Ultimate Iowa Elopement Guide for 2024-2025

March 29, 2024

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Today we’re takin’ a trip to the midwest for a big Iowa elopement guide, with EVERYTHING you need to know if you’re planning to elope in Iowa. We freaking love Iowa and think that elopements are super underrated here – most couples think that in order to elope they have to travel somewhere like the PNW, California, Hawaii, you name it. But that is totally not the case: you can 100% elope in Iowa and have just as epic of a day! This guide is going to walk you through all the reasons you should elope in Iowa, the best locations, the best time of year to elope, how to get your marriage license, and more. Get ready to fall in love with this beautiful part of the upper midwest and everything it has to offer🤩

Why Elope in Iowa?

If you’re from the midwest or live in Iowa yourselves, you might have a good idea of what Iowa is like – but if you’re from another part of the U.S., you probably only know that it’s the “corn state”🤣 So here are a few of the top reasons why you should elope in Iowa, and why we believe it’s such a beautiful & underrated elopement location!

  1. There are a ton of hidden gems around the state that many typical tourists don’t know of, especially because of the immense amount of rural land available to explore. We’ve got plenty up our sleeve to share with you 😉
  2. Iowa has a surprising amount of rich history that’s pretty fascinating to learn about, with tons of historical sites around the state to visit if you’re a history buff.
  3. Compared to a lot of the popular elopement destinations in the U.S. (e.g. Washington, Oregon, Montana, California, Hawaii), Iowa is fairly affordable when it comes to travel, accommodation, & activity costs.
  4. Iowa has the best of both worlds when it comes to small town life & city life! You’ll find plenty of adorable little rural towns that you can explore AND have access to the bustling nightlife of the city. 
  5. Iowa has a ton of beautiful local parks, state parks, and national recreation sites with tons of hiking trails and beautiful well-preserved areas to explore! Among these parks you’ll find cool caves, rolling hills, open fields, and towering bluffs.
  6. You have easy access to Chicago from eastern Iowa, so you can enjoy the rural areas of Iowa during the day & the big city at night!
  7. You only need one witness present at your marriage ceremony, whereas in many states you need two. That means one less person you have to invite to tag along with ya (or one of us can be your legal witness, so no need to invite any guests)!

10 Best Places to Elope in Iowa

1. Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden | Des Moines, IA

If you want to elope in the Des Moines area but don’t really want any city vibes, check out the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden – a freaking stunning garden full of lush foliage that’ll make you feel like you are NOT in Iowa at all. With both outdoor & indoor gardens that feature a wide variety of gorgeous flowers and plant species, this is a phenomenal venue for eloping couples to tie the knot. Not only will you enjoy the breathtaking canopy of palms and other massive trees, you’ll also have access to an outdoor space perfect for hosting a reception or intimate dinner celebration while looking out at Des Moines. 10/10 recommend!

2. Iris Aisle | Winterset, IA

Next up is the dreamiest Victorian Conservatory located in historic Madison County, Iris Aisle. This is another freaking magical elopement location in Iowa that allows you to celebrate in a peaceful sanctuary, surrounded by a wide array of beautiful plants, herbs, and blooming flowers. The venue has room for up to 75 people, so it’s perfect for small elopements or even a separate session in your elopement attire the day after your ceremony! Situated in the heart of a vibrant forest of cedar trees, Iris Aisle offers a private hammock area, a beautiful tent, and a spacious reception site in addition to the stunning Conservatory.

3. Downtown Iowa City | Iowa City, IA

If you and your partner would rather explore the city than hit the trails, downtown Iowa City is an awesome place for a city elopement (or city elopement portraits)! Offering a great mix of urban and suburban vibes, Iowa City is filled with great bars, cozy coffee shops, yummy restaurants, and beautiful parks to enjoy. It would be so fun to grab breakfast & coffee downtown in the morning, have your ceremony out in nature or at the local courthouse, take portraits on a rooftop in the city, then spend the evening checking out all the nightlife with your guests!

4. Cedar Rapids | Cedar Rapids, IA

Cedar Rapids is one of our favorite parts of Iowa, located in eastern Iowa. It’s known as an arts & cultural hub thanks to its great live music, theater, and fascinating museums, which would all be super fun to take advantage of during your time in Iowa. Check out the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art to see works by a native Iowan painter, the National Czech & Slovak Museum to learn about the history of 19th-century immigrants, or Brucemore, a stunning 1880’s mansion & garden with historical displays. And don’t miss the Downtown Farmers Market on the weekends to enjoy food, entertainment, & more from local vendors!

