Best places to elope in the US

Lake Isabelle Elopement Guide

If you want to elope at Lake Isabelle, you’ve come to the right place! As an elopement photographer based in nearby Boulder, Colorado, I’ve photographed many Lake Isabelle elopements over the years, and now that this location has blown up in popularity I want to share some important permit information and rules with you all!

Lake Isabelle elopement

First things first—let’s get some frequently asked questions out of the way!

Can you elope at Lake Isabelle?

Yes, you can elope at Lake Isabelle as long as you follow the rules for Indian Peaks Wilderness that I’ll explain in this post!

Do you need a permit to elope at Lake Isabelle?

You do not need a permit to elope at Lake Isabelle if you have fewer than 8 people total in your group (including yourselves, your photographer, and any guests), and you do not have any other vendors like a hired officiant, wedding planner, picnic company, etc. along with you. Your photographer and videographer are the only two vendors who can be at your elopement without needing a commercial use a permit.

Hiking elopement at Lake Isabelle in Indian Peaks Wilderness

Do you need a permit for styled shoots at Lake Isabelle?

Yes, you need a permit for any styled shoots, styled elopements, content days, and photography workshops at Lake Isabelle. These shoots are all considered commercial use, because the goal is to create content to promote a business, as opposed to photographing a real elopement where the goal is to create photos for the clients’ personal use. For more information about commercial use permits, please contact the Boulder Ranger District at (303) 541-2500.

Can we bring our dogs to our Lake Isabelle elopement?

Yes, you can bring your dogs to Lake Isabelle as long as they are on a hand-held leash at all times.

Hiking elopement with dogs in Colorado

How many people can we have at our Lake Isabelle elopement?

You can have up to 8 people (including yourselves, guests, and vendors) without a permit. For groups of 8-12 people, you need a Large Group Permit for the Four Lakes – Long/Isabelle area, available from for $11. There is only one large group permit available for this area per day, so apply early if you want to get one of them.

That being said, it’s incredibly hard to fit an elopement with any guests around the lakeshore at Lake Isabelle without trampling the fragile vegetation. This area is best suited for elopements with just the couple without guests, as it’s a busy trailhead with limited parking, a busy trail where you’re guaranteed to run into other hikers any day of the year, and in my personal opinion it’s a bit obnoxious to take up a large space for an elopement ceremony when there are loads of other hikers around trying to enjoy the same view. Please consider other locations for elopement ceremonies with guests.

Lake Isabelle elopement in fall

What’s the best time to elope at Lake Isabelle?

While the trail to Lake Isabelle is technically open year-round, the road to Long Lake trailhead is only open from early July through mid-October, so that’s the best time to elope here. From mid-June through early July, you can hike to Lake Isabelle from the Brainard Lake Recreation Area trailhead, which adds two-miles onto the hike. From mid-October through mid-June, you can hike to Lake Isabelle from the Brainard Lake Winter Lot, which makes it a challenging 11-mile hike in the snow.

The lake is drained at the end of August every year, and the exact date and how much water is drained varies from year to year. If you’re hiking here between late August and mid-October, there’s a chance that the lake could look pretty empty compared to photos you’ve seen online.

Sunrise elopement at Lake Isabelle

Lake Isabelle Hiking Details

From Long Lake trailhead: 4.2 miles round-trip with 550ft of elevation gain. It usually takes around an hour to get up, and a bit less to get back down again, but depending on how used you are to hiking at high altitude, it can take up to 1.5 hours up and the same going down.

From Brainard Lake Recreation Area: 6.2 miles round-trip with 750ft of elevation gain. 1.5-2 hours going up, around 1.5h going down.

From Brainard Lake Winter Lot: 11 miles round-trip with 1030ft of elevation gain. 2-3 hours going up, 2-3 hours going down—it really depends on the snow conditions!

Pro tip: if you see an “elopement company” advertising 1-2 hour packages for Lake Isabelle, it’s a clear sign that they have no idea what they’re doing. You need a minimum of 3-4 hours for this location!

Lake Isabelle elopement in Colorado

Insider Tips for Lake Isabelle elopements

I’ve hiked to Lake Isabelle at least a dozen times in the last decade. Here are a few insider tips for anyone who wants to do this hike for their elopement:

  • If you’re hiking to Lake Isabelle for sunrise, hike in regular hiking attire and change into your wedding attire at the top. It’ll make the uphill hike in the dark much easier!
  • Sunrise is the best time to hike Lake Isabelle for soft light and avoiding crowded trails.
  • You can hike it at sunset, but the chances of afternoon thunderstorms, rain, and hail are high, so please be prepared with rain jackets and proper gear.
  • I would never recommend doing this hike for an elopement on a weekend. The trail gets so busy, you won’t have the privacy and solitude that I’m guessing you want from your elopement day.
Lake Isabelle winter elopement

How to Leave No Trace at Lake Isabelle

As locations like Lake Isabelle have become “internet famous” over the years, it’s more important than ever to take good care of the land so we can all continue to enjoy the beautiful landscapes for years and years to come. Here are a few important things to remember:

  • Stay on trails and durable surfaces. It might be tempting to go off-trail to get photos in the wildflowers, but this is by far the most damaging thing you can do. The lakeshore at Lake Isabelle has a few big rocky areas that are great for elopements, and I promise you can get great photos on durable surfaces.
  • Campfires are never allowed at Lake Isabelle.
  • Dogs must be on leash at all times, and always pick up and carry out your dog poop bags. Don’t leave them by the trail to pick up on the way back, either!
  • Respect the fact that it’s a popular trail, you will see other hikers, and you don’t have more of a right to the views just because you’re eloping. Share the trail, be friendly to those you meet, and if you run into another elopement at the lake (it happens), remember that there’s plenty room for everyone to get the photos they came for.
  • Leave nothing behind! Pick out your own trash, check the ground for flower petals that might have fallen off your bouquet, don’t use confetti or anything else like it (including leaves) to throw in the air. You want to leave it better than you found it.
  • Don’t feed the wildlife. There are a lot of friendly chipmunks up here, and they’ll often come right up to you if they smell food. No matter how cute they are, don’t feed them, and don’t leave food scraps behind for them either.
Couple eloping at Lake Isabelle

Timed Entry Reservations

You will need a timed entry reservation to park at either Long Lake Trailhead or Brainard Lake Recreation Area for the whole season that these trailheads are open to cars. Reservations are available from for $14, and you can read all the info you need from that same link.

I hope you found this blog post helpful, whether you’re a photographer researching Lake Isabelle or a couple who wants to elope here! It truly is a beautiful location, and there’s good reason why it’s become so popular over the years. But it can be hard to find the correct information about permits and rules, and so I wanted to write this to correct some of the wrong information I’ve seen shared elsewhere.

And of course I can’t end without saying that if you’re looking for a photographer for your Lake Isabelle elopement, I’d love to chat with you! Check out my pricing, then reach out to schedule a video chat so we can make sure I’m the right photographer for you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *