Congratulations! You’ve found the love of your life and decided to get married. If you’re reading about nuptials on a travel website, you may be interested in having a destination wedding. But not just any destination will do. It has to be epic. It has to be at one of the most beautiful places in the world. And thus, it has to be in a national park.
Getting married inside a U.S. national park is indeed possible. It just takes a little bit of research and a few permit forms, so you can say “I do” amid the giant sequoias, in the middle of an impressive canyon, among the Joshua trees, or even on the icy banks of a glacier. Here’s everything you need to know about planning the perfect nuptials inside a national park.
Choose the right park.
This is a deeply personal question and one you and your soon-to-be life partner should likely answer together. It can be a place that’s meaningful to both of you, somewhere you’ve always dreamed of, or a spot you know will make your special day even better. Beyond that, it’s critical to think about who will join your national park wedding. Ask yourself: Am I OK asking my friends and family to travel far to attend? Do they need to hike to any location to be present at the event? Is there a backup plan in case of bad weather? If you’re not sure about the guests, but are certain of the location, you could always have a small ceremony, and then host a larger event for family and friends — because double the weddings means double the fun.
Apply for a permit.
You must apply for a permit in order to get married in a national park. Yes, even if you plan to elope. To apply for a permit, head to the National Park Service (NPS) page and search for the park where you hope to get married. Then, search for “permits.” From there, you should be able to find a “special use permit” and information on hosting a wedding at the park. It’s important to note that not all parks currently allow for weddings.
You’ll also want to try and apply for a permit as early as possible, as parks also limit the number of weddings each day, and some do not offer permits on holiday weekends or holidays. Permit fees can vary, but will likely run between $50 and $250. (For example, a permit at Yosemite costs $150.) Additionally, the permits do not cover entrance fees for you or your guests, but know that all that money is going to conserving the parks for generations to come, so your children, their children, and even their children can come to your wedding venue, too.
Find the right location.
Next, it’s time to find the right destination inside the park to exchange vows. Some parks offer a list of appropriate destinations and spots that are off-limits, so make sure to check before making any final decisions. There are also a few other things to consider, including whether or not you plan to have others join you during the ceremony. Consider if there’s space for everyone, any seating options, and access to restrooms nearby.
Get knowledgeable outside vendors.
Having a wedding inside a national park likely means having to limit the decor, as parks have strict rules around what can and cannot be brought in, hung up, or nailed down. Luckily, the parks are gorgeous in their own right, so little help is needed from artificial decorations. There are plenty of people out there who can help you, including planners who specialize in national park elopements. If you’re stuck on how to get things done, let these pros do all the heavy lifting for you.
Understand there will be restrictions.
Having a wedding inside a national park comes with some restrictions. Most parks do not allow for the use of drones, and there may also be restrictions on bringing in outside food. Plus, you may not be able to bring in a wedding bouquet that has non-native plants, as the seeds could fall and germinate. You will also likely not be permitted to bring in speakers or audio equipment that would disturb other park visitors or animals. And under no circumstances can you throw rice or seeds following the event, as again, this could harm the local wildlife.
Consider a hotel in or near the park.
If all of the above sounds like too many restrictions, but you still want to have your wedding at a national park, there is an answer. There are a number of gorgeous hotels located in or near national parks, many of which can host a wedding. You can also plan to say your vows inside the parks and host your reception at one of these spectacular hotels. Even better? You can stay right where you are for an immediate honeymoon destination, too.
The Best Locations for a National Park Wedding
Beauty is, of course, in the eye of the beholder, but there are a few parks that stand out from the rest as top wedding destinations. If you’re not yet set on a spot, look into Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, which is a prime location for a fall wedding, as the trees turn to vibrant shades of orange, red, and yellow. And if you have fewer than 16 guests, you are not required to obtain a permit.
Another classic option is the Grand Canyon. It’s as vast, deep, and expansive as your love for your new spouse, making it the perfect place to commit to one another. Permits vary by location, but can run upwards of $500.
Acadia National Park in Maine also makes for an ideal wedding setting, and it can be a year-round spot, depending on whether you want a flower-filled spring and summer wedding, a dazzling fall display, or a winter wonderland. Special permits are $50.
There’s one more type of national park wedding location to consider — a tropical getaway at Virgin Islands National Park. Yes, you really can have a wedding surrounded by crystalline waters and exchange vows near the colorful fish swimming nearby. Permits start at $25.