5. Maquoketa Caves State Park | Maquoketa, IA

Maquoketa Caves State Park is one of the coolest places in Iowa, featuring a six-mile trail system that links a ton of beautiful caves, massive bluffs, and lush green forests that you’ll never want to leave. Hiking through these caves and learning about their geology is SUCH a cool & unique experience, and if you want to take it a step further, you can actually go camping among the beautiful pine trees of the forest!

6. Ledges State Park | Boone, IA

Another of the most popular state parks in Iowa is Ledges State Park, best known for its four-mile trail system that winds through beautiful overviews, unique 100-foot sandstone ridges, and a scenic creek that travels through the park’s canyons. This is an awesome part of Central Iowa to hike, have a picnic, or kayak/canoe on the Des Moines River nearby!

7. Pikes Peak State Park | McGregor, IA

Pikes Peak State Park is a rad elopement location in Northern Iowa, famous for the breathtaking views it offers of the Mississippi River and absolutely stunning fall foliage. Take the quick walk to Bridal Veil Falls, or hike the four-mile trail to Point Ann for some even more spectacular scenery. If you want to sleep under the stars for your elopement, reserve a campsite at Pikes Peak and explore the area to your heart’s content!

8. Gull Point State Park | Wahpeton, IA

Located on West Okoboji Lake in Northern Iowa, Gull Point is part of the Iowa Great Lakes Region that makes for an awesome addition to any elopement itinerary. Hikers will love Gull Point for its beautiful, self-guided interpretive trail where you can learn about the history of the area, as well as the many opportunities for biking, canoeing, kayaking, and boating in the area! This is a prime elopement location for couples looking to elope by the water in the northern part of the state. 

9. Backbone State Park | Dundee, IA

Backbone State Park is actually Iowa’s first state park, located in the Maquoketa River valley. It’s a freaking gorgeous park covering just over 2,000 acres of land, with all sorts of opportunities for biking, boating, camping, climbing, fishing, and, of course, hiking! There’s a 21-mile trail system ready for you to explore, which is especially great during the warm weather as you can hike up the rocky staircases to get some beautiful views. This is a great park for anybody who loves to climb as well, as it has a variety of rugged limestone cliffs for climbing & rappelling – which would be super fun to add into your trip🤙

10. Loess Hills | Western IA

Last but not least is the Loess Hills State Forest, which is located in west-central Iowa and is one of the most beautiful areas in the state. These hills are super geologically unique, essentially made up almost entirely of windblown soils (you can learn more about them here, if you’re interested), and make for absolutely stunning scenery. The forest encompasses over 11,000 acres of land, which you can explore via the Loess Hills Scenic Byway!

BONUS: Chicago

And we wanted to throw Chicago in here too, because even though it’s not in Iowa, it’s close enough to Eastern Iowa that you can totally add it into your Iowa elopement itinerary if you’re eloping near Cedar Rapids. Take a day trip to the big city with your fam & friends and then head back to rural Iowa so you can really get the best of both worlds!

Best Time of Year to Elope in Iowa

What is the best time of year to elope in Iowa?

In our opinion, the best time of year to elope in Iowa depends on what your priorities are – but in general, we’d recommend eloping in Iowa in the summer (June-August) for the warmest weather, or fall (September-October) for beautiful colors. Below, we’ve included more info about what each season looks like in Iowa to help you pick which season you want to elope!

Summer (June-August)

Summer in Iowa is generally pretty warm and humid, depending on what area of the state you’re in. This is the warmest time of year, with temperatures typically sitting in the mid-80’s so it’s a great time to be outdoors, especially out on the water on a boat, kayak, paddleboard, etc.! Keep in mind that because of the warmth & humidity, the best time to go hiking is usually in the mornings and evenings. It’s also important to know that summer is the wettest time of year in Iowa, so be prepared for rain adding even more humidity to the mix! If you’re visiting popular tourist destinations in Iowa, summer is going to be the most crowded time of year with higher travel costs, as well. 

Fall (September-October)

Fall is probably our favorite time for elopements in Iowa because of the cooler (but still comfortable) weather and the gorgeous fall colors! The red, yellow, and orange leaves on the ground & in the trees are SO beautiful for outdoor elopements, especially in some of Iowa’s state parks by the water. Daily high temperatures range between 56-70°F, so it’s much more bearable weather for hiking and outdoor activities, especially because it’s also not as humid. Be prepared for a bit of a breeze if you elope in the fall and chilly morning/evening temps – you’ll probably want to hike & spend most of your time outdoors during the day, then head back inside at night!

