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Planning A Mountain Elopement: Everything You Need To Know

Can you believe that the average cost of a large traditional wedding in the United States was $28,000 in 2019? With this information, it makes sense that people are looking for another option beyond the expectations of a large traditional wedding.

There is nothing better than having a wedding day that truly feels like you. If you love the mountains and being outside, then why not get married with a beautiful view? I’m a Colorado-based elopement photographer that specializes in small weddings and elopements, and I love helping couples make their mountain elopement dreams come true! I’ve photographed over 80 elopements in the Colorado mountains and have A LOT to say when it comes to adventurous weddings and how to prepare for them. So let’s dive right in.

Table of Contents

The bride and groom look small as they walk down a large hill in Ridgway, Colorado for their mountain elopement. 13,000 foot mountain peaks tower behind them.

What Is A Mountain Elopement?

The dictionary defines an elopement as an act or an instance running off secretly to be married. Well, I’ll let you in on a little secret; Times are changing! While that is still the official term for elopement; I know for a fact that it’s more than that.

Eloping doesn’t just mean getting married in secret anymore. I define an elopement as a couple taking control of their own wedding day. They create their own traditions and plan a day that is truly meaningful, memorable, and authentic to them. This could mean taking a helicopter to the top of a glacier in Alaska and getting married with mountain views for miles, or it could mean a simple backyard wedding with your dogs signing your marriage license with their paw print. In some cases, guests may attend which turns the event into more of an intimate wedding ceremony (or small wedding). I typically categorize intimate weddings as 20 guests or less, but I also feel these terms are subjective.

There are many different types of elopements. City elopements, desert elopements, and I bet there’s even a market for underwater elopements. We’re not here to talk about that, as we’re here to talk about mountain elopements. 

Mountain elopements and intimate weddings are my absolute favorite. There’s something magical that happens when you’re standing next to a bright blue turquoise lake with a 13,000-foot mountain towering over you. That’s why I made photographing couples in the mountains my specialty.

So if you’re up for a little hiking, off-roading, and adventuring to see a beautiful view then a mountain elopement may be exactly what you’re looking for. If you’re thinking this might be right for you, then it’s very important that you plan ahead, come over-prepared, and have multiple backup plans. You never know what the mountains will throw at you!

Bride and groom stand together on a rock at sunrise. A reflective lake is surrounding half of the rock, and the groom is kissing his new bride's cheek. This mountain elopement was iconic because of the towering mountains in the background in Ridgway, Colorado.
Bride and groom look tiny as they walk along the rocks in Ouray, Colorado for their mountain elopement. It's a cloudy day, just before sunset, and the dramatic mountains are rising up in the sky behind them.

10 Reasons Why You Should Consider A Mountain Elopement

  • The views are epic
  • You’re going to have an adventure of a lifetime
  • Go to a new place you’ve never been
  • It’s less stressful than a big wedding
  • If you love nature, why not get married there?
  • It’s cheaper than a large traditional wedding
  • You can plan the most epic day and do whatever you want
  • Escape the expectations
  • If you elope in Colorado, you don’t need an officiant or a witness!
  • You can even bring guests on your wild adventure
Bride and groom hold hands and laugh at each other as they stand in front of a bright blue lake during their first look. It's sunrise during this mountain elopement near Ridgway, and all the colors of the surrounding foliage are bright green from the soft lighting.

How To Plan An Adventurous Elopement In The Mountains

This is only a high level overview of the most important steps to take when it comes to planning.

1.) Choose Your Ceremony Location

This is a very critical planning step when it comes to making your mountain top elopement come to life. If you’re stuck on this step and not sure where to begin then I highly recommend reaching out to me directly. I would be more than happy to provide a free consultation to give you some ideas and inspiration in order to get the ball rolling. While Colorado is my home base, I am more than happy to travel anywhere you have in mind.

You can find recommended Colorado mountain elopement locations on my website below

Recommended Locations for your Mountain Elopement

Don't Forget About Your Wedding Permits!

If you’re planning to elope outside in nature in either a national or a state park then it’s very likely that you’re going to need a permit. Some locations may require both a wedding and a photography permit, some locations may require one or the other, or there may not be any fee. 

The best way to find out if your preferred mountain elopement location requires a permit is to first confirm who owns the land. More than likely it will be National Forest, Bureau of Land Management, a State Park, a National Park, or privately owned. Once you confirm the agency you should be able to search online for their email or phone number online. I highly recommend reaching out to these agencies via email whenever possible, as it’s best to get your responses in writing.

Bride stands in the back of her Jeep Wrangler with the trunk open. She's putting on her veil while her husband watches her with a smile. The mountains are towering behind them with a large lake.
Bride and groom look small as they stand on a peninsula on lake surrounded by mountains. The sun was setting and you can see a little bit of pink sunlight hitting the top of the mountains.

