Join me for all the details about our Rocky Mountain National Park elopement. From planning it all to living in the moment on the day of our wedding, I have so much to tell…
We were surrounded by pine trees on all sides, snow nearly knee deep. We waded through, being careful when we occasionally hit ice in shallow spots.
The sun had begun to rise behind the mountains and we were alone, just him and I.
Even with the bitter wind nipping at our ears and cheeks, we were still the happiest two people in the world. That was the moment we eloped in Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s a moment I’ll never forget.
If you’re wondering how to go about your own elopement in The Rockies, or simply just curious, I’m going to let you in on a few secrets about our elopement…
How we eloped
My husband and I have always been adventurous, each in our own way. Our elopement wins the most pivotal of all the adventures, though.
We didn’t exactly hike miles and miles to get to our destination, winter being very much alive at 10,000 feet high. However, many elopers who marry within the parks will hike quite a distance to get the perfect photos.
The wild weather and our common sense prevented that from happening on our day in late March.
We opted for a more accessible spot to say our vows on this very cold, snowy, and icy morning. Alone, in the wee hours of the day, we self solemnized our marriage around 7:00 a.m.
We had exactly as much privacy as we wanted, and looking back I don’t think either of us would have chosen to have it any other way.
Why we eloped in the mountains
First of all, we both wanted something more intimate and on the smaller side.
We both dislike being the center of attention and the thought of standing up in front of anyone else to confess our deepest feelings for one another was mortifying.
If you’re an introvert, you know exactly what I’m talking about. I know if I had gone the traditional route, I would’ve been miserable. Standing in front of a group of people—even those we know and love—for a ceremony and then for several hours after did not sound enjoyable.
My anxiety wouldn’t have allowed me to enjoy myself and have fun. It’s just not my thing.
Additionally, I’m not exactly what you’d call a traditional gal. I tend to do things my own way. I knew I wouldn’t be doing a white dress with a big, gaudy train, the stereotypical white roses everywhere, in a small town church. That just isn’t me.
I’d often traveled to the mountains in the past and since my husband had been itching to visit, too, we decided to go for it.
I dreamed of an outdoor wedding with a view. A beautiful, understated green dress, and my husband—that’s all I wanted or needed. Plus, I am extremely detail-oriented, and if I had planned an entire wedding I would’ve driven myself and my family nuts.
I’m the Type A person who plans everything and worries about the smallest details. I wouldn’t have wanted help (sometimes it’s just easier to do it yourself). And I would’ve stressed about the big crowd of people, too.
Stubborn me wouldn’t have accepted unsolicited advice about what I should wear, how to decorate, who to invite, or where to host it. Eloping solved this issue for us.
Then there’s the bonus of saving a ton of money. Sure, we still had to pay for a cabin, car rental, and food. I still had to pay for a dress and the location—more on the permit in a few—but the costs were substantially less.
Even if I had DIYed everything and kept things simple, a small wedding still would’ve cost more money.
We were determined to pay for the wedding ourselves, so eloping was the perfect way to be able to do this. All of that and being in the midst of a pandemic kind of made it a no-brainer.
All the Details of our RMNP Elopement
Permit to elope in Rocky Mountain National Park
First of all, you’ll need to secure a permit.
As of right now, Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) only allows up to 250 weddings to occur each year. In 2021, these slots were full by January 26, 2021. They go fast.
You’ll have to fill out an application and pay a nonrefundable fee of $300 in order to be wed there.
There are also some important rules you’ll have to follow that are listed in the contract you sign. For example, no music, decorations, or chair set-ups are allowed on National Park grounds. This is truly meant to be a rustic, no-frills ceremony. It’s the public’s duty to leave no trace and to leave as much as possible left undisturbed, including wildlife and their habitat.
You’ll have to list the exact location and time you plan on marrying in the application, as all spots are limited to no more than two ceremonies per day (six total ceremonies allowed per location per year).
Additionally, weddings can only take place at the designated location, though photography is allowed anywhere around the park. Don’t be afraid to explore to get all the perfect pictures.
Locations in Rocky Mountain National Park
At RMNP there are only 12 locations to pick from to be wed at. Unfortunately, you cannot just pick anywhere in the park to get married.
Traffic can be high in certain areas, and to limit interruptions and reduce traffic clusters there are designated areas to be married. That being said, the area you choose to be married at is not exclusively for weddings, meaning that if a family of hikers just so happens to be near your area during your nuptials, there is no way you can prevent them from passing by or staying around. A National Park allows the public to have access to the entire park.
Also, be mindful that parking lots often start filling up by 7:00 a.m. on weekends and holidays. Be wise and pick an early or late time to have your wedding.
Right now RMNP has a limit on how many people can be in attendance of the wedding, too. 30 people total, including the bride and groom, photographer(s), and officiant. Whether it is just you and your partner or a group of your 20 closest friends and family members, make sure to read all the fine print.
