How to Plan a Ceremony

Planning your ceremony can be simple or more involved depending on what feels right for you. Colorado is a self-solemnizing state. This means you don’t need witnesses, an officiant, or any formal ceremony to get married legally. It is as simple as signing a paper at the County Clerk Office or bringing your marriage license to sign on your wedding day. Getting married in Colorado is simple!

Because of how simple it is though, most couples who are eloping with guests or planning an intimate wedding don’t know how to structure their ceremony. If nothing is legally required for a ceremony, what do you do?

Ceremonies Without Guests

If you’re not bringing any guests, there’s nobody there for the ceremony other than yourselves! So most elopement couples keep their ceremony simple:

  • Vow exchange
  • Ring exchange
  • Signing of the marriage license (can be right after or back at the trailhead or your cabin)

Again, nothing is legally required in Colorado other than signing the marriage license. So you can customize your ceremony to be whatever feels right for you.

Bringing your dog to sign your marriage license? Here’s a great blog post for that!

Ceremonies With Guests

When you invite a handful of guests to be present for your ceremony, most couples want to have some structure to the ceremony. This is a celebration and meaningful moment for you two and everyone you’ve invited. It just makes the whole ceremony feel more official and it’s something everyone is accustomed to seeing. So it’s worth planning out a simple ceremony structure at least.


  • Set everyone up: The officiant should stand where the couple will be (leaving space for them), and then group together guests on both sides symmetrically after the officiant is in place.

  • Walk down the aisle: You can both walk down the aisle together, with a parent or loved one, or have one partner waiting at the altar for a more traditional ceremony.

  • Opening Words: The officiant can welcome everyone to the ceremony and say some words to start the ceremony.

  • Readings: You can have a loved one or the officiant do any readings (poems, verses, etc).

  • Speeches: Ask any guests to give a short speech or celebration of your marriage.

  • Hand fasting or other ceremonial events: There are many different symbols of bringing your lives together including prayers, cord-tying, tree planting, or other culturally significant ceremonies.

  • Vows: The officiant will ask the couple to exchange vows at this time. I do provide a Writing Vows Guide for my couples.

  • Ring Exchange: The ring bearer will pass the rings to the couple after their vows for the ring exchange. The officiant can optionally make a short speech about the significance of the rings or lead the couple through the ring exchange.

  • Pronouncement: The officiant pronounces you married and it’s time to celebrate!

  • First Kiss: You share your first kiss as a married couple! If you have an officiant, be sure to remind them to “step to the side” for your first kiss. That way they’re not awkwardly right behind you in your first kiss photos.

  • Marriage License: Typically a hired officiant will have you sign your marriage license immediately following the ceremony. If it’s a friend or family member, you can wait to sign the license until after family photos.

Ceremony Tips

Have An Officiant (or someone to lead the ceremony)

As I’ve said, an officiant is not legally required to get married in Colorado. However, it is helpful if a sibling, parent, or friend can guide everyone through the experience for you. You both already have a lot to focus on at that moment. If you want to have a more religious ceremony, you still have the option to hire a professional officiant/pastor to lead your ceremony. I do have vendor recommendations! Most couples choose to have a family member as the officiant since it’s more convenient and a lot more meaningful.

Have A Padfolio For the Ceremony

It’s a lot easier for your loved one to guide the ceremony if they have a padfolio or something to hold onto with a printed structure for the ceremony. It’s a sturdy surface to sign your marriage license, keep a black ink pen for singing, and anything else they might need (like instructions for a cord-tying ceremony). I would make sure you have a way to hold down the papers (clipboard-style, 3-ring binder with page protectors, etc). It can get windy in the mountains here, so having the clip hold things down is nice to have.

Avoid Using Your Phones

I always recommend couples print/handwrite their vows. And the same goes for planning your ceremony structure. We often don’t have phone signal in the mountains and it’s a lot more reliable (and better looking for photos) if you have a printed copy. The same goes for any instructions you might need for cord-tying ceremonies. Or for guests who want to do a reading or make a speech during the ceremony.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long should my ceremony be?

I’ve documented 100+ ceremonies and they average between 20-30 minutes. If you have a cord-tying, tea-ceremony, or anything more involved it might take up to 45 minutes total.

Do we have to exchange personal vows in front of family?

If you feel uncomfortable exchanging your personal vows in front of your guests, you can optionally decide to exchange personal vows alone with me when we go off to take photos. Most couples find it easier to be vulnerable for their vows without anyone else around. You can still exchange formal vows in front of your guests to have a typical ceremony flow. I’ve even had some couples who exchanged personal vows alone with me during photos and then repeated those vows again in front of family. It’s all up to you and what makes you most comfortable.

Can we play music?

If you’re hosting your ceremony at an Airbnb or venue, you can play music however you please! If we’re on a public trail, you can still play music, but you’ll need to be mindful of others and keep the volume low. It’s best to have any songs download offline for the ceremony (don’t rely on phone signal) and be sure to pair Bluetooth beforehand (and not nervously right before the ceremony). And I recommend putting a loved one in charge of knowing what song to play and pressing play/pause for your walk down the aisle. I cannot stress enough though that on public trails we cannot blast speakers or interfere with other hikers/tourists enjoying the peace and quiet of the trail. Just be courteous to others and you’ll be good to go.

This is the speaker I recommend for ceremonies.

Will there be other people around?

If we go to a publicly accessible trail at a normal hour of day that’s a short walk from a parking lot–you’ll likely share the trail with other people in search of the same thing! Colorado is a popular destination year-round. However, I do set up your ceremony to where hikers can continue walking past us without getting in your photos. And most tourists are very kind and courteous when they see a wedding ceremony happening. Some people might stop and watch the ceremony quietly as well.

If you prefer a more private ceremony, you’ll need to host your ceremony at your cabin or rent a venue. We have some affordable venues specifically geared towards intimate weddings in Colorado. So I’m happy to help give you any recommendations if that sounds like a good fit!

Who sits/stands where?

There are several ways to arrange guests, including having the wedding party stand close to the couple while guests are arranged in rows (like you would if there were chairs), creating an aisle for the couple to walk down, or arranging guests in a semi-circle around the couple. It’s best to have an even number of guests on each side and to make sure guests are spaced far enough away from you for me to capture photos of you two!

Final Thoughts

Planning a wedding ceremony in Colorado is simple! I hope this guide helped give you some peace of mind and plan a ceremony that speaks to you. Just remember that everything above is optional! Don’t feel obligated to include everything. For my couples, I’m happy to chat through specifics and answer any questions. I want to make your ceremony a memorable and beautiful experience!

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