Are you planning a national park elopement? As a former Park Service employee and big national park geek, it makes me so excited when I hear about a couple planning their wedding in a national park! These places are some of the most beautiful and unique public lands in the US. Read on for information on how to get married in a national park, and other planning tips. And if you’re looking for an off-the-beaten-path national park elopement, read about The Best Underrated National Parks to Elope At!
How to Get Married in a National Park
While getting married in a national park is pretty different from your typical wedding, it’s really not too difficult! As you plan, you’ll follow the basic steps for how to elope (read more on that!) and then just add a few park-specific considerations. You’ll need to pick which national park you want to get married in (I’ve got some recommendations below!) and where in the park you’d like to have your ceremony. Once you have the location, date, and time set: apply for a wedding permit with the park (more on that below). Plan your elopement or wedding festivities around the rules and guidelines of the park, and then enjoy your awesome day!
National Park Wedding vs Elopement
I don’t want to go too far without talking about the differences in eloping versus having a wedding of any size at a national park. I would consider an elopement to be just you and your partner, or including a very limited number of guests (less than 10), and any more people than that would be considered a micro wedding or more commonly sized wedding. So why does that matter for getting married in a national park? Well, the more guests you have at your wedding, the more logistically difficult it can be to plan and carry out your vision. Generally, if you’re having a wedding, you need to provide seating for your guests at your ceremony, and there has to be a substantially sized parking lot for everyone to use. Those two factors rule out a lot of locations in national parks, or narrow down your options to very public and popular spots. Plus, some parks or specific ceremony locations within a park have limitations on the number of people allowed at a wedding.
With the increase in popularity of elopements, some parks are making it very easy to get married with only a few guests or no guests at all. For instance, Redwood National and State Park doesn’t require a permit for ceremonies that only include the couple getting married. If you want a few friends and family there for your ceremony, Acadia National Park allows elopements with 10 or less people without a permit. (Please note that this information was accurate at the time of writing this article, but it’s important to verify everything with the official park rules.) Of course it’s not a problem to get a permit if it’s needed, but it does simplify the planning process quite a bit if you don’t need to apply for one. Your options for locations also open up significantly when you aren’t applying for a national park wedding permit. You can read more about permits below for more information!
National Park Wedding Venues
Most national parks don’t have wedding venues, and some of the more remote ones don’t have any privately owned venues nearby. But of course, nature is always the most beautiful wedding venue! National parks and National Park Service sites that allow weddings and elopements have beautiful land and the most beautiful backdrops. Some parks have predesignated ceremony locations and don’t allow weddings anywhere else in order to protect the land and ecosystem. However, other parks will let you find a ceremony spot yourself – just note that any location has to be approved by the permit ranger before you can officially use it. And be sure to check on the number of guests allowed at each location.
Some national parks like Joshua Tree and Grand Teton have privately owned wedding venues just outside the park. If you want a little more freedom with your plans or a more luxurious experience, this might be the best option for you. Often, these wedding venues still have amazing views of the park and can offer more options like a reception area, lodging, and catering options.
A few of my favorite private national park wedding venues are:
Grand Teton National Park Wedding Venue – Amangani
Zion National Park Wedding Venue – Under Canvas
Yosemite National Park Wedding Venue – Autocamp
Sequoia National Park Wedding Venue – The Sequoia High Sierra Camp
Yellowstone National Park Wedding Venue – Bar N Ranch
National Park Wedding Permits
Getting a national park permit for your wedding or elopement can sound a little daunting, but it’s generally pretty easy! First, check the park’s website to find out their guidelines and what the permit application process is like. It’s important to know this before you start planning your wedding, just in case some of the park rules don’t align with what you’re envisioning. If anything seems confusing or you need more information, don’t hesitate to call the permits ranger! Having a conversation with the person in charge of permits can be super helpful, and you often learn more than what’s listed on the website.
How do permits work? Not all national parks and NPS sites require a permit, but it’s really important to check on that. If a permit is required, you’ll need to fill out an application that generally includes the date, time frame, guest count, and location in the park where you want to get married. I recommend sending in your application as soon as possible, but no later than 2 weeks before your elopement date, as it takes a couple of weeks for the paperwork to be processed. After sending in the application and fee, you’ll need to wait for it to be approved and the permit to be issued.
If you’re nervous about your elopement location or date not being approved, call the park office ahead of time and talk to them about your plans. They’ll be able to tell you if a particular area is closed or a special event is taking place on your date. Also make sure you read through the park’s special use regulations online to find out what is allowed or not permitted. Certain equipment and props may be banned (like sparklers or huge ceremony backdrops).
One last note on permits: remember that permits are different from park passes! A wedding permit allows you to have a ceremony in the park, but your guests may still need to pay to get in the park (unless it’s a free park). But don’t worry, that small fee will go to protecting and preserving such a special place!
National Park Wedding Locations
With 63 national parks and over 400 National Park Service sites throughout the country, the perfect park is out there for your elopement wedding! Saying your wedding vows in one of “America’s National Treasures” is definitely special, and I promise it will be an unforgettable experience. Check out this list of some of the best national parks for elopements:
Best National Parks to Elope In:
Acadia National Park – rocky coasts and wooded mountains
Badlands National Park – layered rock formations
Big Bend National Park – giant boulders, canyons, and desert landscape
Capitol Reef National Park – spectacular red rocks
Denali National Park – snowy peaks and rugged wilderness
Glacier National Park – glacier-carved peaks and valleys
Grand Canyon National Park – incredible canyon views
Great Smoky Mountains National Park – grassy meadows and lush mountains
Redwood National Park – ancient towering trees
Saguaro National Park – cactus-dotted desert
Shenandoah National Park – easily accessible forested mountain views
Yellowstone National Park – rolling grasslands with tree-studded mountains
Yosemite National Park – waterfalls and iconic gray rock formations
National Park Wedding Cost
Permit fees for national park weddings vary from park to park based on the park’s size, popularity, and environmental concerns. For instance, a Yosemite wedding permit cost is $250 or more, but for White Sands it can be free. But no matter how much you need to pay for your national park wedding permit, I guarantee it will be a whole lot less than a traditional wedding venue!
And as for the remaining costs for your national park wedding, it’s pretty much just a standard budget for an intimate wedding or elopement. If you’re traveling to the area, you’ll need to take into consideration travel and accommodations in addition to the regular wedding costs. One great thing about getting married in a national park is that you don’t have to worry too much about decorations and rentals! It’s pretty easy to keep your wedding/elopement expenses to a minimum because in a national park, less is more.
I hope these tips for your national park elopement wedding have been helpful! If you are looking for photography and planning help for your amazing day, get in touch with me, and let’s make it happen!