How to have a National Park Wedding
The U.S. is full of National Parks that are absolutely amazing—62 to be exact. From incredible glacial lakes at Glacier National Park, to shores at Channel Islands, the mountains in Olympic National Park and Rocky Mountain National Park, and deserts like Joshua Tree, Arches, and Zion.
Getting married in a national park is truly a magical experience - trust me, my husband and I planned our own national park wedding in 2019! With the stunning landscapes, a national park provides the perfect backdrop for an intimate and adventurous wedding. Planning a national park wedding does require some extra prep work, so in this article, I’ll guide you through the process of getting married in a national park - from obtaining permits to choosing the best park!
Whether you’re planning a small elopement just the two of you, or a larger celebration with some friends and family, this guide will help make your national park wedding dreams reality!
Choosing a National Park for your Wedding:
There are countless INCREDIBLE national parks to get married in - and choosing a park can be really difficult!
If you’re trying to figure out what national park is the perfect park for you, consider an option that you have an emotional tie to. It’s really special to create new memories in a place you already have a meaningful connection to, especially if that’s where you met, got engaged, or had your favorite trip!
On the other hand, it’s also an amazing experience to explore a brand new place for the first time & forge new memories there. If you don’t already have a place that’s meaningful to you, here are some questions to consider when deciding on a park:
- What type of environment are you most drawn to?
- What kind of weather do you envision experiencing on your elopement day?
- Is it important to be relatively close to an airport?
- What other activities are available in the area?
- Are there any cool towns, good restaurants, or other amenities nearby?
If you’re able to narrow it down to a specific landscape, it’ll be much easier to check out the options surrounding the national parks with that scenery! And if you’re not set on one specific location, that’s totally fine too! An experienced elopement photographer can help guide you in choosing the best location for what you’re envisioning.
Do you know which park you want to elope in? Then head over to that park’s page on the National Park Service website. There you’ll find all the details on the park, such as:
- Whether special use permits are required, and the fees.
- How to get your special use permit.
- Information on wedding ceremony sites, like available locations, capacity, amenities, and whether there’s parking and how many cars can park there.
National Park Ceremony Locations:
Once you’ve decided on a park, the next location option to decide on is where to have your ceremony. Each park is going to have their own list of locations where they allow ceremonies - all of this can be found on that particular park’s NPS website. Most of these locations will have restrictions on the number of people - this typically ranges from 15 to 100 people (including you, your photographer, officiant, guests, etc.), but this can vary quite a bit as well.
If you’re set on a specific guest count, I’d suggest looking at national parks that can accommodate what you’re hoping for.
Otherwise, you can check out each designated ceremony location at your chosen park and find the one you love most! A lot of parks have ceremony locations like amphitheaters, forest locations, or overlooks, so depending on what you’re looking for, there may be one that speaks to you more.
Here are a few more questions to consider when choosing your ceremony location:
- Is this ceremony location easily accessible for all my guests?
- Does this location have access to amenities like bathrooms and parking?
- How much traffic does this area get? Is this location private enough for what I’m envisioning?
Once you decide on a ceremony location, you can send in your permit application to get approved with the park.
National Park Wedding Permits:
Before you dive deep into planning your wedding, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the parks’ policies on weddings. Most of the national parks have restrictions on the number of people and use of certain areas. You can usually find this information on the National Parks Service official website for each park, or by contacting the park’s special use permit office.
Each ceremony site will have a certain number of ceremonies allowed per day, so the earlier you can apply the better. Usually, you’re able to apply for a permit 1 year to 2 weeks before the wedding. Once you have your ceremony location nailed down, I’d recommend applying for your permit as soon as you can. If you’re considering a weekend wedding, it’s especially smart to start thinking about your ceremony location & acquiring a permit early!
