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Permits & Passes for Your Washington Elopement



If you've started planning an outdoor elopement, chances are you've heard something about needing permits. (I mean, why else would you be reading this article?) Permitting for elopements can be incredibly overwhelming, confusing, and stressful when you first start researching. Each park and agency has their owns rules and regulations surrounding permits and they can vary greatly from one area to the next. Additionally, the information can be hard to find or to understand. So I decided to make it a bit easier for you and put all the information surrounding permits and passes for your elopement into one place!


Permits for elopements, parking passes, and backcountry/wilderness permits are a reality when hiking in Washington and when eloping in the outdoors. All serve the purpose to enhance the experience of hiking and recreating outdoors- as well as protecting and maintaining the land. Funding for public lands has dwindled in recent decades, and parking passes are one of the ways parks and agencies attempt to make up the difference. Your permits and parking pass employ backcountry rangers and trail crews who keep out trails maintained and cleaned (garbage emptied and picked up, toilets taken care of, clearing and maintaining trails, etc.) While it may seem like an inconvenience, it is SO important that you take the necessary steps to obtain a permit. Permits and passes help protect the lands we love and the places we recreate in. Permits are generally not very expensive and hold a very useful place in the system. Not to mention, when you compare the price of a permit to the price of a traditional wedding venue, you're getting a pretty sweet deal.


First off, why is it so important that you get a permit?

One of the biggest reason to get a permit- you are actively supporting your local parks! Permits help maintain our parks and employ the people who protect it. The other huge reason? Getting a permit is legally required and failure to do so can result in undesirable consequences. You don't want a major wrench thrown into your wedding day over less than a hundred bucks. Plus, for some locations, having a permit means you will be the only couple (legally) allowed to be married and/or photographed there!


And yes, there will be people (and photographers!) telling you that a permit isn't necessary and is a waste of your time. I'm here to tell you that they are wrong! Rangers DO come around (especially at popular trails and elopement spots) to ensure that you have a permit. If you are caught without a permit you have the potential to be fined and made to leave the area immediately! Thus interrupting your elopement day and plans. (P.S. certain parks have people specifically designated to look at social media who can contact you regarding whether or not you had a permit, and fine you after the fact if you did not). Save yourself any stress, hassle, or fines- get that permit!


**Special note to my fellow photographers: most of the time if an area requires a permit for a real elopement, you NEED to get a permit for any styled shoot- even if there is no money exchanged. If you will be using the photos in your portfolio and in your marketing, it counts as financial gain and needs a permit.


What type of permits do you need?

It depends on the location, but there are generally two types of permits to know about when it comes to elopements. First, there are Special Use Permits. Special Use Permits are permitting the actual wedding ceremony itself and allowing you to get married in that specific park on that specific date. Next, there are photography permits. This permit covers your photographer and legally allows them to take photos of you there. Note: Not all parks require both of these permits, some only require one and others don't require any.


Keep reading for more specific permit information for each Washington National Park, State Park, and National Forest!


How much time does it take to get a permit?

This also depends on the location. Generally the timeframe for obtaining a permit is around 4 weeks. However, some locations require 60-90 days notice! Do your research well in advance to your elopement day to see if you need a permit for your chosen location and ensure you apply for it within the required timeframe.


Okay, so who pays for what permit?

Every photographer will have their own policy on this, but for me, I pay for any permits directly related to photography and my couples pay for any permits directly related to their wedding/ceremony (i.e. the Special Use Permit).


What about parking passes and backcountry permits?

Different agencies and parks require different passes, so it is important to know what trail requires which pass and to display the correct one.


For National Parks, the entrance fee is $30 per car. You can also purchase an annual pass to ONE park for $55. However, the best deal is the America the Beautiful Interagency Annual Pass, which is $80. This pass allows entrance to ANY national park, Forest Service or other federal site for one year. In Washington there are three national parks: Olympic National Park, Mount Rainier National Park, and the North Cascades National Park. The North Cascades National Park does not require any entrance fees.


For U.S. Forest Service Lands you can get a Day Pass for $5 or an annual Northwest Forest Pass for $30. If you have the America the Beautiful Pass, you can use that for any U.S. Forest Service Land or trail.


For Washington State Public Lands, you will need a Discover Pass ($10 for a day pass per car, or $30 for an annual pass).


For winter recreation, some areas may require a Sno-Park Permit. These permits are $20 per day or $40 for the season. Note: If you only have a day pass you also need to display the Discover Pass on State Lands, if you have the annual Sno-Park pass you do not.


