How to Elope in a National Park
It’s not my first walk in the park.
National Parks are some of the most beautiful and most visited natural areas in the US. While they make for epic backdrops and great photos—eloping in the outdoors should mean more than getting Instagram worthy photos. Your landscape of choice should really resonate with you. Most of my sessions involve hikes, or creating some kind of outdoor experience.
Fun fact: We used to live inside Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming before we started More Van Anything. So National Parks are like home for us!
Important Permit Knowledge:
The fee is approximately $150.
Apply as soon as possible! Sometimes it can take a while.
International applications are frequent. So don’t let that deter you if you’re an international client coming to the US!
You’ll have to decide on a ceremony location within the Park—apply for it—and wait to hear if the ceremony location is available for your date. We’d be happy to give our recommendations if you’re not certain of a good location.
Avoid weekends and major holidays—unless you’re planning during the off-season.
Look into several parks! We have several personal favorites—and hope that you look into a few different places before deciding.
Plan for less predictable weather! Some days have gorgeous sunsets. Other days it might be foggy & rainy. And while you can plan during the most temperate season, things in nature can go awry.
When do I need a permit?
Anytime you’re wearing a wedding dress/suit & tie. Even if you don’t intend on having a ceremony. Park Rangers can kick us out without a permit—and I take permits seriously! Plus, the money supports the Parks. The only time a permit isn’t necessary (to my best knowledge), is for adventure sessions where we stick to trails and you two are wearing normal/semi formal dress.
How much time do I need to get a permit?
Typically National Parks allow you to book a year in advance to as close to 7 days prior, but each park is different.
Do I get the permit or does my photographer?
You will want to fill out the permit since it requires sensitive personal information. In the case that a commercial photography permit is required (like Yosemite), we’re happy to take care of that permit ourselves.
How do I get those epic shots?
We have an article just for that!
Are there any restrictions involved?
Some restrictions might include a limited number of guests, bringing pets, confetti, glitter, and sparklers. From a photography standpoint, drones are not allowed in a lot of the places we shoot.
How much time should I plan for the day?
If you’re familiar with visiting National Parks/other natural areas, you’re probably used to planning out hikes, accounting for busy weekend crowds, or hiking back after sunset. So your estimate won’t be much different, other than accounting for your ceremony/special events. We provide guidance in planning your day, and we’ll be sure to offer recommendations to help us maximize the day/best lighting hours. The amount of time can vary depending on how far accommodations are from a venue/trailhead/vista, time of the year, weather, crowds, and a myriad of things.
How do I handle forest fires/changing weather conditions?
We keep up with forest fires that are in areas we have booked clients. If we (or you) foresee an issue with your elopement/wedding plans, we should establish a back up plan for your date. For example, Lake Tahoe or Sequoia are great back ups for Yosemite. If we cannot work out a back up for your given date, or you prefer to hold off until the fires clear, we will accommodate as best as we can within our travel schedule.
Embrace the weather! Do your research beforehand so you know what the weather will most likely be. But embrace whatever the day may have for you!
All permits are roughly like this, but be sure to check your exact National Park:
Download the application + fill out information
Pick a ceremony location + alternative locations (your first choice might be taken already) — most sites will have a list for you to choose from
How many people + vehicles — some locations have a limit of peoples
List of equipment: usually referring to any alter/ceremonial structures, or for photography equipment. For us, equipment wise, you can put professional camera equipment, no tripod.
Most can be scheduled up to 1 year — 21 days prior — but this varies based on popularity. Yosemite being the busiest, and National Parks like Zion being a lot more relaxed.
Mail back with (check or money order): application fee, permit fee, and any other fees — i.e. if monitoring is required, there usually is an additional hourly rate for a ranger to be present. One of our Yosemite ceremonies had a park ranger monitor it for the ceremony since there were 50 guest present.
Don’t forget about your entrance fee into the National Park! While that’s not part of the permit process, you’ll have to pay to get into the Park once you get there.
Links to National Parks, State Parks, Recreation Areas (subject to change by NPS)
*side-note: words in italicized are either the breakdown of fees or additional information that we thought pertinent to tell you
Arches | $185 (app fee is $55, admin fee $30, management fee $100)
Antelope Canyon | must purchase a guided tour — various tours online
Canyonlands | $185 (app fee is $55, admin fee $30, management fee $100) group size limit 25 people
Dead Horse State Park | $10 app fee + permit fee which varies
Garden of the Gods | $300 ($25 app fee + $250 admin fee) + insurance
Glen Canyon National Recreation Area | $300 ($100 app fee + $200 admin fee)
Glacier | $100 app fee
Grand Canyon | $150 app fee (non-Shoshone Point which is $450)
Grand Tetons | $125 app fee (include credit card info — Mastercard, Visa, Discover, Am. Express)
Horse Shoe Bend | $150 ($100 app fee + $50 processing fee)
Joshua Tree | $120 (for both wedding and engagement sessions)
Lake Powell | varies
Monument Valley | $200 (for 4+ people, none if less than 4)
Olympic | varies
Redwoods NP + SP | Tier 1: 1-50 people $200 | Tier 2 51-100 people $300 | Tier 3 101+ people $400
Rocky Mountain | $200 (indicate on request to take photos in other parts of the park to be approved, dogs? read online)
Sequoia + Kings Canyon | $175 ($50 app fee + $125 permit fee)
Yellowstone | $75 app fee
Yosemite | $150 app fee
Yosemite Half Dome | $10 app fee ($10 a person if you win the Lottery to get permit)
Zion | $150 app fee (must pay online)
Respect the land
Having lived in a National Park, we’ve seen people disregard rules, approach wildlife, and even litter. These are protected areas. A lot of them have fragile vegetation. Rangers enforce rules for a very good reason. Be mindful of your impact! We truly, truly care for the places we work—and we’re here to help you respect the land, while also having a great experience. If you’ve never heard of Leave No Trace or the 7 principles, be sure to have a look.
IT’S WORTH IT
We’re always here to help if a permit seems complicated, or if you’re struggling with deciding on a location. A lot of logistics can be involved! We have an elopement planning guide we send out to clients to help them plan their elopement/intimate wedding. This should feel like the best roadtrip / adventure overseas you’ve ever had. We’ll do our best to pass along our knowledge to keep you from getting caught up in permits or logistical overhead. We’re truly passionate about traveling and spending time in the outdoors. We get so excited for each client: knowing that it always ends up reflecting who they are, how they really wanted to celebrate their marriage—and of course, for the adventures to come!