It’s also worth noting that your permit does not cover the entrance fees for you or any of your guests, so you’ll still be responsible for that when the wedding day comes around. You may want to invest in a National Park entrance pass which grants you access to more than 2,000 recreation sites. For just $80, the pass covers park entry as well as day use fees and standard amenities for National Parks and Federal Recreation Lands across the country. These fees help support our national parks, so you can rest assured knowing that it will be put to good use!
The special use permit application process varies depending on the park, but in general it looks something like this:
- Decide on a ceremony location, time, and guest count
- Research ceremony sites at your chosen park that can accommodate your needs
- Apply for your special use permit through the NPS website
What restrictions are there for national park weddings?
A lot of National Parks are going to have restrictions on the things you’re allowed to do. We already touched on the number of people, but there also might be restrictions like no chairs, no confetti (some places even biodegradable, organic, locally sourced confetti is not allowed), or no arch. I think part of the beauty of a national park wedding is the simplicity, but if you want to be a little more involved, check out a state park or national forest!
You’ll want to make sure you’re following Leave No Trace princinples as well, so if you’re not familiar, take a look here! Put simply, we want to make sure the environment is left the same or better than we found it, so that people can enjoy it for years and decades to come.
Can I bring my dog?
Unfortunately, most National Parks only allow dogs in very specific locations inside the parks. If you’re really set on having your dog be part of your wedding or elopement, you could always get married at an outdoor venue, your family’s backyard, or a state park that might be more lenient. Another great option is to look into vacation rental houses! You can talk to your host and make sure they’re okay with you having an event. This is actually what we did for our reception just outside of Rocky Mountain National Park and it worked out great!
Can I bring my drone?
“The National Park Service embraces many activities in national parks because they enhance visitor experiences with the iconic natural, historic and cultural landscapes in our care. However, due to serious concerns about the negative impact that flying unmanned aircraft can have for safety of visitors, staff, and wildlife, they have been restricted in all but a few parks.” - National Parks Service
Best time of year for a national park wedding
What time of year is best for a national park wedding? This will definitely depend on the national park and the season - but a good general rule of thumb is if it’s a popular park, scheduling your wedding or elopement during the week will give you a lot more privacy than on a Saturday. If possible, you’ll want to avoid weekends and holidays - unless you’re planning it during the off season of that particular park!
What about the weather?
When choosing your national park, considering the weather is definitely an important factor. Some parks like Glacier, Rocky Mountain, Yosemite, and others can have road closures from November - June. You’ll want to check and make sure that the park & location you choose is accessible during the time you want to have your wedding or elopement.
Embracing the weather is part of the fun and adventure of choosing to have a national park wedding! It doesn’t hurt to have a little bit of flexibility (which if you’re eloping, you totally have!) and be prepared for whatever Mother Nature decides to throw your way.
If you’re getting married at a mountainous national park, the weather during summer is typically the best. Weather changes quickly at high elevations, so be prepared for the possibility of snow even into the summer months. However if you’re looking for snow, the winter months can be magical in mountains parks!
National parks that are deserts usually have the best weather during the spring and fall. The summers can get really hot, so if you’re looking for more mild temperatures, shoulder season is your best bet.
A lot of forest locations are beautiful year round! Depending on what kind of temperatures you’re hoping for, I’d suggest researching the average for each month.
Packing list for your national park wedding
What should I bring? The answer to this question definitely depends on where you’re getting married and what you want to do during the day. But the basic answer would be: Make sure you bring enough layers to stay warm. Weather can change quickly, especially at high elevations, and being prepared for anything is never a bad idea! I’m happy to help you figure out what things might be helpful.
- Wedding attire
- Vow books
- Marriage license + a pen
- Layers to stay warm
- Comfortable shoes for walking/hiking
- Champagne or cake to celebrate
- Headlamps or flashlights
If you’re getting married in the winter or somewhere cold, here's my guide on how to stay warm during a winter wedding! And check out this post for more details on how to plan your hiking elopement!
