Planning to elope in Boulder? I did the same thing, all the way back in 2011. Since then, I’ve helped dozens of couples plan a Boulder elopement, and photographed them having the best day ever in the best place to live in the U.S. (No really, that’s a real award.)
In this guide, I’ll share the best places to elope in Boulder, venues where you can have larger elopements and intimate weddings, local vendors who can help make your day extra special, and all my favorite insider tips on how to have an epic elopement day.
Reasons to elope in Boulder
- Boulder has been named the best place to live in the U.S, and the happiest city in the country. It’s also one of the best places to visit!
- The City of Boulder has over 45,000 of open space land, 150 miles of trails, and 60 urban parks. You may have seen photos of the Flatirons from Chautauqua, but there’s so much more variety in the Boulder OSMP trail system.
- The “low” altitude of 5,328′ (when compared to high mountain towns like Breckenridge and Estes Park) means you’re less likely to deal with altitude sickness.
- Boulder has over 300 restaurants (and 20+ breweries), and Pearl Street has been named one of the “Ten Best Foodie Streets in America.”
- 70% of Boulderites own a bicycle, and the city often plows the bike paths before the streets in winter (no joke). If you’re looking for an active place to stay for your elopement / honeymoon trip, Boulder is perfect!
- It’s the most dog-friendly place to elope in Colorado. You’ll see 1 dog for every 5 humans on the trails in Boulder, and there are plenty of breweries and patios that allow dogs as well. (And your dog can even sign your marriage license as your witness!)
Best places to elope in Boulder
I’m going to be completely honest with you. The very best places to elope in Boulder are not going to be found listed online. My favorite places are the hidden gems that don’t have location tags on social media, where you can have an incredible elopement experience in the mountains, away from other people.
That being said, the locations I’m about to share are still some of the best places to take pictures for a Boulder elopement. While they may not have the most privacy, they have the iconic Flatirons views that Boulder is known for, the mountain settings without the long hikes, and the easy access that make the Foothills such an amazing place to live, work, and get married.
No. Some locations have restrictions against elopements, and others are limited by the guest count. While you can elope on many trails in Boulder, you should always research the rules and required permits first.
Lost Gulch Overlook
Lost Gulch Overlook is one of the most popular places to elope in Boulder, and also one of the busiest trailhead sin the county. Part of the Open Space & Mountain Parks system, there are some restrictions in place, like no elopements on weekends, and limited guest counts. And for good reason! If you go to Lost Gulch around sunset on a weekend, you’ll see dozens of college students hanging out, taking selfies and smoking weed. Not the vibes you want for your elopement! But if you’re open to a weekday, and even better – a weekday at sunrise – Lost Gulch can be incredible.
Chautauqua Park is the single busiest trailhead in Boulder County. And when you pull up and see the epic views of the Flatirons right from the parking lot, you can see why. Like Lost Gulch, is part of Boulder OSMP, requires a permit, and has restrictions around the available days and times, but can be an epic place to elope on a weekday in the slow-season. No matter the time of day and year, you’ll always see other hikers here, but Boulderites are used to seeing couples in wedding attire on the trails, and you’ll just end up with a lot of “congratulations!” yelled from strangers.
Sunrise Amphitheater is the most iconic wedding venue in Boulder, and can be rented through Boulder OSMP. The stone platform stage is best suited for elopements with guests, but it can also be epic for a couple who wants a reserved space without hikers in the background. As the name suggests, this place is best first thing in the morning when the sun rises over the plains in the east, right behind the stage. Want to read more about renting this venue? I have a whole guide to Sunrise Amphitheater weddings here.
Artist Point is close to Sunrise Amphitheater, at the top of Flagstaff Mountain in Boulder, and good for small elopements with no or few guests. It’s also part of Boulder OSMP, and can be rented for elopement ceremonies. It’s more tucked away into the trees than nearby Lost Gulch, but in exchange offers more privacy, and there are a few spots where the trees open up and give you the full mountain views. Artist Point is only available from May through October, as the road to the Flagstaff summit is closed Oct 31-April 30 every year.
Halfway House is another of the shelters and facilities that can be rented via Boulder OSMP. The main stone hut has a patio that can be used for ceremonies, but the highlight of this location is the meadow with views of the Flatirons. Halfway House sits halfway up the road from Chautauqua to the Flagstaff summit, and can be accessed year-round. It’s also conveniently located right across the road from Flagstaff House – one of the best restaurants in Boulder. (More on that venue later!)
Red Rocks Trail
The Red Rocks trail is part of the Boulder OSMP trail system, and located centrally in Boulder. (You could ride your bikes to the trailhead from downtown!) You do need a permit and reservation to elope here, and there are restriction on the allowed group sizes. This is the perfect elopement location for couples who love rock climbing and bouldering (or just climbing around on cool rocks without calling it a sport – hi, that’s me). The rock formations are really fun to play around on for photos, and provide hidden spots to tuck away to get more privacy.
