elopement

Kenai Fjords National Park | South-Central Alaska

If you’re dreaming of an epic elopement on or near a glacier, then Alaska is the place to go for sure. One of the coolest national parks in Alaska is Kenai Fjords National Park, located on the Kenai Peninsula! The scenery here is absolutely jaw-dropping, featuring breathtaking outflowing glaciers, coastal fjords, jagged cliffs, and lots of ocean wildlife. 

Denali National Park | South-Central Alaska

Denali National Park is an icon of Alaska, home to a stunning tundra, glaciers (of course!), wildlife, and abundant opportunities for hiking, biking, and mountaineering. The rugged landscapes and views of Mount Denali (the tallest peak in North America!) are absolutely stunning and unique to any other park you’ll visit.

Glacier Bay National Park | Southeastern Alaska

Glacier Bay National Park (different from Glacier National Park in Montana) has some of the world’s most incredible glaciers, surrounded by snow-capped mountains, deep fjords, and icy coastlines. Many cruises actually stop at Glacier Bay to see the famous tidewater glaciers!

National Park Elopement Photographer + Videographer

PHEW that was so much information – but we hope this national park elopement guide helped you feel way more confident in planning your special day, and picking the PERFECT park for you. We can’t wait to see what you dream up, and we would love to help you make it happen – contact us here if you’re ready to hire a national park elopement photography + videography duo that knows their shit & can’t wait to share it with you 🤙Plus, check out our National Park Elopement Packages here!

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