The 8 Best National Park Wedding Venues:
Choosing the right national park for your elopement can make all the difference in creating a memorable and meaningful experience. Here are some of the best national parks for your wedding or elopement, along with what makes them unique:
Rocky Mountain National Park
With the beautiful meadows, high alpine tundra, and tons of lakes to explore, Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the best national park wedding venues. It’s beautiful & accessible year round, depending on what kind of weather you’re hoping for!
Best Wedding Ceremony Locations in Rocky Mountain National Park
One of the most popular ceremony locations and for good reason, 3m Curve is the perfect spot if you’re looking for sweeping mountain views. Because of the location, it’s also a lot less busy here than some of the other options. You can have up to 15 people at this ceremony site.
Upper Beaver Meadows
This is where I got married, so I might be biased, but Upper Beaver Meadows is the best location if you’re planning to have up to 30 people for your ceremony.
With an allowance of up to 20 people, Bear Lake is a great location if you’re looking for water, trees, and mountain views.
The permit for Rocky Mountain National Park is $300. You can find more information & apply for that here!
Joshua Tree National Park
Best Wedding Ceremony Locations in Joshua Tree National Park
This is my favorite location pick for a Joshua Tree National Park wedding venue. It has unique rock formations, views of the mountains in the distance, and of course a ton of Joshua Trees.
Indian Cove Amphitheatre
If you’re looking to have more than a few guests, and up to 100, Indian Cove is the perfect venue. The ceremony space is super open and has really interesting rocks behind it.
Hidden Valley Picnic Area
Another really popular spot in the park for a wedding ceremony is Hidden Valley Picnic Area. This one is similar to Cap Rock with its Joshua Trees and rock formations.
The permit for Joshua Tree National Park is $120. You can find more information & apply for that here!
Yosemite National Park
From 3,000 foot granite cliffs, to sweeping meadows, waterfalls, and giant sequoias, Yosemite has some of the most unique and iconic landscapes. Yosemite is one of the most visited national parks, so during the summer months it can get really crowded. I typically recommend spring and fall for a wedding in Yosemite!
Best Wedding Ceremony Locations in Yosemite National Park
With the stunning view of Half Dome, Glacier Point is one of the best ceremony sites in Yosemite. At sunrise, the light will peak out from behind Half Dome and it perfect for a wedding or elopement ceremony. It’s a popular spot, so it’s especially crowded during the day.
The iconic 3,000 ft cliff down the granite rock is Taft Point! I love this spot for a golden sunset, but it is super popular, so expect crowds.
One of the most beautiful, and also one of the busiest spots in the park, Tunnel View makes for a great ceremony location with its stunning views of the valley. I typically recommend sunrise here for more privacy.
The permit for Yosemite National Park is $150. You can find more information & apply for that here!
Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park is filled with rugged mountains, glaciers, and turquoise lakes. Most of the park is closed from the beginning of fall to end of spring due to heavy snowfall at high elevations, so plan ahead for the summer months.
Lake Mcdonald, logan pass, many glacier
Best Wedding Ceremony Locations in Glacier National Park
Lake McDonald is a great ceremony spot for your wedding or elopement - it’s filled with amazing views of the surrounding mountains, colorful rocks in the lake, and you can even canoe here!
Saint Mary Lake
Another one of the most iconic spots in Glacier National Park, Saint Mary Lake has incredible views of the jagged mountain peaks, a more aerial lake view, and is centrally located.
Many Glacier Hotel
If you’re looking for epic alpenglow at sunrise, this is what you’re looking for. Plus tons of trails begin in this area, so it’s easy to access other great places to explore.
The permit for Glacier National Park is $125. You can find more information & apply for that here!
Olympic National Park
Olympic National Park is unique in that it includes three distinct ecosystems: the coast, the rainforest, and the mountains. It offers a range of scenic locations for elopements, such as Ruby Beach, Hoh Rainforest, and Hurricane Ridge. Keep in mind that Olympic can also be rainy and misty, so be prepared for variable weather conditions.
