How to Elope in a National Park
It’s not my first walk in the park.
Picture this: you and your loved one are gallivanting in the Park in your wedding attire taking photos with your photographer and a ranger walks up. Gulp! If you don’t have your permit and they ask for one, how sad would it be to either stop taking photos or get kicked out? Let’s not have that happen and get you a permit! Plus, the National Parks are so wonderful and definitely worth supporting!
Below are tid bits of information about getting a permit to elope in a national park and links to each one!
Fun fact: Ryan and I used to live inside Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming before we started More Van Anything. So National Parks are like home.
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. I’d be happy to give my 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! I 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 get the permit since your photographer won’t know you personal information to fill out — but the photographer does not need a separate permit
How do I get those epic shots?
We have an article just for that!
Are there any restrictions involved?
It varies, but things like limit amount of people at your ceremony, if you can have your pet there (most are a no), no confetti or glitter (must be organic), sparklers are normally a no, things like that.
How much time should I plan for the day?
If there is a hike involved, add that to your timeline. If you are taking photos at sunrise, make sure you give yourself plenty of time to get ready, hike/drive to location before the sun is up! If you do a Sunrise session on a weekday, it will have the benefit of fewer crowds!
How do I pick a park?
If there is a park you adore, plan a trip ahead of time to hike and wander through it. Ask friends if they have been there before. Look at what the park is like during off season if crowds isn’t your thing. Also, think about State Parks for your session!
How do I handle forest fires/changing weather conditions?
I keep up with forest fires that are in areas I have booked clients. If I (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 I cannot work out a back up for your given date, or you prefer to hold off until the fires clear, I will accommodate as best as I can in my travel schedule.
Embrace the weather! Do your research beforehand so you know what the weather will most likely be like, but embrace whatever the day may have for you! A willing attitude and go with the flow mindset is perfect for your epic day!
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 (photographers equipment — for my clients I say to put “professional camera gear, no tripods” because I don’t want to affect any soil with a tripod
Most can be scheduled up to 1 year — 21 days prior — but varies
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
Remember about entrance fees to the Park as well — pay when you go obviously
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 I 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)