NATIONAL PARK ELOPEMENT PHOTOGRAPHER // NATIONAL PARK WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHER
So you decided you want to elope, but now what? There are so many gorgeous National Parks here in the United States to choose from and narrowing them down isn’t particularly easy. Don’t fret, I’m here to help ya! Some things to take into account are location, landscape, weather, and accessibility. National Park landscapes are unmatched in beauty, which is exactly why they are protected and cherished areas. Beaches, mountains, deserts, cliffs, and literally ANYTHING your heart desires, there is a location to match. Let’s break it all down and talk about what to consider when picking the best National Park for your elopement.
Shall we get the least fun part of this planning out of the way? Permits. You need to obtain a permit to have any kind of ceremony in a National Park and for good reason! For starters, the money you spend on your permit goes directly to keeping that National Park running and maintained. That money also helps staff the amazing park rangers that will be monitoring the area the day of your event, to make sure the integrity of the location stays intact, and add accountability to any careless behavior. Many tourists come and go through these parks every year, the permit process as well as day pass fees are a part of a system put in place to protect the beloved habitats that draw everyone there in the first place.
To make the process a little easier for ya I’ve linked the special use permit page for each National Park listed below. Be sure to apply according to the timeline listed on the permit page of the park of your choosing, so you can obtain your permit in time for your wedding date. Wheew! Now, let’s get into finding the perfect place!
Ask yourself, do you want to be closer to home or farther away? Proximity to your current residence plays a factor depending on how much time you can take off to travel, how many people you need to wrangle, where your photographer/videographer will travel to (p.s. I will travel literally anywhere to capture your wedding day!), and just general convenience. We can break down some of these National Parks based on which side of the United States they are located!
The Great Smoky Mountains are known for their lush forests, year round wildflowers, and waterfalls! It’s beautiful forests make it an excellent location for an autumn wedding if you’re looking for brilliant fall foliage for your backdrop. If you’re looking to fly to this location, first pick which side of the park you want to enter on. To enter on the North Carolina side you would fly into Asheville Regional Airport and for the Tennessee side it would be McGhee Tyson Airport. Whichever airport you choose to fly into you’ll be looking at a 30 minute to hour drive to reach a park entrance. Luckily, both airports are located in major cities!
The Dry Tortugas are unlike any other National Park, it is made up of a small group of islands located in the Gulf of Mexico past the Florida Keys. It is home to incredible beaches, coral reefs, shipwrecks, sea turtles, and lighthouses. Getting there is a feat, but totally worth it! Your best options are to fly into Miami International Airport which is a longer drive or directly into Key West International Airport. Wherever it is you fly into, be prepared for a JOURNEY, as you will need some kind of boat to get you to the Tortugas. Your options range from private charters, ferries, or guided tours, all of which are over a two hour boat ride.
This park serves as a memorial to Thomas Jefferson’s role in the Western expansion of the United States. This National Park is unique in that it’s a mere .14 miles and the surrounding acres consist of different historical buildings. There is a tram that takes passengers to the top of the arch where you can see 30 miles in every direction! The grounds surrounding the monument are spectacularly manicured and the area is rich with history. Getting there is easy enough, you’d fly into St. Louis Lambert International Airport and the National Park is a 20 minute drive through the heart of St. Louis!
Yosemite National Park is pretty iconic when it comes to elopements and rightfully so, the views are out of this world. Giant sequoias, waterfalls, vistas, and glacier carved valleys, there is no shortage of amazing places; Bridal Veil and Half Dome are two famous spots in the area. This National Park can get super busy, so try to scoot around the high tourist traffic months by shooting for a May or September date! The best way to get there is to fly into Fresno Yosemite Airport, rent a car, and buy some road trip snacks, because it’s about a 3 hour drive. Don’t worry though, it’s totally worth it!!
Looking for some crazy geological formations and fiery red sand to be your backdrop? Look no further than Arches National Park, infamous for the rich color of its sand and the 2,000 natural sandstone arches. To beat the heat I would suggest spring or late fall for this location. If you’re feeling extra adventurous there are a ton of outdoor activities and tours available in the area like ATVs and kayaking! To get to this desert spot you can fly into the small Grand Junction, Colorado Airport, Walker Field Airport, this will put you less than two hours away from the park. The other option is to fly into Salt Lake City International Airport, which is 4 hours away.
Just a little ways down the road from our last National Park is Zion! You will find a similar landscape, that same beautiful rich colored sand, but more greenery. The canyons here are towering and the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is 6 miles long with places to pull off and take in the views. There are also beautiful waterfalls and swimming holes in the area. Springdale has a bunch of lodging and food to offer, the town is charming as all get out! You’re looking at another trek to get to this location, about a 2.5 hour drive from McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas. Maybe roll Vegas into the trip?!
The next big question is, what kind of landscape backdrop do y’all want for your wedding? Nature is the ultimate backdrop for any wedding and the best way to begin narrowing down your options is to choose between beaches, mountains, or deserts. Of course within those rough categories you can find cliffs, waterfalls, forests, etc. So take some time to pursue Pinterest (or my portfolio) and discuss with your partner which landscape speaks to you the most! At the end of the day there is no wrong choice!! To jumpstart the brainstorming process, let’s look at a handful of National Parks that would fit the bill!