Park Pass to elope in Rocky Mountain National Park
In addition, we had to purchase park entrance passes. The permit is to reserve a specific wedding location, but you still need to pay to visit the park in general. Passes can be bought online, which I recommend doing ahead of time.
During busy months, some parks also require a timed entry permit and limit how full the parks get. This is because of the high traffic during certain times of year. Passes cost $25 for a single day and $35 for a 7-day pass and the timed-entry reservation (if required) is free. We decided to pay for a weeklong pass that would allow us in and out as much as we wanted during our stay, which proved to be necessary. We took photos over multiple days and locations in the park.
Marriage license to elope in Rocky Mountain National Park
Next you’ll need to apply for a marriage license in the county, which is Larimer County for the Rocky Mountains. You can fill out an application for the Larimer County Recording Office online and make an appointment, so you won’t have to wait.
Be aware that there are several locations of recording offices in Larimer County. Be sure to select the correct one when making an appointment. The application is short, and once we arrived at our appointment we were in and out within 15 minutes.
Bring an acceptable form of I.D. (listed on their website) and pay the fee while you’re there. The cost was $30. The license is good for 35 days, so don’t worry about getting it super early or making a special trip out to pick it up. Also, after you have your ceremony you will have 63 days to return it to the recording office for everything to be finalized. This is a step you cannot forget.
The certificate will be mailed to you after it’s finalized, and you can request any other extra copies for a modest fee by calling their office.
An Important Step
One really important note I want to make is that when we applied, the application did not ask me what my married name would be, only my maiden name. When we went to our appointment to get our license the day before our wedding, they never once asked me about listing my new married name and I never thought to ask.
In some states, both the maiden name and married name are listed on the marriage license and this is your proof of a name change. However, because Larimer County apparently does things a little differently, once we returned to our home state, Missouri, we had to go through the court to legally change my name. This was a pain.
I don’t want to scare anyone because honestly it wasn’t a terribly complicated process, but it did cost around $200 to legally change my name through the court system. It took weeks for my name change to become legal, and I also had to go in person, in front of a judge, to explain why I wanted to change my name.
That added one more big step to a series of events already necessary to change my name on everything.
I’d recommend calling the recording office and asking them beforehand if it’s possible to add your married name to the license. I am unsure what other counties in Colorado do, but if you’re getting married in RMNP you’ll need a license through Larimer County’s recording office and you will want a clear answer before you have to go through the extra steps like I did.
It was a hassle, but worth it in the end!
One great thing about getting married in Colorado is that witnesses are not required in order for a marriage to be legal. You could marry yourselves like we did, or you can choose to have an officiant present to marry you.
If you prefer an officiant, be sure to arrange this well in advance of wedding season since Colorado has become a busy place to wed these last few years. There are more and more people wanting to elope in Rocky Mountain National Park.
I knew before we were engaged that I wanted to elope, and I knew my wedding dress would be nontraditional, too.
I didn’t want to spend a ridiculous amount on my dress, so I found my dress on a website that is actually known more for bridesmaid and everyday dresses.
They had plenty of formal dresses to choose from, even many in white for those of you wondering. I did this so I didn’t have to pay the extra cost that accompanies the “wedding dress” label.
I bought my dress online for $82 and it fit perfectly.
Side note: I always think it’s interesting that the wedding industry encourages companies to automatically upcharge everything once it becomes specifically for a wedding. If you want to save money, don’t mention it’s for a wedding. Need a wedding dress? Search online under formalwear. Getting your hair professionally done? Say it’s for a work event. Trust me, extra costs are always tacked on if they know it’s for a wedding, whether it’s for a service or a product.
My dress was long, elegant, and simple.
It perfectly hugged my curves with a flattering A-line shape and a cinched waist, a low (but unrevealing) neckline, and its light-as-a-feather fabric. Besides, it was in my favorite hunter green color.
I also loved that it was long-sleeved since I knew it would be cold out. I personally prefer understated gowns that are timeless rather than ones that are trendy at the moment.
I’m confident I made the right decision. I knew it was “the one” the moment I found it.
Plus, the shawl
Then I ordered a Scottish-made tartan shawl to keep me slightly warmer for some photos. I knew we’d be outside for a while.
I have Scottish ancestry and wanted to pay homage to my deceased grandmother’s side. This authentic, made-to-order Clan Hunter tartan did the trick. It was actually more expensive than the dress, believe it or not.
It meant so much to me to have this incorporated into my wedding attire. If I had closed my eyes long enough, I could hear the bagpipes wailing in the distance, highland echoes and all.
I knew I needed to wear shoes since we’d be outside, but more importantly they needed to be functional. The higher elevation meant more snow and colder temperatures. I decided on these snow boots. They kept me warm and dry on our quest.
