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A common misconception that couples have about eloping is that you can do it anywhere – just walk into a park and say your vows wherever you please. In reality, that’s a great way to get a hefty fine, which is no fun on any day, but especially your elopement day! Even if you’re having a tiny ceremony with just the two of you, many locations will require a permit any time you’re wearing wedding attire and have a photographer along. So, let’s talk about permits! Keep reading to learn how to know if you need one, where to get it, and everything else you’ll need to know about elopement permits!
Do We Need a Permit?
The first question in the permit process is, of course, “do we need one?”
Unfortunately, there’s no one size fits all answer – this is going to depend on where you’re eloping. So, after you have your elopement location picked out and you know where you’re going to have your ceremony, do some research to figure out if you need a permit. First, try just Googling it! Wedding permits fall under the category of “special use” permits, so if your search for wedding permits doesn’t lead anywhere, try looking up special use instead.
This will work for most national parks and some popular spots. NPS.gov lists permit information for each national park online, so the applications are easily accessible. For example, here is a page with wedding information for Zion National Park!
For smaller parks or areas that aren’t as popular for elopement ceremonies, you may need to reach out to the ranger’s office for information. Look up the contact info for your location, and shoot them an email! You can also call, but if they tell you that no permit is required, I recommend getting that in writing if possible, just in case anyone questions you on your elopement day.
Applying for an Elopement Permit
To get an elopement permit, you will need a few things handy. Your application will ask you for the date of your ceremony, and the location. Make sure you’re ready with this information before you start the application, and that you know when and where you want to get married. You don’t need exact GPS coordinates for your ceremony spot – but if there’s a trail that you want to hike, or an overlook that you have your eye on, list that in your application! Most applications will also ask for backup dates and locations in case your first choice isn’t available. Definitely make sure to apply for your permit early to make sure you can get your first pick! I recommend applying for the permit as soon as you can, and most locations will accept applications up to a year in advance.
Some parks have restrictions on where you can have your ceremony and how many guests you can have, so don’t be afraid to ask a park ranger for information on that before you apply for your permit.
Your application will also ask you for a ceremony time – it can be difficult to know so early on what time your elopement ceremony will actually take place, so I recommend putting down a wide time frame to ensure that you have plenty of time for your ceremony!
When you apply for your elopement permit, you will most likely have to pay an application fee. The cost depends on the park or area that you’re eloping in – they can be as cheap as $25, or as expensive as $500, but most are around $150.
An application fee may seem like a hassle – but don’t worry, this isn’t the government trying to take your money. All the money that you pay for your application or your permit goes right to funding the park and keeping our public lands clean and beautiful. Not only are you saving money by eloping outdoors instead of booking a wedding venue, but you’re also helping conserve our public lands!
In addition to a wedding permit some locations may also require a photography permit. If you have a professional photographer along for your elopement, they should take care of this and make sure that they have the necessary insurance. However, it’s definitely good to check with your photographer and ensure that they did the research and have a permit, if required. You definitely don’t to be stopped by park rangers on your elopement day!
Why are Permits Necessary?
As elopements become more popular and more couples choose to tie the knot outdoors, more and more places are starting to require wedding permits and photography permits. This is in part to prevent overcrowding of a spot and to ensure that multiple ceremonies aren’t happening at the same time, but the permit process is also a result of carelessness and damage to public lands.
LNT and Elopements
Leave No Trace (or LNT) is a set of principles that everyone should follow in order to recreate responsibly and protect outdoor spaces. It’s especially important when it comes to elopements, because in recent years there have been significant changes in national parks, state parks, and other public lands. Many places that were once open, no longer allow elopement ceremonies. Parks are reducing the amount of permits that they give out – Rocky Mountain National Park, which usually hosts hundreds of wedding ceremonies just in the summertime, has reduced the number of permits they’re giving out to 250 for the whole year. Overlooks that were once gorgeous photo locations get roped off with guard rails when visitors are careless.
In order to keep outdoor elopements alive and ensure that public lands stay open, it’s the responsibility of couples and photographers to be aware and be responsible. Research permit requirements for your location, and make sure that you know the restrictions. Are there certain spots that you’re limited to when it comes to having a ceremony? Are you allowed to put up arbors and decorations?
Need Help With Elopement Permits?
As a photographer who specializes in elopements, my job is so much more than taking photos. I help guide couples like you to their dream day and help out with everything from location recommendations, to getting the right permits. If you’re ready to start planning your elopement, reach out!