How to Elope in a National Park
Adventure elopements have become a big thing for a lot of couples deciding to plan their wedding. It gives them the flexibility to have a unique wedding day experience that is less stressful and much more intimate and meaningful. We have featured a ton of amazing elopements around the world, but the ones that are by far the most popular are the national park elopements. So how do you elope in a national park? What rules and fees are involved, and who do you need to contact when it comes to applications and permits? Are there limitations to where in the park you can elope!?
We got you covered with everything you need to know when planning your national park elopement. We even included some of our national park guides in this resource to further help you plan. This is a long resource, so feel free to jump to the section you’re most interested in.
- What should I be prepared for when planning my wedding at a national park?
- Do I need a permit to elope in a national park?
- How do I get a permit and make sure I’m following the proper rules?
- How much does it cost to elope in a national park?
- What rules and LNT guidelines should I be aware of when eloping in a national park?
- Where in the park can I plan my elopement ceremony?
- How do you consider the weather during your elopement?
- What are the top things to remember to bring with you for your national park elopement?
- What are the best national parks I can plan my elopement at?
What Should I be Prepared for When Planning my Wedding at a National Park?
If you’re set on eloping at a national park in the US, then rest assured that most of them have similar rules and regulations. Here are some of the top things you want to prepare and be aware of when planning your national park wedding adventure:
Your elopement ceremony will most likely not be completely private unless you’re planning to hike a long trail or plan it during sunrise or sunset during the off-season.
National parks are public lands, so even if you “apply for a permit” to have your ceremony at a specific park location (more on that later), you may still get occasional hikers passing by.
You’ll need to have a plan B & C in place for weather and other conditions.
In other words, you have to be super OK with your ideal elopement location changing sometimes even hours before your actual adventure begins.
Remember your personal experience when picking the “type” of adventure you want to go on.
Sure those Pinterest photos are cool, but that hike is also over 10 miles. Consider your hiking experience, stamina, and what you both and any guests are comfortable with when it comes to adventuring together.
Pack light, smart, and dress functionally.
If you want to wear a specific wedding outfit that may be too restricting for your hike up the mountain, consider changing it once you reach your destination. Packing light and smart allows you to not get overtired by overpacking, but stay safe when it comes to the necessities you really need depending on the particular national park you picked and the time of year you’re eloping.
Work with an elopement vendor who has experience in the national park you want.
You want to work with someone who is experienced, so you’re able to not only get the best photos but use them as a resource. A lot of our experience elopement photographers and videographers (even planners) are great to bounce ideas off of, scout locations, provide recommendations, offer packing lists, and make sure you have the most up-to-date permit information (more on that later).
Do I Need a Permit to Elope in a National Park?
For most national parks, the answer is yes. Yes, you do need a permit of some sort, whether it be a wedding permit and a photography permit (that your vendor is responsible for), or both. Even if you plan to elope just the two of you, a “special use permit” may still be required, so it’s always important to head over to the specific national park’s website to confirm logistics on the permit itself, depending on your wedding plans.
Some national parks, for example, will not make the special use permit a requirement if you’re eloping just the two of you with no setup. If any setup is included, however, then a fee will automatically be in place. Similarly, some locations don’t allow any setups of any kind at all, no matter how many people you invite. Some parks even have a limit on the number of guests who can join you at specific locations in the park.
Depending on the popularity of the park, we recommend applying for your permits at least 30 days in advance and becoming familiar with its regulations and restrictions. Remember, we provide some permit information in this resource, but the most up-to-date information will be found on the national park’s website. If you still have any doubts, then contact the park’s rangers to get answers to your questions.
How do I get a Permit and Make Sure I’m Following the Proper Rules?
To apply for a permit, most national parks have specific application links you can fill out online or fill out and mail in advance. Some parks have strict restrictions when it comes to how many elopements they allow per day or even season.
We always recommend deciding where you’re going to elope in advance, checking with the park’s officials to make sure the location/area you want is still available, and double-checking if there are any rules that have recently changed. Another good thing to consider is asking the park what location is in place if your initial location becomes inaccessible due to road closures or bad weather.
How much does it cost to elope in a national park?
Eloping in a national park can be much more affordable than planning a traditional wedding in a banquet hall or hotel. The cost of eloping in a national park really depends on which national park you choose and the ceremony location. Some locations have a special use permit fee of more than $200, and others have a smaller fee. In addition to permit fees, you’ll also need to account for park entrance fees and camping sites.
Planning an elopement this year? Check out our guide on elopement costs.
What Rules and LNT Guidelines Should I be Aware of When Eloping in a National Park?
Leave no Trace (LNT) is huge not just for national parks, but for anywhere you decide to elope. Every national park has its own set of regulations when it comes to eloping there. For example, as we mentioned earlier, some national parks do not allow any setup of any kind. Some national parks don’t allow floral bouquets, and other national parks restrict where in the park you can actually hold a ceremony (especially if you’re planning a small wedding).
All national parks are very strict on staying on the trails and not disturbing wildlife. If you’re planning an adventurous elopement, then plan on following the top LNT principles and leaving the area you’re visiting better than you found it.
Where in the Park can I Plan my Elopement Ceremony?
When it comes to where in a national park you can plan your elopement, you have to consider that some parks have more restrictions than others. For example, in some national parks, you pay your special permit fee and you have free range on where you can plan your ceremony (as long as you follow LNT and other rules, of course). In other parks, you have to specifically request a certain location for your ceremony or you have a set number of places to pick from in the park depending on how many people will be with you.
If you do decide to plan your elopement at a national park that has more restrictions than others, don’t freak out! Talk to your photographer to see what cool locations you can visit before or after for more scenic wedding portraits together.
How do you Consider the Weather During Your Elopement?
When it comes to planning your elopement at a national park, you have to consider the weather and how it may impact your wedding day. Inclement weather may bring a lot of fog and rain that may not give you the clear mountain views you’re hoping for. A lot of snow or fire can actually cause roads to be completely blocked, keeping you from getting to your ceremony destination.
Besides packing and preparing for “bad” weather during your elopement, you also need to have backup plans for the ceremony and portrait locations you’ll be visiting. You don’t want to be trying to figure out a new plan last minute because this will only stress you out.
What are the Top Things to Remember to Bring With You for Your National Park Elopement?
So what should you pack with you or make sure to bring with you during your national park elopement?
Here’s a quick list of things to pack for your elopement to run by with your partner and vendors:
Identification and permits:
Carry your identification documents and any necessary permits or reservations for the national park. Trust us, it avoids any unnecessary confusion.
Pack appropriate wedding attire and clothing based on the weather and activities you plan to engage in. Consider layers, as temperatures can vary throughout the day. If you’re wanting to go on an intense adventure, consider changing into your wedding attire once you arrive. Comfortable shoes or hiking boots are essential for exploring trails. Shop our favorite hiking boots for your wedding!
Depending on your activities, bring essentials like backpacks, camping gear, hiking poles, and a map or guidebook of the park.
Food and water:
Bring LOTS of water and pack snacks or any picnic stuff you want, especially if you’re planning a longer adventure. Check if the park has any restrictions on food and drink.
Include a first aid kit, sunscreen, insect repellent, a hat, sunglasses, and a whistle or signaling device in case of emergencies. It’s also a good idea to bring a clear umbrella for some pictures if it rains!
Consider navigation and communication options:
Carry a compass or GPS device, a fully charged cell phone, and a portable charger for emergencies and communication.
Pack a lightweight, waterproof jacket, a blanket, and a picnic mat if you plan to have a romantic picnic or spend time outdoors.
Trash bags and eco-friendly supplies:
Help preserve the beauty of the national park by bringing reusable water bottles, food containers, and trash bags to properly dispose of waste.
Remember to ask your elopement vendors what they recommend for the specific national park you’re thinking about visiting.
What are the Best National Parks I can Plan my Elopement at?
Yosemite National Park (California)
Known for its breathtaking granite cliffs, waterfalls, and stunning vistas. Yosemite is easily one of the best places to elope and for good reason.
Special use permit:
A special use permit is required for any wedding or commitment ceremony held at any location within the park. The permit cost is $150. If “monitoring” is required, then an additional $50/hour will be charged.
Yosemite offers a list of specific locations you can request for your wedding day. Each location has limitations on the maximum amount of people and even the time of year when the location is available.
