How to Elope in a National Park

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Yosemite National Park Elopement

Today it’s all about the adventurous couples. The ones who want to incorporate the outdoors into their wedding day in a BIG WAY. Over the past few years, we’ve been featuring more and more rad elopements, many of them in beautiful, expansive national parks. Que ALL your questions: “So, how DO you elope in a national park? Are there fees involved? Who do I contact? Do I have to get a permit? Help!” Well, we’ve done our research + are here to divulge all the answers. We’re even sharing some expert advice from two of the most coveted adventure photographers in the game, Anni Graham and Dawn Jarvis of Dawn Photo.

{photo above: Anni Graham from this Yosemite Elopement}

Do I need a permit to elope in a national park?

elope in a national parkphoto by Dawn Photo from this Elopement in North Cascades National Park

Yes. Almost all of the U.S. National Parks allow ceremonies to take place within their grounds. You’ll need to purchase a “special use” permit within a few weeks to several months in advance. It varies by park, but expect to pay between $50-$500. This permit is in addition to the park entrance fee. Even if it is just you, the officiant + the photographer, it’s important to have your permit on hand. Why? First, a ranger could swiftly bring your wedding day to a halt and you’ll have to pay a fine. And second, the national parks are such a great service and cause to support!

How much does it cost to have a national park elopement?

Banff National Park Elopementphoto by Anni Graham from this Banff National Park Elopement

This depends on which national park you choose. We’ve got a list of special interest permit fees for common parks below. In addition to a permit, you’ll pay park entrance fees, and need to obtain a marriage license to get married in a national park.

How do I get a permit?

Death Valley National Park Elopementphoto by Kim Butler from this Elopement in Death Valley

Anni Graham shares, “Each national park will have contact information on nps.gov and I have never had difficulty getting in touch with a park ranger to ask about specific permits + rules. Each park also has its own website with information on wedding permits that are easily accessible.”

How far in advance do I need to apply for a permit?

elope in a national parkphoto by Anni Graham at Snoqualmie Falls

“Each park usually has a time frame of when you can get your permits. For example, Yosemite allows you to schedule permits one year to 21 days before your wedding.  Regardless, it’s smart to give yourself plenty of advance time. Some parks have designated areas for weddings and they can book out up to a year in advance.”

Which restrictions are involved to elope in a national park?

Superstition Mountains Elopementphoto by Ashtyn Nicole from this Elopement at the Superstition Mountains

Here’s Annie: “There are a few restrictions that are common like the number of people who can attend (usually < 50), what kinds of props/rentals you can bring, pets may or may not be allowed, fire or sparklers are a big no, you can’t bring confetti or glitter, etc. If you have specific questions, be sure to ask the park ranger.

TIP: If a national park feels a bit restrictive, check out a state park or national forest nearby! You’ll still get the incredible scenery with fewer crowds — and you can bring your dog!”

How much time should we plan for photos?

boho bride White Sands Elopementphoto by Jazmine Rubio from this White Sands National Monument Elopement

The short answer? Plenty of time. There are variables in time of day and which park you choose, so be sure to discuss with your photographer. Dawn Photo shares, “Whenever I shoot at a park I’m normally there for about 4-6 hours to get ceremony, group (family) photos if it’s an intimate ceremony, and portraits of the couple. Depending on the park, it could take more or less time!”

What’s better: photos at sunrise or photos at sunset?

epic national park elopement photosphoto by Priscila Valentina Photography from this Sunrise Elopement in the Grand Canyon

Annie suggests leaving plenty of time to take it slow and enjoy yourself, especially if you’re hiking to a location. “I encourage either a different pair of shoes if you want to hike in your dress or waiting to change until we get there in case you get hot.  I love shooting at sunset because you have the whole day to anticipate the moment. But for really popular parks or lookout points, it’s going to be very crowded.  If sunrise is a possibility, it might be an early start but it’s quiet and calm, the crowds aren’t awake yet, and it feels like you have the whole place to yourself. It can be pretty magical. Sunset light is usually very yellow and warm, while sunrise light is whiter and a bit less dominating in a photo. I love both, so it’s really up to you which you would prefer!

How do I find the best ceremony location within the park?

Prairie Creek Redwood Park elopementphoto by Anni Graham at Prairie Creek Redwood Park

If this is a park that you and your love frequent, why not make a date out of it and scout out the perfect location yourselves? Other options include browsing Pinterest to see what has worked in the past, along with contacting the park ranger. Most national parks won’t be able to block off a certain area for you — especially if it is peak season and/or one of the most popular tourist attractions (Yosemite Falls or Old Faithful in Yellowstone, for example). However, they can guide you to secluded spots that have worked in the past!

How do we plan for the weather?

rialto beach elopementphoto by Dawn Photo from an elopement at Rialto Beach in Olympic National Park

Depending on where you plan to elope, the weather can be a significant factor. We wouldn’t suggest somewhere like Joshua Tree National Park in the summer, nor Denali National Park in the winter. Take these things into consideration and know that the weather could change at any minute. Make plans for this — bring the proper gear, such as boots, sweaters, a change of clothes, and a willing attitude. It’s all part of the adventure, right?

What to Bring With You:

  • Park permit
  • Entrance fee
  • Marriage license
  • Hiking shoes
  • A change of clothes
  • Sweater or jacket (If you are up in the mountains or at a lookout point it tends to get unexpectedly chilly!)
  • Water and snacks —  or maybe champagne
  • Props (a rug, flower petals, cute blanket to sit on, etc.)
  • Headlamp or flashlight for early morning or late-night hikes
  • Jacket and umbrella in case of rain

Common National Parks for Eloping + Permit Fees

Updated April 2021

Death Valley National Park Elopementphoto by Kim Butler from this Elopement in Death Valley

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