It’s hard to imagine there are any wedding backdrops more stunning than the views found in America’s National Parks. But there are a few things to consider when planning a national park wedding that you won’t run into with a traditional venue. But have no fear! From permitting to decor restrictions, this guide has you covered. With a little extra planning (and a sense of adventure) you’ll be saying “I do” on top of Half Dome in no time.
Planning Your National Park Wedding
The Guest List
The size of your guest list will have a huge impact on the execution of your national park wedding. A large guest list will require you to either choose to have your ceremony and reception at the main event center of the park – or to take your reception elsewhere, as the public pavilions and picnic areas will be unable to accommodate 50+ party goers. Keep in mind that the park will also have its own sound restrictions and bar requirements, which could hamper your reception if you’re wanting to dance the night away. Simply put, a smaller ceremony and reception is much easier to pull off in this type of venue. But there is no reason you can’t find a great location outside of the park to host the after party.
This is one of the most important things to consider when planning a national park wedding. And it’s good to keep in mind that permitting may not be uniform across the board. So first things first, do your research. Some parks (or locations within them) require reservations up to a year in advance. Others won’t allow you to permit until a month before your event. Make sure you check out NPS.gov for specific details regarding your preferred spot.
Pro Tip: Don’t assume that your minuscule ceremony is exempt from this process. Any event outside of regular park activities is subject to a special use fee and you could run into a heavy fine if you don’t follow the rules.
This is the fun part! But choosing your ceremony location may be trickier than you think. You’re going to want to find a beautiful, but secluded, spot to tie the knot. Most parks will be unwilling to close off their main tourist attractions for your wedding, and let’s face it, you don’t want a bunch of random strangers photo bombing your big day. Call the public affairs office and ask for their suggestions on less traveled locations for your ceremony. Alternatively, many parks have an event center or hotel on site that can easily accommodate a private wedding with a larger guest list. And if you’re dead set on a specific landmark as your backdrop consider having your portraits done there instead. It will be a lot easier for your photographer to get a gorgeous shot of just the two of you on top of Angel’s Landing anyway.
The Travel & Terrain
National park campgrounds and hotels fill up fast. So you’ll need to give your guests ample time to find flights and accommodations. Include an information packet with your save the dates with a guide on what to pack and where to stay. Make sure you and your guests are prepared for the unpredictability of weather and trail conditions. And if your ceremony location requires a hike in, don’t impose a strict dress code. Nobody wants to navigate slick rock in heels.
Pro Tip – Communication is key. National park weddings require a bit more planning on all sides. You’ll want to make sure your guests aren’t caught off guard by things like entrance or parking fees. Even better – arrange for a shuttle bus to bring them into the park.
The Food (& Wildlife)
If you’re using your own caterer (or cooking yourself) make sure you know the park rules for disposal of food waste. Many require that all food remains be disposed of in bear safe containers and all will have a strict “pack it in, pack it out” policy. If you need to cook anything on site you will most likely be restricted to campground or picnic areas so plan ahead. And don’t forget, keeping a clean dinner area will not only keep you and your guests safe, but the wildlife as well.
Simply put, you won’t need much. But be sure to check with the public affairs office on the requirements for your decor. Preserving the natural environment is a top priority so you won’t be able to dig any holes or remove any vegetation. We recommend utilizing the services of the parks’ own event coordinators. Or hire local vendors who have experience planning in the parks. They will have tips and tricks on how to assemble larger decorative pieces without changing the landscape. And take advantage of the natural beauty around you. Chances are you’ll find at least one of Arches’ 2,000 natural sandstone arches to suit your ceremony requirements.
Despite a few extra hoops to jump through, the views alone are well worth the effort.