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December 2002

Wild Weddings

Want a ceremony that reflects your passion for the outdoors? Here's everything you need to know to pull off a wilderness wedding.

The Backcountry Wedding Planner

Considering you own wilderness nuptials? Here are some field-tested tips.

The hike

Choose a trail that’s too difficult, and some cherished friends or relatives might not be up to it. Make a list of who must attend, then pick a destination that fits their abilities. Be conservative about the total mileage, too, leaving plenty of down time to socialize and deal with last-minute problems. Consider hiring local guides to help with load-hauling and hike logistics; the money you’ll save on other aspects of the wedding will offset a splurge on hired help.

The band

Pastor Hughes hs seen people bring boom boxes into the backcountry. If that offends your sense of wilderness, pack a few lightweight instruments (and invite people who can play them). We managed two guitars for our wedding. Other possibilities include mandolins, flutes, harmonicas, and small drums.

Camp vs. shelter

Like your decision about how far you hike, whether or not you choose to camp depends largely on your guests. Will Grandma Mary sleep on the ground? Other options include dayhiking to the ceremony and using backcountry shelters. Many national parks, including Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Glacier, and Great Smoky Mountains, have wilderness accommodations that allow you to have your wild wedding and granny, too. Reserve well in advance (up to a year) for shelters in the national parks (see Contact below). Need a minister who will join you in the backcountry? See “Camping Clergy” on previous page.


Fresh-picked wildflowers are nice, but not always available (or Leave No Trace-sanctioned). Check the regulations where you’re going, or bring dried flowers.


Sure, you can get married in fleece and sandals, but consider packing formal wedding outfits. The added weight isn’t great, and you’ll be amazed how good you look with a granite backdrop.


  • Glacier National Park has it all-superlative mountain scenery, grizzlies and bighorn sheep to round out the guest list, and two historic backcountry shelters. All wedding permits must be approved by the chief ranger’s office. Contact: (406) 888-7820;

  • Stunning waterfalls and countless granite altars make Yosemite National Park a perennial

    wedding favorite. Primitive backcountry shelter is available at five High Sierra Camps, but reservations are in high demand. Contact: (209) 372-0200; Wedding permits required.

  • Sunrise ceremonies at Myrtle Point have been a wedding tradition at Great Smoky Mountains National Park since the 1930s. Backcountry beds are available at historic Leconte Lodge. Contact: (865) 436-1200; Reservations required.

  • Pick any point in Grand Canyon National Park and your guests will thank you. Mules will pack in your champagne if you stay at canyon-bottom Phantom Ranch. Contact: (928) 638-7888; Wedding permits required.

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