Tips on planning a National Park wedding.
National Parks are high on my list of places to go for vacations and weddings. Being in nature under a wide-open sky is the best feeling in the world.
After visiting Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota I saw dozens of spots where I could picture a wedding. I started to wonder about the steps involved in planning a National Park wedding. I did research and found it’s very possible. It’s a lot like planning destination weddings. Here’s what I found out.
Your WHY matters.
Eloping in a National Park or any remote destination has to be a conscious choice you make. Planning National Park wedding has its own challenges, just like planning any other wedding. It’s not any easier. Also, the location you choose should speak to you personally. You’ll be surrounded by nature’s beauty, but it will only make sense if the great outdoors is something you enjoy together regardless of the occasion.
National Park weddings work best for couples who want their wedding to be a unique experience for everyone involved. National Parks don’t have all the little luxuries of a modern wedding venue. Plan this wedding to be meaningful and bring joy to you and your guests.
You’re going to need a permit.
All National Parks require some type of wedding permit. Keep in mind that you want to get this permit well in advance. Most permits require at least a month for processing. Late spring or early summer is the best time to have your wedding because there are fewer tourists.
For weddings taking place in the summer tourist season of June to September, you need to get your permit the minute the park opens reservations for your date. Most wedding information will be found under the Reservations or Permits area on their websites. Call or email the park office to confirm the rules.
Find an experienced wedding planner.
If you’re planning a National Park wedding invest in a planner. Look for one experienced at planning destination weddings where guests will be coming from out of town. Also, make sure they can be on-site for your wedding. If they can’t, hire a day-of coordinator.
Directing people to the right locations for the ceremony and reception is very important when you’re planning a national park wedding. You need a person to answer the day of phone calls, give directions to lost guests, and make sure your other wedding professionals get where they need to be. Then you can focus on getting married instead of going crazy doing all these things.
Get your guest list and schedule in order.
A National Park wedding will be an intimate one. A guest list of 10 or less will comply with most park’s guidelines as of February 2021. Send invites out early to make sure guests can plan their travel in advance. Have a good schedule ready for the invites, because you need to include specific directions for your guests to completely understand where the ceremony will be, when to arrive, and what the parking situation will be.
Keep guests well informed.
It’s a MUST to make a wedding website so guests have multiple ways to get info. Provide all the resources your guests need to plan with their invitations. They need printed instructions in case their cell service is not good enough to view emails or websites within the park.
Include all options for camping and hotels. Include links and phone numbers to the National Park site. Let them know what to wear to be comfortable and not too hot or cold. Keep guests updated on the weather conditions, and make it easy to get their entry permit in advance. Give good hotel options for people who don’t want to camp in the park.
Don’t forget about the bathrooms.
Find out what the park’s bathroom facilities are like. VERY IMPORTANT both for camping and the ceremony. You want your guests to be prepared. Also, let everyone know which bathrooms are closest to your ceremony site.
Choose professionals who understand the outdoors.
Make sure your wedding team has experience working in outdoor locations that require hiking and have limited electricity access. Also, make sure they have liability insurance and are well-informed about any permits they need to provide services within the park.
If you’re choosing to provide the food yourself or hire a caterer there needs to be a plan in place for safely handling food around wildlife. This includes large animals like bison, deer, and (yes) bears. Even with access to picnic shelters or indoor facilities, you need to plan for how to keep food stored so it’s not accessible to animals.
Keep to the trails.
National Parks exist to conserve wild spaces. Going off-trail can seriously damage plants and the delicate ecosystem of the park. Even in the backcountry trails need to be respected. (All photographs in this blog were taken while on the trails at Theodore Roosevelt in Medora, North Dakota.)
Consider Less Is More For Your Wedding
Most parks don’t want you to bring in excessive decor, tons of off-camera lights or audio equipment.
The very best thing you can do when planning your National Park wedding is to take steps that will keep things simple and be environmentally conscious. Focus on letting the natural beauty of the park be your wedding experience.
National Parks Near Minnesota
Northern Minnesota’s Voyageurs National Park has wedding info on their website. Learn about weddings in Voyageurs.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota also has good info. Learn about their wedding policies.
Badlands National Park in South Dakota allows for weddings. Read special use permit info for Badlands.
I’m a Minnesota wedding photographer and National Park fan. I’d love to help get you additional resources for planning. Get in touch with me here.