About me, Colorado, US National Parks

How to get married in a national park

I was never the girl who planned every detail of her dream wedding. Or any detail, for that matter. I didn’t have a dream wedding. But somewhere in the back of my mind, I always envisioned getting married in the mountains. So when Pat and I first started planning our wedding – which was supposed to be in July 2021 but ultimately got postponed to July 2022 (thanks, Covid) – it didn’t take us long to decide on a small, immediate-family-only gathering in my favorite national park.

I’m not one to share much of my personal life online or plaster photos of everything all over social media. While I enjoy sharing details of my travels here on WordPress, I prefer to keep the rest of my life private. But I do want to share a few of my favorite photos from our wedding weekend. And for anyone interested in getting married in a national park, I wanted to give an overview of the process. Because parks are federal land, a permit is required for any type of wedding ceremony…  even if it’s just the two of you quietly exchanging vows. The specific rules for each park are outlined on its website. Here’s how it worked for us:

Step 1: Submit permit application and application fee one year in advance of desired wedding date and wait three months to receive confirmation of date, time, and location.

Step 2: Begin planning details of the wedding.

Step 3: Postpone wedding due to Covid-related border closures (Pat’s brother lives in Canada).

Step 4: Call park and ask to change permit due to these extenuating circumstances. Request for permit change is denied.

Step 5: Cancel existing permit and forfeit application fee.

Step 6: Submit new permit application one year in advance of new wedding date.

Step 7: Wait six months for confirmation while constantly being asked by family members if we have a date yet.

Step 8: Finally receive an email from the park outlining changes to their wedding guidelines and stating that previously-submitted applications would be subject to these new rules.

Step 9: Lose our preferred and backup wedding locations due to these changes. Search through limited list of allowable locations and settle on the best (but much less scenic) option and backup option.

Step 10: Continue to wait for permit confirmation as wedding date inches ever closer (and I become more and more anxious about still not having a confirmed date and location).

Step 11: Contact park for information on when we can expect to receive our permit. Receive a reply that they are backlogged and we can expect to hear from them one month before our wedding (are you freaking kidding me?), at which point they will inform us if our desired date, time, and location are even available anymore.

Step 12: Cry in frustration.

Step 13: Cancel this plan entirely and scramble to find a new wedding location that’s in our budget and still has availability four months from now.

Step 14: Call a local(ish) national park and immediately get through to the chief ranger, who kindly answers all my questions and assures me that they have availability for the date we want and will have our permit to us within 2-3 weeks.

Step 15: Submit permit application, pay application fee (again, ugh, thank goodness it’s relatively inexpensive), and receive permit in the promised timeframe.

Step 16: Inform our families and photographer that plans have changed yet again (I think we’re at about Plan G at this point); fortunately, everyone is able to find flights, lodging, rental cars, etc.

Step 17: Get exposed to Covid three weeks before our wedding, thanks to Pat’s coworker who selfishly came to work while sick; luckily, both of us had “mild” cases and were fully recovered by our wedding day.

Step 18: Finally actually get married.

After the wedding, everyone stuck around for a couple days to spend some time exploring the area and hanging out… it basically turned into a family vacation. The weather was perfect and we all had so much fun! Here are a few photos from our non-wedding adventures.

14ers Mount Blanca and Little Bear Peak tower above the landscape on the approach to the dunes
The view from our room at Great Sand Dunes Lodge
While Pat, his dad and brothers, and my family set out to climb 650 vertical feet (198 m) of sand to stand on top of one of the highest dunes, the rest of us enjoyed relaxing at the base of the dunes. I climbed to the top of the highest dune a few years ago and it was exhausting. No way was I going to do that again.
Views of the dunes from the Wellington Ditch Trail
Sunset, night 1
Sunset, night 2

83 thoughts on “How to get married in a national park”

  1. Dear Diana,
    Reading your looong list made me anxious, too, but I’m glad all worked out in the end.
    Congratulations on your wedding! You picked a gorgeous setting, even if you had to deal with sand in your shoes. 😊
    Best wishes for you and Pat,
    Tanja

