Colorado elopement

Colorado Elopement Guide

A step-by-step guide on how to elope in Colorado, with everything you need to know from how to choose a location, pick the best time of year, navigate the legalities of how to get your marriage license, and find the right vendors to help make your dream Colorado elopement a reality!

You want to elope in Colorado. I did the same thing, twelve years ago. Since then, I’ve helped over 200 couples plan their dream adventure elopements in the Rocky Mountains, and captured tens of thousands of photos of epic moments and mountains. And that comes with experience I’m excited to share with you in this post, so you can decide if a Colorado elopement is right for you.

Colorado elopement

Why elope in Colorado?

Colorado is the perfect place to elope for down to earth couples who want an adventure in the mountains. With thousands of miles of hiking trails and 4WD roads, luxury mountain ranches and casual cabins, and breathtaking views in every direction, it’s hard to go wrong with a mountain wedding.

There are a couple of important reasons that make eloping in Colorado easier (and more fun) than anywhere else in the country!

LGBTQ+ elopement in Colorado

You can self-solemnize your elopement in Colorado

What does it mean to self-solemnize? It means that you and your partner can legally marry yourselves in Colorado by signing your own marriage license, without an ordained officiant to lead your ceremony.

Only a few states allow you to marry yourselves without an officiant, and Colorado is one of them. Pennsylvania, Washington D.C., California, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Nevada, and Wisconsin all have some variations of self-solemnizing, but these states have stricter requirements than Colorado. Learn how to apply for a marriage license from the Boulder County Recording Division, but keep in mind that each county has slightly different rules for applying.

What does this mean in practice? It means that you don’t have to hire an officiant for your ceremony, which opens up a whole new set of options for locations. Want to exchange your vows at an alpine lake at sunrise? You don’t need to pay someone for the whole four-hour hike just to lead a 15-minute ceremony. You can of course still hire an officiant if you want, and many couples do—especially when having a ceremony with guests—but it’s not required.

You don’t need witnesses

Colorado is the only state where you don’t need an officiant or witnesses to be legally married. So if you’ve been dreaming about a private elopement for just the two of you, Colorado is the way to go!

Hiking elopement in Colorado

Elopement vendors and specialists

You might think that wedding vendors and elopement vendors are the same thing, but many traditional wedding vendors, from florists to hair and makeup artists to caterers, have high minimum spends that can only be reached with a big guest list.

Here in Colorado, because elopements have grown so popular over the past decade, there’s a large amount of elopement-specific vendors to choose from. This is especially important when it comes to booking your photographer. Colorado is known for unpredictable weather, so you want to work with someone who can easily come up with a plan B or C when your original location is closed due to wildfires, avalanches, or muddy trails.

Winter hiking elopement with headlamps under the stars in the Colorado mountains

Epic and accessible mountain views

Nowhere else in the United States can you drive a car up a mountain at over 11,000 ft of elevation—and here you can drive up to 14,000ft! In the months of the year when we have snow at high altitude, you can still have an epic winter elopement by taking a gondola up a mountain, renting a snowmobile, or snowshoeing into the mountains.

Now I’m personally a huge fan of hiking (or skiing) into the mountains to get away from people, but I think it’s pretty darn cool that you can get epic mountain views for your elopement without first having to train for it. A Colorado elopement really is accessible for everybody. 

Dog signs marriage license in Colorado
Self-solemnized elopement with cat

Your dog can sign your marriage license

Yes. Really. Because you don’t actually need witnesses in Colorado, you can have your furry best friend sign as your witness with their paw print. (It’s not limited to dogs—I’ve also photographed a cat witness!) Just grab a stamp pad and some wet wipes to make sure you don’t get ink all over your outfits after your pet has “signed” the license.

Arapahoe County does not allow dogs to sign your license. To be safe, always ask the county where you apply for your license whether your dog can sign as your witness.