Winter (December-February)

Winter is definitely the worst time to elope in Iowa – that is, unless you want to go skiing! Places like Sundown Mountain Resort and Mt. Crescent Ski Area are awesome places to enjoy the snow, and would be super fun to stay at with your friends & fam for a winter vacation. However, winter is NOT the time to elope in Iowa if you want to go hiking at high elevations or spend lots of time outdoors (except on the slopes) because of the chilly temperatures, with highs typically between 20-30°F during the day. Most of Iowa’s snow falls in January and February, so if you do elope in Iowa during these months, make sure you pick locations that will be open and that you wear plenty of warm layers!

Spring (March-May)

Spring is a beautiful time to elope in Iowa! While March can still be pretty chilly (and even snowy some years), April and May start to see warmer temperatures and more sunny days. It’s a great time to go hiking, biking, and to walk through parks as they start to become green again! Spring temperatures in Iowa are typically in the 50’s and 60’s by April, but keep in mind that this is also when thunderstorms tend to roll around and the air starts to get more humid. It’s usually still pretty breezy and can be chilly in the mornings/evenings, but daytime in the spring in Iowa is beautiful!

Legalities of Getting Married in Iowa

Iowa Marriage Laws

Iowa’s marriage laws are pretty typical for the U.S.! Here are the basic Iowa marriage laws you should be aware of:

  1. You do not need to be a resident to get married in Iowa
  2. The fee to apply for a Iowa marriage license is $35
  3. There is a 3-day waiting period from the day after you receive your license until you can have your ceremony; however, you may be able to request a waiver
  4. Iowa marriage licenses are valid for 6 months upon receipt
  5. Iowa does recognize common law marriage, which means that if you and your partner declare yourselves as common law married, you’ve lived together continuously, and are both of legal age, you can claim common law marriage status
  6. You must be over the age of 18 to get married in Iowa, or 16-17 with special permission
  7. You’ll need one witness over the age of 18 present at your ceremony
  8. Blood tests are not required to get an Iowa marriage license

How to Get Your Iowa Marriage License

To get your Iowa marriage license, you, your partner, and one witness need to visit a County Registrar or Recorder’s office in Iowa. All three of you must bring a valid photo ID, and you and your partner must bring your Social Security information. You’ll pay the $35 marriage license fee, and you’ll receive your marriage certificate!

Unless you request a waiver, you’ll need to wait the 3-day waiting period (which does NOT include the day you get your license) before you can actually get married. Your license will be valid for 6 months, and within those 6 months your certificate of marriage needs to be returned to the Registrar/Recorder’s office. Then congrats – you’re officially married!!

Iowa Elopement Permits

Iowa National Monument/Historic Site Permits

While Iowa doesn’t have any full-on national parks, it does have 4 different sites managed by the National Park Service – which means that if you want to get married at any of them, you may need to get a Special Use Permit. Below are links to find further information about permits at each of the 4 NPS sites!

Iowa State Park Elopement Permits

If you’d like to elope in an Iowa State Park, you may need a Special Event Permit; however, every park is different in its permit requirements. If your elopement may impact the use of the area by the public, you will need a permit. If your elopement takes place in a reservable day-use lodge or a shelter structure within a park, you won’t need a permit. We recommend reaching out to the specific State Park Office (find your chosen park here) for the most up to date, accurate information at the time of planning your elopement!

As far as entrance fees go, Iowa State Parks don’t charge any entrance fees except for Lake Manawa and Waubonsie State Parks, where only non-residents need to pay for an entrance permit. You can find out more about permit requirements for out of state vehicles here!

Where to Stay for Your Iowa Elopement

Whether you want to book a farm stay out in rural Iowa for a weekend getaway with your fam & friends, or you want to stay in a luxury hotel in the city for your downtown elopement, there are SO many amazing places to stay in Iowa. We’ve compiled a list of the best Airbnbs, farm stays, & top-rated hotels near Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, and Iowa City so that you have plenty to choose from for your elopement. We highly recommend staying in the same place as your guests if you’re inviting any, so that you can spend the most quality time together possible 🙌

Best Places to Stay Near Des Moines

Best Places to Stay Near Cedar Rapids & Iowa City

8 Fun Iowa Elopement Activities & Ideas

Wondering what the heck to do during your time in Iowa besides, well, getting married? Here are 8 fun Iowa elopement activities that would be a blast to incorporate into your trip, whether you’re eloping in private or are bringing a few of your best friends along for the ride. 

