A complete guide to the official Rocky Mountain National Park wedding ceremony locations, permit requirements, the best RMNP wedding vendors, and scenic hikes in the park where you can have the adventure elopement of a lifetime!
Table of Contents
- Why plan a Rocky Mountain National Park wedding?
- FAQs about getting married in RMNP
- Tips for Choosing Your Ceremony Site
- Wedding Locations on the Map
- Designated Ceremony Locations
- Best Views in Rocky Mountain National Park
- How to apply for a wedding permit
- Rules and Regulations
- Rocky Mountain National Park wedding vendors
- Elopement Photography Collections
After being closed for two months, RMNP is starting a phased reopening of the park on May 27, 2020. Weddings scheduled within the park after May 27 will continue, but have to adhere to social distancing guidelines, group size restrictions, etc. For the most up-to-date info, please visit the National Parks Service online.
Why plan a Rocky Mountain National Park wedding?
I might be biased here since RMNP feels like my own backyard, but you’ve picked an amazing place to get married. Eloping in national parks keeps getting more popular, and for good reason: it’s beautiful, affordable, and unlike any other wedding venue out there!
With increased demand for nature elopements comes a lot of responsibility for us photographers to help educate couples on how this all works. I personally photograph 15-20 weddings in Rocky Mountain National Park every year, and when you add in engagement sessions (and hiking on my time off), I spend a good chunk of time up here.
As a result I’ve gotten to know the park regulations well, and since I keep getting the same questions from many couples, I wanted to build this guide to answer everything in one place. I’ve visited all the official wedding locations and studied up on the permit rules, so that I can help couples like you plan the perfect elopement in the park!
FAQs about getting married in RMNP
Q: How much does it cost to get married in Rocky Mountain National Park?
A: There is a $250 application fee for the permit and designated ceremony site rental, which makes it one of the most affordable places to elope in Colorado.
Q: Where in the park can you get married?
A: You have to rent one of the 12 designated ceremony sites. There are no exceptions to this rule, so you unfortunately can’t elope on your favorite hiking trail or mountain top within the park. If you are looking for a backcountry elopement, hire an experienced elopement photographer who can help you find a legal location elsewhere in Colorado.
Q: Can I get married at Dream Lake, Sky Pond, or Trail Ridge Road?
A: No. You may have seen wedding photos from these places online, but those were either portraits taken before or after a ceremony at one of the designated ceremony sites, or couples (or photographers) who either broke the law or didn’t know better. Now that you’ve read this, please don’t be those people.
Q: Can I take photos anywhere in the park if it’s not a wedding?
A: Yes, you can! You can take photos anywhere within the park, as long as it’s a trail or area that’s open to the public. Whether you want engagement photos, anniversary photos, or you’re getting married in Estes Park and want couples portraits in RMNP, that’s allowed. Your photographer will need a permit, but it’s $50 for a single session or $300 for the annual permit – and most serious photographers cover the cost of permits for their couples if it’s a location where they work often.
Q: How popular are weddings in RMNP?
A: It was getting so popular to get married in the park that they had to lower the limit of weddings allowed per day. The current rules as of 2020 are no more than six total weddings on any given day of the year, and no more than two weddings per day on each of the different ceremony sites. This is a good thing – it means you won’t have to worry about someone else getting married at your site at the time you reserved it!
Q: How early should we get our permit?
A: You can apply for a permit up to one year in advance. If you have a specific date in mind, I recommend applying as soon as possible within the one year to make sure you get the site you want. Weekend dates in summer disappear quickly.
Q: What are the best places to elope in RMNP?
A: My favorite ceremony sites are 3M Curve, Sprague Lake, Bear Lake, and Upper Beaver Meadows. Read more about each site further down in this guide.
Q: What’s the best time of year to visit Rocky Mountain National Park?
A: It depends on what kind of experience you are looking for. The park is beautiful when covered in wildflowers in summer, glowing yellow when the falls change color in fall, softened by a blanket of snow in winter, and … well … any one of those three things in spring. Memorial Day through Labor Day is the busiest time of the year in the park.
Tips for Choosing Your Ceremony Site
1. Think of the logistics. Are you staying on the east or west side of the park? Do you need to coordinate multiple cars full of people to the ceremony site? Make sure to look at the location descriptions, because each of the Rocky Mountain National Park wedding ceremony locations come with a max attendance and max cars allowed.
2. Think of what type of location you want. Are you open to a short hike to get to your ceremony spot, or do you want a location where you can pull up in your car and be ready to go? Do you prefer complete privacy or are you okay with having hikers passing your ceremony?
3. Think about the timing. Some of these locations are crazy busy on weekends, others are extra popular when the leaves are changing in fall. If you don’t want a ton of hikers around you as you exchange vows, take my notes about which locations are busy or not into consideration.