Brainard Lake is a high alpine lake at 10,300′ in the mountains west of Boulder. This is the most popular destination in the Boulder Ranger District, and very different from the other Boulder locations on this list because of the high altitude. The road to the lake is open from mid-late June until mid-October, as it’s completely covered in snow the rest of the year. In the summer season, you can drive up to the trailhead close to the lake, but the easy access means that it’s always busy up here. In 2020, they did a timed entry system to keep visitation numbers low (because of COVID-19), and the parking lots were full by 7:30am even on weekdays.
Have you been picturing eloping on the shores of an alpine lake? Gross Reservoir is the closest big lake to Boulder, and a great option for elopements with no guests. The lake looks its best earlier in the summer, as the water level is drained pretty heavily toward the end of summer, and leaves the lakeshore looking kinda gross. (Sorry, dad joke.) You do need a permit from Denver Water to elope here (cost varies by group size), and there are restrictions on the group size and dates/times allowed.
Easily one of the coolest winter elopement locations in the Boulder area. The falls freeze over in winter, so you can walk out onto the ice (at your own risk!). This is a short, easy, and popular hike, so be prepared to see other people here. There’s not much space to move around away from the base of the falls.
South Mesa Trail
South Mesa is a super popular spot for Boulder photographers, but it’s not my favorite. The areas close to the trailhead are always crowded, and there are a lot of closures for regrowth so you can only shoot on the trail. But if you’re willing to add a 20 minute hike, the views from the Towhee trail are some of my favorite in Boulder!
Hidden gems across Boulder
Not sold on any of the locations I’ve named here? I put together custom lists for all my booked couples with my very favorite Boulder elopement locations – the ones where we’ll have the mountains to ourselves without all the restrictions. So if you’re interested in having me as your photographer, reach out and let’s schedule a time to chat more!
Boulder Open Space & Mountain Parks Permits
You’ve seen me reference Boulder OSMP a lot in this guide, so I wanted to include some more information on how to rent one of their facilities, get a special use permit, and make sure your photographer has a commercial use permit to legally photograph your elopement.
Shelter & Facility Rentals
There are six different picnic shelters and facilities that can be rented for weddings and elopements through Boulder OSMP: Sunrise Amphitheater, Stone Shelter, Wood Shelter, Halfway House, Bluebell Shelter, and Green Mountain Lodge. Sunrise Amphitheater and Halfway House are my favorite options for good ceremony views, but the others are great if you’re interested in something a little more private, and don’t mind trading in open views for cozy forest feels.
You cannot rent any of the shelters on Fourth of July, Thanksgiving Day, Black Friday, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, or New Year’s Day. The shelters on the summit of Flagstaff (Stone Shelter, Wood Shelter, and Sunrise Amphitheater) are closed for rentals from October 31 to April 30 every year, as the road to the summit is closed.
Rental fees range from $50-400, depending on the facility, time block, and whether you’re a Boulder resident or not (as residents receive a discount). You can easily check availability and make a reservation online. Read more from Boulder OSMP.
Photography / Commercial Use Permit
If you are planning to elope on Boulder OSMP lands and trails without renting a facility, your photographer needs a commercial use permit from Boulder OSMP, and will make a reservation on your behalf. This is a new rule introduced in 2020, and it’s incredibly important that we all follow the rules, or we risk having further restrictions put on elopements in Boulder. The permit is cheap, either $50 or $300 depending on how often the photographer plans to work in Boulder during the calendar year.
Once they have a permit, they need to email Boulder OSMP with a reservation request that outlines what (elopement? engagement photos?), where (the trail/area you want to use), when (date and time), and visitor count (just the couple and the photographer? any guests? other vendors?). This has to be submitted at least 72 hours in advance, but the earlier the better since they only allow one reservation at a time at any given location. Popular places like Lost Gulch and Chautauqua often book up weeks in advance.
The same rules also apply if you are just planning to take pictures without an elopement ceremony, like for engagement photos, family photos, senior portraits, etc. Any time you are paying for a professional photographer, the photographer has to have the commercial use permit, and also has to make a reservation request. If you’re just going out to take pictures with friends, or asking a friend to take a family photo for your holiday cards, you do not need the permit. Boulder OSMP has a handy “do I need a permit” quiz online if you’re unsure.
Whether you’re reading this as a couple about to get married, or a photographer doing research on how to work in Boulder, please please please make sure that the photographer gets both the permit and the reservation. Eloping (or taking photos) without a reservation can get you a hefty fine by a park ranger, and makes this more difficult for everyone in the future.
Boulder Elopement Venues
If you’re planning an elopement with more than 10 guests, or you want to have your ceremony and reception all in one place, you are probably going to wanna book a venue rather than depend on public trails. Many Boulder wedding venues offer elopement packages for smaller events, and here are some of my favorites.
Flagstaff House is a fine dining restaurant on Flagstaff Mountain in Boulder, and the perfect elopement venue for couples who want to combine their ceremony with a gourmet meal. They offer elopement specials at different times of the day/week/year, and can accommodate small groups in a private dining room, or larger groups in the full restaurant. It’s easy to combine a ceremony here with portraits at Chautauqua or Lost Gulch.
Is an indoor elopement more your style? Rembrandt Yard Art Gallery & Event Center in downtown Boulder offers elopement packages for weekday ceremonies and small receptions.