Best Wedding Ceremony Locations in Olympic National Park
The Hoh Rainforest is one of the most uniquely stunning forests in all of the U.S. and it’s easy to see why! With the moss hanging from the massive limbs, it’s one of the best wedding venues in Olympic National Park.
If you’re looking for gorgeous sunsets, amazing rock formations, and a relaxing evening on the beach, Ruby Beach is perfect for your ceremony.
Mountain views, an amazing lake, and proximity to nearby waterfalls all make Lake Crescent an amazing location for your Olympic National Park wedding!
The permit for Olympic National Park is $100. You can find more information & apply for that here!
Shenandoah National Park
Shenandoah National Park is located in Virginia and offers a range of scenic locations for elopements. It’s also conveniently located near several major cities, making it a popular choice for eloping couples on the East Coast.
Best Wedding Ceremony Locations in Shenandoah National Park
Stony Man Trail
If you’re up for a short hike to get some gorgeous see-forever views in Shenandoah, Stony Man Trail is perfect for you! Find more information about the trail here.
An easily accessible location in the park, Hawksbill Summit is great for groups under 30.
Dark Hollow Falls
Shenandoah National Park has some amazing waterfalls, and Dark Hollow Falls is one of them! If you’re dreaming of a waterfall surrounded by a colorful forest, this is your spot.
The permit for Shenandoah National Park is $150. You can find more information & apply for that here!
Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park is located on the coast of Maine and offers a unique combination of ocean views and mountain landscapes.
Best Wedding Ceremony Locations in Acadia National Park
One of the most popular spots in the park suitable for parties of up to 30, Cadillac Mountain has aerial views of the rocks and ocean below.
Sand Beach is an almost tropical feeling wedding location with its sandy shores, rock formations, and gorgeous views of the Atlantic Ocean!
Acadia National Park has a ton of unique locations - and if you’re looking for a lake surrounded by mountains, Jordan Pond is perfect for you.
The permit for Acadia National Park is $75. You can find more information & apply for that here!
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Best Wedding Ceremony Locations in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
One of the easiest accessible locations in the Smokies, Spence Cabin is perfect if you’re looking for a woodland wedding ceremony.
With scenery of the surrounding forests and mountains Cades Cove has a wild & free feeling. This is perfect for the couple who’s envisioning running through a meadow on their wedding day!
A scenic drive through the park, Foothills Parkway is filled with amazing overlooks that are perfect for a small elopement ceremony.
The permit for Great Smoky Mountains National Park is $50. You can find more information & apply for that here.
National Park Wedding & Elopement Packages
Hi, I’m Meagan! I’m an elopement photographer based in Colorado & help couples from all over the U.S. elope in their dream locations.
Imagine this – saying your vows in your favorite place or spending the day exploring a place you’ve always dreamed of visiting and promising your love to each other while experiencing a new place for the first time together. Imagine spending one of the most incredible and unforgettable days of your life doing the things you absolutely love the most.
The way you get married matters – and I believe that every couple deserves to intentionally choose a wedding day that represents who they are.
- 4+ hours of coverage
- Polaroids of your day for a hint of nostalgia
- Personalized location idea list
- Vendor recommendations
- Tips, tricks, logistics, & unlimited planning help
- An exclusive guide to Planning Your Wedding or Elopement
- A custom timeline for the best experience and beautiful photos
- Full resolution images with printing rights
- Digital gallery to view, download, print, and share your images
- Photographer travel fees to anywhere in the U.S. *INCLUDED*
- Starting at $6,000
View detailed package information here.
Need more inspiration for your national park wedding? Check out this guide on How to Elope in Joshua Tree or this guide on Everything You Need to Know for an Amazing Yosemite Wedding.
Now that we've talked all about getting married in a national park, it's time to start planning your elopement! You probably have a lot of questions, which is why I created a ton of helpful resources to help you! Check out more elopement tips here!
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