And if you haven’t already picked a date, I recommend reading my post on why you should consider eloping on a weekday. Nowhere in Colorado is this more relevant than in Rocky Mountain National Park, as it can often take a whole hour just to get in through the entrance gate on a Saturday in summer!
4. Once you’ve narrowed down your options and found a couple of locations that you like, do some googling to see more photos from that area. Or better yet, take the time to check it out in person before you make a decision!
5. And of course, if you have questions not answered in this guide, email me and I’d be happy to help!
Wedding Locations on the Map
Not all of the designated ceremony locations show up when you search them by name on Google Maps, so make sure that you know where you’re going before driving up there to scope these places out in person.
Designated Ceremony Locations
Learn more about each of the designated wedding and elopement ceremony sites, and what I personally consider the best places to elope in Rocky Mountain National Park.
While I don’t have numbers to back this up, I think 3M Curve is the most popular place to get married in the park. It has the best mountain views of Longs Peak – the only fourteener in RMNP. And it’s the site I recommend to my couples most often, as long as their elopement has fewer than 15 people total (including the couple, guests, and vendors like myself).
The location isn’t marked on Google Maps, but it’s easy to find if you have the GPS location or use my map from above. There’s a big curve in the road when you’re driving highway 36 / Trail Ridge Road west from Estes Park, and you’ll find it almost exactly three miles after driving past the Beaver Meadows entrance. The parking area is on the left hand side of the road when driving west. There are no restrooms here.
The wedding ceremony site itself at 3M Curve is down the trail behind the big rock formation next to the parking area. There’s a bit of an established social trail, and when you see the epic overlook, you’ll know you’re in the right place. The trail down there is rocky and uneven, so please don’t wear high heels for weddings here (and tell your mom). It’s also not the best site for older guests or anyone with accessibility issues.
The road nearby can be busy on the weekends, and you’ll hear some road noise from the ceremony site, but you’re far enough away to have privacy and not see the cars. While there are almost always cars parked at the overlook, most tourists never leave the paved area, so you’re unlikely to have other people close to your ceremony.
Ceremony rules: Max 15 people + 3 cars year round.
Sprague Lake is my favorite of the alpine lake wedding locations in the national park. There’s a nice loop trail around the lake that leads to the dock, which has the best views of Hallet Peak on a clear day. (Yep, it’s hidden in the clouds in the photo above.) The trail is technically wheelchair accessible all year round, but it can get snowy, icy, and slushy in winter, so good hiking boots are recommended.
There are plenty of beautiful places to stop for photos along the trail, but the dock is the best place for ceremonies. It allows you to be completely off trail, without hikers in the background of your photos – and also means that hikers can enjoy the area without awkwardly trying to pass by your wedding on the side of the trail.
Sprague Lake is one of the busiest lakes in the park, so there will always be some people here. Plan on a weekday at an off-hour if privacy is important for you, and don’t be afraid of the cold – winter elopements are my favorite!
Ceremony rules Max 15 people + 3 cars in summer, 30 people + 10 cars in winter.
Upper Beaver Meadows
Upper Beaver Meadows is one of the most quiet and private place to elope in Rocky Mountain National Park, and one of my personal favorites. There are multiple different places where you can have your ceremony here, from the flat and grassy meadow to the more rocky hills, so you have lots of options for your backdrop.
It’s easy to access the trail from a dirt road. (The road is undergoing construction during the summer of 2020, and there will be limited access during this time.) There’s plenty parking, restrooms at the trailhead, and you can have groups of up to 60 people here. And I love the view of Longs Peak peeking out from over the trees!
Upper Beaver Meadows does not see much traffic from hikers, so you can often have this whole area to yourselves, or see only a handful of people the whole time you’re there. The road is closed off during winter, so you can only elope here from May through late October.
Ceremony rules: Max 60 guests + 10 cars.
Bear Lake elopements are some of the most popular in the park, and the trail surrounding the lake is one of the busiest. This is why RMNP only allows weddings here on weekdays between Columbus Day and the Friday before Memorial Day weekend (October through May).
With a 256ft flat walk from the trailhead, Bear Lake is one of the easiest alpine lakes to access in the whole park. In winter, the lake is frozen over, and you can even go out onto the ice when it’s safe – please ask a ranger if you’re unsure on whether it’s safe or not! In spring and late fall when it’s not frozen, there are a couple of different spots around the lake where you can step off the trail onto rocks and durable surfaces, but it’s not quite as easy to move around everywhere as in winter.
Bear Lake is the perfect place to have your elopement ceremony if you want to hike to Dream Lake, The Loch, or one of the other nearby trails for photos afterwards. Just make sure to mention the hike you’re planning to do on your wedding permit application.