2.) Confirm Your Wedding Date

When it comes to choosing your wedding date the first thing you will need to do is consider what type of weather you’re looking for. If you haven’t visited high elevations before then you may not know that weather can be extremely unpredictable and can turn in an instant. In Colorado, you may get snow on top of a mountain at 14,000 feet in June or July. It all depends on your elevation. So think about your ideal weather, and then do some online research to determine what month would be the best in that location. You will want to look at the overall average temperature as well as the amount of precipitation to expect. Start here by looking at weather by state, city, or town.

PRO TIP: Typically my favorite time of the year to be in the mountains is during the mid-summer when the wildflowers are at peak season. The mountains and basins are absolutely covered in various different colors of wildflowers. If you’re looking to see the wildflowers in Colorado then I highly recommend you plan for mid-July to the first week of August.

3.) Hire Your Elopement Vendors

If you’re getting married in an area that you don’t live in, then I highly recommend hiring local wedding vendors that know the area of your mountain elopement very well. Not only will you save on travel fees, but you’ll receive all the important advice from a person who is very familiar with that location. Here are the typical vendors I see at wedding days, but a lot of couples choose to mix/match which vendors they feel they need.

  • Officiant
  • Hair & Makeup Artist
  • Private Chef
  • Florist
  • Baker/Dessert
  • Stationery Artist
  • Elopement Photographer
  • Videographer
Bride and groom hug each other as they stand next to their double loveseat chair and campfire. Twinkle lights are laid across the chair, and bottles of champagne are at the groom's feet. The mountains in front of the couple are lit up from the last of the sunset, and sprinkled with snow.

4.) Select Your Wedding Attire

I might be a little biased in this category but I believe that wedding attire is meant to get dirty. Yep, I said it! You’re in the mountains on an epic adventure for your wedding day, and I promise the last thing you want to worry about is a little bit of mud on your dress or your pants. In fact, look at that mud as a badge of honor. A token of your wedding day to bring home with you. Plus the dirt typically gives a beautiful ombre effect to the bottom of a wedding dress, and if I’m your photographer I will be yelling HELL YES!

PRO TIP: Typically my favorite time of the year to be in the mountains is during the mid-summer when the wildflowers are at peak season. The mountains and basins are absolutely covered in various different colors of wildflowers. If you’re looking to see the wildflowers in Colorado then I highly recommend you plan for mid-July to the first week of August.

Closeup image of a bride's wedding dress dragging along a hiking trail. Her husband is walking behind her in a suit and brown hiking boots. The trail is surrounded by colorful foliage as this mountain elopement took place in Ouray Colorado.

Buy Something Comfortable

I promise you this is a possible task. If you are eloping in the mountains then you will need attire that is comfortable and moveable. I recommend doing the sit-down test. Put on your wedding attire, sit on the floor and act like you’re attending a picnic in a park. Can you sit all the way? Is it possible to sit longer than just a few minutes? If you answered no to either of those questions then you might want to reconsider.

Important: Wear Waterproof Shoes With Good Tread

I promise you this is a possible task. If you are eloping in the mountains then you will need attire that is comfortable and moveable. I recommend doing the sit-down test. Put on your wedding attire, sit on the floor and act like you’re attending a picnic in a park. Can you sit all the way? Is it possible to sit longer than just a few minutes? If you answered no to either of those questions then you might want to reconsider.

Now besides being mentally prepared to get a little bit of dirt on your suit, I think it’s equally important to know that you need good footwear. I’m not talking about those Nike tennis shoes. I’m talking about full-blown hiking boots that are waterproof. If you’re planning a mountain elopement, then you will want something that can handle a puddle or maybe even stepping into a shallow stream. I have crossed many rivers and streams with couples on their wedding day, and it’s always nice when you have nice dry feet after.

Here are a few hiking boot recommendations that typically look good with wedding attire and are waterproof:

5.) Research How To Get Your Marriage License

Don’t leave this part until last minute, as you will need to know of any possible obstacle when it comes to making your marriage legal. Every state/country has its own laws around ceremony requirements, and each county clerk will have its own rules and hours of operation. If you’ve hired me, then the good news is that I can help you through all of this!

Bride and groom share their first dance during blue hour. She is wearing a jean jacket over her wedding dress and laying on his shoulder as the mountains and pine trees tower behind them.
Bride and groom read their wedding vows in front of a reflective lake in the mountains of Colorado. 13,000 foot colorful mountain peaks are towering behind them through the top of the photo, and low clouds cover parts of the mountain.

6.) Book Your Travel & Accommodations Nearby

I would highly recommend booking a unique AirBNB or place to stay. Book something that has good lighting and the more windows, the better. Your photographer will thank you, and this will take your getting-ready photos to the next level. Ensure your AirBNB is close to your mountain elopement location as you never know what will happen when it comes to travel.

