The Ultimate Guide for Eloping in Colorado
Planning your adventure elopement in the Rocky Mountains and Beyond
More and more couples are choosing Colorado for their elopements, and it’s not hard to see why. With four national parks, 15 separate mountain ranges with 54 peaks over 14,000 feet, and 11 national forests and two national grasslands, Colorado is every adventure lover’s dream—especially when it comes to planning an elopement.
If you’ve decided on an adventure elopement to say “I do,” congrats! It doesn’t just mean a smaller, more intimate wedding, it means you can design an experience that feels true to you and your partner. And if you’re considering eloping in Colorado, then your day is bound to be one full of adventure, epic views, and unforgettable moments in some of the most breathtaking natural settings this country has to offer.
I believe every state has beautiful landscapes to consider for your elopement—but whew, Colorado’s got a lot, and each is more stunning than the last! But don’t worry, there’s a special place that’s juuuuust right for you two, and it might be one of these locations:
Here are a few of my favorites:
San Juan Mountains
Rocky Mountain National Park
I don’t like to play favorites over here, but photographers seem to like the San Juan Mountains best. Located in the more remote, southwestern corner of Colorado and with green slopes, rugged peaks, and lush meadows full of wildflowers in summer, it’s pretty close to perfect.
It’s a six hour drive from Denver to San Juan National Forest, but it’s worth it. The national forest covers 1.8 million acres, ranging from alpine peaks to high-desert mesas and including hundreds of miles of trails. Plus, it’s remote enough that you’ll encounter fewer crowds than in some of the other national parks and forests across the state. Just be sure to contact a park office for a permit before your big day.
Looking for a full day hiking adventure? You’ll get classic turquoise alpine water views on the 7.6 mile Blue Lakes Trail Hike to Lower Blue Lake trail (continue on the Blue Lakes Trail Hike to Upper Blue Lake trail for even more views). The eight-mile Ice Lake and Island Lake Hike gains 3,000 feet in elevation past aspen groves and waterfalls, ending at a beautiful alpine lake. If you’re looking for somewhere to stay off the trail, Telluride is one of my favorite little towns in Colorado. Once a mining town, it’s now home to world-class skiing and classy mountain town vibes. There’s even a free gondola you can ride up to Mountain Village!
When you think of the Colorado outdoors, you probably think of Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP), and this place is iconic. At 265,769 acres, it’s one of the largest national parks in the country and includes towering, ice-capped mountains, dense forests, and alpine tundra. While there are 355 miles of trails winding all over the park, even those looking for killer views without the killer hike can get them by driving up the popular Trail Ridge Road or the Old Fall River Road through aspen stands to the tip-top of mountains.
If you’re thinking of eloping in RMNP, you’re not alone—it’s one of the most popular elopement destinations in the state. To mediate the rush of elopements (and help preserve some of the intimacy of these experiences), the park has implemented a strict wedding policy: there are only 250 wedding permits issued per year (no more than six per day), and all 250 wedding permits have been issued for 2021.
If you manage to snag a permit in time, there are 12 designated ceremony sites inside the park, like Copeland Lake, with aspen views reflected in the water, and the beautiful meadow of Harbison Meadow Picnic Area.(https://www.nps.gov/romo/planyourvisit/wedding_locations.htm) Permits for weddings in the national park are $300 with a two-hour window for your ceremony. If you’ve got your heart set on a ceremony in 2021, there are some beautiful options just outside the park.
But that just gives you even more time for exploring the park on your wedding day. If you’re looking for a truly epic hike, check out Mount Ida, 9.6 miles round-trip that offers panoramic views of alpine lakes and valleys most of the way. Or Chapin-Chiquita-Ypsilon is like a choose-your-own-adventure hike: You can hike one, two, or all of the summits along the trail, some of the highest elevations in the park.
Great Sand Dunes National Park
Arapaho, Roosevelt, and White River National Forests
Colorado’s mountains are its most recognizable feature, but its sand dunes are becoming more and more beloved by couples looking for a unique place to elope. Located in Southern Colorado on 107,342 acres, Great Sand Dunes National Park is a desert escape with a background of those recognizable peaks. It’s known for towering sand dunes, including Star Dune, the tallest in the country at 750 feet tall. Just because it’s sand doesn’t mean it’s an easy climb; reaching the top of Star Dune can take two hours!
There’s even more to the national park than its name suggests. There’s also a dense forest, secret waterfall, wetlands, alpine lakes, and the seasonal Medano Creek, which rushes to life with the snowmelt each spring. Plenty of folks choose to explore the park via four wheel drive on rugged roads like Medano Pass or taking South Colony Road up to Music Pass and South Colony Lakes.
This is a great park for camping, just be sure to plan your trip six months to a year in advance, since camping spots tend to book out well in advance. And if you’re considering an elopement in the busiest months of May and June (that’s when Medano Creek flows), you might want to think again as the park will be packed. You’ll also need a permit to elope in the park. https://www.nps.gov/grsa/planyourvisit/special-use-permits.html
Located in North Central Colorado and extending to the Wyoming border, these national forests dominate the landscape with rolling peaks, alpine lakes, and bright golden aspen trees in fall.
For epic views without too much effort, consider Loveland Pass in Arapaho National Forest. This alpine mountain road roams around 11,990 feet above sea level and offers incredible panoramic views of the Rocky Mountains—accessible via car, no hike required. Of course, that means it’s accessible to everyone else, too, so it’s not the most intimate location for an elopement. If you decide this is the location for you two, check in with the Clear Creek Ranger Office for a permit (https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/arp/recarea/?recid=28372).
Maroon Bells in White River National Forest is considered one of the most photographed areas in the state, and it definitely deserves that title. The location features the picturesque, lush valley formed at the base of the Maroon Peak and North Maroon Peak, making for a dramatic (and beautifully symmetrical) backdrop for your big day. You can reserve the amphitheatre June–October here (https://www.recreation.gov/camping/campgrounds/233123) for $200/day, but if that’s not your jam, there are five beautiful trails ranging from one to 13 miles round-trip in the area.
Garden of the Gods
Crested Butte & Gunnison National Forest
Looking for something a little different? Colorado Springs’ public park offers over a thousand acres of towering sandstone formations in tones of red and orange with a carpet of lush greenery. This park offers six designated ceremony spots for your elopement, like High Point, with a Southwestern archway and long-range views, and Three Graces or Sentinel Plazas, which sit at the base of sky-high red rocks. The best part? There’s no fee to elope in Garden of the Gods! The downside is that they don’t take reservations, so there’s no way of knowing you’ll be alone for your elopement.
There are moderate and easy trails across the park to explore before or after your elopement, making this an ideal location if you’ve got a few witnesses along for the ride. Scotsman/Buckskin Charlie Trail winds through the park and offers views of the Central Garden formations, while the one-mile Siamese Twins Trail will give you a unique view of Pikes Peak.
I usually leave urban locations off of my adventure elopement guides, but Crested Butte is the exception! That’s because nature is incredibly accessible from this little town—and it’s pretty fun to explore, too. There are plenty of great restaurants to try (all locally owned—no chain restaurants here!) in the cute downtown before or after eloping in the great outdoors, like Secret Stash Pizza and Bonez Tacos.
Gunnison National Forest forms a complete circle around Crested Butte, and that forest is bordered by even more national forests: White River, Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, San Isabel, and Rio Grande National Forests. Gunnison is a nature-lover’s playground, with 1.7 million acres of lush forests and valleys and more than 20 peaks over 13,000 feet. Fun fact: Black Canyon, located inside the park, is even deeper than the Grand Canyon! You will need a permit to elope inside the national forest, so be sure to apply for one here. https://www.fs.usda.gov/main/gmug/passes-permits/event-commercial
There are also sweet little ceremony spots around Crested Butte to consider, like the Mountain Wedding Garden (https://mountainweddinggarden.com), with jaw-dropping mountain views and plenty of wildflowers, or the easy 2.1 mile Woods Walk trail just outside of town.
When Is The Best Time to Elope in Colorado
may - june
For most of Colorado, spring doesn’t arrive until May or even June. This is when the temperatures finally begin to warm up, foliage starts to turn green, and the rivers rush with snowmelt. Most of the mountain passes begin to open up by late May, expanding your options for many adventure elopements, although there’s still a chance for wintery weather this late in the year.
