Want to Elope or Have a "Backyard-Style" Wedding in Colorado?
Hey, I get it. Weddings are expensive. Elopements can also add up quickly when you combine the costs of traveling, room and board, and hiring suppliers (makeup to caterers) So you think, "I want a simple wedding with only family and a few close friends. Ceremony only, no reception, and no tubs of leftover wedding décor I need to sell. I can do this myself!" If you're starting to feel a little overwhelmed with how to begin the process of planning your own intimate ceremony, I'm here to help. I got married in a state park with 21 people in attendance in 2017. I am so happy that I went with a small ceremony. Let's get started planning!
Step 1: Pick a Location and Get Permits
Keep in mind when picking a location that you will most likely need a permit to get married in a state park, city park, national park, or national forest. Permits manage land use, protecting natural resources from overuse or damage. All of my suggestions are National Forests from the Western Slope of Colorado.
- San Juan National Forest
- Areas of Telluride, Ouray, Silverton, and Durango
- This forest does not require a permit if you have less than 75 people in attendance. That being said, it’s always good to double-check and secure permits for your location if needed.
- White River National Forest
- Areas of Glenwood Springs, Aspen and Vail.
- It looks like it's harder to get a permit for this area and ALL "special uses" require written authorization.
- Grand Mesa National Forest
- Areas near Grand Junction, Rifle, and Delta.
- ALL "special uses" require written authorization.
- Gunnison and Uncompahgre National Forest
- Areas of Gunnison, Montrose, and Ridgway
- ALL "special uses" require written authorization.
- Note: The forest service website is combined for Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison (GMUG)
Step 2: Get a Marriage License
Getting a marriage license in Colorado is a super easy process. Fun fact: You can get a marriage license in any county. You DO NOT need to get one in the county you’re getting married in. Check the hours for the County Clerk office you want to go to, see if they take walk-ins or only appointments, fill out the application there, and pay the $30 fee by cash or check. There is no waiting period to use the license but it must be used within 35 days of the date of issue and returned within 63 days after the ceremony.
Pro tip: In Colorado, you can have a self-solemnizing ceremony, meaning you don’t need an officiant or any witnesses present to get married! However, if you’d like to have a witness, there is a section on the license.
Step 3: Hire Vendors
These are some wedding vendors to keep in mind, depending on what aspects of a traditional wedding you want to keep in your personal elopement. Decide what's the most would enhance your special day the most. Envision what you want the event to look like. For example, will everyone be standing or do you need chairs? Will there be an arch behind you as you say your vows?
- Photographer: I may be a bit biased but I would love if you hired me to be your wedding photographer.
- Videographer: Most National Forests don't allow drones to fly unless they have a special permit.
- Officiant: Unless you are having a self-solemnizing ceremony
- Hair and Makeup
- Event Designer/Planner
- Vendor Supplies to Rent: arch, chairs, tables, table cloths, etc.
Step 4: Decide on Your Timeline
Weddings can be stressful and time-consuming to plan. One area that I recommend not skipping is the timeline. You can decide this as you get closer to your day but definitely needs to be completed. It will actually relieve stress because you will have an answer when someone asks you, "When does ____ start? Where do I need to be and when?"
Some factors to take into account when planning your timeline: Are we hiking to the location for our vows? Do I want a first look? What kind of lighting do I want for my ceremony pictures (middle of the day lighting is the harshest and the least flattering)? Are we taking wedding party and family photos after the ceremony? Do I want sunset photos of my significant other and I? Are we doing any first dances? Are we doing any cake cutting/sweet treats/drinks to celebrate?
- Getting Ready (30 minutes - 2 hours depending on hair and makeup)
- Travel to ceremony location
- First Look (20 minutes, give yourself time to get both parties there at the correct time)
- Ceremony (10-60 minutes, although most are about 20 minutes)
- Family, friends, bride and groom photos (up to 1 hour, depending on the number of people)
- Cheers or have a sweet treat to celebrate
- Any other activities that are special to you and your significant other
Tips for Eloping in a Colorado National Forest
#1: Rent a four-wheel drive vehicle for off-roading. A lot of these areas have numerous rugged roads. If you’re looking for an adventure or locations that are off-the-beaten-path, a 4×4 is a must.
#2: Don’t get sick. Altitude sickness is a real thing. Make sure you drink a lot of water and stop by an outdoor store for Salt Stick. I always carry these with me when I'm hiking or traveling to higher elevations that I live.
#3: There’s limited cell service. Downloading maps offline is always a good idea, especially if you’re choosing a location deep within the mountains. If you're hiking in a new area, always tell a friend or family member where you'll be and what time they should expect you to check back in with them. Take this time to reconnect and enjoy the lack of service.
What season to Elope in?
- Spring: Some wildflowers may be popping up in the lower elevations and there may be snow in the higher elevations. This is a great time to visit if you want to avoid the crowds, but the weather can be unpredictable.
- Summer: Wildflowers, turquoise lakes, and cooler temps in the higher elevations. However, be prepared for crowded trailheads, as this is the most popular time of year for the hiking and camping. You can access most of the mountain peaks.
- Fall: The temperatures are a little cooler, the leaves are changing colors, the summer crowds have dispersed. You may see an early snowfall or still have some summer weather.
- Winter: You won’t be able to access any of the mountain peaks but the winter season is perfect if you're longing for that winter wonderland wedding. However, due to many popular ski resorts, prices tend to be higher in those areas and crowds are quite larger.