Wedding planning can be a pain, but for those who want to tie the knot in a natural setting—in the woods, by the water, in front of a mountain—hosting a wedding in a national park is surprisingly easy. Nevertheless, there are a few key things couples should know ahead of time.
First, contact the park that you are interested in directly. Most individual park websites will have information on whether weddings are allowed or not, but you should seek out the permit specialist at each park. He/she will guide you through the application process, answer any questions about the park, go over rules and regulations in regards to planning the wedding, and often provide other options that applicants aren’t aware of.
The application process usually includes a processing fee, which vary by park. Other fees may apply as the planning continues, such as administrative fees for meetings or phone calls with rangers.
The two most-common restrictions on national park weddings usually involve the number of participants and the kinds of equipment allowed. With apologies to your second cousins and great-aunt once removed, you'll probably need to keep the guest list lean. “The weddings tend to be a bit more relaxed—a laid back wedding,” says Victoria Stauffenberg, Public Affairs Officer for the National Park Service. “They are beautiful, but not extravagant weddings.”
Overall, Stauffenberg says couples shouldn't fear the ranger or the rules. “We enjoy working with people on their special day, but have to balance weddings with the purpose and mission of the park,” she says. “A lot of the rules help maintain the environment that probably drew the wedding party to the national park to begin with.” Stauffenberg notes that some applicants are nervous about meeting with rangers onsite, but often it can be helpful to visualize the event taking place and understand how the rules will actually help them have a more pleasant event.
There are 59 national parks to choose from for your big day, but we narrowed down five top picks that are experienced with ceremonies and offer gorgeous sites and backdrops.
Ideal for those hosting a small, intimate ceremony, Acadia National Park has a $50 application fee for weddings. There are no pre-designated areas, but popular spots include Cadillac Mountain’s summit and Sand Beach, with the maximum number of people allowed depending on the location in the park. Receptions can be held at concessions in the park, or in the town of Bar Harbor.
If the entire ceremony is less than 10 people, a permit is not required, as long as the ceremony uses no chairs or decorations, no balloons, rice, or other celebratory man-made materials, no sound systems, and no signs or announcements. For more information, visit the park’s wedding page.
One of the more popular nuptial destinations in the NPS, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area has at least 20 sites that can be used for wedding ceremonies, with occupancy ranging from 50 to 200+. Stauffenberg highly recommends contacting the park a year in advance since there are plenty of special events that take place year round at this park. It's also pricey: Permit fees start at $400.
Rules of this park include no forms of open flame, no use of standing speakers, DJs or other amplified devices, and no releasing of balloons, rice, or other artificial material. Receptions are allowed in the park at designated outdoor areas or rented facilities. For more information, view the park’s wedding brochure here.
With breathtaking peaks filling the background, Grand Teton National Park is an ideal location for a wedding ceremony, with a permit fee of $100. In the park, there are numerous locations where weddings are allowed, but popular sites include Signal Mountain Summit, Schwabacher’s Landing, and Blacktail Ponds Overlook. The number of occupants allowed will depend on the site. For more information, visit here.
If you are looking to get married in a church and in a national park, Grand Teton can offer both. There are two chapels inside the park, Chapel of the Transfiguration and Chapel of the Sacred Heart, both of which may be contacted directly to schedule a wedding.
Olympic National Park is optimal for those having a smaller ceremony, as most sites max out at 50 people. The park does not have designated areas for wedding ceremonies, but popular areas include Hurricane Ridge, Ruby Beach, and Lake Crescent.
For receptions and places to stay, the park has a number of top lodges to book with plenty of ocean and lakeside views, both indoors and out. For more information, contact the park directly here or check out their weddings page.
Whether you are looking for snow-covered mountains or wildflowers in the background, Rocky Mountain National Park won’t sell you short for a wedding ceremony. The park offers more than 15 sites for ceremonies, with a $150 application fee. The max ceremony size for the sites range from 10 people up to 100. Facilities for receptions and parties do not exist in the park, but Estes Park, Boulder, and Denver are all within a two-hour drive. For more information, including designated ceremony locations, visit the park's wedding site.
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