So you’ve made the decision to elope in Rocky Mountain National Park! First of all, you’ve picked a HELL of a place to say, “I do!” However, you might now be realizing how hard and overwhelming planning an elopement in Rocky Mountain National Park can be without the right guidance. But don’t worry, you’ve come to the right place!
I’m a Colorado elopement photographer who helps adventurous couples seamlessly plan the elopement of their dreams in the Rockies. In 2022, my wife and I ditched the idea of planning a traditional, southern wedding and decided to elope in Rocky Mountain National Park. That being said, I’ve done the planning and I’ve been in your shoes!
I’ve infused everything I know about how to plan an RMNP elopement into this blog post to help you break down the entire process into easy and actionable steps and to provide you with the know how, allowing you to kiss stress goodbye and to plan a wedding day full of fulfillment.
Ready to do this, adventurer? Let’s go! 🙂
RMNP is one of the most beautiful national parks in the United States. Full of wildflowers and lush green meadows in the Summer; golden, yellow hues and perfect climates in the Fall; and a dreamy winter wonderland in the Winter, Rocky Mountain National Park is a site to see.
Outside of its beauty, Colorado is also one of the easiest states to get married in. To view more in-depth reasons on why you should elope in RMNP, refer to one of my other blog posts for 7 Reasons Why you Should Elope in Rocky Mountain National Park by clicking this text!
In order to host your ceremony in the park, you have to apply for a wedding permit and reserve one of the 12 designated ceremony sites the park offers. You can apply for a wedding permit up to one year in advance and for the best chances of reserving your date and ceremony site, apply as soon as possible!
As of 2022, RMNP only issues a maximum of 60 permits per month May – October and 40 permits per month November – December. All permits work off of a first come first serve basis.
Ceremony sites in RMNP can hold no more than 30 people, yet every site has a different maximum number of guests allowed at the site. Some hold a max of 10 while others hold a max of 30. That number does include the couple, photographer, and videographer.
To apply for and obtain your wedding permit, you must fill out an application and submit it over to the RMNP Concession Management Office along with a $300.00 application fee. We will cover more in-depth info about permits later in the this guide, so continue reading forward to learn more about permits!
The RMNP Wedding Permit costs $300.00 USD, and all vehicles require an entrance pass the costs $30.00 USD per vehicle. The $30.00 entrance fee is good for one week. This does not include expenses outside of the National Park Service like travel, lodging, etc.
There are 12 designated ceremony sites in RMNP. RMNP is very firm on this rule, therefore, you cannot get married on your favorite trails, or views, if it is not included within the 12 designated ceremony sites. You can, however, take photos anywhere in the park after the ceremony! Only the ceremony must be at one of the designated areas.
This fully depends on where in the park you chose to elope. Some ceremony sites are busier than others while some are deeper into the woods and mountains of RMNP. The time of year you chose to elope will also be a big determining factor of privacy. I recommend choosing a week day for your elopement instead of a weekend if possible!
I strongly recommend taking care of your wedding permit application ASAP! The park limits the amount of permits it hands out and they work off of a first-come-first-serve basis. To ensure my couples get first dibs, I personally handle the permit application as soon as they book so we have a higher chance of reserving the site and date of their choice.
Rocky Mountain National Park is busiest on Memorial and Labor Day weekend and during the summer and fall months.
Alright, so before we jump into the Rocky Mountain National Park elopement sites, let’s cover a few things to consider and look out for when choosing your ceremony site!
The ceremony sites are scattered all throughout the park. To make transportation as easy as possible, you may want to find one that is closest to where you are staying. Ask yourself, are you staying near Estes Park on the Eastside or near Grand Lake on the Westside? Which ceremony sites are nearest to you?
Personally, I recommend booking your Airbnb after you’ve reserved your ceremony site so you can get the site you want and have an Airbnb super close!
Each ceremony site has a set number of people and parked cars that can be there. Each site has its own capacity. The minimum is 10 people while the maximum is 30.
This will determine how many entrance passes and rental vehicles you will need when planning your elopement! I recommend renting a couple of bigger cars to help cut back on the amount of moving parts and entrance passes you will need!