Ah yes, lake life! This National Park hugs the warmest of the Great Lakes, Lake Michigan and offers vast bluffs, lush forests, and soft dunes. You have 65 miles of shoreline to choose from! The dune overlooks give you a view of the vastness of Lake Michigan; some of these are Sleeping Bear, Empire, and Pyramid Point bluffs. Come anytime May- August to enjoy the warm weather and cute towns. This location is only 45 minutes away from Traverse City Airport!
Glaciers… Do I need to say more? Okay so bear with me, because I know Alaska and beach in the same sentence doesn’t quite register. The blue hues of these giants will leave you speechless, now picture humpback whales or orcas in the background too! You will also find temperate rainforests in the area. This National Park can only be reached by boat or plane, luckily there are a lot of options in the area to get there (I’d recommend a boat ride to take in the glaciers!). After flying into Juneau International Airport, your adventure will begin!
Come to the shores of the Pacific Northwest and you’ll see why so many people have fallen in love with this area! This rugged coastline is littered with rock formations, sits at the edge of lush forests, and glacier capped mountains loom in the background. Rialto Beach, Ruby Beach, and Second Beach, just to name a few, are all great locations for your nuptials! These shores are known for their mild temperature year long, so why not sit on the sun-bleached trees at the shore and have a beachside bonfire? Fly into Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and take a 2.5 hour drive or hop on the ferry!
Montana’s Rocky Mountains is the place to be if you’re looking for wildflowers, glacial lakes, and towering peaks. The u-shaped valleys throughout the park are the perfect vignette for any ceremony! Or get married on the docks of Hidden Lake or shores of Lake McDonald! Gosh every inch of this park is stunning. Come in late spring to catch the wildflowers and beat the crowds or in the fall to see the leaves change. Glacier Park International Airport is only a 30 minute drive from the park entrance and even closer is the town of Whitefish where you can stay, eat, and play!
The jagged and expansive Tetons look unlike any other mountain range here in the United States and the sunsets here are out of this world! There are eight pre-approved ceremony sites as well as a handful of chapels in the area, making this a great location if you’re looking to have more people attend your elopement. Of course there are numerous locations for your wedding photos afterwards, that are sure to impress. Jackson Hole is a poppin’ and well known little town worth visiting if you’re not going to stay there! Jackson Hole Airport is actually located within the park, making this one of the most accessible places on our list.
Surely you’ve seen countless pictures of this National Park’s geysers, wildlife, and canyons. Yellowstone Falls and Old Faithful are two of the most popular locations to elope within the park, but there are 250 miles of roads that give you access to thousands of acres to choose from. With this being a wildly popular and iconic location, it is easy to find a hike or pull off spot to exchange your nuptials at. Access to this park is abundant as it stretches across 3 states, therefore you have many manyyy travel choices. The best course of action would be to choose the location within the park for your elopement, find the corresponding entrance, and then fly into the closest airport; all of which are within close proximity to park entrances.
We’re back in Utah with it’s infamous desert landscape! The crimson colored sands will look stunning in all of your photos, but better yet is the backdrop of hoodoos or an expansive canyon. There are two pre-approved sites at Sunset Point, the first is The Main Amphitheater Overlook and Silent City Overlook. Sunrise and sunset at this location will take your breath away! Similar to Zion National Park, the best place to fly into is McCarran International Airport, Las Vegas. You can’t go wrong visiting anytime starting in May through September, just keep in mind this is a desert so it does get pretty toasty!
This National Park is named after the spinney-twisted Joshua Trees throughout the region. This park straddles the Colorado Desert and the Mojave Desert, littered with rock formations and cacti. To stay at a comfortable temperature during your visit I would suggest going during the early spring or late fall months. This location is the epitome of desert vibes! Some great locations are Cap Rock, Live Oak, and Hidden Valley Picnic Area. The best place to fly into and stay is Palm Springs, Palm Springs International Airport is only 45 minutes West of Joshua Tree NP! There are also some GORGEOUS airbnbs right outside of the park.
Bring on the desert DRAMA. The canyons carved out by the Colorado River and surrounding rock formations are wild here. This National Park is a stone’s throw away from Arches National Park. Some popular spots to take in the views are Island in the Sky, Horseshoe Canyon (iconic), and Whale Rock. There are dozens of nooks and crannies, overlooks, and smooth rock faces to exchange your vows at. Be prepared to get some of that rusty sand on you and to be sun kissed by the end of your elopement. Just like our other desert locations spring and fall are the ideal times to visit; sunrise and sunset are ideal times for your elopement! It’s a bit of a trek getting there with it being 6 hours away from Salt Lake City International Airport and 2.5 hours away from the small Canyonlands Field Airport. Trust me though, it is totally worth the drive!
Basically the United States National Park System is fricken’ incredible and you can’t pick a bad place; it truly comes down to preference. Spend some time thinking over proximity and landscapes, after you have those answers your path to picking your National Park elopement location will be much clearer! All of the locations above have an array of pre or post nuptial activities, small towns to enjoy, and cute places to stay. Hopefully all of these choices left you with more answers than questions, but if you do need more help narrowing down the perfect spot for your elopement, I am here for ya!