Rocky Mountain National Park Wedding Guide
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 get epic photos before or after your ceremony!
Table of Contents
- Why you should plan a Rocky Mountain National Park wedding
- Tips for Choosing Your Ceremony site
- Rocky Mountain National Park Wedding Location Map
- About the official RMNP ceremony locations
- Portrait locations in Rocky Mountain National Park
- Rocky Mountain Wedding, Elopement, and Engagement Galleries
- Sunrise first look + 3M Curve ceremony
- 3M Curve + Trail Ridge Road Elopement
- Trail Ridge Road Post-Wedding Adventure
- Rainy Upper Beaver Meadows elopement
- Stormy RMNP elopement at 3M Curve
- Self-solemnized elopement at 3M Curve
- 3M Curve Elopement
- Bear Lake Engagement
- Upper Beaver Meadows and Bear Lake elopement in a May blizzard
- Dream Lake Sunrise Engagement
- Sprague Lake Elopement
- 3M Curve ceremony + Trail Ridge Road portraits
- Permits + Rules and Practical Information
- Estes Park Wedding Vendors
- Estes Park Wedding Venues
- About the photographer
Why you should 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 shoot 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!
There are a couple important things you need know about having a Rocky Mountain National Park wedding:
• You need a permit for any type of ceremony in the park. No exceptions. It’s $250 – which is pretty darn cheap compared to a big wedding venue!
• There are specific locations where you’re allowed to do a ceremony. You can’t exchange your vows at the top of Trail Ridge Road, at Sky Pond, Dream Lake, or some other epic location you’ve seen on Instagram or hiked to in the past – it’s unfortunately illegal. You can see a list of the official ceremony locations further down this page.
• You are allowed to go elsewhere in the park before or after your ceremony for portraits.
• The park only allows 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 means you’ll want to apply early if you want to guarantee a specific site on a specific date.
• UPDATE FOR 2020: Due to road construction the summer of 2020, the park will not be scheduling wedding ceremonies at 3M Curve and Upper Beaver Meadows area from May through October.
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!
Rocky Mountain National Park Wedding Location MapSee all the official RMNP wedding ceremony locations on the map
About the official RMNP ceremony locationsLearn more about each of the official Rocky Mountain National Park wedding ceremony locations so that you can choose the best one for your elopement!
Pros: In my opinion, 3M Curve has the prettiest mountain views out of all the official Rocky Mountain National Park wedding locations. It’s not marked on Google Maps, but is easy to find if you have the GPS location or use the link above. There’s always available parking. The walk down to the ceremony site is not completely flat, so it’s not ideal if you’re wearing high heels, or if you have older guests who can’t walk on uneven surfaces. There are multiple spots where you can do the ceremony, which is great for being able to choose based on the light/time of day and how many people you have. It’s a great location for getting a variety of backdrops and looks in your photos all in one place.
Cons: It’s close to the main road, which means it can be very busy on weekends. You can hear some road noise from the ceremony site, but there’s no direct view of the site from the road thanks to a big rock formation, which also muffles the sound a bit. There will almost always be other cars parked there, but most people only take photos from the road, so you are unlikely to have people walking right by the ceremony. There are no restrooms here. The site is not handicap accessible, and not ideal for older family members due to uneven terrain.
Ceremony rules: Max 15 people + 3 cars year round.
Pros: Sprague Lake is one of the most easily accessible sites in the park. The trail that goes around the lake is wheelchair accessible, except for when there’s fresh snow or slushy conditions. Most couples choose to use the dock for their ceremonies, which means hikers will be passing behind the photographer rather than getting close to the couple. The loop around the lake is a short and easy walk, and has plenty good spots to stop for photos. There are restrooms at the trailhead.
Cons: Sprague Lake is one of the busiest trailheads in RMNP. There are always lots of people here, including families with young kids, so do not expect much privacy here. The trail can be wet and muddy in winter/spring/fall after rain or snow.
Ceremony rules Max 15 people + 3 cars in summer, 30 people + 10 cars in winter.
See more photos from a Sprague Lake elopement here.
Upper Beaver Meadows
Pros: This is one of the most quiet and private ceremony sites in RMNP! It’s easy to access from a nice dirt road, there are restrooms at the trailhead, and there’s plenty of parking. The ceremony site is a flat grassy meadow and from a very easy trail, so it’s perfect for having family along. I personally love this spot for photos! And it’s super close to 3M Curve, Moraine Valley, and on the way up Trail Ridge Road, so you can still get more “mountainy” photos before or after your ceremony.
Cons: No access in winter as the road is not maintained.
Ceremony rules: Max 60 guests + 10 cars.
Pros: This is another easy access location, with a handicap accessible trail to the dock. There are three different 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. There are restrooms at the trailhead, and a picnic shelter.
Cons: Very busy area, lots of people on any weekends throughout spring/summer/fall. (But unlike Bear Lake, they do allow weekend rentals!)
