Rocky Mountain National Park Elopements
Rocky Mountain National Park elopements are my favorite! I have lived just outside of Rocky Mountain National Park for over ten years now and I use all of my free time to explore this beautiful place and I still just can’t get enough! RMNP has so many amazing backdrops for couples looking to elope in Colorado. From alpine vistas to quiet rivers and deep woods, rock ledges, open meadows, waterfalls and reflective lakes…Rocky Mountain National Park has it all! The Park is massive (265,751 acres to be exact!), so there are endless locations to choose from for an elopement ceremony and bride&groom photos.
Rules and Regulations for elopements in Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park is also one of the easiest places in Colorado to get married. With over 4 million visitors to the Park each year, they do have a few rules in place to make sure everything runs smoothly. The Park welcomes all couples to enjoy the beautiful area as a beautiful backdrop for their wedding and elopement ceremonies. Here are a few guidelines to follow when eloping in Rocky Mountain National Park.
1) The first thing you need to do is decide on which location you would like to use for your elopement ceremony. Rocky Mountain National Park requires all weddings to take place in one of their approved wedding locations. In years past, couples who were eloping used to be able to take advantage of their “undesignated wilderness” areas and elope on Trail Ridge Road or at various alpine lakes. Unfortunately, this option become too popular and too many people were trampling the tundra for the sake of a good wedding photo so the Park has restricted all undesignated wilderness area weddings. Starting in 2018 RMNP now requires all weddings (including 2 person elopements) to take place in an approved ceremony site. After your ceremony, we can go to other locations, like Trail Ridge Road for bride&groom photos. Here is a link to their approved elopement ceremony sites. You can search for many of these locations in the search box at the top of my website and pull up blog posts of each location.
2) Apply for your wedding permit. All weddings, including elopements inside RMNP require a wedding permit. This permit is issued by RMNP’s management. Once you know the location you would like to elope at, put that location on your permit, along with your desired date and ceremony time. Here is a link to the Rocky Mountain National Park wedding permit. Wedding permits are almost always approved, especially if your group size is reasonable and if your location of choice is not already booked. So far, I have never seen a client’s request for an elopement permit get denied! The Park is usually pretty quick at responding to wedding permits within a week or two.
3) Bring your permit with you on your wedding day. The rangers in RMNP have the right to see your wedding permit if they are in the area so make sure to keep it with you or in the car!
Sprague Lake is one of the most popular (and prettiest!) places to get married in RMNP.
Weather/Seasons in Rocky Mountain National Park
If you decide to elope in RMNP (or just in Colorado!), you have to be willing to invite the weather to be a guest at your wedding 😉 You never quite know what the weather in Colorado is going to do. One minute it’s sunny and 70 degrees and 5 minutes later it is snowing with thunder haha! Weather in the high mountains is highly unpredictable, it snows in July and it’s sunny and warm in February so you have to be up for just about anything!
Rocky Mountain National Park does not have any indoor “backup” locations (does your car count?!) so aside from the shelter of a thick pine tree grove, you are going to be out in the elements. In our most unpredictable months (late September through late May), it’s best to think in terms of layers. Warm leggings under your wedding dress can be a lifesaver! A warm shawl, scarf, jacket or wrap can really help out if chilly weather sets in. Don’t forget an umbrella too! Typically summer and early fall (May-Sept) are warm and mild, but rain can set in at any time so being prepared for rain can help relieve wedding-day stress and help you have all your bases covered.
Personally, I think that crazy weather makes the images unique and beautiful! Anytime I see storm clouds roll in, I get excited because I know the images I’m about to take are going to be really coo. We will certainly take cover if lightning is present but otherwise we’ll be outside taking great photos, come rain or shine!
There’s another season in RMNP that you might not hear much about…it’s called tourist season 😉 Typically from September 15-Octocber 15 the Park’s visitors surge. This happens for 2 reasons. One reason is the beautiful fall colors. The aspen trees begin to turn gold and entire hillsides light up with the changing color. The second reason is the elk. In the fall, elk descend to lower elevations to mate. The elk basically take over a lot of the popular areas in RMNP attracting thousands of photographers and wildlife enthusiasts. Certain areas of Rocky Mountain National Park (usually Upper Beaver Meadows, Moraine Park and occasionally Sprague Lake) become so crowded that there is no parking. This is important to keep in mind if you are planning a wedding with guests who are driving in and will need to find parking spaces. There are other pretty areas in RMNP that are less crowded as easier to navigate in the midst of the fall craziness. If you have questions about this, just email me!
Lighting/Wedding Ceremony Timing
Timing of ceremonies is always an important discussion to have so that you can make the most of your photography time and have the best lighting possible. In the summer months, the sun usually sets in the 7:30-8:30pm range and the best lighting is almost always right around sunset. If possible, I usually advocate for your ceremony to start somewhere in the 5:30-7pm time frame to make sure we have plenty of time to take advantage of the remaining light and possible catch the sunset!
In addition to sunset, sunrise is also a beautiful time for ceremonies. For couples willing to brave the 4am wake-up call, this a wonderful option. Rocky Mountain National Park is never as quiet and calm as it is in the early morning hours. The stillness that settles over the land at dawn is indescribable, it’s one of my favorite times to be in the Park! Can you think of a better way to start your day than by getting married? 🙂
Winter Weddings in Rocky Mountain National Park
Did you know we do almost as many winter weddings in the Park as summer and fall combined?! Winter in RMNP is magic. Hands down, it is one of my favorite times in Rocky Mountain National Park. The crowds have lessened and the entire Park is very peaceful, quiet and covered in thick blankets of snow…a perfect time of year to get married! There is something so unique about snowy wedding photos – the white snow makes everything else just pop and stand out beautifully. Braving the winter elements together is such an adventurous way to start your married life!
Be prepared to be cold, but to also to be blown away by the winter-white beauty that surrounds you. It just doesn’t get any better than winter weddings in RMNP! If you choose to have a winter wedding in RMNP, you should definitely prepare for some crazy weather! It can be sunny and 50 degrees in Estes Park, and snowing in RMNP. I have photographed at least 7 elopements here in complete white-out blizzards where you can barely see 10 feet in front of you. It’s smart to be prepared for cold temperatures – warm leggings, blanket scarves, faux fur wraps, hand warmers, hot cocoa – anything you can do to stay warm will help!
Intimate Weddings in Rocky Mountain National Park
Thinking about bringing a few close friends and family members with you? Perfect! There are a few locations within RMNP that are ideal because there are ample parking lots, restrooms nearby and easy walking paths readily available to help make things easier on your guests. Rocky Mountain National Park allows weddings with up to 100 guests, although they do limit the locations you can go to with a large amount of guests. Make sure to double check the RMNP’s wedding location list because they will tell you how many guests are allowed at each location and how many cars you are allowed to have.
For intimate weddings in Rocky Mountain National Park with more than 15 guests, I think that Copeland Lake, Lily Lake and Upper Beaver Meadows work the best because of parking availability, restrooms and ease of access. If you’re having less than 15 people, Sprague Lake is perfect and 3M works beautifully if you don’t mind not having a restroom nearby.
The Town of Estes Park
One of the best things about eloping in Rocky Mountain National Park is being able to stay in Estes Park! Estes Park is one of the quaintest, cutest little mountain towns in all of Colorado. It has lots of shopping on Main St., several distilleries, wineries and breweries to visit, tons of great restaurants (The Dunraven Inn and Twin Owls Steakhouse are my 2 favs!) and plenty to see and do. The Historic Stanley Hotel is a centerpiece in Estes Park for its history (which may or may not be haunted, depending on who you talk to) and it’s role in Stephen King’s The Shining.
The Big Thompson River and Fall River run through town, so many cabins and condos have beautiful river-front access which makes for the most relaxing stay! Lake Estes has a huge walking trail that goes all the way around it and in the summer you can rent boats and take fly fishing lessons. Of course, the most attractive feature about Estes Park is that it’s just minutes from the entrance to RMNP and hundreds of miles of hiking trails. Estes Park makes the best basecamp for RMNP weddings!
Hopefully some of this information will allow you to gain insight about locations, ideas and logistics for eloping in RMNP! If you ever have any questions about Rocky Mountain National park, don’t hesitate to reach out, I’m always happy to help! 🙂
If you’d like to learn more about my pricing and photography services, just click here. For a list of other beautiful elopement locations within Colorado, click here. You can also always email me with any questions! Becky@beckyyoungphotography.com