If you fell in love somewhere between a sunrise hike on a smoky mountain and hot dogs under the stars, you might already be considering saying “I do” to an outdoor wedding. After all, what could be more romantic than sweeping mountain vistas, blossoming meadows, and majestic forest clearings?
There’s a wealth of stunning traditional outdoor wedding venues available for couples, but some of these can venture into pricey terrain—and that’s before you tack on the extra costs that come with rentals and decor for the perfect place.
But, there’s another option, or rather 63 options, for adventurous engaged couples looking for star-studded ceremonies—national parks—and they’re worth checking out if you’re a spouse-to-be who’s already itching to swap your slacks for cargo pants.
In this quick guide, we’ll tackle:
Canyons dappled with sunset hues. Granite rock formations jutting into the clear blue sky. Glacier lakes. Wildflowers. Massive, mossy trees that have stood the test of time. There’s a reason why national parks draw in scores of visitors each year—327 million alone in 2019.
Painted in different shades of natural wonder, the national parks showcase the geographic diversity of our sprawling, shifting country. And, with 63 designations across 29 states, these protected public spaces (with affordable entrance fees) make accessible destinations for many Americans.
The best news for couples is that the same things that make national parks stand out as ideal vacation spots make them a remarkable wedding location, too.
So, even if Teddy Roosevelt wasn’t thinking “destination-wedding-vibes without destination-wedding-costs” when he expanded the National Park Service, outdoorsy lovebirds everywhere can thank him as they take in the splendor on their special days.
Here are our favorites, from sea to shining sea.
Nestled in the Sierra Madre Mountains, Yosemite National Park offers countless stunning backdrops for National Geographic-worthy wedding photos (all the better to capture in our keepsake wedding albums).
If you’re seeking some wow factor for your vows, Yosemite delivers drama in spades. From Half Dome and El Capitan’s striking granite faces to, yes, Bridalveil Fall’s eponymous column of rushing white water, the northern California location brags a range of majestic vistas certain to inspire all kinds of grand thinking.
In Yosemite’s lush meadows, sunlit granite cliffs, and hallowed river canyons, you might start to think about marriage as an awe-inspiring feat (like summiting El Capitan): a commitment, propelled by love and trust, toward something larger than the self.
After all, as John Muir wrote, “No temple made with human hands can compete with Yosemite.”
Yosemite provides a range of accommodation offerings and experiences sure to please your crew—whether they fancy themselves as rustic or refined. However, if you decide to plan your celebration in Yosemite, keep a few things in mind:
Permits – You will need to prepare for your wedding by paying a visit to the National Park Service (NPS) website. All celebrations require special use permits ($150) and larger ceremonies may also need to pay for an event monitor.
Weather – It’s best to shoot for the summer or early autumn when all of the roads are open, and before any snow or inclement weather strikes the park.
Guest list – When researching nearby accommodations or campsites, consider whom you’ll be inviting. How many friends and family members will be in attendance? Are you celebrating with a handful of wedding guests from your climbing gym? Are you expecting elderly relatives? Then, plan accordingly.
Accommodations – One of the reasons why this park is so popular is that it has tons of options by way of lodging and dining. So, if you’re nature lovers and people pleasers, think of Yosemite as a safe, relatively easy bet.
Tip: Yosemite is popular (for good reason), so accommodations tend to book up quickly. That being said, start making the arrangements for your and your guests’ stay at least one year in advance, and send out RSVPs ASAP. (Zola can help manage your guest list so that you can spend more time breaking in your hiking boots and less time tracking down mailing addresses.)
With a large handful of options for ceremony spots, it’s a wise idea to take stock of what you’re looking for in your “I dos”—intimate and immersed in nature, or aided by the amenities of the park’s hotels or chapels?
Here are some popular places to celebrate your wedding day in Yosemite:
Yosemite’s historic in-park hotels combine gorgeous scenery and flexibility for larger groups. Take the elegant Ahwahnee Hotel (beloved by royalty and presidents), which can host 150 celebrants on its iconic wedding lawn. Or, the Victorian Wawona Hotel, which welcomes 85 guests on its grand wraparound porch. Or, finally, the Yosemite Valley Lodge, which offers two banquet halls and wide patios where 150 loved ones can listen to the tranquil ramblings of the Merced River.
Unlike ceremonies in the park’s public places, hotel celebrations at Yosemite come with planning professionals dedicated to making sure that your special day goes off without a hitch—and, as with traditional venues, there are subsequent costs for these spaces and services.
Glacier Point’s amphitheater accommodates 50 guests, making it a comfortable and unforgettable place for mid-size celebrations.
Taft Point – The best way to beat day-of jitters is getting married first thing. Take the seven-and-a-half-mile hike to Taft Point (known for its wildlife and valley views) before sunrise and revel in the privacy of an early-morning ceremony. Who wouldn’t want a baby bobcat as a witness?
