Colorado elopement guide
How to elope in Colorado, find the best places to elope, choose the perfect time of year, and plan an epic Rocky Mountain elopement.
You want to elope in Colorado.
I did the same thing, eleven years ago. Since then, I’ve helped over 180 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 want to elope in the mountains, but don’t know how to even start planning your Colorado elopement, you’re in the right place.
In this guide, I’ll show you the best places to elope, share the legalities of how to get your marriage license and self-solemnize your marriage, help you pick the best time of year to elope in Colorado, and hopefully teach you some stuff you didn’t even know you needed to know.
By the end of this guide, you’ll know for sure if eloping in Colorado is right for you, and how to make it all happen.
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 for a micro-wedding. 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, exchange your vows in a hot air balloon, 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?
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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. Just grab a stamp pad and some wet wipes to make sure you don’t get ink all over your outfits after your dog 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.
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!
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.
Best places to elope in Colorado
There are countless beautiful locations to get married in Colorado. We are one of the best states to elope in, after all! 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 have more than ~10-15 guests, I recommend looking into renting a small wedding venue for your elopement.
- Rocky Mountain National Park
- Maroon Bells Amphitheater
- Sapphire Point Overlook
- Boulder Open Space & Mountain Parks
- Crested Butte
- Garden of the Gods
- Loveland Pass
- Dunton Hot Springs
- Devil’s Thumb Ranch
- Steamboat Springs
- Horsetooth Reservoir
- Brainard Lake
- St Mary’s Glacier
- Great Sand Dunes National Park
- Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
If you’re overwhelmed by the options, contact a local elopement photographer to get help from someone who knows the area to find the best spot for you. A local expert can also help you apply for a special use permit, tell you what to expect from the unpredictable weather, and help you pick a date where you’ll avoid traffic and busy trails. (Trust me—you do not want to elope anywhere near Estes Park at the same time as their elk festival, or be driving up I-70 early on a Saturday morning during ski season.)
Most of my couples have no clue where (or even when) to elope before they contact me—and that’s okay! The locations I’m sharing here are some of the most popular places to elope in Colorado, but that doesn’t necessarily make them the best choice for you. 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 these places as quiet and pristine as possible so that you can enjoy the epic views without the crowds of people. I love getting to share hidden gems with couples, so if you don’t see what you’re looking for here, reach out and I’ll help you find the best place to elope in Colorado.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the most popular places to elope in Colorado, and for good reason. You unfortunately can’t elope at Dream Lake, Trail Ridge Road, or anywhere in the backcountry, but the park has beautiful ceremony sites like 3M Curve, Sprague Lake, Bear Lake, and Lily Lake that you can reserve with a $300 permit.
Maroon Bells Amphitheater
Maroon Bells in Aspen 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. (Not into crowds of tourists? There are lots of great trails in Aspen where you can get similar views with more privacy!)
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 places to elope in Breckenridge 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! (I might be biased since 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. Your photographer needs a commercial use permit.
If I had a do-over for my own wedding day, I would elope in Crested Butte. It’s the perfect Colorado adventurous mountain town all year round, and has so many epic hikes to choose from for couples who want complete solitude in nature on their wedding day—and are okay with sweating a bit for it. You can also rent natural ceremony sites like Woods Walk, Peanut Lake, and the Crested Butte Wedding Garden for elopements with guests, or go all out with a boutique venue like Scarp Ridge Lodge.
Telluride is another of my favorite mountain towns. Think of it as the bougie version of Crested Butte, but with loads of adventures close to town, from 4×4 roads through the San Juan Mountains that’ll get your heart pumping, to the gondola that leads up to the San Sophia Overlook at the Telluride Ski Resort. (The best ceremony venue for elopements with guests!) Telluride is especially magical in fall when the aspen leaves are changing colors.
Garden of the Gods
Garden of the Gods is a public park in Colorado Springs, with epic red rock and views of Pikes Peak. Garden of the Gods has a handful of designated elopement ceremony sites for up to 40 guests, and best of all—it’s completely free to get married here, and you don’t need to apply for a permit. (This does also mean there’s a chance someone else could be using the spot you were hoping for though, since there are no reservations.)
Colorado’s Ski Resorts
Colorado has an astounding 26 different ski resorts, and many of them are open to elopements in both summer and winter. Some require that you rent a ceremony venue, while others allow couples eloping without guests to just use normal lift tickets. If you want to stay warm, you can ride a gondola both up and down, or if you’re feeling more adventurous, take an open lift up then ski back down again!
Loveland Pass is a 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 recommend hiking along the trails to get away from all the tourists. Please be aware of local regulations on group size and commercial usage—you may need a special use permit depending on your situation.