You are unlikely to have Bear Lake completely to yourselves, unless you’re open to heading up there at sunrise on a weekday in winter. February is the least busy month in RMNP. Avoid holiday weekends, as the trailhead often fills up, and you’d need to take the free public shuttle buses up there and back. But even with other people around, it’s pretty darn cool to be getting married at 10,000ft by an alpine lake.
Ceremony rules: Max 20 people + 5 cars. No weddings permitted from the Friday before Memorial Day weekend through Columbus Day. No weekends any time.
There are three different wedding ceremony sites at Lily Lake: the Dock, the Trail, and the Southside Picnic Area. The dock has the best views, but is also the busiest, with the hiking trail walking directly behind it. I was standing on the trail when taking the photo above, with the road and parking lot out of the frame behind me.
I highly recommend going with a weekday at an off-time if you want to elope at Lily Lake. Sunrise is always a good option for quiet trails and good lighting, or even late enough in the evening that most people are home for dinner. If you are set on getting married here on a weekend, be prepared to have other people in the background of your wedding photos (and yelling congrats out of their cars).
Lily Lake is a short, flat, and easy walk, with a handicap accessible trail to the dock. There are restrooms at the trailhead, and a picnic shelter.
Ceremony rules: You can have a maximum of 10 guests at the dock, 20 at the trail, or 30 at the picnic area. You can never have more than 10 cars parked at the trailhead for any of the sites.
Copeland Lake is located right by the Wild Basin entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park, near Allenspark. The lake is a short drive down a dirt road, but is easily accessible by any car. There’s a small parking lot on one side of the road, and a short walk down to the lake on the other side of the road. There’s not much privacy here, with the road going right by, but it’s less busy than some other sites. This is also the only ceremony site in the park that allows dogs.
The lake looks its best in winter when covered in snow, and in early summer when the water level is higher.
Ceremony rules: Max 30 people + 10 cars.
Harbison Meadow is my favorite of the two designated wedding ceremony locations on the less busy west side of the park. It’s a wide open meadow with views of the mountains in the distance. The trail is flat and easily accessible, but does not offer much privacy from the parking area and nearby road. It’s a great option for a ceremony with your family if you’re all staying in the Grand Lake area, since you don’t have to drive all the way over to Estes Park and back again.
Ceremony rules: Max 60 people + 10 cars.
Hidden Valley is the perfect wedding venue for couples that prefer a quiet forest over sweeping mountain views. Secluded and quiet even on the busiest of weekends when compared to the other sites, Hidden Valley is a hidden gem for elopements. The meadow is covered in wildflowers in summer, and the forest provides shade and relief from midday heat. (Pro tip from a photographer – it’s also great for photos in the middle of the day, when the Colorado sun can be harsh.)
The trail is wheelchair accessible, and there are restrooms and a picnic shelter at the trailhead, plus plenty of parking.
Hidden Valley is located off highway 36 where it turns into Trail Ridge Road, so it’s easy to combine with a drive up the mountain for some of those epic views that Colorado is known for.
Ceremony rules: 20 people max at some times, 100 people max at other times. Call RMNP for specifics.
Moraine Park Amphitheater
Moraine Park Amphitheater is the best place to have a wedding with a large group of guests in Rocky Mountain National Park. The site allows between 60-100 people here, depending on the time of year, and wooden benches provide seating for all your guests. It’s also easily accessible with a wheelchair friendly trail from the parking lot, plenty of parking spots, and restrooms in the nearby visitor center building.
There is some road noise from Bear Lake Road curving around the ceremony site, and you can both see and hear cars passing by. I’d recommend avoiding weekends here if you can, since the area gets very busy. The trees cover up most of the views from the amphitheater, but provide nice shade in the heat of summer. There are also lots of great places to take portraits nearby after your ceremony, where you can get better views.
Ceremony rules: Max 60 people in summer / 100 in winter + 10 cars in summer / more in winter.
Timber Creek Amphitheater
Timber Creek Amphitheater is one of two wedding ceremony sites on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park, near Grand Lake. The amphitheater is located at the Timber Creek Campground, so you could actually camp right there with all your guests. It’s also the most accessible of all the sites, with a wheelchair accessible trail and ramp for the stage, and restrooms at the campground.
I don’t personally recommend Timber Creek Amphitheater for weddings unless you need the accessibility features. The big structure on the stage blocks the mountain views, and it’s the least “nature looking” and scenic of all the ceremony sites.
Ceremony rules: Max 20 people + 5 cars in summer
Alluvial Fan Bridge
Alluvial Fan Bride is my personal least favorite elopement site in the park. The old bridge was washed away in the flood of 2013, which tore up a lot of the landscaping in the area. It’s now very rocky, and looks more like a quarry than the mountain views I know you’ve been dreaming about.