7.) Plan Your Elopement Day Activities

Other than getting married in a beautiful location you’re going to want to plan fun activities and time to stop and take a break. How about a romantic picnic on a mountain top at sunset? Maybe a private scenic snowcat ride during the winter to the top of a ski resort? I have a lot of couples that choose to hire a private chef for their AirBNB so they have a hot meal to come home to, and no cleanup or grocery shopping is required! 

Think about what you two love to do together, what makes you happy, what makes you relaxed, and new activities you’ve never tried together. Then start thinking about how these could fit into your elopement day.

Groom leads bride down a hiking trail surrounded by wildflowers. To the right, a large lake expands past them into the distance and stops at the base of a large mountain. It was a cloudy day for this mountain elopement, and the dark clouds sit on top of the mountains.

8.) Prepare for Every Worst Case Scenario

If you’re getting married in the mountains you need to be ready for anything! I’ve been hailed on, had couples get a flat tire, and even changed elopement ceremony locations last minute due to mudslides and wildfires. Choose a backup ceremony location, or maybe two. If you’re planning on a location with high risk (like a mountain pass), then I would recommend booking an AirBNB that could serve as a backup plan in the worst-case scenario.

Tools to Navigate or Call for Help Without Cell Service

If you plan to venture out into the backcountry then it’s very important you have a backup plan, a map, and plenty of extra supplies. I highly recommend the Garmin InReach Mini and setting it up ahead of time before you leave cell service. This will allow you to communicate by sending text messages, calling SOS, and even checking the weather for your location. Make sure to test it before using it for the first time.

My favorite phone application for adventuring without cell service is called maps.me. You can download it here. You will need to download the application and the maps ahead of time on your phone, but it allows you to navigate offline, see names of lakes, mountains, and even natural hot springs. Plus, it’s free!

9.) Have The Best Wedding Day Ever

This should go without saying, as who can have a bad day when you’re surrounded by mountains and the one you love? I just wanted to make one last note that if everything doesn’t go according to plan: It’s OK. Chance of rain on your wedding day? Well bring along your dancing shoes and get epic photos of you two dancing and kissing in the rain. Mother nature doesn’t always cooperate, and I found it’s best to just lean in, stay safe, and go with the flow when it comes to schedule changes. As long as you’re properly dressed there is no bad weather!

Bride and groom sit on a picnic blanket and toast with coffee mugs. The hazy layers of mountains and pine trees serve as a beautiful background and view for their mountain elopement picnic.

How Other Couples Got Married In The Mountains

Check out these photo galleries and timelines from real mountain elopements that took place in Colorado!

Elopement Galleries For Inspiration

Hayley & James’s Sunset Mountain Elopement

Christina & Daniel’s Winter Hiking Elopement

Timelines From Colorado Mountain Elopements

Hiking Elopements

Off-roading Elopements

Leave No Trace & Why It’s Important

If you’re planning to visit the great outdoors then you will need to know about the 7 principles of Leave No Trace. These principles can be applied anywhere, and are especially important when it comes to outdoor events related to weddings. The impact that can be left by just a single person may take decades to repair itself, and knowing these principles is critical to preserving the beautiful mountains that we all love so much.

What are the 7 Leave No Trace Principles?

  • Plan Ahead & Prepare
  • Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces
  • Dispose of Waste Properly
  • Leave What You Find
  • Minimize Campfire Impacts
  • Respect Wildlife
  • Be Considerate of Other Visitors
Bride smiles as she looks back at her groom. They are walking to their sunrise picnic in the distance for their mountain elopement. The 12,000 foot mountains and a lake are off in the distance behind the bride.
Bride, groom, and their officiant stand on a hill in the late afternoon for a top of the mountain elopement ceremony. It was a hazy day in Colorado due to the wildfire smoke, so the mountains appear as a silhouette behind the couple.

Colorado Mountain Elopement Packages

I found through being an elopement photographer that so many couples are just looking to plan a wedding day that feels more authentic to them. People love being outside and escaping technology more than ever before. If you’re the kind of person that loves to spend all their free time camping, hiking, or even just being outside then you’re probably thinking of planning an elopement or small intimate wedding somewhere in nature. I want you to know that that is 100% possible, and don’t let anyone make you feel guilty for your choices. If you decide that you don’t want a large wedding, and instead you want to do something romantic and adventurous outside in the mountains, then I’m here to tell you hell yes!

Here's What's Included In My Mountain Elopement Packages Anywhere In The World

  • Customized Elopement Location Scouting Guide

  • Assistance with Permit Research

  • Elopement Timeline To Put Your Wedding Day Dreams On Paper

  • All Travel Fees Included

Bride lifts up the front of her dress as she hikes up a steep hill with her husband walking behind her. The mountains of Ouray, Colorado are towering behind them.

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