420 Elopement in Colorado

420 elopements

Colorado has allowed marijuana for recreational use since 2017, so it should come as no surprise that 420 elopements are a thing here. Some couples elope on 4/20, while others just want to celebrate with a joint after their ceremony. You do you!

You can get married the same day

There’s no waiting period on marriage licenses in Colorado, so you can get married the same day as you apply for your license. But if you’re traveling in from out of state, I highly recommend that you arrive in Colorado at least two days before you plan to elope, so that you can adjust to the altitude before your wedding day, and pick up the marriage license at least a day before your adventure. Waiting in line at a county clerk’s office is not the most romantic way to start your elopement.

How to choose an elopement location

The best places to elope in Colorado really comes down to what kind of experience you’re hoping for, because every part of the state has something unique to offer.

Colorado hiking elopement

Most of my couples have no clue where (or even when) to elope before they contact me—and that’s okay! Finding the perfect location is a big part of what I help my couples with. And that starts with getting to know you and what your dream elopement looks like, so that I can give you personalized recommendations rather than an overwhelming list of options.

Tagging and sharing the names of specific trails is a big no-no for Leave No Trace practices, and us local photographers try to keep our favorite places as quiet and pristine as possible so that you can enjoy the epic views without the crowds of people.

Some places are harder to reach, but in return more private. Some locations require a wedding permit or reservation fee, while others are completely open for you to hike into the wilderness and exchange vows where you feel like it. If you want to start searching for locations on your own, make sure that you also research permits and rental fees separately, as these can be hard to find and are often buried in legalese on local land management websites.

If you have more than 10-15 guests, I recommend renting a small wedding venue for your elopement.

For a full breakdown of every mountain town in Colorado and what makes them great, check out my blog post on the best places to elope.

What’s the best time of year to elope in Colorado?

As with everything else in this guide—it depends on what you want! I’m personally a huge fan of winter elopements, and would shoot in snow all year round if I could, but you might be hoping for wildflowers, rushing waterfalls, fall colors, or warm summer nights in the mountains.

Early summer elopement in Colorado
June 30, 2018
Hiking adventure elopement in the Colorado mountains
June 28, 2019

Most locations in the mountains are snow-covered from mid-October through mid-June. If you want dry trails and green vegetation, July and August are your best bet, as everything starts turning yellow by September. If rushing waterfalls are more your style, June and early July are better. Wildflowers are usually at their peak in late July, and the aspens change color in late September—but the exact timing varies from year to year.

Eloping in summer or early fall will give you the most amount of locations to choose from, and the least amount of weather related stress. But eloping in the winter months often means empty trails and epic frozen alpine lakes, and with a cozy airbnb you don’t have to freeze outside all day.

For a month-by-month breakdown with much more detail, check out my post on the best time to elope in Colorado.

Elopement planning checklist

Crested Butte backcountry elopement

1. Brainstorm

Before you book anything, really take the time to dream up your best day ever.

Think about what you want the day to feel like; whether that’s hanging out around a campfire with your closest friends or escaping into the wilderness, just the two of you.

What do you two love doing together? If you’d never go hiking on a mountain vacation, there’s nothing saying you need to hike on your elopement day, either. Maybe renting a boat to cruise around an alpine lake, skiing at your favorite resort, or spending the day glamping in the desert sounds more fun to you. Picture how you’re spending the whole day, and not just the moment you exchange your vows.

If you’re planning on including guests in your elopement, now’s a good time to work on a tentative guest list. Pro tip: try to keep it to under 15 people total, including yourselves and your photographer, if you want the most amount of locations to choose from. The smaller your guest list, the more options you’ll have.

Nina Larsen Reed is a Colorado elopement photographer

2. Find your photographer

Your photographer will be more heavily involved with planning your elopement than any other vendors, so get them on board first! Start with searching Google for photographers, or browse hashtags like #coloradoelopement on Instagram. Look through a lot of websites; enough to really get a feel for what kind of photos you do or don’t like. Then reach out to your favorite to schedule a call.

