It’s no secret that you can get married in a national park, and that eloping in a national park can give you an amazing and unique experience. As more couples opt to elope outdoors in wilder places, the popularity of weddings in parks has skyrocketed. You’ve probably seen a photo of a couple getting married in Yosemite National Park, right? There are definitely some clear favorites when it comes to which parks couples are getting married in (we see you, Yosemite, Joshua Tree, and Rocky Mountain!). But I think some of the best national parks to elope in are the underrated locations that you may or may not have heard of. Ready to think outside the box? Here’s my list of the best underrated national parks to get married in!
Why Elope in a Less Visited National Park?
Good question! There are two main advantages to eloping in an underrated national park. First, you’re more likely to have privacy at an amazing location within the park. Here’s the honest truth – saying your vows at Taft Point in Yosemite at sunset IS absolutely gorgeous. But it’s also super crowded and there’s no feeling of intimacy or privacy when hundreds of other park visitors, and often multiple other eloping couples, are surrounding you. If you’re a peace-loving, quality-time-love-language introvert like me, that doesn’t sound like the best elopement experience. By choosing to elope in a less frequented park, you’re more likely to find a quiet spot for your ceremony or some sweet moments with your partner.
And another great advantage to getting married in a less popular national park is that you often have more flexibility for what you can do in the park, more location options, and less permit restrictions – basically it’s an easier process to plan your elopement. Because of the high volume of visitors that popular parks get, there are often more restrictions for eloping couples. Remember, the main goals of the park are to protect the environment and allow everyone to have an equal opportunity to enjoy the scenery. Many of the “smaller” parks allow you to choose from a wider range of locations within the park, or may even not require a permit for super small elopements. You can read more about park restrictions and permit information over in my National Park Elopement Guide.
Keep reading to find out what some of the best national parks to elope at are and why they made the list!
Channel Islands National Park Elopement Wedding
If you’ve been dreaming of an island getaway for your elopement, this could be the national park for you! No, there won’t be room service (or even a room), and you won’t be lounging with a margarita by the pool. But you CAN spend several days camping, kayaking, snorkeling, boating, backpacking, swimming, diving, hiking, and more! This national park has so much to offer in beauty and fun things to do, which is why I consider it one of my favorites. Take the ferry over to Santa Cruz, Anacapa, Santa Rosa, San Miguel, or Santa Barbara island and spend a day enjoying the park or camp overnight.
I’m a huge advocate for making your elopement experience a best-day-ever affair, and I think Channel Islands National Park is the perfect place to do this. You can fill your day with all kinds of fun and unique activities like picnicking with amazing views, snorkeling with bat rays, kayaking through sea caves, hiking through hills, saying your vows under eucalyptus trees, watching the sun set over the ocean, and star gazing. And that’s just a fraction of the amazing things you can do on the islands! Plus, the islands are the one and only home of miniature Island Foxes, which are basically the cutest animals ever (just be sure to give them space and never ever feed them!).
Channel Islands National Park is for you if: You’re up for a multi-day excursion and love to camp! Also perfect if you can’t decide between ocean and land for your adventures.
To my knowledge (after contacting the park in 2020), no permit is required to get married on the islands; however I always recommend you talk to the permit ranger to verify. If this sounds like the perfect elopement experience for you, contact me and let’s chat about what your dream elopement could look like!
Great Sand Dunes National Park Elopement Wedding
This park doesn’t have the word “great” in it for nothing! You’ll be blown away by the height and expanse of this sand dune park, home of the tallest dune in North America. You may think that hundreds of dunes of sand aren’t that exciting, but it truly is an amazing and unique place to elope. If you love feeling small in a landscape and having wide open views, this might be your park!
If you’re willing to do some dune hiking, it’s easy to get away from other visitors and have some privacy for your elopement, especially on the edges of the main entrance area. Surrounding mountains, often snowcapped, make for beautiful views and a contrasting backdrop. The park also has some forest trails and camping areas that look out onto the dunes. I highly recommend spending sunrise or sunset in the park – the early or late sun casts beautiful shadows across the dunes, giving them a new look and character.
Great Sand Dunes National Park is for you if: You’re looking for a really unique, minimalistic landscape.
The Chief Ranger at the park is very helpful and can give you the information you need for planning your ceremony or photos at the park. A permit is required for weddings, elopements, and photos in the park. Find out more information on the park’s website
Canyonlands National Park Elopement Wedding
Canyonlands National Park is often overlooked for its more famous Moab, Utah national park neighbor, Arches. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have much to offer! The most iconic view in the Canyonlands, Mesa Arch, is just the beginning of the beautiful landscapes in the park. From Grand View Point or Green River Overlook, take in the sweeping views of the beautiful canyons below. If you’re up for some 4×4 adventures (I’ve got a Jeep and am totally down for this!), drive through the rocky desert on Shafer Canyon Road. Or explore the hundreds of miles of trails by hiking, biking, or riding horses through the vast 257,640 acre park.
Canyonlands National Park is for you if: You want a desert elopement with incredible views and endless options for trails.
Take a look at the Canyonlands wedding permits page to get more information on permits and regulations for weddings and elopements in the park.