With an average elevation of 6,800 feet above sea level, Colorado has the highest mean altitude of any state. That means long, cold winters, mild summers, crisp falls, and opportunities to elope in whatever kind of weather suits your fancy, from snow to cool sunshine.
June - Early September
Summer comes late to Colorado, but it’s worth the wait! Wildflowers cover the hillsides and valleys, rivers and lakes fill up with winter’s melted snows, and all of nature bursts into life. While the temperatures warm up in summertime, it’s still chilly at higher elevations, especially at sunrise and sunset (the best times for elopements, in my opinion!), so plan accordingly.
med-september - october
Autumn is short but so, so sweet in Colorado. By mid-September, the famous aspen leaves begin to turn sunshine gold and blanket much of the state, making a heck of a backdrop for outdoor elopements. But by mid-October, most of the leaves have fallen, and the cold temperature and snow begin to move back across the state.
november - april
Blizzards and freezing temps move into the mountainous areas (so most of the state) come November, and they stick around through March and into April. While you might get lucky with a beautiful, sunny day, you’re more likely to have a cold, truly wintery elopement this time of year. If you’re dreaming of a winter wonderland for your big day, then Colorado just might be perfect! Keep in mind that many mountain roads and passes close down through the winter because of snow accumulation and dangerous driving conditions.
My first and foremost piece of advice for choosing your elopement day is simple: Choose a day that works well for you! With traditional weddings, couples have to worry about which days work well for guests, including friends, family, and sometimes the ladies from grandma’s bridge club. But you, my darlings, only have to worry about yourselves and the few people you decide to bring along (if any at all)—how cool is that?
Next up: What kind of conditions are you envisioning for your wedding? If you want warm weather, you know you can eliminate a long stretch of months during the winter in Colorado. But if you’re dreaming of a snowy adventure, those months might be perfect for you. Remember, you can still find snow-capped mountains year round, though!
Tips for picking your date to elope in COLORADO
Once you identify days or seasons that work well with both your schedules and the season you’re envisioning, consider which days might make for less-crowded trails for an intimate experience. The answer is usually weekdays, so if that works for your schedules, that’s probably the best option.
Another factor to keep in mind if you’re hoping for a more intimate elopement? Holidays. Traditional holidays make for crowded parks and forests, so avoid those if you can.
Now that you’ve narrowed down your options, make sure your dates align with your location. Sure, you might want a wintertime elopement, but is your dream location accessible during those months? And if you’re thinking of an elopement in Great Sand Dunes National Park, remember it’s really busy in May through June and hot as heck in mid-summer.
What to Do During Your COLORADO Elopement
Another advantage of an elopement: You can do anything you want all day—or days—long! If you’re planning an adventurous elopement, there are so many sweet ways you two can connect through nature that are traditional or totally true-to-you.
Canoeing or kayaking
Read letters from family & friends
ceremony with loved ones
video chat with family
Obtaining a marriage license & park permits in COLORADO
Eloping in Colorado has a number of unique advantages you won’t find in most states:
One, you don’t need any witnesses, and two, you can self-solemnize. So what the heck does that mean? Self-solemnizing means you and your partner can legally marry yourselves by signing your own marriage license, no ordained officiant required! While other states, like Pennsylvania, allow you to self-solemnize, none make it as easy as Colorado. In fact, some folks even let their dogs marry them by signing with their paw print!
Without the need for witnesses or an officiant, you can achieve a different level of intimacy if you elope in Colorado than in just about any other state. It can truly be just the two of you (and maybe a totally rad wedding photographer/videographer) as you exchange vows and have a quiet ceremony in mother nature.
Another advantage of marrying in Colorado is that there’s no waiting period; once you receive your license, you’re ready to go, and it doesn’t expire for 35 days. (That being said, I usually suggest applying at least a day ahead; you don’t really want to start off your romantic day at the county clerk’s office.) You can apply for your marriage license at any county clerk office in Colorado, and most offices are open Monday through Friday, 8am-4:30 p.m., with walk-in appointments. You have to apply for the marriage license in-person, but you can fill out parts of your application online and finish it in-person.
In most national parks, national forests, and state parks in Colorado, you’ll need to apply for a special event/wedding permit to hold your ceremony in the park. It’s pretty easy to find out the price and process of these permits; just contact the park you’re planning to elope in and they’ll help you navigate the details. Just be sure to plan pretty far in advance so that they have time to process your request.