It’s super important to find a photographer you’re genuinely excited to spend the day with, so trust your gut feeling here! And don’t be afraid to contact multiple photographers—the person with the most instagram followers or who you found first on Pinterest may not be the one you connect best with on a video chat.

3. Pick your location

Once you’ve booked your photographer, you should be working together on finding your dream location. I have a detailed questionnaire that I send my couples to learn more about what they’re looking for, then put together personalized location suggestions based on that.

4. Build your vendor dream team

After finding your location, you can now look for local vendors. Once again, your photographer should be able to give you recommendations for the specific area of your elopement. Most couples will need at a minimum a hair/makeup artist, florist, and either catering, a private chef, or a restaurant.

Rocky Mountain National Park elopement
Backcountry hut trip elopement in Colorado

5. Book your travel

Don’t wait too long to book your travel—especially if a unique cabin or airbnb is part of your dream! Accommodations in the Colorado mountains often fill up 9-12 months in advance for popular times of year, so the sooner you book, the better.

Don’t forget about renting a car. Spend a little extra and get 4WD. If you’re traveling into the mountains, you won’t regret it.

6. Plan your ceremony, details, and activities

Even if it’s just the two of you, your ceremony is the most important part of your elopement day. Spend some time brainstorming ideas for how you want to make it special. Agree on how long your vows should be. Incorporate your favorite music, or a reading, or an inside joke that’ll make your partner crack up.

What foods and beverages would make the day special for you? I’ve seen a couple eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches they made that morning, and I’ve seen couples hire a private chef to cook a one-of-a-kind meal at their airbnb. Your tastebuds and imagination are the only limits here.

Wondering what you’re doing to do all day? I have a guide to elopement activities here. Don’t forget about vow books and any other little details that can help make the day feel personalized to you. I have a whole guide to elopement details here.

7. Get your marriage license

Couple signs marriage license in Colorado

Getting your marriage license in Colorado is easy.

You can get your license at any Colorado county clerk’s office, even if it’s not the same county as the one where you’re eloping. Most offices are open 8am-4:30pm Mon-Fri, but some counties have limited in-person hours, and others require you to make an appointment. You can’t apply for the marriage license online, but you can fill out parts of your application online, then complete it in person.

When you arrive in Colorado, you need to get your marriage license before your elopement day. Once it’s been issued, you have 35 days to use it before it expires. You cannot backdate the license if you forget to apply in advance, so this part is important!

In order to get your marriage license in Colorado, you need to bring:

  • ID (driver’s license or passport)
  • Social security numbers
  • $30 feee (payable in cash, check, or credit card)

After your elopement, you can return the license by dropping it off in person where you got it, or mail it in to have it officially recorded. Then they’ll send you back the license for you to keep. (If you’re planning on changing your name or applying for a green card, order a couple of extra copies of the license—they come in handy!)

Rocky Mountain National Park elopement

8. It’s your elopement day!

This is what we’re here for! You’re done planning, it’s time to elope!

What’s the cost of eloping in Colorado?

The only required cost to elope in Colorado is the $30 fee for the marriage license. Anything beyond that is up to you!

Some couples want a simple elopement package with photographer, officiant, and florist all included in one price, and this is by far the cheapest way to go. But you don’t have much control over the vendors you end up working with when going that route, and you’ll get a much more personalized experience by booking vendors individually. (Start with your photographer, and we’ll help with recommendations for any other vendors you need!)

But I’m sure you’d like some real examples, so that you can plan out your own elopement budget. I’m going to show two different examples of different price points, without including travel costs since those vary so much depending on where you’re based. Neither of these examples include any costs related to inviting guests, which can add up quickly with accommodations, meals, drinks, and even permit/venue fees since most free locations do not allow large groups.

