How to Elope in North Cascades National Park
Updated: Jun 28
Eloping in North Cascades National Park
Do you imagine saying your vows surrounded by an endless sea of mountain peaks and ridges? Or in front of a pristine, alpine lake or in a lush forest? Or maybe surrounded by a dazzling array of colorful wildflowers or golden larches? Do you imagine seeing glaciers, wildlife, soaking in 360 degree views and exploring a pristine and stunning wilderness area? Often called the North American Alps, North Cascades National Park is hands-down my favorite place in Washington (and it makes a pretty killer elopement destination). Seriously, the North Cascades have so much to offer- there are so many trails and places to explore. It's one of the least visited national parks in the United States, I don't understand it at all! So, I'm letting you in on the secret and helping you step by step in planning the ultimate North Cascades adventure wedding.
One of my favorite things to do is to help couples like you plan their North Cascades elopement! Whether you're looking for a short hike, a multi-day epic backpacking adventure, or something in between, there's the perfect trail for you. So... if you're looking to elope in North Cascades National Park, I've got you covered! I'll help you step by step in giving you tons of advice so you can have the perfect North Cascades elopement.
***Leave No Trace Disclaimer***
We have a massive privilege in being able to access such amazing public lands in general and for your elopement day. Instead of paying thousands of dollars for a wedding venue, public lands are able to be used for nearly free. With that comes great responsibility- not only to care for the land, but to ensure it's protection and longevity.
Leave No Trace is a set of outdoor ethics and best practices that we should all follow to not only enjoy our public lands, but to protect them as well. Simply put, leave it better than you found it!
Why should you care?
If you're getting married outside, it's probably because you're drawn to nature's beauty and love being outdoors. The way we ensure that nature stays beautiful (so we can continue coming back to these places over and over again) is to make sure that we enjoy them sustainably and responsibly. We're all in this together.
The seven principles of Leave No Trace are:
Plan Ahead and Prepare
Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
Dispose of Waste Properly
Leave What You Find
Minimize Campfire Impacts
Be Considerate of Other Visitors
I encourage you to learn more about how to keep our outdoors safe and best practices for recreating outdoors at https://lnt.org/.
Alright, now into the good stuff...
Your Guide to Planning Your North Cascades National Park Elopement. A Checklist:
Find a North Cascades Elopement Photographer
Hiring your elopement photographer is one of the most important things you can do when planning your elopement. It is important that you find someone that you truly connect with- you're going to be spending your entire wedding day with them! Choose someone that you both get along with and feel comfortable around. Additionally, I would highly recommend hiring a photographer that specializes in elopements versus a photographer who does not. Elopement photographers are much more involved in the planning process that a typical photographer is. Find someone that is experienced, knows the area you are eloping in very well, can give you helpful advice, and help you with location scouting and figuring out logistics. And lastly, your photographer's images will most likely be the only photos you have of your elopement- especially if you are eloping just the two of you. Find someone who takes that responsibility seriously, who is experienced with photographing in different sceneries, weather, and lighting conditions. Trust me, your photography is something that you will want to invest in- these will be your memories of your day for years to come. Luckily, I know a pretty great North Cascades elopement photographer... and I'd love to connect with you and help you get started planning your elopement. Contact me and we can get started!
Pick a Date for Your North Cascades Elopement
Now that you have an amazing photographer, it's time to choose a date! It is incredibly important to understand the best time of the year to elope in the North Cascades based on weather patterns and snowpack. Being at a higher elevation, the Mount Baker and North Cascades area gets an incredibly large amount of snow. On average, the area receives over 50 feet of snow (with a record of 95 feet of snow!). Crazy right?! The snow can last well into July, which is why I always recommend that couples elope in late-July through early-October as the time it takes the snow to melt can vary.
If you're looking for stunning fields of colorful wildflowers, mid-August to early-September is your best bet. Have you ever seen meadows full of blue and purple lupines, red and orange paintbrush (my favorites), and over 50 varieties of other wildflowers? Well, it's definitely something you're going to want to put on your bucket list (and maybe something you want to experience on your wedding day).
Or maybe instead of wildflowers, you're looking for some stunning fall foliage? Fall is one of my absolute favorite times up in the North Cascades. There's a crisp breeze in the air, the scenery is absolutely exploding with color, and wild blueberries and huckleberries are ripe for you to eat right off the trail! Oh, and have you ever heard of Larch Madness?! It's a phenomenon in mid-September through October where the larches (a type of tree) explode into a brilliant yellow-orange hue and transform the area into a golden paradise.
During winter, WSDOT closes many of the roads, including the SR 20 pass which runs directly through the North Cascades. Many trails and areas are rendered inaccessible, or much harder to get to. While Artist Point in Mount Baker is absolutely stunning in winter, the weather is far less predictable and there are many winter storms in the area.