Do you want a mountain top view? A lakeside ceremony with the towering mountains off in the distance? Also consider the season you want to elope. Summer is very lush and green, yet also the hottest. Fall is the coolest and the greenery turns into a golden hue, yet is also the busiest time of the year.
Rocky Mountain National Park does not allow outside decorations on their ceremony sites at this time. As of January 1st or 2023, the only ceremony site that allows decorations (Moraine Park Amphitheater) will not be available as a ceremony site. If you are wanting to have decorations like arches, florals, chairs, etc., look into having your ceremony on a trail right outside the park or even rent a venue for a couple hours right outside of the park!
Copeland Lake is the only site that allows you to have your dog with you inside the park.
One unfortunate (yet understandable) thing about eloping in RMNP and most national parks is that you do not have the entire site to yourself. No other couple can have their ceremony at the site while you are there, but hikers and bystanders are still allowed to be there.
When planning your elopement and choosing your site, consider how private you would like your ceremony to be. Some sites aren’t very popular, while others are. Most people would leave you alone during your ceremony, but large crowds of people still bring noise with them.
Another way to combat the crowds is by eloping on a weekday. Less people will be around hiking in the park. Summer and Fall are the most popular seasons in the park, and although a winter elopement may not be your #1 choice, it can even make the busiest area feel like you’re secluded far away from civilization. The months of November through April are the best time to avoid crowds.
Now that you know all about the requirements and things to consider when eloping in Rocky Mountain National Park, let’s talk about the ceremony sites and each one of them offer!
If you’re a very visual learner and thinker like me, click this button below to view a Google Map view of Rocky Mountain National Park and where each ceremony site is located:
This site is currently my favorite place for a ceremony (for a great reason), 3M Curve has the best views of the Rockies in the Park and has a great view of Longs Peak – the only fourteener (a mountain peak with an elevation of at least 14,000 ft.) in RMNP.
The location isn’t marked on Google Maps. You will find the site 3 miles past the Beaver Meadows Entrance after a large curve in the road along Highway 36 and Trail Ridge Road west from Estes. The surrounding areas can get a little busy on the weekends and you’ll hear some road and foot traffic off in the distance, but it’s far enough away where you can still enjoy privacy.
3M Curve is close to two of my favorite areas for couples portraits: West Alluvial Fan Trail and the UTE Trailhead along Trail Ridge Road.
This site has a maximum capacity of 15 people and 3 cars year round.
Also one of the most popular and beautiful sites, Sprague Lake is one of the alpine lake ceremony sites the park offers. On a clear day, this site has the best view of Hallet Peak from the beautiful, wooden dock in the lake.
The trail leading to this site is overall very accessible, but good hiking boots are still recommended (in fact, I highly recommend them anywhere you go.) The trail offers many beautiful places to stop for portraits and the dock is hands down the best place for a ceremony.
Sprague Lake is one of the busiest lakes in the park, but the position of the trail and the dock allows you to be mostly off trail so no one will ever really be in the back of your photos.
With a short 256 ft. walk from the trailhead, Bear Lake is the most popular spot for an Alpine Elopement Ceremony with beautiful mountain views. However, the short and beautiful hike also makes this one of the most visited trails in the park. Because of this, RMNP only allows weddings to take place on weekdays between the months of October and May.
Bear Lake is a great option if you wish to hike down to Dream Lake or The Loch for portraits after the ceremony. During the winter months, the lake completely freezes over to the point where its safe to walk upon and is the place to be for that dreamy winter wonderland vibe.
Bear Lake has a ceremony capacity of up to 20 people and 5 cars. This site can only be reserved on weekdays October through May. It is never available on weekends.
If you desire to have the most peaceful and quiet ceremony possible in RMNP, this is the place to be! Upper Beaver Meadows offers a wide variety of background options for both your ceremony and portraits.
Upper Beaver Meadows receives little foot traffic compared to other areas in the park. The area is an open, grassy meadow with a lush pine tree line and mountains towering over you in the distance. The area recently underwent remodeling and there are bathrooms and parking spots beside the trailhead.