Vail is a mountain town and ski resort about two hours from Denver, and a popular destination for weddings and elopements. The area surrounding Vail is great for 4×4 driving up mountain passes, and long hikes into the wilderness. In winter, there are lots of gondolas and ski lifts you can take up the mountains, or you can rent snowmobiles for a unique adventure elopement.
Dunton Hot Springs
Want a luxury elopement experience unlike any other? Dunton Hot Springs is as bougie as it gets here in Colorado, while still feeling so down-to-earth. An old mining town turned boutique resort, it’s now a small collection of cabins and glamping tents around the main dining hall/bar and the rustic bathhouse with natural hot springs. The expansive property has lots of beautiful hiking trails, and even a private waterfall. (Fun fact: being a bridesmaid at Dunton was what made me want to become an elopement photographer!)
Steamboat Springs is one of my favorite mountain towns in Colorado; especially during ski season. If you love the idea of eloping inside a snow globe, Steamboat might be a good fit for you.
Horsetooth Reservoir is a large reservoir outside of Fort Collins in Northern Colorado, and can be reserved for elopement ceremonies with a special use permit from Larimer County.
Looking for an easy to access location in the mountains where you can elope with a few guests? Brainard Lake, between Boulder and Estes Park, might be a good fit for you—as long as you’re okay with always having other people around. This is one of the most popular recreation areas in Colorado, and best avoided on weekends. The road is only open from June until mid-October, but you can also hike there in winter.
St Mary’s Glacier
St Mary’s Glacier is a short but steep hike near Idaho Springs, and one of the most popular trails close to Denver, so be prepared to run into other people. The hike is accessible all year round, but it’s almost guaranteed to be cold and windy in winter, as the lake sits exposed right at the treeline. The glacier means you can get snowy photos even in summer!
Great Sand Dunes National Park
Great Sand Dunes National Park 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.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is located between Gunnison and Montrose in western Colorado. While the towns surrounding the park aren’t the most exciting, the canyon itself is incredible! It’s deeper than the Grand Canyon, and much less visited, making it an epic place to elope for a couple who’s not afraid of heights. You do need a permit to elope 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. (And the best options are never gonna be found publicly on a website.)
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. This is why working with an experienced elopement photographer is so important—you don’t want to accidentally break local rules and get a ticket in the middle of your ceremony!
When to elope in Colorado
What’s the best time of year to elope in Colorado?
If you live in Colorado, you already know that our weather is very unpredictable. But couples from out-of-state who ask me about the best months to elope in Colorado are always surprised that the weather and seasons are so erratic here.
Most locations in the mountains are snow-covered from mid-October through early 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.
July through September are the only months where you are unlikely to see snow in Colorado, but I’ve also photographed an elopement in the middle of a blizzard two days after Labor Day, and been hailed on at the end of June. 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 outside all day.
Elope on a weekday
When couples contact me without having a date set yet, I always recommend 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 from their cars or yelling “congratulations” when passing you on the trail.
Trailhead parking, ceremony site reservations, and even vendors are all more available for weekday elopements, and you won’t have to worry about getting stuck in traffic when driving from your lodging to your elopement location in the mountains.
If you do need to elope on a weekend, I highly recommend picking a location that requires more hiking or off-roading to reach, as the easiest access locations are always the busiest.
Colorado elopement planning checklist
1. Start dreaming
Before you book anything, really take the time to dream up your best day ever. Browse Pinterest or Instagram for photos to get a feel for what kind 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 15-20 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 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.
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.
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. Your photographer can help you with the details of when and where to get your license based on where you’re eloping!
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 cost for the Colorado 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. (Pro tip? 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.
Photographers reading this: please stop copying this budget breakdown (or any other part of this guide, really). I spent so many hours contacting vendors to get accurate budget estimates—you’re welcome to do the same, but copying from my website is plagiarism.
High-end elopement budget
$30 – Marriage license
$2400 – 3 nights at a luxury cabin or resort
$7500 – Photographer
$450 – Private chef
$900 – Private snowmobile tour
$600 – Bouquet and boutonniere + decor for dinner
$350 – Hair and makeup
$4000 – Wedding dress + accessories
$1000 – Suit + accessories
Total elopement price: ~ $17,230
Affordable elopement budget
$30 – Marriage license
$500 – 3 nights at a simple airbnb or cabin
$2500 – Photographer
$200 – Restaurant dinner & drinks
$200 – Bouquet and boutonniere
$250 – Hair and makeup
$800 – Second-hand wedding dress
$200 – Suit rental
Total elopement price: ~ $4,680
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 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 collections? You can see my elopement photography 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 good tread.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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 couples across the Rocky Mountains since 2017.