1. Visit the Pella Tulip Festival

If you’re eloping in Iowa (near Des Moines) in early May, the Pella Tulip Festival is an annual festival put on to celebrate the town’s Dutch heritage through fun Dutch-themed activities, food, and of course, tons of beautiful tulips! It’s a super fun tradition that thousands of Iowa residents visit every year, and usually happens during the first week of May. If you’re looking for something fun to do with your guests this time of year, the festival is a must-visit.

2. Drive along the Loess Hills Scenic Byway

If you’re planning to spend your time in western Iowa, you HAVE to visit Loess Hills – or at least drive along the Loess Hills Scenic Byway, situated along the western border of Iowa. The byway stretches for 220 miles across gorgeous rural & metropolitan areas of Iowa and Missouri, and has some of the most beautiful scenery in the state (hence the “scenic byway” title). You’ll get to enjoy incredible views of the prairie & forest landscape from your car as your drive through the bluffs and rolling hills, and you can also stop at one of the many overlooks to take in the view for a little bit longer.

3. Attend the National Balloon Classic

Another super fun annual event to attend near Des Moines is the National Balloon Classic, a nine-day event held in Indianola with almost 100 hot air balloons to watch up in the sky. This is an awesome activity to do with kids, if you or any of your guests have them, but adults will love it too – it’s just so freaking cool to see that many huge, colorful balloons paint the blue summer skies! The event is held at the end of July & early August, so it’s the perfect summertime elopement activity to check out during your time in Iowa.

4. Visit the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium

If you need a break from the summertime heat or simply want a fun indoor activity to add to your elopement itinerary, the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium is a really fun stop to make in Dubuque, IA! Part museum, part aquarium, & part science center, it’s actually one of the leading museums/aquariums in the world in interpreting and protecting river life. This is another great activity to do with kids, or if you’re just an adult who loves learning about river life & seeing all sorts of cool animals (including alligators, turtles, rays, and SO much more) and rotating exhibits 🤩

5. Go mountain biking

Calling all mountain bikers! Iowa has a ton of great mountain biking trails for those of you who would rather hop on your bike and adventure through the forest than hike on foot – or who want to do both. Bring your own bike or rent one for a day in the town closest to where you’re staying!

Here are a few of the best areas for mountain biking in Iowa for you to check out:

6. Go hiking in the Yellow River State Forest

The Yellow River State Forest is definitely one of the best places in Iowa for outdoor enthusiasts, with a variety of gorgeous trails to go hiking, biking, or even horseback riding, as well as campsites & lots of spots to go fishing.

Here are some of the top-rated hiking trails in the Yellow River State Forest, according to AllTrails:

7. Enjoy an afternoon out on the water at Clear Lake

If you elope in the summertime and are looking for a great place to spend an afternoon out on the water, whether it be fishing, kayaking, paddleboarding, boating, or water skiing, Clear Lake is an awesome option. Situated in Clear Lake (can you guess where the town’s name came from?), this is a 3,684-acre natural lake where a ton of outdoor activities and events are held, and where lots of people come to enjoy the summer sunshine. Take a break from the heat and jump in the lake, or head out on the water on a boat, kayak, float pads, wakeboards, & more! Plus, the town has tons of fun things going on, especially in the summer, for you to enjoy when you’re done enjoying the lake itself.

8. Bike to the best local breweries

Finally, if you and your partner are big beer fans, there’s no better way to experience Iowa’s best breweries than by bike! The 25-mile-long High Trestle Trail is one of the most popular trails in the state thanks to its many entry points & bike-friendly breweries along the way. We found a fun article that gives you 10 of the best breweries that you should definitely stop at as you bike along this trail – such a fun activity to do with your guests that gets you moving, but also allows you to enjoy some delicious brews & celebrate🍻

And that wraps up our Iowa elopement guide — we hope you loved it and that it showed you all the possibilities that Iowa has to offer!

Iowa Elopement Photographer & Videographer

Heyo! 👋We’re T and Corey, an Iowa elopement photo & video duo who would freaking love to document your big day. Clearly, we’re obsessed with exploring Iowa with our couples, so we’ve got a few other Iowa-related blog posts and resources for ya to check out below 👇

25 Best Iowa Wedding Venues & Best Iowa Wedding Vendors

Intimate Fall Wedding at Hotel Millwright in Amana, Iowa

Fun-Lovin’ Country Wedding in Washington, Iowa

You can learn more about what we offer & see our Iowa elopement photo and video packages here, and then reach out to us here so we can plan out your perfect package + Iowa elopement timeline! Can’t wait to celebrate with you and explore this rad “corn state” together 😎