Upper Beaver Meadows has a ceremony capacity of up to 30 people and 10 cars. The road to the trailhead is closed in the winter due to weather conditions so you can only elope here May through October.
Hidden Valley in Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the best sites for a private ceremony. Secluded in the forests of the RMNP, Hidden Valley is usually quiet even during the busy weekend days in the summer.
Hidden Valley is one of the hidden gems the park offers. In the summer, the valley is covered with lush green hues from the grass and pines with wildflowers sprouting from the earth. The trees provide great shade to keep you cool on a warm summer day and is also a photographer’s best friend when photographing earlier in the day.
This trail is wheelchair accessible with bathrooms and parking spaces near the trailhead. The trailhead also sits where Highway 36 and Trail Ridge Road meet, making this a perfect place for a ceremony if you wish to capture portraits with the stunning views Rocky Mountain National Park is known for.
Hidden Valley has a ceremony capacity of up to 30 people.
This ceremony site offers three areas for your ceremony: the dock, the trail, and the southside picnic area. The dock is the prettiest and offers the best views, but is usually the busiest as the trail runs right behind it.
If you wish to have your elopement ceremony here, choose a weekday and plan to start the ceremony sometime in the early morning when only the hardcore hikers are on the trail or later evening when most tourists are back home for dinner.
You can still elope here on the weekends if you wish, but be prepared for hikers to be in the background and tons of people wishing you congratulations from the trail and passing cars!
Lily Lake has a ceremony capacity of up to 30 people at the dock, 20 on the trail, and 30 at the picnic area. There is a limit on cars set at a maximum of 10. There are no parking restrictions here during the winter months.
If you plan on having your dog/dogs accompany you during your elopement ceremony, this is the site for you! Copeland Lake is the only ceremony site in Rocky Mountain National Park that allows you to have your dog with you.
Unfortunately, your doggo will have to depart with you if we go further into the park for portraits. To grab some photos with you dog(s), the lake does offer beautiful views that will make for beautiful portraits!
The lake is easily accessible by a short dirt road that leads you from the parking lot. This site is not the most private in the park as the road does pass the lake, but foot traffic here is relatively low!
The lake looks its best during the early summer months when the water level is higher or in the winter months when the lake is iced over and the mountain peaks are dusted with snow.
Lily Lake has a ceremony capacity of up to 30 people and has a maximum of 10 cars. There are no parking restrictions here during the winter months.
Harbison Meadow in Rocky Mountain National Park is a wide open, grassy meadow with a view of the mountains out in the distance. This ceremony site is located on the West side of the park and receives a lot less foot traffic than other areas, so this may be a great option for a super private ceremony site!
However, Harbison Meadow was heavily impacted by the fires that broke out in the fall of 2020, and there is still a lot of visible fire damage. If you want to have a very beautiful view, I would recommend looking into some of the other sites on the East side of the park.
Harbison Meadow has a ceremony capacity of up to 30 people and has a max capacity of 10 cars.
Timber Creek Amphitheater is the second of the two ceremony sites on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park. The amphitheater is actually located inside the Timber Creek Campground, so if camping is your thing, you can camp right next to the site.
This site is the most accessible with a wheelchair accessible pathway and ramp up to the stage and bathrooms around the area.
If I’m being 100% real and honest, I would not recommend this site as the pretty view of the forest and the trees is blocked by a large structure that isn’t the most appealing and the vibe just doesn’t really fit adventure, nature aspects of why you chose to elope in Rocky Mountain National Park!
However, if you are bringing along your family and need accommodations for elderly family, I would highly recommend this site!
Timber Creek Amphitheater has a ceremony capacity of up to 10 people and has a max capacity of 5 cars.
Time to book in your venue! 😉 Before you can elope in Rocky Mountain National Park, first have to get a wedding permit. Before applying for the permit, you should first consider the time of year you’d like to be married in the park (refer to the other sections above to help you decide, or get in touch with me!) After the two of you have decided on the season, think about and decide on your top two favorite sites you’d like to have your ceremony.
With this information in mind, reach out to the RMNP Concession Management Office via. email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call them at (970) 586-1209 about your wedding! In the email, include a brief introduction as to why you’re reaching out, (sealing the deal in the national park!) and provide them with the time of year and sites you would like to see availability for.