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.
Pros: With a 256ft flat walk from the trailhead, Bear Lake is one of the easiest access locations in the park. The lake and mountain views are really pretty, but hard to capture in summer as you’re more limited in where to go, and the trail is mostly covered in trees. In winter you can go out on the frozen lake, which is my favorite time to shoot here! This is a great spot to combine with doing photos at Dream Lake, The Loch, or Mills Lake, if you want a longer hike before or after your ceremony. There are restrooms at the trailhead.
Cons: The busiest trailhead in RMNP by far. There are always a lot of people here, no matter the day, time of year, or weather, so there is very little privacy. In summer and on school holidays in winter, you are very unlikely to get a parking spot at this trailhead, and would need to take the Park ‘N Ride shuttle up there.
Ceremony rules: Max 20 people + 5 cars. No weddings permitted from the Friday before Memorial Day weekend through Columbus Day. No weekends any time.
Pros: Copeland Lake is a short drive down a dirt road, but still easily accessible by any car. It’s on the east side of the park, which makes it less busy than some of the other Rocky Mountain National Park wedding locations. This is the only ceremony site in the park that allows dogs!
Cons: It’s a somewhat busy area, and with traffic going right past the little lake. I would not recommend this site in fall or winter, as the water level of the lake is very low this time of year, so it looks half empty and not very photogenic.
Ceremony rules: Max 30 people + 10 cars.
Pros: Flat and easily accessible area in an open meadow. The west side of the park is less busy than the east side. Great if you’re staying in the Grand Lake area.
Cons: There were lots of area closures for revegetation when I last visited (Oct 2018), so you’re limited in where you can do the ceremony. The available sites are all very close to the parking lot, and you can see/hear the road going right by. No restrooms.
Ceremony rules: Max 60 people + 10 cars.
Pros: Easy access with a big parking lot. Large meadow that gets wildflowers in summer, and the forest provides shade and relief from midday heat. You can also get some serious PNW / moody forest vibes in the trees here! Wheelchair accessible trail. Restrooms and picnic shelter at the trailhead.
Cons: Busy trailhead. Not the most exciting backdrop for photos, but it’s easy to combine with Trail Ridge Road before or after your ceremony.
Ceremony rules: 20 people max at some times, 100 people max at other times. Call RMNP for specifics.
Moraine Park Amphitheater
Pros: With 60-100 people allowed (depending on the time of year) and wooden benches in an amphitheater setting, this is the best Rocky Mountain National Park wedding location for large weddings. It’s also easily accessible, has lots of parking, and restrooms in the nearby visitor center building.
Cons: This site is right by one of the busiest roads in the park, and you can hear and see cars passing from the amphitheater. It’s also in the trees, so you don’t have particularly great views from here, but that can be great for staying out of the heat in summer.
Ceremony rules: Max 60 people in summer / 100 in winter + 10 cars in summer / more in winter.
Timber Creek Amphitheater
Pros: It’s at a campground, so you could actually camp there with all your guests! It’s easily accessible of the west side of Trail Ridge Road, with a wheelchair accessible trail, and restrooms at the campground.
Cons: The big structure on the scene of the amphitheater blocks the mountain views, so it’s probably my least favorite backdrop out of any in the park.
Ceremony rules: Max 20 people + 5 cars in summer
Alluvial Fan Bridge
Pros: I honestly can’t think of any.
Cons: The bridge was washed away in the flood in 2013, and has not been rebuilt yet. (You can see a photo of the ruined bridge here.) The area is rocky and not particularly pretty for photos, and it’s very busy in summer. Construction is ongoing – I will update this when the new bridge has been built.
Ceremony rules: Max 20 people + 5 cars.
Portrait locations in Rocky Mountain National ParkLet's adventure beyond the ceremony
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. 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, let me share the hidden gems of Rocky with you.
Rocky Mountain Wedding, Elopement, and Engagement GalleriesSee some of my favorite weddings and elopements that I have photographed in RMNP.
Permits + Rules and Practical InformationLearn how to apply for a Rocky Mountain National Park wedding permit, read the official park rules, and study up on Leave No Trace practices.
RMNP Wedding 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.
How to apply for a Rocky Mountain National Park 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).
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.
Estes Park Wedding VendorsLooking for the best wedding vendors in Estes Park? Here are my absolute favorite people and companies to work with for weddings and elopements in Rocky Mountain National Park!
Estes Park Wedding Venues
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 everyone in Estes Park.
About the photographer
I’m Nina Larsen Reed, a wedding photographer based in Boulder, Colorado. I moved here from Norway in 2010, and fell in love as soon as I drove over the hill on 36 and saw the foothills in front of me. I’ve been photographing the Rocky Mountains – and the people in them – ever since.
If you’re ready to plan your own wedding or elopement in Rocky Mountain National Park, I would love to help you plan and capture your big day. Check out my prices, then get in touch and let’s make it happen!