Backcountry/wilderness permits are issued in certain areas (i.e. the Enchantments) in order to regulate the amount of foot traffic an area receives. Fragile environments can only withstand so much use until they begin to erode. By limiting the number of visitors to an area, it not only helps to preserve the environment but it helps to preserve the experience of the hike itself since it is not overrun by crowds. Some wilderness permits are free and easy to obtain, while others have small fees and require advanced booking. These permits can be very competitive to obtain and spots fill up fast!


If you still want help navigating how to obtain your permits for your elopement day, reach out here! I'd love to help you and make this process as stress-free as possible for you.


>CONTACT ME<


**DISCLAIMER: I do my very best to keep this post updated with the most current information available. However, the rules and restrictions around permitting for both wedding ceremonies and for photography are subject to be changed at ANY time. Please check each individual park's website for updated information, and speak with a Park Ranger to confirm you have the correct information and permits BEFORE your elopement date! Ranger contact information can be found on each individual website.


Washington Elopement Permit Information

North Cascades National Park

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.

https://www.nps.gov/noca/getinvolved/special-use-permits.htm


Photography Permit

A permit is also required for the wedding to be photographed, and costs $50. Must be submitted 30 days in advance!!


https://www.nps.gov/noca/getinvolved/filming-and-photography.htm


Mount Rainier National Park

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 $60. Must be submitted 4 weeks in advance!!


Complete an application form and email it to mora_special_use@nps.gov.


Photography Permit

A permit is also required for the wedding to be photographed, and costs $150. Must be submitted 90 days in advance!!


Complete an application form and email it to mora_special_use@nps.gov.


https://www.nps.gov/mora/planyourvisit/permitsandreservations.htm#CP_JUMP_6118083


Olympic National Park

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. Submit within 3-4 weeks prior to your date.


Photography Permit

A permit is also required for the wedding to be photographed, and costs $100.


https://www.nps.gov/olym/planyourvisit/permitsandreservations.htm

Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

No permit required. From National Forest Services Permit Guidelines: “While the photographer may be taking photos in a commercial capacity on NFS lands, the couple and their wedding party are not considered models, nor is the wedding event (a noncommercial group use) considered props and settings. In addition, there are no additional administrative costs associated with the event and the area is open to the general public, hence a permit is not required.”


https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5209347.pdf


Gifford Pinchot National Forest

No permit required. From National Forest Services Permit Guidelines: “While the photographer may be taking photos in a commercial capacity on NFS lands, the couple and their wedding party are not considered models, nor is the wedding event (a noncommercial group use) considered props and settings. In addition, there are no additional administrative costs associated with the event and the area is open to the general public, hence a permit is not required.”


https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5209347.pdf


Okanogan & Wenatchee National Forest

No permit required. From National Forest Services Permit Guidelines: “While the photographer may be taking photos in a commercial capacity on NFS lands, the couple and their wedding party are not considered models, nor is the wedding event (a noncommercial group use) considered props and settings. In addition, there are no additional administrative costs associated with the event and the area is open to the general public, hence a permit is not required.”


https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5209347.pdf


Olympic National Forest

No permit required. From National Forest Services Permit Guidelines: “While the photographer may be taking photos in a commercial capacity on NFS lands, the couple and their wedding party are not considered models, nor is the wedding event (a noncommercial group use) considered props and settings. In addition, there are no additional administrative costs associated with the event and the area is open to the general public, hence a permit is not required.”


https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5209347.pdf

Washington State Parks

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 $45. Must be submitted 60 days in advance.


https://parks.state.wa.us/217/Special-Activities-Permit


Photography Permit

A permit is also required for the wedding to be photographed, and costs $100. Must be submitted 60 days in advance.


https://parks.state.wa.us/209/Filming-photography-permits


Bottom line: Don't let permits for your elopement be a barrier or a stressor on your elopement day. Get the necessary permits, support your local parks, and ultimately have a kick ass elopement day!

Want More Resources?

Learn more about what you can do on your all-day elopement and get timeline suggestions here.

Discover How to Elope in Washington or How to Elope in Arizona.

Want to elope but don't know where?! Check out 65+ Elopement Destinations here.


Hi! My name is Kathleen and I'm an adventure wedding and elopement photographer (and your new friend!). I'm here to help guide you to having the ultimate wedding day experience, and to document every single moment of it. I would love to help you plan your elopement and answer any questions you may have!

Get in touch with me and let's start planning your dream adventure.

CONTACT ME HERE!



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Kathleen Elizabeth Photography

Washington Adventure Elopement Photographer

Photographing couples across Washington and Arizona

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