If you happen to live in or near Colorado, I would definitely recommend visiting the park and exploring all the sites in person. If you live out of state, do some solid Google research and refer to this article to help you learn more about your desired site.
Like mentioned in a section earlier, RMNP only gives out so many permits per month. The park gives out a maximum of 60 permits each month May – October and 40 permits a each month November – April. In the event that the permit office is not handing out anymore permits for the month you desire, a great option is to have your ceremony outside of park grounds (there are many beautiful overlooks and trails outside the park that do not require a wedding permit) and then obtain a Portrait Permit from the park for $50.00 that allows you to go into the park for your couples portraits!
Once you’ve gotten in touch with the Permit Office, the park permit officer will then refer you to where you can download the wedding permit application, where to mail it in or do it online, and the other steps in the process.
The permit has an application fee of $300.00. Think of this like your venue payment! Such a better number right? (Oh, and don’t forget about the incredible views!) You can send the payment in the form of a check in the mail, but I highly recommend paying online with the payment link the officer will send you! DO NOT send in the payment at the time of application! Once your application has been received and accepted, the Park Office will reach out to you about payment.
Remember: You can only apply one year in advance for a ceremony site in RMNP and they hand out permits on a first-come-first-serve basis. You must also give the park at least one weeks notice. However, I highly recommend taking more than a week to plan your elopement! 🙂
Alright, you’ve made it this far! Now let’s go over a few things you need to know about the rules and regulations RMNP has in place for wedding permit users.
Though you are reserving your site for your ceremony, this doesn’t mean the area is exclusively yours. Other weddings cannot take place during your reservation, however, hikers and tourists are still allowed to be in the area.
You cannot use any park facilities to get ready for your elopement ceremony. You must get ready off-site (which I recommend anyway) and must also use your off-park location as your backup if weather takes a turn for the worse. I highly recommend booking an Airbnb in either Grand Lake or Estes.
Important notice: Many AirBnB owners do not allow you to host a wedding on their property. If they will allow you, often times if they find out they will try to charge the s*** outta you. The weather in the mountains is always changing, just as fast as a storm can come in, it’s gone just as quickly. Either wait the storm out or check with the AirBnB owner about potentially hosting the ceremony there if weather takes a turn for the worse.
No causing a scene in the park: You must also become one with nature, be wary of the hikers on the trails, and follow all “leave no trace” requirements while in the park.
You cannot bring rented out decorations or large equipment into the park unless your ceremony site allows it. This means no outside chairs, arches, florals, tables, etc. This also means you can’t scatter birdseeds, blow bubbles, confetti, petals, and other related things while in the park.
You still must pay for a vehicle park entrance pass on top of the wedding permit fee. Entrance fees are $30.00 per vehicle but are usually good for one week!
Most of the ceremony sites offered for your Rocky Mountain National Park elopement are surrounded by beautiful views that are amazing for photos. Though I do recommend going to other views and areas in the park, your ceremony site is a great place to capture some warm up photos before taking off to a new mountain top view!
Just inside the East entrance of the Rocky Mountain National Park and with easy access, a large parking lot, bathrooms, and beautiful mountain views, West Alluvial Trail is a perfect place for adventurous couples portraits after your ceremony!
The area is very easily accessible! Once you enter the east side of the park at the Fall River Entrance Station on the East side near Estes, continue straight down the road for about 10 minutes and you will reach a large parking lot. Across from the parking lot is a large meadow with a running stream, lush greenery and the mountain peaks towering over you. Beside the parking lot on the other side is a forested area perfect for photos surrounded by the pines of Rocky Mountain National Park!
Click here to view the trail on Alltrails. Refer to the images below that were taken on West Alluvial Trailhead! This location can’t be used as a ceremony site, but is perfect for portraits afterwards!
Another one of my favorite, easily accessible portrait locations is Bowen Baker Trailhead! Similar to West Alluvial, this area is a lush green open meadow area surrounded by pines with the mountains looming over you. This area is perfect for those who entered the West side of the park near Grand Lake from the Beaver Meadows Entrance Station.
