Colorado Elopement GuideEverything you need to know about planning an elopement in the Rocky Mountains
You want to elope in Colorado.
I did the same thing, nine years ago. And since then, I’ve helped over one hundred couples plan their dream adventure elopements in the Rocky Mountains, and captured tens of thousands of photos of epic moments and mountains as a Colorado elopement photographer.
If you’re not sure how to even start planning your Colorado elopement, you’re in the right place.
I’ll show you the best places to elope, how to get your marriage license, recommend the best Colorado elopement vendors, and hopefully teach you some stuff you didn’t even know you needed to know.
Let’s get to it.
Table of Contents
- What is an elopement? And why should you elope?
- Why should you elope in Colorado?
- Best places to elope in Colorado
- What’s the best time to elope in Colorado?
- Colorado Elopement Planning Checklist
- What’s the cost of eloping in Colorado?
- What to wear for your Colorado adventure elopement
- Real Colorado elopement galleries
- Ready to chat about your Colorado elopement?
What is an elopement? And why should you elope?
What is an elopement?
An elopement is an intimate wedding that keeps the focus on you as a couple, and your commitment to each other, rather than the production and traditions of a big wedding.
Some couples elope without any guests at all. Others include their very closest friends or family. And many choose a combination, by eloping alone first, then throwing a big party for everyone to celebrate at a later date.
The best part of eloping?
There are no rules here. You get to decide every little part of your day, whether you want to wear hiking boots with your dress, drink your favorite microbrews instead of fancy champagne, or do your first dance on a mountain top to Taylor Swift playing off a bluetooth speaker.
If the thought of planning a big wedding fills you with dread, you can’t stand the thought of reading your private vows in front of a hundred people, and you don’t want to go into debt over a party, a Colorado elopement might be just the thing for you.
Now read on to see how you can make this happen!
Why should you elope in Colorado?
You can self-solemnize your marriage
What does self-solemnize mean? It means that you and your partner can legally marry yourselves in Colorado, without an officiant or witnesses.
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.
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!
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 go up to 14,000ft!
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!
Best places to elope in Colorado
Wondering where you can have your Colorado elopement?
There are countless incredible locations where you can elope in Colorado. Some locations require a rental fee or wedding permit, while others are completely open for you to go hike into the wilderness and exchange vows where you feel like it.
If you’re overwhelmed by the options, contact a Colorado elopement photographer to get help from a local to find the best spot for you.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the most popular places to elope in Colorado, and for good reason. The park has beautiful ceremony sites, like 3M Curve and Sprague Lake, and you can easily reserve your spot with a $250 permit. See more info and photos in my Rocky Mountain National Park wedding guide.
Maroon Bells Amphitheater
Maroon Bells are often called the most photographed mountains in Colorado, and I don’t think they’re wrong. You can rent the amphitheater for intimate weddings with up to 50 guests, which is the best way to get private space in an otherwise busy area, even if you have no guests. Maroon Bells is great for elopements that need the easy accessibility. You can read more about Maroon Bells Amphitheater weddings here.
Great Sand Dunes National Park
Great Sand Dunes is one of the coolest places in Colorado, and the perfect location for a more adventurous elopement. The combination of never-ending sand dunes and tall mountain peaks is pretty spectacular. GSD also requires a wedding permit.
Sapphire Point Overlook
Sapphire Point Overlook is a ceremony site in Summit County, right by Dillon Reservoir and close to Breckenridge and Keystone. This site is one of few that’s open even in winter, so it’s another good option if you want easy access for your ceremony. Sapphire Point requires a $120 permit, and can fit groups of up to 35 people. Check out more Breckenridge elopement locations here.
Boulder Open Space & Mountain Parks
Looking for mountain vibes while staying close to Denver and city comforts? It doesn’t get better than Boulder! (Okay, I’m biased because I live here.) But Boulder is perfect if you’re bringing more guests to your elopement, since you can rent one of the many picnic shelters and outdoor ceremony sites. Lost Gulch, Chautauqua, and Sunrise Amphitheater are three of the most popular places to elope in Boulder, and you can see more Boulder area elopement locations here.
Brainard Lake is an easily accessible high alpine lake in Boulder County, and one of my favorite places for summer elopements. You can drive to the lake in summer (late June through early October), or hike there in winter along the snow-covered road. Please be aware that Brainard Lake has different rules from the nearby Indian Peaks Wilderness, which has a very strict permit requirement for groups with more than 8 people total.
Loveland Pass is another very popular place to elope in the Colorado mountains. The high alpine pass is open year round, with the exception of a few days a year when avalanches close the road. You can get incredible mountain views right off the side of the road, but I highly recommend hiking along the trails to get away from all the tourists. Read more about Loveland Pass elopements here.
Now I get what you’re probably thinking.
No, these are not the only places to elope in Colorado. And yes, there are more remote, more beautiful, and more unique locations to choose from.
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.
If you want to start searching for locations on your own, check out Alltrails and other similar hiking websites – you can find some really cool spots when you’re willing to hike at least a few miles away from roads and trailheads. But make sure that you also research permits and rental fees separately, as these can be hard to find and often buried in legalese on the local authority websites.