High-end elopement budget

Luxury elopement bouquet

$30 – Marriage license
$3,500 – 3 nights at a high-end resort
$10,000 – Photographer
$500 – Private chef
$900 – Private snowmobile tour
$750 – Bouquet and boutonniere + florals for the dinner table
$1200 – Hair and makeup on location
$6500 – Wedding dress + accessories
$1500 – Suit + accessories

Total elopement price: ~ $24,880

Affordable elopement budget

Affordable elopement in Colorado

$30 – Marriage license
$500 – 3 nights at a simple cabin
$5,000 – Photographer
$200 – Restaurant dinner & drinks
$200 – Bouquet and boutonniere
$250 – Hair and makeup at salon
$800 – Wedding dress + accessories
$200 – Suit rental

Total elopement price: ~ $7,180

NOTE: These budgets are only meant as examples based on my experience with local vendors, and are in no way meant as an actual quote. As with a traditional wedding, you can of course spend as much or little as you want.

To put these numbers into perspective, the average cost of a wedding in Colorado is around $32,000, and the average cost of a reception venue is around $5,000. Why not skip all that, and instead spend a fraction of the price on a day that’s truly unique and meaningful to you?

Looking for Colorado elopement collections? You can see my elopement photography prices here.

What to wear for your Colorado adventure elopement

Hiking boots with wedding dress

Choosing shoes for your elopement

The most important part of your elopement outfits is footwear. Seriously. If your feet are warm, dry, and comfortable, it’s amazing how long you can enjoy the outdoors, even in snow or cold weather. High heels are best saved for indoors, or to be worn sparingly if you have a flat and easily accessible ceremony site. And don’t forget about men’s shoes. Dress shoes are notoriously slippery, especially in snow and on grass, so pick a pair of shoes with good tread.

Adventure elopement wedding dress

Wedding dresses for adventure elopements

Heavy structured dresses with corsets are uncomfortable for any amount of hiking. When you’re trying on dresses, move around lots. Try sitting down, or even sitting on the floor. Bend over, raise your arms over your head, and give it a twirl. If you’re uncomfortable at the bridal salon, I guarantee you’ll be regretting your choice at your elopement, no matter how good your dress looks in photos.

Two grooms in blue suits at Colorado elopement

Suits you can hike in

When trying on suits, make sure that you can comfortably sit down, lift your knees, and have full range of motion for a day of adventures. If you’re eloping in winter, go for a warmer fabric like wool or tweed – it’ll make a world of difference compared to a summer suit. You might even want to leave enough room for long underwear if we’re hiking in winter. 

You should also make sure that the bottom of the pant legs fit well with the shoes you’re wearing. A tailor might look at you funny if you try on the suit with hiking boots – but it’s better than having to roll up your pants on your wedding day.

Winter elopement attire

Staying warm for winter elopements

If I haven’t already made it clear, Colorado weather is unpredictable. Even when it’s 90 degrees in Denver, it can be down in the 40s at 12,000ft. Always plan on bringing a jacket or other layers to stay warm. Denim jackets, leather jackets, shawls, chunky sweaters, and overcoats all look great with a wedding dress!

You can also buy nude fleece-lined leggings to wear under your dress. Or if you’re wearing a suit, consider a merino wool underlayer for winter elopements. Warm socks are key, and wool is the best – Smartwool and Darn Tough are my personal favorites.

Adventure elopement gear

Gear for adventure elopements

Wondering what gear you’ll need to elope in Colorado? I’ve put together a big post with all my favorite elopement gear, from hiking boots and backpacks to headlamps and winter traction.

Colorado elopement galleries

Want to see what all this planning looks like in action? Check out the highlight galleries from some of the 220+ elopement days I’ve photographed in the Colorado mountains.

Want me to help you elope in Colorado?

If you’re interested in having me help you plan and capture the perfect adventure elopement in the Colorado mountains, I’d love to get to know you better! Check out my pricing, then contact me to schedule a video chat so we can make sure we’re a good fit!