Hiking trails, forest, and cliffs – If “intimate” and “off-the-beaten-path” are scrawled across your vision board, we have good news: You and your beloved can get married almost anywhere within Yosemite—as long as you have fewer than 11 guests, pay for a permit, and avoid highly sensitive environments.
With a name that means “kingdom of heaven,” Utah’s Zion National Park has a lot to live up to. But one look at its sandstone canyon walls and you’ll know it’s worth the hype.
Between red cliffs, turquoise skies, and the winding Virgin River, Zion tenders some of the country’s most breathtaking views. The desert landscape—made stark by the interplay of shadow and light, stone and water—lends to reverie and romance.
It also lends to old-fashioned fun. As an all-natural amusement park of sorts, it's the perfect wedding location if you don’t want to wait for your honeymoon to go on an epic hike or enjoy beautiful water features.
As with all national park nuptials, there are certain things to consider when planning a wedding in Zion, including:
Permits – To have your wedding at Zion, you must apply for a permit via the NPS website at least three weeks before your ceremony, complete with a fee of $100.
Crowds – You’ll also want to be mindful of other visitors and forecasts. A popular vacation destination, Zion draws scores of tourists during peak summer months. So, if you’re looking to embrace the silence of this majestic park, July and August might be off the table.
Weather – Skipping peak season might be for the best. After all, summer can bring triple-digit temperatures to Zion. Look instead to late spring or early fall when days cool down, but wintry weather is unlikely. Autumn, especially, delights with thinned-out crowds and the stunning sight of changing foliage against the red rocks.
Party size – Finally, consider your celebration. Zion’s landscape is ancient and unique, and with that comes strict regulations. Many of Zion’s venues place firm caps on capacity and rules about what you can and cannot bring with you to set up your ceremony. So, if you’re planning a larger wedding, or anticipate that you’ll need to use personal vehicles or sound amplification, you might be better off looking at one of the nearby hotels or lodges that surround the park.
You’re looking to hold a small, intimate wedding ceremony in a tranquil setting, and you have decided that a serene national park wedding at Zion is right for you. But, which of Zion’s five wedding-approved locations should you pick?
It all depends on your vibe and how many loved ones you have invited to join.
Here’s a rundown of the striking, celebration-worthy spots to help you decide your destination:
If that sounds fine, ideal actually, you will be rewarded by the babbling aria of the river as you hike to a clearing with a small wooden deck from which you can take in the glory of the waterfall as you say your vows.
Temple of Sinawava – Tucked deep into Zion’s main canyon, this private-feeling clearing can hold up to 35 guests. With towering cliffs set in the background, this majestic location packs a punch for portraits.
Nature Center North Lawn – Looking to celebrate the landscape without risking a sprained ankle? Check out the Nature Center North Lawn, with striking mountain views, which has room for 50 of your loved ones on its relatively flat, grassy expanse.
Zion Lodge Lawn – For mid-size weddings, the Zion Lodge Lawn can accommodate up to 75 friends and family members. Located at Zion’s only in-park lodging option, this setting offers convenience and accessibility in spades, and also sentimentality. It is traditional for couples to marry under the cottonwood tree at the front of the lodge.
South Campground Amphitheater – Zion’s largest wedding spot has built-in benches, so you won’t have to worry about renting seating for your celebration of up to 100 guests. Guests will drink in Zion’s stunning vistas, as you exchange your “I dos.”
If your idea of romance is a rugged coastline or a mossy forest or a wildflower meadow or a temperate jungle, Washington’s Olympic National Park might be the place for you.
Located across the Puget Sound from Seattle, Olympic National Park is home to three distinct ecosystems. Such geographically diverse terrain means that you actually can have that beach-forest-mountain wedding.
Nature lovers, Olympic National Park is your oyster (and not just because of the world-class West Coast oysters at the Hama Hama Oyster Saloon). Whether you opt for a ceremony on the Pacific Coast or under a canopy of cedars, you’re destined for a dreamy day.
When planning your northwest nuptials, there are a few things you should keep in mind, including:
Permits – Note that special use permits are required for weddings of all sizes in Olympic National Park. They’ll set you back a modest $50 and will require three to four weeks for processing.
Seasonal weather – The diverse landscape serves thrills year-round and guarantees flexibility—even if it’s raining in one location on a certain day, it might be sunny in another. But, we recommend shooting for a date in spring, summer, or fall to optimize for good weather and lodging options.
When it comes to lodging, there are a couple of standout stays that can serve as a magical woodland backdrop to your ceremony, and everything leading up to it:
Lake Crescent Lodge – Open from April to November and surrounded by hemlock and fir trees, this cozy, lakeside hotel offers turn-of-the-century charm and modern amenities. Its stone fireplace is one of the most romantic places imaginable to snuggle up with your SO after a long day of playing explorer.