How to get a marriage license in Boulder
While it’s normally very easy to get a marriage license in Boulder County, it’s a little harder right now because of COVID-19 restrictions. They’re only offering virtual appointments, and both parties must be present in Colorado at the time of their appointment. After your appointment, your marriage license will be mailed to you at a Colorado mailing address. This is making it harder for couples from out-of-state to get a marriage license, but luckily there are neighboring counties that have made it easier. Larimer County, Gilpin County, Broomfield County, and Jefferson County are all offering in-person appointments to get a marriage license. Learn more from the Boulder County Recording Division.
Insider tips to eloping in Boulder
Sunrise and sunset are the best times of day to elope. Sunrise is popular for hikers, trail-runners, and other athletes, while sunset can be busy with tourists, casual visitors, and photo shoots. Avoid mid-day if possible, since the Colorado sun is very harsh, and not the most flattering for photos. The trails are also busiest from 9am-2pm, so before or after that is ideal for privacy.
Avoid weekends if possible. Saturday and Sunday each see about 25% of the weekly trail traffic, while the five weekdays each get about 10%. That can make a huge difference if you’re hoping for a private elopement without other people around.
Boulder is epic all year round. I have a whole post on the best months to elope in Colorado, but let’s be real – there’s no bad time. That being said, the time between Memorial Day and Labor Day is high season for tourism in Boulder, and also the busiest time of year on the hiking trails. If you want warm weather and green grass and trees, you’re pretty limited on staying within that period in Boulder, but if you’re open to cooler temperatures you can gain a lot of privacy (and better deals on lodging) by eloping between mid-September and mid-May.
Avoid these dates. The first week of May is graduation for the University of Colorado at Boulder (go Buffs!), and best avoided for elopements. Every restaurant in town is packed, and every easy-access trail is covered in students in graduation caps and gowns taking their last mountain-photos before leaving town. Memorial Day weekend is another busy one, because of the Bolder Boulder 10K that sees over 50,000 people running through the streets of town.
Boulder Elopement Vendors
Lodging for your Boulder elopement
Are you traveling to Boulder for your elopement? This town has a huge variety in lodging, from bougie AirBnBs that can let you live the tech-guru lifestyle for a weekend, to iconic hotels with old school charm. Wherever you choose to stay in Boulder, I have two main tips for you:
- Book your lodging early. The summer season (Memorial Day to Labor Day) is very busy here, and lodging fills up fast.
- Look at the map before booking lodging. You most likely want to stay within the city of Boulder, and not in nearby Longmont, Superior, or other towns east of the mountains.
Best AirBnBs in Boulder
I’ve browsed hundreds of AirBnB listings in Boulder in the years since the city legalized short-term rentals (and even spoke at a city council meeting in favor of allowing them), so I like to think I have a pretty good idea of the best listings on the market. Whether you want a fancy house in the foothills with lots of privacy and room for all your guests, or a downtown guest house in walking distance to all the best restaurants, there’s something for everyone in Boulder.
Please note that most AirBnBs do not allow hosting ceremonies, reception dinners, or any other wedding-related events at the property without prior permission from the host. If you’d like to use your lodging for more than just lodging, contact the host before booking, be honest about what you’re planning, and be okay with getting a no.
Best hotels in Boulder
The St Julien Hotel & Spa – The St Julien is the perfect luxurious hotel in the heart of downtown Boulder for a romantic getaway.
Hotel Boulderado – The Boulderado is a Boulder classic, with tons of historic charm in the perfect downtown location.
Boulder Adventure Lodge – The A-Lodge is located up Fourmile Canyon, a little further from downtown but right in the elements for an adventure vacation.
Embassy Suites by Hilton – Embassy is Boulder’s newest hotel, with a hip, modern vibe and convenient location in central Boulder.
Boulder elopement packages
Perfect for elopements with a short hike, or split between an intimate ceremony with a few guests and couples portraits in a separate location.
• 4 hours of photography
• 80+ page digital planning guide
• Personalized location suggestions and planning tips
• High resolution digital photos with print release
• Personal website to view, download, print, and share your photos
• Gallery delivered in six weeks
Examples of 4-hour elopements in Boulder
Short and sweet, for couples who want to exchange their vows and get great elopement photos without much hiking.
• 2 hours of photography
• 80+ page digital planning guide
• Pick your favorite Boulder location from a list
• High resolution digital photos with print release
• Personal website to view, download, print, and share your photos
• Gallery delivered in six weeks
Examples of 2-hour elopements in Boulder
Looking for a Boulder elopement photographer?
If you’re looking for a local Boulder photographer who can help you plan and capture the perfect elopement, I’d love to hear from you. Check out my elopement packages, then contact me to schedule a video chat so we can get to know each other. I also offer shorter packages for Boulder elopements, so reach out for a custom quote if that’s what you’re looking for!
About Nina Larsen Reed
Nina Larsen Reed is an elopement photographer based in Boulder, Colorado. She plans and captures adventure elopements and intimate weddings, and has photographed over 200 elopements across the Rocky Mountains since 2017.