Best Elopement Locations in North Cascades National Park
One of the main ways I help my couples is through location scouting and helping them find their absolute perfect place to say their vows at. Whenever I first start talking to a couple about their elopement, I always start by asking them how they envision their day. One of the very important aspects to an elopement is the type of scenery a couple pictures getting married in. Do you want to elope on top of a mountain, by a lake, or on the beach? Washington has endless places to adventure in and there are countless beautiful locations.
Location scouting for my clients is one of my biggest passions, and in my free time you can probably find me hitting the trails and chasing new views. I only give away my very best locations to my couples, so get in contact with me if you want to become one of them. I can't wait to show you around!
If you're down for even more adventure, considering having a backpacking elopement!! There are SO many trails in the North Cascades that (with a little effort) will bring you into some of the most stunning, pristine wilderness areas I've ever seen. If you're looking for more privacy and want to hike & camp for your elopement, I definitely recommend checking out some of the longer trails in the area!
Tip: If you want to bring your dog along with you on your adventure, you're in luck! While not all trails in the area allow dogs, I know of plenty of stunning places that do.
Hire Other Vendors for Your North Cascades Elopement
Now it's time to decide what other vendors you want to hire to help you with your elopement and what you want to DIY. The vendors you choose are completely up to you- one of the best parts of eloping is that you can do whatever you want. Common vendors you can consider include: an officiant, hair & makeup artist, florist, a videographer, private chef, elopement announcements, and any additional adventure activities. Pick and choose whomever you'd like- it's your day!
Permits for Your North Cascades Wedding
If you are going to be eloping in North Cascades National Park itself, you will need permits for your elopement day. If you decide to elope outside of the park, like in the Mount Baker Wilderness or in the Snoqualmie National Forest, a permit may or may not be needed (ask your photographer!). The permitting process can be incredibly confusing and overwhelming- let your photographer help you. Permits help protect the lands we love and recreate in. They are not very expensive- especially when you compare the price of a permit to the price of a traditional wedding venue. Additionally, if you don't get the required permits you are risking your elopement day. If you run into a Ranger patrolling, they WILL ask to see your permit. Failure to have a permit can result in fines and you getting kicked out of the park- essentially ruining your elopement day. Trust me, it's not worth it. Still not convinced? Read more about permits for your Washington elopement! Here are the permits you will need: (these rules are subject to being changed at any time*)
**IMPORTANT NOTE ON DIABLO LAKE**
As per the National Park Service, it is NO LONGER ALLOWED for anyone to be in the meadow area of the Diablo Lake overlook and elopements are no longer allowed there. You CAN have elopements within the gated property within the parking lot area. Unfortunately, there will be photographers who will continue to break the rules and advertise otherwise, but I encourage you not to take the risk of getting a huge fine and kicked out on your wedding day as they do patrol the area and police Instagram afterwards. :)
Special Use Permit for Actual Wedding Ceremony
A special use permit is required to be submitted by the couple getting married. The application fee is $50. Must be applied for four weeks in advance! (Pro-tip: apply early and don't put this off until the last minute!)
A permit is also required for the wedding to be photographed, and costs $50. Must be submitted 30 days in advance!!
Making Your North Cascades Elopement Legal
If you're signing your paperwork on the day of your elopement, you want to ensure it's legal! Washington marriage license fees vary by county, and are required at the time you apply. They must be obtained at any County Auditor's office in the state. There is a 3 day waiting period in Washington- meaning you have to get your license at minimum 3 full days before your elopement date or it is invalid. Washington marriage licenses are valid for 60 days after the 3 day waiting period ends. To obtain a Washington marriage license you do not have to be a resident of the state. One or both parties need to appear in person for marriage license application, however there is an alternative method enabling absentee application via mail. You do not need to get married in the same county you receive your license in, it is valid for the entire state.
An ordained officiant must perform a ceremony for you to be legally married. I am an ordained officiant and can perform a short, legal ceremony if you choose. If you desire a longer ceremony, you will need to also hire an officiant. All marriage licenses must be signed by the officiant and two witnesses (min. age is 12). If I'm not acting as the officiant, I can sign as a witness if needed. If you're eloping with just the two of you, witnesses can be fellow hikers or visitors (most people will be more than happy to be a witness for you!). We can do the legal ceremony with witnesses, and then you two can exchange your vows privately.