Be sure, whatever you choose to wear, it is practical for an outdoor wedding.
Groom’s attire to elope in Rocky Mountain National Park
My husband knew he needed to look decent for our elopement, but he also knew he needed to be comfortable. Although we didn’t hike far, we did hike through snow and ice and needed to have a practical approach.
Comfort was important, so we decided he didn’t need to go full on tuxedo. We thought he’d look handsome in slacks, a button-up shirt, and vest. He did look handsome, and I’m so happy with how well his attire complemented mine. He looked all dressed up without all the stuffiness and discomfort.
I was dead set on having real flowers for our elopement ceremony. I knew I wanted eucalyptus as a filler and an overall look that bordered on rustic and bohemian. Plus, I had always dreamt of calla lilies being in the center of my bouquet.
In my mind I thought I could just stop in at a Trader Joe’s in a nearby town. For those of you that don’t know, they carry the most gorgeous flowers for really cheap. I figured I could make my own bouquet with similar flowers and be good to go. Not so much. The closest Trader Joe’s was over an hour away, in Boulder, and I was not willing to go that far for a fresh bouquet of flowers.
Then I thought, heck, it’s a once in a lifetime event and I should treat myself. So I reached out to a florist in Estes Park, where we were staying.
I assumed from the website it was a quaint mom and pop shop that would really work with me at a reasonable price. No harm in checking, right?
After explaining my situation about being from out of town and eloping soon, I received a response from their wedding specialist. She said that they had 3-4 bouquets to choose from and gave a quote with a starting price of $130.
Now, I will say I’m frugal and probably had an unrealistic idea on the cost of a bouquet, but this seemed steep.
Additionally, this florist shop wasn’t open on the day I needed the bouquet, which was the day before our early morning ceremony.
With Estes Park not having many options, I kind of gave up hope. I decided not to waste time on contacting the other shops. To hell with those costs, I thought.
I once had a florist tell me that flowers sell for so much even though they’re super cheap to grow. She hinted about at how much of a scam they are to buy for special occasions.
Well, obviously we pay for the convenience and the arrangement. At those prices, I felt I was better off creating my own bouquet with some faux flowers from Michael’s craft store.
I picked out exactly what I wanted and luckily they happened to all be on sale that day. I walked away spending $18 on all the flowers and spent maybe 15 minutes making my bouquet. It worked out perfectly because since our elopement photography spanned several days and locations, during wild weather, the faux flowers were the best bet. It was the most practical way to do it.
If you’ll be in extreme temperatures, definitely use faux flowers.
Hair & make-up
You guessed it. I did my hair and make-up myself.
Again, we were limited by the small town of Estes Park. I felt like it would be too much trouble arranging a hair and make-up stylist, so I did that myself too. I’m not exactly a cosmoholic and prefer a natural look anyway, so styling myself worked out just fine.
I curled my hair, put on some make-up I use on special occasions, and off I went.
I’m glad I chose this route because not only did we save money, but that professional hairstyling and make-up would not have lasted me over the three days we took wedding photos. I’m pretty low maintenance when it comes to beauty stuff. I just used what I already had and worked with that.
This one is going to be controversial to a lot of people: We didn’t pay for photography.
That’s not to say that photographers aren’t worth the money because most of them are. If you know me at all, I like to take risks and “go rogue,” as they say. Being a creative with my own specific vision, enough time on my hands to learn about taking wedding shots, and basic skills and experience with photo editing, we both decided taking our own photos would be the best and most cost-effective way to capture our special moments.
We got hundreds and hundreds of pictures ourselves. All with the help of a tripod with remote and some special lenses for my iPhone. We went to numerous locations over the course of three days and captured everything we wanted. Scenic views and us madly in love, adventuring in our most natural state.
We wanted it to be completely organic and unstaged and that’s exactly what we got.
They’re far from perfect, but they’re perfect for us. For taking our own photos for the very first time, in extreme weather, we didn’t do too bad at all.
I would recommend getting weights for the tripod, though, if any of you are brave enough to try this yourself.
Some of our favorite pictures were a bit grainy and blurry due to the high winds. This made it hard for the camera to stay still and focus. That was unfortunate, but I still don’t regret it.
They still turned out okay, considering we are amateur. We even still get comments about how clear some of the photos are for being done on an iPhone. People are always exclaiming how gorgeous it was and how much they love our one-of-a-kind wedding photos in the snow-capped mountains of RMNP.
Let’s just put it this way. The shots were amazing, but the quality wasn’t the most top notch. We worked with the budget we had, though…
Elopement photographers are aplenty in scenic Colorado. However, all the ones who had my style, who would explore with us for the entire weekend, and create art—not just wedding pictures—were crazy expensive.