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Congratulations to you both! As Rebecca said, I had no idea just how much back-and-forth is involved in getting married in a National Park state-side. Here in Scotland, the process is mercifully less painful: choose a location, submit the paperwork to the local registry office, respond to any queries from them (in my experience, these all centred on our parents’ occupations!) and pitch up at the chosen location on the day. Glad things worked out in the end, and although it wasn’t your top-choice location the scenery looks stunning!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Congratulations Diana! Your step-by-step process for getting married in a national park was described well and oh geez, so grueling. All those permits and denials and impossible demands they made. But I’m really glad you were tenacious and determined, because your wedding photos are fantastic and you all had a really good time. Best wishes to you both for many more adventures ahead.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Congratulations for the wedding!! I love the idea of getting married in a national park, especially as it is such a fitting location for you! The small ceremony looks beautiful, just as the surrounding area!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. First, congratulations! Your pictures are beautiful. Second, good Lord – what a nightmare. They’ll notify you a month before your date to let you know IF you have a permit?! Ridiculous. I won’t be making any plans to renew my vows in a national park anytime soon. But seriously, glad it all worked out and you had marvelous weather. Clearly a great time was had by all.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! It was an absolute nightmare, and all we wanted was a simple wedding with no drama. Apparently, getting married in certain parks (including the one we originally wanted) is becoming increasingly popular, leading to traffic jams in the permitting process. Personally, I think their goal was to make it so inconvenient to get a permit that people changed their minds… in which case, mission accomplished.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I guess all the hardship of planning the wedding only makes it more precious. The moral is don’t ask at a National Park but elsewhere. I love the vibrancy of the yellow and blue in the sunny landscape. I love that the family stayed together for several days, what a great gift that leaves memories. Congratulations and best wishes for the years to come.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Congratulations!!! You look so beautiful and happy! I can relate to your wedding planning frustrations 100% but it’s all worth it for such a magical day. Wishing you two endless years of adventures, happiness and love! I am hoping my sister wants to do something like this for her wedding. Hopefully not so many steps.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Congratulations!!! But what a crazy process. We got married, actually eloped, on the shore of Bow Lake In Banff National Park. There were no restrictions at all! Wishing you both a wonderful, long life together. Maggie

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Yikes, Diana. Congratulations on your wedding and your perseverance. Both our kids got married in a 6 week period in 2016, so I know how much organization goes into a wedding(s) in normal times. Glad you stuck with it and that it all worked out. All the best to you both in your married life. Allan

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Congratulations! There’s a saying from where I come from: “No matter how long the wedding procession stretches, it always ends up in church.”

    In your case — despite all the roadblocks, everything still fell into place. Wishing you the best in your married life!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I wasn’t initially aware of all the wedding options either, but it turns out you can get married in most federal or state parks and lands as long as you obtain the appropriate permits. It’s apparently becoming a more popular thing to do.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Wow, what a beautiful location! Congratulations on getting married, Diana. I wish you every happiness together. I very much love how in the States, more and more people are turning their wedding days into more of an adventure by getting married in the outdoors filled with rugged snow-capped mountains, breathtaking sunsets, lush green forests, and beautiful coastal views. Thanks for sharing and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

    Liked by 1 person

  12. You got a pretty cool park even after all those hassles! But still … sorry you had to go through that frustration. No handstand in the wedding dress, I guess. 🙂 I share your reluctance to post very much personal stuff, but I’m glad you posted a little bit about this important weekend for your family and yourselves. Dream wedding or not, it looks pretty special!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Congratulations on the wedding! You and the national park look stunning! I had no idea just how much of a process it was to have a wedding ceremony inside of a national park, but I’m glad you made it work! Wishing you and Pat a wonderful marriage in the years to come!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Rebecca! I had no idea about the process initially either, which is why I wanted to share. I only hope others don’t have as many frustrations as we did. But it all worked out perfectly in the end!

      Liked by 1 person

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