Lassen Volcanic National Park Elopement Wedding
Overshadowed by other California national parks, Lassen Volcanic is vastly underrated and incredibly beautiful! In winter months, the park is only accessible by snowshoeing and cross country skiing, but well worth it for the amazing slow-capped mountain views. In warmer months, the park is green and filled with wildflower meadows, stunning waterfalls, and many mountain lakes. The park is an interesting mixture of lush mountain landscapes and rugged volcanic rock. Hydrothermal areas display an interesting array of bubbling mud pots, steaming fumaroles, and natural hot springs.
Make the most of your time at Lassen Volcanic National Park by camping, fishing, boating, swimming, hiking, geocaching, stargazing, biking, or backpacking. Yeah, I told you this park was super underrated! Hike to geothermal areas, mountain lakes, beautiful meadows, and volcanic peaks on the park’s 150+ miles of trail. And although the sulfuric smell of the geothermal areas can be less than pleasant, it’s worth checking out these unique features!
Lassen Volcanic National Park is for you if: You want amazing mountain landscapes to explore, without all the crowds; You’re looking for a park that offers a lot of activities to make the most of your elopement experience.
Read through the park’s special use permit information and call a ranger to find out more about how to have a wedding or elopement in Lassen Volcanic National Park.
Congaree National Park Elopement Wedding
This South Carolina national park is a magical mixture of lush forest and beautiful water. Set in swamplands, the park is a great place to hike or get out on the water. The 2.4 miles of boardwalk wind through the waters and between beautiful cypress trees, and you can explore even more of the park via the 25 miles of trails. Or, if you want a little more adventure on your elopement day, paddle through the park in a kayak or canoe! While Congaree National Park may not have far reaching views, the scenery is still incredible! And I think the swamp has a unique and intimate feel that’s perfect for an off-the-beaten-path wedding. There’s also a really amazing synchronous fireflies event that happens every summer in the park, which would be a magic experience!
Congaree National Park is for you if: You want an intimate feeling, off-the-beaten-path ceremony; You love kayaking and want to elope in the Southeast.
To find out more about eloping at Congaree, take a look at the park’s special use permit information.
Petrified Forest National Park Elopement Wedding
From backcountry hikes to easily-accessible overlooks, this Arizona park has something for everyone! The park is full of incredible rock formations, and rainbow of earth colors, and amazing petrified wood forests. There are numerous trails to hike within the park, and if you want to be a bit more adventurous, you can head into the backcountry for an overnight hike. Various overlooks give you incredible open views of the colorful badlands below, or you can walk down into the scene for an up-close look.
Because of its desert location and lack of shade, the park is best visited when temperatures are cooler and the sun isn’t as intense. I visited in early March, and the weather was perfect for a backcountry hike! One thing to note is that the park gates close promptly at 5pm each evening, which doesn’t allow for you to stay until sunset and then leave. However, a great solution would be to camp overnight in the park, which is allowed in backcountry areas and in parking lots. If you’re up for some backpacking for your elopement, or have an RV or camping van/trailer, this could be a really fun elopement adventure. Imagine staring up at millions of stars in the clear skies on your wedding night, or waking up for a sunrise ceremony with absolutely no one else around. Amazing!
Petrified Forest National Park is for you if: You love rocks, desert, and earth tones; If you want a fun overnight stay in the park; You’re looking for a place to elope in fall, winter, or spring.
Check out Petrified Forest’s wedding guidelines on the park permit page. As of April 20, 2021, the park isn’t accepting any special use permits because of the pandemic. However, I recommend still calling the park if you want to elope here, because you may not need a permit for very small elopements.
Grand Teton National Park WINTER Elopement Wedding
Yes, Grand Teton National Park is very busy in the summer months. I’ve heard tales of waiting for hours in long lines of cars just to get in and around the park. But in the winter? Well, that’s another story! Winter in the park is a quiet and magical experience. The majesty of the Teton mountains is (in my opinion) amplified when they’re covered in a blanket of snow. The park is incredibly quiet, allowing you to feel the peace and grandeur of the scene. There are many spots that you may have totally to yourself with no one else around!
A lot of the hikes and roads within the park are closed during the winter because of the deep snowfall. However, I found that there’s still plenty to enjoy in the park – I mean, who could get tired of seeing that amazing mountain view! Enjoy the classic overlook of the Snake River (as made famous by Ansel Adams), or explore a trail on snowshoes or cross country skis. Elk, moose, and buffalo are easy to spot against the snowy scene, which is a real treat! Temperatures can be pretty chilly, but as long as you’re well prepared, you’ll be able to enjoy your experience.
Winter in Grand Teton National Park is for you if: You don’t mind cool weather and snow if it means amazing views all to yourself!
Permits are required for weddings or elopements in Grand Teton National Park, so check out the website for more information. Also take a look at what’s open during the winter months.
I hope this list has inspired you to look outside of the typical parks for your elopement location! To start planning your own underrated national park elopement, read this article on How to Elope in a National Park. And if you’re just starting to think about eloping and are not sure where to begin with the whole process, check out these tips for How to Elope.
Do you want to be one of the few to elope in one of these national parks? Get in touch with me so I can help you plan an unforgettable elopement day!