Ok, you are here because you are all about the experience and the adventure. You want to start your life together on a high note in the middle of some of our most beautiful landscapes. And there is a reason National Parks are popular, they are some of the most beautiful locations in our country. If you choose to go this route, then there is a little more planning and logistics that needs to be done to plan for your National Park elopement, but do not worry this guide will get you pointed in the right direction.
A quick side note, I worked as a Park Ranger for the National Park Service for over 10 years, in nine different parks, and six different states. And if that does not convince you that I know the National Park Service, my parents were both Park Rangers before me. I was raised in places like Grand Canyon National Park, Sequoia National Park, Kings Canyon National Park, Yosemite National Park, and Mount Rainier National Park, just to name a few. So trust me when I say I KNOW the ins and outs of the National Park Service rules and regulations. Okay enough about me, onto planning a National Park elopement.
Do you need a permit to elope in a National Park?
The technical answer is yes. Every National Park will allow you to say your vows within their beautiful landscapes. However, some may regulate where, how big, and even when more than others. Typically, you will need to apply for a Special Use Permit for the individual park. The easiest way to do this will be to visit the Park’s website, and typically under “Plan Your Visit” you will find the “Permits and Reservations” tab that will take you to the appropriate page.
The costs will also vary, but they are somewhere between $50 and $500. It’s important to keep in mind these permit fees are in addition to the entrance or parking fees. Another thing to keep in mind is always, and I mean ALWAYS have your permit on hand. This will go for the officiant and the photographer too. It is required by law to have this documentation on you at all times, and if you do not, a Ranger can call an end to your wedding and you may be fined.
How much does it cost to elope in a National Park?
One of the biggest questions I get asked is “How much does planning a National Park Elopement cost?” This will depend on a lot of things. Such as your wedding attire, bouquets and floral arrangements (make sure to read your permit, some parks will not allow live plants due to the possibility of introduction of invasive bugs and plants), food, guests, etc. But on average an elopement within a National Park will cost between $10,000 and $30,000. This includes travel, photography, marriage licenses, attire, permits, and entrance fees.
How far in advance do I need to apply for a permit?
The most important thing when planning a National Park elopement is the permit. This will depend on which National Park you plan to elope in, but a good rule of thumb is one year. Some National Parks, like Yosemite, will allow you to get a permit 21 days before your wedding. However, places like Rocky Mountain National Park only allow a set number of permits per month/year, and their permit system is on a first come first serve basis. So if you wait last minute to apply for a permit, you probably won’t get one. Basically, start applying as soon as possible.
Rules and Regulations for Eloping in a National Park
You are probably tired of hearing this, but it depends on which National Park you are planning to elope in. But here are the most common:
- No dogs;
- No fires, unless in a designated ring;
- No sparklers, smoke bombs, or other fireworks;
- No more than 50 people can attend (this includes your photographer and officiant);
- Props/rentals, there is usually a restriction on what kinds and how big, but… you guessed it… it will depend on the Park; and
- No confetti, glitter, etc. if you want a sendoff the only option you will have is bubbles.
If you want to incorporate any of the above into your wedding, look at a neighboring National Forest or State Park. Typically, these kinds of public lands have fewer restrictions and fewer crowds with incredible scenery. And remember, if you have any questions, you can always reach out to a Park Ranger. Trust me they would rather answer your questions than have to crash your wedding.
It didn’t happen unless you got a picture, right? Just kidding. But you will want to bring a photographer with you. Just so you can look back and remember EVERYTHING. It is suggested by multiple adventure elopement photographers to get a photographer for a minimum of 4 hours. This way you will get photos of the ceremony, any family/group photos you will want, and couple/bridal portraits. The best part about choosing your venue as a National Park is that you can go take photos anywhere (that is open to the public). This means that you might get married at X location, but you can take photos at Y and Z locations.
Finding the Perfect Location
If this is a Park you often visit or holds a special place in your heart, then I would suggest picking a location that is sentimental. Or if it is a Park that is nearby then make a date of it and go exploring. But before you go and find your dream location, check with park officials. Some National Parks will only allow you to get married in certain locations, for example, Rocky Mountain National Park will only allow weddings to occur in one of 13 locations. Other options include scouring Pinterest or Google to see what others have looked at in the past. After all, there is no need to reinvent the wheel, a lot of the research has already been done or at least started for you. Whatever you choose to do keep the following in mind:
The Park will not allow you to block off areas from the public for your ceremony. So if you choose someplace popular, like Yosemite Falls, and expect there to be crowds. The time of year may dictate a lot of factors such as your mobility, crowds, wait times, rush hour, lodging, etc. If you can, look into going during the shoulder season. You might not have 80-degree days, but you might have fewer people.
If any of this is overwhelming, don’t be afraid to reach out to your photographer. There is a reason you booked with them. They probably know all the intimate details of the park already, and if they don’t then they probably know how to find the answers.
Planning for the Weather
It’s impossible to plan for the weather one year in advance. But you can view historical trends, paired with common sense, you can rest easier knowing that more likely than not it will not snow on your wedding day. For example, Joshua Tree National Park in the summer will probably lead to heat stroke, while Arcadia National Park in the winter will be wet. Websites like Weather Underground will show you historical weather for any given date. Regardless of how much research you do, it is always smart to bring proper gear just in case.
What to Bring
- Special Use Permit
- Marriage License
- A change of clothes
- Appropriate footwear (at least to get to the ceremony location)
- Jacket or sweatshirt
- Water and snacks
- Headlamp or flashlight (that is not your phone)
- Rain jacket
National Park Permit Fees
Arches National Park, Moab, UT- $185
Badlands National Park, Interior, SD- $100
Bryce Canyon National Park, Bryce, UT- $100
Everglades National Park, Homestead, FL- $100
Glacier National Park, West Glacier, MT- $125
Grand Canyon National Park, Grand Canyon, AZ- $240-500 depending on location
Grand Tetons National Park, Moose, WY- $200
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg, TN- $50
Joshua Tree National Park, Twentynine Palms, CA- $120
Olympic National Park, Port Angeles, WA- Varies
Rocky Mountain National Park, Estes Park, CO- $300
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, Three Rivers, CA- $75
Shenandoah National Park, Luray, VA- $150
Yellowstone National Park, WY- $75
Yosemite National Park, El Portal, CA- $150
Zion National Park, Springdale, UT- $100