There is a well kept bathroom beside the parking lot and you can clearly see the trailhead from your car. There is a stream with a pebble shore and bridge when you first start the trail that is great for photos. 500 feet past the bridge, the tree line opens up and you will find yourself in awe of the views!
If you’re looking for the “run-away bride” vibe, this is your place. The meadow is full of tall grass and is surrounded by the Rockies. On a clear day, the sun sets perfectly behind the peaks pictured in the images below!
Click here to view the trails info on NPS.gov! Refer to the images below that were taken on Bowen Baker Trailhead! This location can’t be used as a ceremony site, but is perfect for portraits afterwards!
Let’s be real, if you’re choosing or looking to elope in Rocky Mountain National Park, you are probably in it for the mountain views. Well, here they are! UTE Trailhead is a pull off trail along Trail Ridge Road and is very, VERY accessible. You just park the car, hop out, and BOOM! You’ll be picking your jaw off from the ground.
On one side of the road is a beautiful area that gives off strong Scottish Highland tundra vibes with large rocks, a golden tint in the grass, and the summit of a tall peak right above you. On the other side is a trail that leads you to one of the best views in the park for portraits. About 500 feet from the parking area is a large rock outcropping that is perfect for that mountain peak photo you’ve been dreaming about for your Rocky Mountain National Park elopement.
Despite its beauty, UTE Trailhead does pose one potential threat. Here you are 13,000+ feet above sea level and the air is very thin, making it a little harder to breath. There is still plenty of air to breath, but if you talk and move a lot you can find yourself to be short of breath a little sooner than usual. This can easily be combated by purchasing a can(s) of Boost Oxygen. I recommend all couples looking to elope in RMNP grab a couple of cans! 🙂
Click here to view the trail’s info on Alltrails! Refer to the images below that were taken on UTE Trailhead! This location can’t be used as a ceremony site, but is perfect for portraits afterwards!
I highly recommend booking a cozy and cute airbnb for your stay in the area and also for your prep images on your wedding day! I would recommend booking an Airbnb over a hotel as they tend to be more private and photogenic! Estes Park and Grand Lake are the two towns nearest to Rocky Mountain National Park and they have tons of Airbnb options.
Click the button below to view a list of all the Airbnbs in the area around RMNP!
How photogenic is the inside of the Airbnb? Having a nice interior with LOTS of natural light will drastically help with how amazing your images will look.
Natural light is a photographers best friend. Though we do use flashes and have artificial lighting, nothing beats how beautiful natural light illuminates your skin. Simply having lots of natural light in the Airbnb will change how your images turn out.
I would recommend booking an airbnb that provides you and your party (or just you and your boo) with privacy. Especially if this is where the two of you will be staying after the elopement (wink wink…)
How close is the airbnb to the park? Check the driving distance from the airbnb to your ceremony site and other areas around you. This is not a huge deal breaker in my opinion, but finding a great AirBnB that is closer to your ceremony site will allow you to spend less time traveling and less money on gas.
To help break down and simplify the planning process for my couples, I have created a two page downloadable PDF to help take more stress off of them and provide them with even more clarity. And guess what, I want you two to have it too!
This PDF is separated into two pages and sections. The first section breaks down everything this blog just covered into small actionable steps to help give you a guideline for planning your Rocky Mountain National Park elopement. It’s even in the form of a checklist! 😉
The second section is a packing and travel guide for your trip so you don’t forget anything so you are prepared for anything that may come up!
Download the RMNP Planning and Packing Checklist by clicking the button below!
If you’re looking to elope in Rocky Mountain National Park and want to hire a photographer who wants to show up for you, be a guide and friend you can rely on to help you plan a in Rocky Mountain National Park elopement that sets your hearts ablaze, I would love to chat with you (inquire here!)
As your Rocky Mountain National Park elopement photographer, I aim to tailor and customize my clients experiences to fit their needs and their goals, and I want to do the exact same thing for you! Check out what it looks like with me as your photographer by clicking here, and check another to-do off your list!
I capture the memories and dreams of adventurous couples across the US and beyond. Adventure elopements, destination weddings, micro-soirees - if you have a story you want to share with the world, I’d be honored to tell it.
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