What’s the best time to elope in Colorado?
June 30, 2018 – Arapaho National Forest
June 28, 2019 – Indian Peaks Wilderness
What time of year should we elope?
If you live in Colorado, you already know that our weather is very unpredictable. But couples who ask me about the best months to elope in Colorado are always surprised that the weather and seasons are so erratic here.
I once had a Southern couple ask if they could do wedding photos on Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park in December. That road is closed from October through May, and is under 10+ feet of snow all winter. I’ve had couples ask if I can help them find a location with “spring wildflowers” in April – the second snowiest month of the year here. (If you do want wildflowers, the end of July is your best bet!)
July through September are the only months where you are unlikely to see snow in Colorado. Eloping in summer 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 all day.
Want to see a full breakdown of pros and cons, with photos, of every month you could elope in Colorado?
September 9, 2019 – Crested Butte
October 5, 2018 – Crested Butte
Reasons to Consider a Weekday Elopement
When couples contact me without having a date set yet, I always recommend going with a weekday elopement.
And luckily most of my couples trust my advice, and decide that having their dream location to themselves on a Thursday morning or Monday afternoon sounds way better than fighting through crowds on a weekend. After all, isn’t the privacy and intimate feels part of why more couples are choosing elopements over bigger weddings?
Here are five reasons why you should consider eloping on a weekday.
I bet you’re picturing your elopement as a private celebration in the mountains, and not with a never-ending line of strangers honking and yelling “congratulations” out the window from their cars. You can get privacy on weekends if you’re willing to hike a bit, but the easier access locations are all very busy on weekends in summer.
Driving I-70 to the mountains from Denver is notoriously slow on weekends, both in summer and winter. And driving through the entrance gates of Rocky Mountain National Park can take over an hour on weekends, when it’s two minutes on a Tuesday morning.
If you’re looking to reserve a ceremony site, or even book an airbnb, you’ll have a much easier time getting the date and location you want if you elope on a weekday.
More vendors available
Many of the best Colorado elopement vendors are fully booked on weekends over a year in advance. With a weekday elopement, you’ll have more vendors to choose from.
Make a vacation of it
If you’re already traveling to Colorado from out of state, you might as well make a vacation of it, and build in a couple of days before and after your elopement day. Make sure that you have at least one weekday (Mon-Fri) in Colorado before your elopement, so that you can pick up your marriage license. If you can, give yourselves at least two days to acclimate if you’re coming from sea level. The Colorado altitude can kick your butt if you’re not prepared for it!
Colorado Elopement Planning Checklist
Alright folks, let’s get practical here. I know you’ve probably never planned an elopement before, and it can feel overwhelming to even get started. But it doesn’t have to be hard! (Hey, it’s a heck of a lot easier than planning a wedding for 200 people…)
1. Start dreaming
Before you start booking anything, take the time to really dream up the best day ever. Browse Pinterest or Instagram for photos of locations you like. 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 hanging out at a campsite, renting a boat to cruise around an alpine lake, or spending the day at a luxury mountain home sounds more fun to you. There are no limits here!
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 25 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.
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 or Pinterest for Colorado elopement photographers in the area you’re interested in. 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 favorites 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 over emails and a call.
3. Pick your location
Once you’ve booked your Colorado elopement 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 detailed 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.
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.
Write out your vows in a nice notebook, or on thick cards, rather than holding a flimsy sheet of paper. (Or worse, reading them off your phones.)
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.
7. Get your marriage license
Getting your marriage license in Colorado is easy. You can get it 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, and you can show up for a 20-30 minute walk-in 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, 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 drop it off in person where you got it, or mail it in to have it officially recorded.
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 cost of eloping in Colorado really comes down to your budget. The only required expense is the $30 price of the Colorado marriage license. Anything beyond that is up to you.
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. Both of these examples do not include any costs related to inviting guests.
Elope on a high-end budget
$30 – Marriage license
$250 – Location permit
$1500 – 3 nights at a luxury cabin or resort
$4500 – Photographer
$300 – Private chef
$500 – Bouquet and boutonniere + decor for ceremony and dinner
$250 – Hair and makeup
$4000 – Wedding dress + accessories
$1000 – Suit + accessories
Total elopement price: ~ $12,500
Elope on a budget
$30 – Marriage license
$250 – Location permit
$400 – 3 nights at a basic airbnb or cabin
$2500 – Photographer
$200 – Restaurant dinner
$200 – Bouquet and boutonniere
$150 – Hair and makeup
$800 – Second-hand wedding dress
$200 – Suit rental
Total elopement price: ~ $5,000
These numbers are only meant as examples, and are in no way meant as an actual quote for Colorado elopement packages. 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 $4000. 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 photography collections? You can see my full prices here.
What to wear for your Colorado adventure elopement
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 some tread.
Wedding dresses for adventure elopements
Heavy structured dresses with corsets are incredibly 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.
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.
Real Colorado elopement galleries
Ready to chat about your Colorado elopement?
Contact me to schedule a no-obligation call to chat about your elopement and make sure we’re a good fit!