Yosemite has a list of restrictions and rules in place for some of the ceremony locations. Pets are not allowed at any of the ceremony sites. For more specific details on their rules, check out their website.
Looking to elope in Yosemite? Check out our Yosemite elopement guide to start planning.
Rocky Mountain National Park (Colorado)
Features majestic peaks, alpine meadows, and scenic lakes.
Special use permit:
Rocky Mountain has a permit limit throughout the year. From May-October, they will authorize 60 permits per month on a first-come-first-served basis. From November-April, they will authorize 40 per month. The maximum wedding ceremony size for this national park is 30 people. The special use permit is $300. This fee is needed when there are 2 or more people in the ceremony. Another thing to keep in mind is that no more than 2 weddings per day will be booked at a designated wedding location, regardless of availability.
Ceremony locations in Rocky Mountain are located in areas that are open to the public and are limited to two hours maximum at all locations. The park itself offers 13 locations to pick from.
Rocky Mountain National Park has a list of restrictions and rules in place for some of the ceremony locations. Dogs are only allowed at Moraine Park Discovery Center Amphitheater and Timber Creek Campground Amphitheater. For more specific details on their rules, check out their website.
Looking to elope in Rocky Mountain? Check out our Rocky Mountain elopement guide to start planning.
Glacier National Park (Montana)
Known for its pristine lakes, glaciers, and diverse wildlife.
Special use permit:
Glacier National Park requires all vow exchanges, elopements, weddings, special events, and ceremonies of any kind to apply for a special use permit. If you are entering the park with a photographer only to take photos and have no ceremony being witnessed, then no permit is required. The permit itself is $125.
Due to an increased number of people eloping here, there are limited areas that are considered wedding locations for your elopement. Additionally, there is a limit of two permits per location, per day. There is also a two-hour limit for all locations. There are, however, 30 ceremony locations to pick from. Keep in mind each of these locations may have their own restrictions when it comes to when they are available throughout the year.
Glacier National Park has a list of restrictions and rules in place for some of the ceremony locations. For more specific details on their rules, check out their website.
Looking to elope in Glacier? Check out our Glacier elopement guide to start planning.
Zion National Park (Utah)
Offers stunning red rock formations, narrow canyons, and dramatic landscapes.
Special use permit:
Glacier National Park requires all weddings and ceremonies, regardless of group size to apply and pay for a special use permit, which is $100.
In your special use application, you need to indicate the areas you’ll be visiting. Zion offers specific ceremony locations to choose from and permits will not be approved for any other area than the locations they provide. There are 6 ceremony locations you can pick from.
Zion National Park has a list of restrictions and rules in place for some of the ceremony locations. For more specific details on their rules, check out their website.
Looking to elope in Zion? Check out our Zion elopement guide to start planning.
Olympic National Park (Washington)
Offers a diverse range of ecosystems, including rainforests, mountains, and coastal areas.
Special use permit:
Olympic National Park requires all weddings and ceremonies, regardless of group size to apply and pay for a special use permit, which ranges from $50-$100.
In your application, you’ll need to specify where in the park you plan on adventuring and what type of activities you plan on doing. Olympic has a bunch of popular areas to visit and hidden gems to plan your ceremony. Talk to your elopement vendor to see which spots they recommend!
Olympic National Park has a list of restrictions and rules in place for some of the ceremony locations. Pets are only allowed on certain trails and areas of the park. For more specific details on their rules, check out their website.
Looking to elope in Olympic? Check out our Olympic elopement guide to start planning.
Joshua Tree National Park (California)
Known for its unique Joshua trees, rock formations, and starry skies.
Special use permit:
Joshua Tree National Park requires all weddings and ceremonies, regardless of group size to apply and pay for a special use permit, which is $120. This fee can cost more depending on the size of your wedding and location.
In your special use application, you need to indicate the areas you’ll be visiting. Joshua Tree offers 11 ceremony locations to pick from.
Joshua Tree National Park has a list of restrictions and rules in place for some of the ceremony locations. For more specific details on their rules, check out their website.
Looking to elope in Joshua Tree Nationa Park? Check out our Joshua Tree elopement guide to start planning.