Places to Stay in North Cascades National Park
I highly recommend holding off on booking your lodging prior to choosing your location, it can take longer than you would expect to get from one side of the park to the other. To reduce the amount of travel time on your elopement day, I highly encourage that you stay somewhere close to your location (especially if you want to do getting ready photos). Personally, I love staying in Airbnb's and cabins when I travel. Check out a few of my favorite options:
Choose Your Activities, and other Details
Now that you have all the major and important decisions made, it's time to decide on the smaller details. Do you want to elope with guests, or just the two of you? If you're eloping just the two of you but want to include family or friends in some way, consider having your closest loved ones write you letters to read on your elopement or Facetime them when you're getting ready. How do you want your ceremony to look like? Begin thinking about what you want to say in your vows (and on that note whether or not you want to write them in vow books as keepsakes from the day). Go shopping for your elopement attire (if you need inspiration, check out this Best Elopement Wedding Dress Guide). What activities do you want to include on your elopement? Ideas include: hiking, having a picnic, kayaking, taking a helicopter or airplane tour, backpacking, stargazing, having a private chef cook you a meal at your Airbnb, or having a *safe* campfire with smores. Do you want to have a first look, or get ready together? Do you want any celebratory drinks or food? Would you like a first dance? Consider planning a special surprise for your partner or of any special, sentimental details that are unique to you or your relationship that you would like to include.
Create Your North Cascades Elopement Timeline
Now, with the help of your photographer, it is time to compose your timeline. Leave room for spontaneity and extra time so you don't feel rushed or stressed. Don't underestimate transition times or how long it takes to hike somewhere. Make sure to leave lots of time to celebrate and enjoy the moment! Let yourself soak in every bit of the sunset and breeze, take time to really live in the moment and experience every second. I also recommend working with your photographer to decide the best time of day and lighting for your photos based on the location you choose. Some locations photograph better at sunset while others are best at sunrise. Still need help visualizing what a real elopement day timeline looks like? Check out these sample timelines for more inspiration.
Sample Timelines for Your North Cascades Elopement:
2 Person Elopement with a 4 Mile Hike
1:00- Photographer arrives, getting ready & detail photos
2:00- First look, couples portraits, get ready to go
2:30- Leave Airbnb
3:15- Arrive at trailhead, gear up
3:30- Start hiking
5:30- Arrive at top, explore around, touch ups
7:15- Ceremony ends, sign paperwork, pop champagne to celebrate, first dance, more couples portraits
8:15- Start hiking down, take photos with the stars
10:00- Arrive at trailhead, photography coverage ends
Intimate Hike Followed by Ceremony with friends and Family
3:00 am- Meet at trailhead, start hiking up and stargazing
5:00 am- Arrive at summit, get changed & ready for sunrise
5:15 am- Alpenglow begins, First look, private vow reading
5:30 am- Watch sunrise, couples photos, first dance, explore around summit
7:00 am- Start hiking back down
8:30 am- Arrive back at trailhead, head to ceremony site, meet up with family and get ready for ceremony
9:00 am- Ceremony with family and friends present
9:30 am- Ceremony finished, photos with family & friends, pop champagne to celebrate!
10:15 am- Family photos finished, head to have a brunch celebration
12:00 pm- Photo coverage wraps up
2 Person Elopement with No Hiking
4:00- Photographer arrives, getting ready & detail photos
5:00- First look, couples portraits, get ready to go
5:30- Leave Airbnb
6:00- Arrive at location, get ready to go, get to main spot and set up
6:15- Read letters from friends and family
6:45- Ceremony ends, sign paperwork, pop champagne to celebrate, first dance, couples portraits
8:30- Head back to Airbnb
9:00- Arrive at Airbnb, have dinner catered by private chef
10:00- Have campfire and smores, stargaze
10:30- Photography coverage ends
Ultimate 3-Day Backpacking Adventure (~30 miles)
10:00- Arrive at trailhead, gear up and start hiking
Hiking ~10 miles, stopping for photos, water fill-up and lunch
4:00- Arrive at pass, set up camp and get ready, take nap to refresh
6:00- Hike on side trip trail, taking photos along the way
7:00- Arrive at ceremony location, read vows
7:15- Ceremony ends, sign paperwork, pop champagne to celebrate, first dance, picnic couples portraits, portraits with friends/family
9:00- Hike back to camp
10:00-Arrive at camp, photos with stars
10:30- Hang out, go to bed
7:00- Wake up, make breakfast, hang out and explore the area
11:00- Leave campsite, hike to next campsite (~11 miles)
5:00- Arrive at lake, go swimming, set up camp and cook dinner
7:00- Change into wedding attire, explore area around lake, hang out, watch sunset, play games and go to bed
4:00- Wakeup and get ready, packed and leave
5:00- Side trip to mountain peak for sunrise photos, watch sunset and drink coffee/eat breakfast
6:00-Hike out remainder of 10 miles
1:00- Arrive at parking lot, photo coverage ends
What to pack for your North Cascades Elopement
Wondering what to bring with you? I've got you covered with this packing list:
Wedding Permit from the National Parks Service
Marriage License (and pen!)