How to Plan the Ultimate National Park Wedding

An expert shares advice tying the knot at some of the most beautiful spots in the US.
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by
Lauren Nowack
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Lauren Nowack
The Knot Contributor
  • Lauren is a freelance writer for The Knot Worldwide.
  • While Lauren has been writing her whole life, she began her career by travel writing and reviewing outdoor gear.
  • Lauren is passionate about encouraging people planning a wedding to make it exactly what they want and need it to be.
Updated Jun 16, 2023

If you're hoping to have a national park wedding, the planning process may look a little bit different than if you were to have a more traditional ceremony and reception setup, such as at a church or dedicated wedding event space. However, don't let that stop you from tying the knot at one of America's most beautiful spots.

Whether you are hoping to get married beneath Half Dome at Yosemite National Park in California or perhaps the Everglades down in Florida, this guide to gow to get married in a national park will walk you through everything. We spoke with expert planner and photographer Julie Haider of Julie Haider Elopement Photography to hear about everything you should know when planning a wedding in a national park. The expert wedding vendor is based in New Mexico and has more than 13 years of experience. Read on to learn more about getting married in a national park.

In this story:

Can You Get Married in a National Park?

Julie shared her favorite tips and tricks with us for couples wanting to get married in a national park. While nearly every national park allows weddings to take place within its borders, she noted how "each park has its own set of rules and regulations that you'll need to research." For example, some limiting factors for various parks could include "the number of people allowed at your wedding ceremony, what locations are allowed, what decorations you can include and more."

National Park Wedding Cost

If a couple truly desires to have their outdoor wedding in a national park, cost should not be a deal breaker. Julie agreed with this, writing that "the full cost of a national park wedding is totally up to you and your budget." Some couples choose to go "all out" with a large budget and all-encompassing venue within the park, but many pairs opt to keep things "simple and low cost." As nature is gorgeous all on its own, decoration costs for weddings at national parks are often lower as extra adornment is not necesarily needed.

Julie emphasized that couples will "always spend way less on their ceremony venue at the park than they would at a more traditional venue." This stems from the fact most ceremony spots at national parks are simple, natural settings rather than a building that must be rented and prepped.

Julie also spoke about the fact that national park wedding permits are necessary at every park, and they usually run between $100 to $500 depending on the location. Factoring this into a budget is essential when planning a national park wedding.

How to Plan a National Park Wedding

Planning a national park wedding, whether it is nearby your home or a destination celebration, can be quite daunting. While there are many decisions to make, professional coordinator Julie Haider shared a step-by-step list to help plan the perfect event.

1. Choose the Season & Scenery

    Part of the magic of weddings in national parks is the sheer beauty of the surrounding area. The United States has numerous landscapes in its park system to choose from, whether you want jaw-dropping mountain vistas, deep canyons or seemingly endless forests to tie the knot. Once you decide what backdrop you want your ceremony and reception to have, choose the season that best compliments your vision. Together, these decisions will guide your choice of park.

    East Coast parks will display fall foliage towards the end of the year, typically peaking in October and November. Out West, you may want to steer away from a summer wedding as that is the busiest time in many parks, potentially crowding out your preferred ceremony or reception spot. Julie notes this step is also when to "consider if you want to stay close to home or make it a destination wedding."

    2. Make a List of National Parks that Fit Your Vision

      Once you know what you're hoping for, make a list of national parks that would allow your vision to come to life. For parks with unique natural features, you can consider Arches National Park in Utah or Joshua Tree National Park in California. If you're hoping for a wedding by the ocean, Acadia National Park in Maine or Channel Islands National Park off the coast of California would fit the bill.

      While making your list, Julie tells couples to look at national park's website to get a feel for their rules surrounding weddings and events as well as ceremony locations. If you'd like a photographer or wedding planner to work with you, this is a good time to see if there are industry professionals nearby the park or willing to travel to it that you like.

      3. Choose Your Favorite Park & Location Within It

        After you've made your detailed list, it's time to pick the park and reception venue for your special day. Julie emphasizes that it's vital to "choose the park that you love - one that excites you, but that also fits well with your wedding vision!" There are likely a myriad of ceremony site options within the park, and most park websites have a list to choose from to make this simple.

        When choosing a site, there are a few factors to consider, including:

        • Accessibility
        • Head Count
        • Site Privacy
        • Park Rule Limitations

        Once you have a ceremony location pinned down, it's time to focus on the reception. Depending on what type of party you are hoping to host, you may be able to rent a venue within the park, host an outdoor reception near your ceremony site, or need to look just outside the national park to have everything just as you want it. Once you have these decided, the rest of the wedding planning process can begin.

        4. Apply for a Wedding Permit

          Every national park requires a wedding ceremony permit. A quick internet search with the national park name should bring you to the information page about the process, such as this one for Glacier National Park in Montana. When applying for the special use permit, you typically need the following information:

          • Exact ceremony location
          • Precise date and time desired
          • Vendor contact information
          • Estimated guest count

          As getting married within the beauty of a national park is quite popular, the park's processing of permits can take multiple weeks to complete or your preferred ceremony location may already be booked. Julie noted that parks need a minimum of four weeks to process a permit, but more time is always better. So, getting this done is an essential first step when planning a national park wedding.

          4. Send Out Save-the-Dates

            Now that you have the perfect national park wedding venue chosen, it's time to make sure your friends and family can make it. As the logistics of getting to a park are often a little trickier than a traditional wedding near an airport or city, it's best to give guests as much time as possible to plan their travel.

            In addition, this is a good time to tell guests about some of the quirks of having an event at a national park, including limited parking, potential inclement weather and lack of cell phone coverage.

            5. Find Vendors That Already Know the Park

              Now it's time to solidify the rest of the details. First, you will want to get a list of vendors that know the park you've chosen well and are happy to work within the rules. This includes photographers and videographers, planners, caterers and more. Depending on the time and location, you may have to rent bathrooms or reserve a room block at a local hotel as well. Pro tip: If you're looking for great vendors, you can start your search on The Knot.

              6. Plan the Rest of Your Wedding

                Finally, you can start planning all the fun details of your big day. Knowing your ceremony and reception backdrop is key to figuring out decor, color schemes and even your day-of attire. Whether you are planning your wedding yourself or have hired someone to help you make your dream day come to life, choosing a national park for such an event ensures it will be both stunning and unforgettable.

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