We just weren’t willing to spend a minimum of a couple thousand dollars. Again, it’s not that I think photographers shouldn’t be paid. They absolutely deserve to be paid for all their hard work… but by people who can afford to drop thousands of dollars. Which unfortunately was not us at this time.
I get that people worry about everything looking professional. But I sometimes wonder if people are too concerned with their image and social status. Keeping up with the Joneses. So they end up paying top dollar for everything wedding oriented as a way to show off.
We’re more practically minded—but to each their own.
Maybe some people can find affordable photographers, but that just wasn’t the case for us. Not when it comes to elopement photographers, at least not in the RMNP area. There’s a lot involved on the photographer’s end which means higher costs. We did what was best for us.
Dinner, drinks, cake
Of course we still celebrated with a nice dinner and drinks afterward! We visited the most-recommended restaurant in town, Bird and Jim. After a hearty meal, a whisk(e)y flight, and a couple other cocktails, we were content.
It was a relaxed, modern environment, but one of the classier dining places in town. They even had vegetarian options for me—it was delicious.
We didn’t get our cake until the day after, as a spur-of-the-moment thing. Initially, I wanted a local bakery to make us a small, simple wedding cake. I quickly changed my mind after not wanting to deal with all the details.
Can you tell I’m all about the low-stress lifestyle?
We wandered inside a Safeway just a couple of miles from the cabin and found our cake. A huge slice of red velvet cake and a heavenly piece of cheesecake in the bakery. We devoured them together later that evening.
I love that we got to enjoy two desserts for our wedding without all the fuss. We seriously just lounged around the cabin scarfing down cake that afternoon, still in all our honeymoon bliss, with not a care in the world.
One thing about eloping is you still need to work out travel details. We knew we wanted a private cabin, and we found a newly renovated one with excellent ratings just minutes outside of RMNP.
It was so practical because it made us that much closer to our wedding destination for the day of. We were also in an area that felt private, but we were only a couple minutes from town which was so convenient.
If you don’t want to add mileage to your car or don’t have one, you’ll need to look into car rentals. Even if you’re flying there, you’ll need a car to seamlessly get around in once you’re there.
One thing I learned is that you should book a car as far in advance as possible. I remember when I was checking prices from different companies I found one that was around $350 for a week, but since we were still working out other details I ended up waiting a few more weeks to book it. By the time I did, the cost went up to $500 for the week. And that was with a discount I had from my employer. Timing makes all the difference.
Just be sure to check beforehand if you’ll be passing through any tollways and whether or not a toll pass is included in your car rental. Better to know ahead of time, so you don’t pay for tolls as you’re passing and then get charged again for the pass you knew nothing about a week or two after returning.
Of course this is more of an afterthought, but it was an important way to commemorate our special day in a tangible way.
By the time we got around to thinking about wedding albums it was so close to Mother’s Day, so we ended up gifting both our moms a small wedding album. It included our favorite pictures since they weren’t there in person to see us married. I’d recommend doing this for parents anyway. It’ll go a long way in showing you care and that you aren’t trying to deprive anyone of seeing their child get married. (We all know how moms can get.)
For our personal wedding album, we selected a larger-sized album with more pages. I also added more photos overall, enlarging them on each page, too. The album cover is made of linen and has a sophisticated, polished look that is easy to display in most rooms.
Telling our families our idea to elope in Rocky Mountain National Park
Yes, we decided to tell our immediate family members before eloping. I think most would agree that it’s only right to at least tell your parents before getting married. We didn’t tell any friends or acquaintances because we wanted to avoid being bombarded with questions or any possible disappointments, so we surprised people afterward and they were all very accepting of it.
The after party
Although we didn’t organize a traditional wedding ceremony and reception, we did decide to throw a small wedding celebration in our home a couple weeks after our return from the Rockies.
We invited less than 20 of our closest family members, provided wine and hors d’oeuvres, showed a homemade slideshow of our self-made elopement photography, and played one single cheesy wedding game.
It was casual and fun for our guests, and with everyone having relatively low expectations it took away a lot of the stress of throwing a party.
You can get as creative or as casual as you want with this if you wish to have one. We were happy to host it ourselves, but we made sure when we sent invitations to mention gifts were not necessary. After all, they didn’t get to attend a ceremony, and we had already been living together for almost a year. We didn’t need much and didn’t expect much. This took even more pressure off of everyone.
We were able to have a low-key, intimate wedding and make it about us and our marriage instead of everyone else.
Some may call it selfish but I do believe a marriage involves the two of us. In my opinion, this was the time to be selfish.
We were beginning our journey together, evolving from couple to life partners, legally and spiritually bound, and wanted to start this milestone as it was meant to be.
We were also less stressed and got to enjoy our week-long honeymoon elopement in the mountains without worrying about any extra details that accompany weddings.
Our day was perfect and we have no regrets.
Hopefully this makes it easier for you if you’ve decided you want to elope in Rocky Mountain National Park.