Lake Quinault Lodge – With a verdant green lawn studded with pairs of Adirondack chairs and sloping into Lake Quinault, this hotel is another setting steeped in rustic romance. As a bonus, it’s open all year, so you can warm up by its roaring fireplace after your winter wedding.
With so much lush landscape, it can be difficult to land on one location in Olympic National Park to have your wedding. To help you decide where to say “I do,” here’s a rundown of your options:
Hurricane Ridge – Don’t be intimidated by the name! Hurricane Ridge is accessible by car and easy to get to, but that doesn’t mean that you’ll be sacrificing views. At 5,254 feet of elevation, this is where you should have your ceremony if the idea of snow-capped mountain peaks in the distance sounds like peak wedded bliss.
Hoh Rain Forest – Make your walk down the aisle as Pacific Northwest as possible in this lush terrain that’s blanketed in moss and ferns. The Hoh Rain Forest has a campground that is open year-round, plus countless magical trails that culminate in strikingly green meadows and waterfalls. Forget decor and pricey rentals, as the stunning forest provides enough for you and your guests to admire. For the price of a permit fee, you can forge an unforgettable, secluded, and deeply intimate day here.
Ruby Beach – If your national park wedding calls for bald eagles, Ruby Beach is your destination. Thanks to its hoards of wildlife, rock formations, and legions of driftwood, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it might not be readily accessible. Don’t worry, Ruby Beach can be reached easily by car, so the only thing moody at your wedding is the landscape.
Across the coast, Shenandoah National Park brags magnificent waterfalls and hiking trails. With fall and spring come dazzling visuals—fiery foliage and azalea blooms, respectively—and visitors who have come to admire the scenery via the scenic Skyline Drive, which winds through the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Just 75 miles from Washington DC, Shenandoah National Park makes a convenient destination for engaged couples on the East Coast who desire both the affordability and adventure that a national park wedding can offer.
If you’re planning a low-key celebration with 15 or fewer guests, take a deep breath of Shenandoah’s magical mountain air and unwind. You don’t have to apply for a permit to get married.
Party permits – Weddings with 16 or more guests, or weddings of any size that require set up, will need to apply for a Special Use Permit with the NPS. These cost $150 and can take up to six weeks to process.
Park regulations – Celebrations within the park have strict guest capacities and should follow park regulations. However, the park’s amphitheaters can hold 100 guests and are amenable to special setups (such as chairs, arches, and speaker systems).
Leave no trace – Keep your invite list on the smaller side (no more than 30 of your nearest and dearest) and follow the Leave No Trace ethos, leaving nothing behind—except your formerly single self. Instead, if you choose to get wed in the park’s designated sensitive areas, embrace the very things that likely drew you to a national park ceremony: intimacy and awe.
Shenandoah’s glorious trails and waterfalls provide plenty of stunning options for lowkey (read: small, standing-only) affairs.
But if you have your heart set on a larger celebration that will welcome friends and family of all ages, the park has several wheelchair-accessible amphitheaters, including:
Loft Mountain Amphitheater – Closed to the public in winter, this stunning amphitheater seats 100 lucky revelers on its built-in wooden benches. What they’ll see, besides you and your partner promising forever, is the ripples of the Blue Ridge Mountains and an endless stretch of sky.
Skyland Amphitheater – With a Special Use Permit, you can hold your 100-person celebration at the Skyland Amphitheater. Framed by woods, this location would be lovely when the leaves begin to change.
As otherworldly as these settings can be, there are practical issues that you should consider when you're planning your dream day. Before you commit to an outdoor wonder, consider the following:
Accessibility – Some otherwise perfect (ie. private, quiet, gorgeous) spots might be challenging to get to, especially for older relatives or friends and family with mobility issues. Certain parks might restrict travel by car and shuttle to locations within the park, which might cause issues with vendors in addition to guests.
Rentals and decor – The biggest allure of a national park wedding is the jaw-dropping beauty of the location. The natural foliage and fauna will do much of the heavy lifting when it comes to decor. But, there are certain things that many couples will want to have with them on their big day, including chairs, tents, chuppahs, and, yes, music. Check with your intended park to see what, if any, restrictions are in place.
Wedding planning can be daunting, especially when you have your heart set on a venue in a national park. But if you embrace the spirit of adventure, you can’t go wrong—no matter how many geysers, rainstorms, buffalo, or wandering tourists come your way.
We’ll leave the rest of the stargazing and mountain-top philosophizing up to you, but for all of your national park wedding planning needs, Zola's here. We can organize guest lists, send invites, and help you build a custom wedding website (complete with the map to your secluded pre-nuptial hike).