Ceremony rules: Max 20 people + 5 cars.
Trail Ridge Road – no weddings allowed
Trail Ridge Road is NOT one of the approved ceremony locations in Rocky Mountain National Park. This was a new rule as of 2018, and so there are photos out there of ceremonies on TRR, but those are either from before this, or from someone who broke the rules. Please don’t be those people. You can get married at one of the nearby ceremony locations, then drive up Trail Ridge Road afterwards for photos, but you cannot exchange your vows up here.
Trail Ridge Road is usually open from around Memorial Day weekend until mid-October, but it is completely weather dependent, and the exact open and close dates change every year.
When visiting Trail Ridge Road, please take care to stay on designated trails. The alpine tundra is fragile, and can take over a hundred years to regrow when harmed by hikers going off-trail. You can easily take beautiful photos without breaking the rules – the above photo was taken in a parking lot!
Dream Lake – no weddings allowed
Dream Lake is also NOT one of the approved ceremony locations in Rocky Mountain National Park. This was a new rule as of 2018, and so there are photos out there of ceremonies at Dream Lake, but those are either from before 2018, or from someone who broke the rules. Please don’t be those people. You can get married at one of the nearby ceremony locations, then hike up to Dream Lake afterwards for photos, but you cannot exchange your vows up here.
Dream Lake is a short hike, around 2.2 miles round trip, but don’t underestimate how challenging it can be. You are hiking at 10,000ft and with a lot of elevation gain in a short amount of time – this hike is a workout. It takes anywhere from 25-50 minutes to hike each direction depending on what shape you’re in. In winter, microspikes are necessary to safely hike to Dream Lake. There is snow on the trail from early October until May, and sometimes June.
Best Views in Rocky Mountain National Park
While you have to do your ceremony at one of the official sites, you can go just about anywhere in the park for portraits before and after your ceremony, as long as you follow all the local rules, and remember to stay on trail and durable surfaces. Here are some of my favorite views in the park:
Whether you want to hike ten miles to find complete solitude at sunrise, or drive up to an epic view without having to break a sweat, there’s something for everyone in Rocky Mountain National Park.
When I’m not photographing elopements, you can find me exploring the trails that don’t have their own hashtags (yet – and let’s keep it that way!). Some of my favorite hikes in Colorado are in Rocky, and have none of the crowds you see at Dream Lake.
If you two are up for an adventure, I’d love to share the hidden gems of Rocky with you.
How to apply for a wedding permit
1. If you already have a date set, call the RMNP Concession Management Office at 970 586-1209 to see which locations are available for your date (so you don’t waste your time considering ones that are unavailable). If you are 100% set on one location, you can ask what dates it’s available.
2. If you live in Colorado, I highly recommend spending a day in RMNP to check out the locations you’re interested in person. If you live out-of-state, spend some time googling each location to see photos from multiple different photographers to get a better idea of what each site looks like.
3. When you have your date and site set, download and complete the printable wedding permit from the official RMNP site. In “proposed activity,” put something simple like: “Elopement ceremony and wedding photos.” For Preferred Start/End Time, talk to your photographer first! Remember to include your photographer and officiant in the guest count and vehicle count.
4. There is a $250 application fee for all permits.
Notes: You cannot apply for a site more than one year in advance. The park cannot process applications on short notice – they generally need the completed permit at least one week in advance.
Rules and Regulations
• The permit does not give exclusive use of the area. All sites remain open to the public, which means that you can’t close down an area or deny access to hikers.
• Park visitor centers, restrooms, and other buildings may not be used for wedding preparations such as dressing, picture-taking, rehearsals, and waiting areas. These facilities cannot be used in the event of inclement weather.
• No disruption of the atmosphere of peace and tranquility in the park; no amplified music.
• Equipment such as tables, chairs, carpets, tents, floral displays, signs, banners, flags, generators and amplifiers cannot be used in the park.
• Throwing and scattering rice, birdseed, flower petals or other materials is prohibited.
• Normal entrance fees apply to all vehicles associated with the wedding. (Entrance fee is $30 per car, unless you have an annual pass or 7-day pass.)
• Always follow “Leave No Trace” Principles.
Rocky Mountain National Park wedding vendors
Looking for the best wedding vendors in Rocky Mountain National Park? Here are some of my favorite people to work with for weddings in the Estes Park area.
Many of my couples combine a ceremony in Rocky Mountain National Park with a reception at one of the many Estes Park wedding venues. The venues range from the historic Stanley Hotel to casual lodges and picnic shelters, so there’s something for every couple in Estes Park.
Elopement Photography Collections
If you’re getting married in Rocky Mountain National Park, and looking for a local elopement photographer who knows the park and can help you plan the best day ever, I’d love to chat more with you.