Everything You Need to Know for a National Park Wedding

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.

couple on beach at national park

In 2019, I went through the whole process of planning a National Park wedding myself. We planned our Rocky Mountain National Park ceremony all the way from Indiana in just 3 months! I had a lot of questions about how the process worked, and spent hours googling answers to my questions. So, I thought it would be helpful to put together a list of the biggest questions and the answers! 

Hi, I'm Meagan!

Colorado wedding and elopement photographer, specializing in adventure based weddings focused on the experience – because you deserve a day focused on you and your love, because that’s really what this is all about isn’t it?

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.

Here are the questions I’ll be going over in this post about how to have a National Park Wedding: 

Can you elope in a national park?

How do I choose a park? 
How do I find the perfect spot?
When should we plan our wedding or elopement?
How do I get a national park wedding permit? And how much time do I need to get one?
What restrictions are there for national park weddings? 
How do I have a destination wedding at a national park?

How much is a wedding at a national park?

Can I bring my dog?
Can I bring my drone?
How should we plan the timeline for a national park wedding? 
What should I bring?
What about weather?
I love national parks, but I want to get married in a more traditional venue. How do I find national park wedding venues?

How do I have a destination wedding at a national park?
List of popular National Parks and their special use permit fees

A bride and groom on their national park wedding day in southwest Colorado. Wedding photos after their intimate southwest Colorado ceremony in Westcliffe, Colorado.

Can you elope in a national park?

Yes! Eloping at a national park is an amazing option for nature-loving couples to say their vows outdoors. If you’re considering eloping in a national park, the next step is choosing the best park for you. 

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. At the end of this post, I list some popular national parks and their 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.

How do I choose a park? 

This can be a pretty tough question for a lot of people. There are countless INCREDIBLE national parks to get married and picking a spot can be really difficult! If you have an emotional tie to a certain park or state, that might be the perfect start! It’s always so special when a couple chooses their location because they met, got engaged, or had some other meaningful experience there.

If you don't already have a place that’s meaningful to you, here's a good place to start! What type of environment do you feel drawn to? For me, it has always been the mountains, so that was an obvious choice for me. But there is no shortage of different landscapes to choose from! Brainstorm anything you could possibly think of, from deserts, to beaches, to glacial lakes.

Once you come up with a certain landscape you love, I am more than happy to guide you in finding your perfect national park and the perfect spot within the park! 

bride and groom walking near lake and mountains after their national park wedding ceremomy

How do I find the perfect spot?

Once you’ve decided on a park, the next location option to decide on is where to have your ceremony. Every park is going to have their own list of locations where they allow ceremonies. You can find all of this info on that particular park's NPS website. Each of these spots will have a specific number of people allowed. This number will include you, your guests, photographers, etc. Each spot will also list the specific number of cars allowed at the site. 

Based on the number of people you’re inviting or know are attending your wedding or elopement—whether that’s 20 or 60—you can choose a spot that works for that number. A lot of these spots will have different levels of accessibility, so that might be something for you to consider as well. For us, this made things pretty easy. I needed a place that had bathrooms, wasn’t too long of a hike to get to since my grandparents were with us, and allowed the right amount of people. Once you have these things figured out, it’s really easy to narrow it down to which spot will work for your needs!

couple walking away during their elopement in joshua tree national park

When should we plan our wedding or elopement?

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 for 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!

How do I get a national park wedding permit?

Here’s how to apply for your national park wedding permit:

  1. Go to nps.gov
  2. Type in your national park in the Search box.
  3. For a list of parks in a particular state, you can scroll down to “Find a Park” and select your state in the drop-down menu. 
  4. Click on the “Reserve” logo.
  5. Scroll down to the Permits section and click on Weddings to find permitting and fees info for that park. 
  6. Download the permit forms. 
  7. Send in the permit forms and fees.
  8. Get your wedding permit!

How much time do I need to get a national park wedding permit?

Once you’ve chosen the spot where you want to have your ceremony or say your vows, you can apply for a permit for a particular day, time, and place. Each spot will have a certain number of ceremonies allowed per day, so the earlier you can apply the better.

You can apply for a permit usually around 1 year to 2 weeks before the wedding! Especially if you’re planning a Saturday wedding, it’s smart to start thinking about your ceremony location and acquiring a permit early if you can!

bride and groom hiking a mountain peak during their hiking elopement

The special use 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! Plus, these fees help support our National Parks, so we know it will be put to good use!

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.

3 images side by side of Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Tetons. The first image is 4 bison grazing at sunset in Yellowstone. The second image is of a tent and evergreens with the stars shining above them in the Tetons. The last image is Grand Prismatic Springs at Yellowstone.

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 and cars per site, but there also might be a restriction like no chairs, no confetti (some places even biodegradable, organic, locally sourced confetti is not allowed), no flowers, 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 principles as well, so if you’re not familiar, be sure to familiarize yourself with Leave No Trace before you go! 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. 

How much is a wedding at a national park?

Special use wedding permit fees will vary depending on the park. Generally, you can expect to pay between $50 and $240 for a special use permit for your national park wedding. 

In addition to the minimal permit fees, many couples find that having their wedding at a national park is an amazing budget-friendly option as well.

