National Park Wedding Guide

In this day and age, weddings are no longer one-size fits all. Where couples once chose between a church or the courthouse, today almost any space can double as a wedding venue. Libraries, estates, art galleries, and museums are hosting more ceremonies than ever. But what if none of these areas fits your aesthetic? Take things into the great outdoors!

In 2016, the National Park Service marks its 100th birthday, commemorating a century of preserving the natural beauty of more than 50 national parks across the country. Each national park offers its own splendor, from rushing rivers, to majestic mountains, to stunning vistas. If you and your fiancé/fiancée are even the slightest bit outdoorsy, or are interested in a relatively low-cost wedding venue, consider holding your ceremony, reception, photos, and more in one of America’s national parks.

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First Step

First, pick your park! Find a national park nearby through a quick web search. Do you have some geographic flexibility but love natural rock formations or towering greenery? Think about a park like Badlands National Park in South Dakota or Redwood National Park in Northern California.

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Determine What You Want to Do

Next, think about which parts of your wedding will take place in the park. Your ceremony, reception, photos, and other wedding activities may require different settings and/or different amenities. A sit-down reception dinner, for example, may require a full kitchen, while a catered buffet would complement a more rustic atmosphere.

Next, what do you want your celebration to look like? An outdoor ceremony followed by an evening reception in a nearby lodge? A starlit dance area with picnic tables? These decisions will affect your planning as well. Some parks have strict fee structures, hours of operation, noise regulations, and restrictions on what can be brought into the area.

Once you have an idea of how you would like your outdoor wedding to be structured, get in touch with Park Service officials to determine if your dream can become a reality. Some parks don’t allow any external vendors, for example. Others don’t issue large group permits during their busiest, summer, months.

Time of Year

Consider visiting at the time of year, and day, of your event. Knowing what the humidity in Yellowstone really feels like in August might inform your decision. In addition, knowing where the sun will be falling at the time of your ceremony will help you structure your bridal party, and keep your bridesmaids from squinting through your vows.

You will also get a chance to scope out the surrounding area for potential issues. If you’re planning to get married near a lake, for example, consider the number of tourists who will be visiting as well. The last thing you want is your ceremony drowned out by a beach volleyball game. Thorough research and a park visit or two will ensure you don’t hit any planning snags after you’ve decided on a national park venue.

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Permits

Before you move forward, make sure to apply for any necessary permits. Even if you are holding only your ceremony in the park, you will need a permit to gather. A reception facility will require its own permit, as will any vendors working your event. Any guests staying overnight in the park will require campsite reservations and/or vehicle fees. Even those guests attending for a short while will be required to pay day-use or parking fees. Make sure to communicate this to your guests.

The Execution

Now that you’ve decided and thought through most of the administrative logistics, make sure you consider how your wedding will be executed. Unlike traditional venues like religious sites or hotel ballrooms, national parks will have particular regulations for caterers, audiovisual providers, and rental companies.

Make sure you select vendors with experience in outdoor events. Similarly, national parks will not come equipped with venue staff to help with set up, execution, or tear down of your event. Be prepared either to hire your own staff, or to enlist your cadre of relatives to take care of details like laying the aisle runner, moving chairs, or arranging florals.

Finally, unless your event is partially indoors, seriously consider renting mobile restrooms for your guests. Nice trailers run a few hundred dollars for a night, but can make a considerable difference in the quality of your guests’ experience.

Final Thoughts

The variety of our national parks ensures you will have dozens of different options for the outdoor wedding of your dreams. With just a bit of extra work, you can plan a fantastic fete under the stars. You will want to consider things like location, aesthetic, permits and regulations, and execution, just as you plan your colors, favors, vows, and bridal party.

Be sure to ask as many questions as you can, and cover as many details as you can with representatives of the National Park Service, your event vendors, and, of course, your family and fiancé/fiancée. Sifting through every aspect of your fete, from the dresses, to the sun’s location, to the reception music, will help you create a wedding to remember!

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