Do you want to explore the southwestern reaches of the Rocky Mountains? Colorado’s San Juans make a gorgeous destination for your perfect elopement.
Strike gold on your wedding day by venturing to the amazing San Juan Mountains. Exploring the area in and around Telluride will offer you countless options for accessing stunning vistas with your partner. This area, rich with nature and history, creates the absolute perfect setting for a Colorado elopement. It’s my favorite region of the state, chock-full of beauty!
With my experience photographing San Juan elopements, I have tons of tips and tricks to make your dreams a reality. I’ll help you capture your commitment against the backdrop of Colorado’s most impressive mountain range.
In this guide, we’ll walk through some of the most striking scenes in the San Juans and cover what you need to achieve your dream wedding.
The Best Locations for Your Elopement in the San Juans
Home to 14 of Colorado’s 14’ers (mountains exceeding 14,000 feet), there are so many options for your perfect elopement. Because Colorado allows for self-solemnization, meaning you do not need a witness or officiant to get married, the sky is literally the limit. You can make it official anywhere you and your love can trek to in the San Juan National Forest. (Though I do recommend bringing along an adventurous photographer to preserve your special moment!)
When most people think of the San Juans, they think of Telluride, one of the best destinations in the world for winter sports. If you want to feel like you’ve been transported to Europe during your elopement, you won’t go wrong with Telluride. From the iconic gondola to Bridal Veil Falls, Colorado’s highest free-falling waterfall at 365 ft, this mining town has so much to offer. It’s a fantastic place to stay, especially if you are planning to incorporate any traditional venues or invite guests to join you at your destination. The town is a National Historic Landmark chock full of educational and recreational experiences.
While Telluride itself remains a vibrant and active community, it shares a history with many ghost towns throughout the area. These settlements, originally built by miners during the gold and silver rushes of the late 1800’s, create a window to the past and create an aesthetic exclusive to the Old West.
At nearly 8,000 ft elevation, Ouray is an ideal place to launch your perfect San Juan wedding or elopement. It’s known as the “Switzerland of America,” and when you visit, you’ll see why! Enjoy the natural hot springs and dive into the activities offered throughout this town. Perimeter Trail is a friendly hike for adventurers of varied abilities and experience levels, offering views of the lovely local waterfalls.
Silverton is another adorable mining town with opportunities for adventure abound. Balance out a wild day in the rugged Weminuche Wilderness Area with a train ride featuring gorgeous views from a distinctly Victorian vantage point on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway. Whether you decide to set up camp or spend a relaxing evening at the long-running Villa Dallavalle Inn, you’ll love soaking up generations of Coloradan history.
If you want to incorporate an out-of-this-world scenic drive into your wedding day, hit the Million Dollar Highway and head to Red Mountain Pass! This summit is the connecting point of the San Juan and Uncompahgre National Forests. Take in Red Mountain, which gets its name and color from its high iron content, and check out the ghost towns from Colorado’s silver boom.
A little smaller than the size of Rhode Island, Weminuche Wilderness Area protects the headwaters of both the Rio Grande and the San Juan River. Because it spans the Continental Divide, water from this area flows ultimately to both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. This means it’s a great place to symbolically connect to friends and family across the country! Weminuche Wilderness features colorful meadows of alpine wildflowers, pristine lakes, and a network of trails averaging around 10,000 feet in elevation.
South San Juan is a remote location. The same glaciers that dotted the region with lakes carved imposing cliffs and canyons throughout the region. It’s not the easiest area for travel and is definitely best suited for couples who are looking for an intimate and challenging hike.
Close to Telluride, Lizard Head provides opportunities for a wide range of views. Climbs here are difficult and are not advisable for a light hike, with three of the famous 14’ers being found here. While Lizard Head itself is one of the most dangerous rock climbing destinations in the US, the volcanic formation is breathtaking from a distance.
Hermosa is the newest of the Wilderness Areas in the San Juan Forest. Not only is it incredibly remote, but visitors are only allowed to visit by foot or horseback. Due to fire damage, many areas can be hazardous or impassable, making it an unpredictable destination. This area is beautiful for exploration, but it has some limitations for elopements.
What kind of weather to expect in the San Juan mountains
When it comes to Colorado weather, expect anything. Higher elevations may experience some snow cover year round. While storms including rain, snow, or hail, can hit any time, they tend to pass quickly, especially in summer and early fall.
If you’re a winter sport enthusiast, take advantage of the abundant powder available in the winter months. If wildflowers and verdant valleys are calling to you, it’s best to plan your nuptials between late spring and early fall. Whenever you choose, be sure to bring plenty of layers as you may see two or three seasons in a single day!
Protecting the Land
The San Juans have a unique and delicate ecosystem. Many of the Wilderness Areas have strict group limits, meaning you cannot have a party of fifteen or more out on the trails. This means you should be thoughtful in choosing if you would rather have an intimate elopement or seek out a local venue for your wedding. There are also many areas where vehicles and bicycles are prohibited, so you’ll want to check ahead where you can drive to and if you can comfortably access your chosen spot by foot. Some areas allow dogs, while others do not. If your fur-baby is a guest of honor, make sure you respect local rules for pets. If you’re not sure where to start when searching for the right location for your wedding, this is where a knowledgeable elopement photographer can help you! I’ve helped couples narrow the field from a whole state to that perfect spot, and I’d love to do the same for you.
Leave No Trace in the San Juan Mountains
Look into specific regulations wherever you travel.
- Minimize disposable items, and make sure you bring durable items that you can easily store and carry with you.
- Check the weather and look out for road or trail closures in advance so you’re prepared to make changes in your plans when necessary.
- If you build a campfire, use proper fire safety and make sure you’re in an area where it’s allowed.
Certain areas within the San Juan Mountains may have specific regulations or areas of concern. For instance, the Weminuche Wilderness Area has been greatly affected by Spruce beetles, killing and damaging the local trees and making them subject to falls.
An experienced elopement photographer like me can help you ensure you’re doing the most to preserve this beautiful mountain range for future generations of plants, animals, and people.
Wedding Licenses for the San Juan Mountains
Colorado is a great state for getting married. Check out my tips here if you want additional info specific to the Centennial State. You can wed the same day you apply for your marriage license! If you like to plan a little further ahead, just make sure you use the license within 30 days of receiving it.
Like I mentioned earlier, you don’t need an officiant or any witnesses to get legally married in Colorado! It can be as simple as you, your love, and the San Juans. Just make sure once you’ve married yourselves, you sign and submit your license within 63 days to avoid fees.
You can get your license remotely via a virtual appointment with the Office of the Clerk and Recorder.
Special use permits
A special use permit is required for weddings in San Juan National Forest for groups larger than 75 people. If you do decide to plan a bigger wedding in this area, you’ll need to fill out this application at least 45-60 days in advance. A good elopement photographer can assist you with dotting your I’s and crossing your T’s so your wedding day goes off without a hitch.
Set off for the San Juans!
If you’ve fallen in love with the San Juan Mountains, I’d love to help you plan your dream wedding there! Together we can map out our trek to take advantage of the soaring peaks, humbling waterfalls, and pristine scenery of southwestern Colorado. I’ll make sure you have all the essentials for a successful day along with photographs to capture your most precious moments for the future.
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