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!

Check out this list of the Most Unique Airbnb’s in Every State and my guide to Planning Your Airbnb Elopement!

Can I bring my drone?

The National Park Service restricts drones in most parks, due to serious concerns about the negative impact drones may have on visitors, staff, and wildlife. In order to keep visitor experience positive as well as to protect wildlife, leave the drone at home.

However, a few parks do allow drones. Be sure to check the National Park Service website when you plan your visit to read the rules and regulations.

How should we plan the timeline for a national park wedding? 

Planning timelines is something that your photographer will definitely help you with. Timelines can vary quite a bit based on what you’re going for, the time of year, the particular park, and any number of variables. If you’re getting married in a really popular park like Yosemite, it would probably be best to start the day early and be out at sunrise. But if you’re not restricted because of the busyness of the park, and you’re not morning people, maybe sunset would be a better time to plan around for you! Then, you can stay up late and watch the stars come out!

Once you decide when you want to have your ceremony, the rest of the timeline should come together pretty easily. Even though you’re choosing to take a route that’s a little more non-traditional, you can still incorporate anything that is important to you! Having your photographer be present for getting ready, your first look, the reception, and your exit (if you’re doing one) is still a great option! This is your wedding day so it deserves a timeline that feels like you and isn’t too rushed.

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. 

  • If it’s going to be cold, bring a few key items to stay warm: Fleece lined leggings (you can find warm leggings in nearly any skin tone, so you won’t even know that you’re wearing them!), coats, gloves, hats, hand warmers, a warm beverage. Here's my guide on how to stay warm during a winter wedding!
  • Hiking boots - you can always bring a second pair of shoes if you wanted, too! But hiking boots always look really cute with a dress and will be the most practical if you're planning on hiking at all.
  • If you’re doing a long hike before your ceremony, you may want to bring a change of clothes. But of course, that’s totally up to you, as well! Check out this post for more details on how to plan your hiking elopement!
  • Snacks, water, champagne if you want to do a toast! 
  • Headlamps and flashlights are always good to have - especially if you’re planning on getting up early or staying past sunset.
Side by side images of a wedding dress hanging on a cabin and the bouquet where the girls were getting ready in the morning. New bride and groom are hugging and looking at each other in the forest during fall in Brown County State Park in Indiana.

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 are only partially opened for most of the year because of driving conditions on snowy high elevation roads. This doesn’t mean you can’t get married in the winter, but you’ll want to check and make sure that the park you choose is open during the time you want to have your wedding or elopement! 

Besides that, choosing to get married in nature is kind of a gamble since you likely won’t have much of a backup plan. Embracing the weather is part of the fun and adventure of choosing to have a national park wedding! If something crazy is happening like a white-out blizzard, it doesn’t hurt to have a little bit of flexibility (which if you’re eloping, you totally have!). Plus, worst comes to worst, you could always have your ceremony wherever you’re staying, or even finding a location that might be a little lower in elevation if you're in the mountains can be really helpful when it comes to inclement weather.

Check out this post I wrote about staying warm during your winter elopement!

A couple stargazes from their tent at Under Canvas in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

I love national parks, but I want to get married in a more traditional venue. How do I find national park wedding venues?

This is a totally great option, too! You can still absolutely incorporate the National Parks into your wedding if you want to. One option is to have your engagement photos taken at your favorite National Park! I also offer day after sessions (which can be used the very next day or at a slightly later date - like if you wanted to do a session while on your honeymoon!), so if you’re getting married or live close to a National Park or honeymooning near one, we can totally accommodate that! 

Here’s how to find national park wedding venues:

  1. First, find a park you’re interested in! To search for parks by region and state, check out National Parks Conservation Association.
  2. Once you’ve found a park, go to nps.gov and enter the park in the search box to find ceremony sites available at that park. You'll also see all the info you need to know about that site.
  3. Then, don’t forget to check the permitting and fees sections to apply for your special use permit.

How do I have a destination wedding at a national park?

Before planning a destination wedding at a national park, the first thing you should consider is your desired guest count. This critical because parks have capacity limits on ceremony sites and venues, but this also helps you figure out what the potential footprint on the land could be.

If you’re set on a bigger destination wedding, it might not be possible or make sense to have your wedding at a national park. For larger guest counts, you can consider nearby wedding venues. Or, think about having your wedding at an Airbnb rental home near the park, and incorporating the park in other ways. 

On the other hand, if you have a smaller guest count and are committed to leaving no trace, you can certainly find some amazing sites for your destination wedding!

Here are some of my favorite National Parks and their special use permit fees: 

Acadia National Park: $50
Arches National Park: $185
Glacier National Park: $100
Grand Teton National Park: $200
Grand Canyon National Park: $240
Great Smoky Mountains National Park: $50
Indiana Dunes National Park: $65
Joshua Tree National Park: $150
Shenandoah National Park: $150
Olympic National Park: $50
Rocky Mountain National Park: $250
White Sands National Park: $25
Yellowstone National Park: $75
Yosemite National Park: $150
Zion National Park: $100

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 my elopement tips here!

A couple walks towards the edge of a cliff admiring the views at Taft Point in Yosemite National Park.

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