How to Get Around Colorado
Colorado is one of the biggest states in the country (the eighth biggest, to be exact) with lots of mountainous land and varying landscapes to explore. That means you’ll want a car to be able to drive between destinations, especially if you’re turning your elopement into a true vacation (which I fully support!). If possible, I’d suggest renting an all-wheel or four-wheel drive vehicle. It’s more practical in Colorado, where many of the parks have rugged roads that lead to the coolest destinations—plus it’s just more fun!
Where to Stay in Colorado
If you’re coming to Colorado from out of state, you’ll want to stay for at least a few days to explore the vast mountain ranges, wild forests, and sandy dunes of Colorado—which begs the question, where ya gonna stay?
There are no shortage of options in Colorado, from boutique hotels to campsites to Airbnbs. I tend to recommend Airbnbs for my couples: They offer you a little more room to get ready for your big day and to rest after long days of adventure. Plus, in Colorado, an Airbnb might offer you a unique perspective on one of the cool small towns across the state. Staying in a town like Telluride, Crested Butte, Breckenridge, or Ouray will give you super easy and convenient access to the outdoors and you’ll have a basecamp to return to and explore in the evenings.
Camping is a great option for adventurous couples, too, especially at Colorado’s many national parks and forests! There are plenty of places to rest your head for the night, from campsites with amenities to backwoods under the stars. You can make it as rugged or fancy as you like: rent a decked-out camper van, RV, pull-behind, or go old-school with a tent. If you decide on a campground, just be sure to plan six months to a year in advance so that it doesn’t book up.
What to wear for your COLORADO elopement
Dresses are a surprisingly great option for an adventure elopement: They usually offer lots of room for your legs to move, they’re comfortable, and you’ll feel beautiful! Just be sure to pick a style that’s not too fitted through the legs and thighs (you’ll need to be able to hike and climb). I’d also suggest plenty of layering, especially because Colorado’s weather can be so fickle; leggings under your dress, sweaters, and jackets are all great options that are easy to take on or off depending on the temp.
Shirts & Pants
The same rules apply to pants as to dresses: Pick a style that’s either loose in the thighs or has plenty of stretch so that you’ll be free for adventuring (without any unfortunate pant ripping!). On top, layer sweaters, jackets, and anything else that’s easy to take on or off if the weather shifts.
As with all things “elopement,” you get to wear whatever you want on your wedding day. But if you’re planning on adventuring before or after your ceremony, there are just a few recommendations I would make to ensure you’re both comfortable throughout the day:
I support my couples in wearing whatever kind of shoes they want during their ceremony, from high heels to sandals to plain old barefoot. But for the adventuring that takes place before or after, I highly suggest hiking boots. The last thing you want to be thinking about while you say “I do” is a pesky blister on your foot from hiking in the wrong shoes!
what about photography & videography?
THAT'S WHERE I COME IN:
hI, i'M KATHRYN!
I am a deep-rooted mountain girl at heart, born and raised in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. But traveling all over the world has consistently made me fall in love with the beauty of each special place for it's own unique beauty. Colorado is no exception. My first time in Colorado as an adult was a trip with my partner Ian, where we discovered so many hidden gems, camping around the state out of a rental car and our tent packed in a checked bag.
This is a beautiful state for an elopement celebration, and I'd love to help support you bringing it all to life and capturing the memories to re-live whenever you want. My goal for your experience is to feel deeply connected to each other and connected to this beautiful planet we get to call home.
I’m here to help!
Lots of elopement companies offer short and small packages, covering 1 or 2 hours of time, and thats all.
You might even think that’s really all you need for an elopement, because what else is there to do?
The secret is - There is SO MUCH you can do.
The best part about eloping is that you get to choose things that are tailored just for you.
You aren’t going through the motions of traditions and timelines that are meaningless.
You aren’t eloping because you value your experience less, but because you just want something DIFFERENT.
Something that is more about you as a couple than everyone else.
Something that is stress free and private.
Something that truly represents what you love and value in life.
I help my couples have an elopement day that is filled to the brim with memories, with 2 options to choose from: a Full Experience (Up to 10 hours of coverage) or a Half Day (Up to 6 hours of coverage)!