Trail Ridge Road wedding photos, Rocky Mountain National Park elopement photographer

Trail Ridge Road Wedding Guide

Trail Ridge Road is the 48-mile stretch of highway 34 that goes across Rocky Mountain National Park from Estes Park in the east to Grand Lake in the west. Trail Ridge Road is the highest continuous paved road in North America, and an absolutely epic place to take wedding photos in RMNP.

Trail Ridge Road wedding photos

Larsen Photo Co. is authorized by the National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, to conduct services in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Trail Ridge Road usually opens the Thursday before Memorial Day in May, and closes at the first heavy snowfall in mid-October. The trails from the top are often snow-covered well into June, and the drive can feel sketchy to drivers who are not used to narrow, curvy roads with steep drop-offs without guard rails for long stretches. That being said, it’s also one of the most epic drives in Colorado that’s accessible to any vehicle, and a great place for wedding photos if you elope in Rocky Mountain National Park or get married at a venue in Estes Park.

Backseat view of driving up Trail Ridge Road

Can we elope at Trail Ridge Road?

No, you cannot elope, exchange vows, or have any form of wedding ceremony at Trail Ridge Road, including vow renewals and private vow readings even if the legally binding ceremony takes place elsewhere. Anyone who wants to elope in Rocky Mountain National Park must apply for a wedding permit for one of the thirteen designated wedding ceremony locations. Read more about weddings in RMNP here.

There are photos circulating online of ceremonies from along Trail Ridge Road. Some of these were taken legally before the rules changed in 2018, and some have been taken illegally since. I know it can seem like an easy thing to “get away with,” but please respect the rules and keep it fair for everyone.

Nearby ceremony sites

If you want to take photos along Trail Ridge Road, these are the closest ceremony sites. You will need to either apply for a wedding permit directly from RMNP, or book a photographer (like me!) who can apply on your behalf and help you get the best site at the perfect time of day for that location. (I include the wedding permit cost in my elopement collections.)

Hidden Valley elopement in Rocky Mountain National Park

Hidden Valley

Did you know Hidden Valley was once a ski resort? Now the area is one of the most forested in Rocky Mountain National Park, and a great place to elope for couples who want privacy, away from the more crowded ceremony sites.

Estes Park elopement at 3M Curve

3M Curve

You won’t find 3M Curve marked on maps, which is a good thing for elopements since it’s very quiet! This small lookout is right before the start of Trail Ridge Road, and has beautiful views of Longs Peak.

Elopement at Upper Beaver Meadows in Rocky Mountain National Park

Upper Beaver Meadows

If you want a short, flat and easy walk to your ceremony site, and don’t mind sacrificing a bit of privacy for it, Upper Beaver Meadows is another great choice for elopement ceremonies.

Can we take wedding photos at Trail Ridge Road?

Yes, you can! As long as there is no vow or ring exchange involved, and you follow all rules for the area, you can take wedding photos at the trails and lookouts along Trail Ridge Road. The only exception is the Tundra Nature Trail, where no photos are allowed because of the heavy tourist traffic.

Do we need a permit to take photos at Trail Ridge Road?

As of January 1, 2024, you no longer need a photography permit to shoot in Rocky Mountain National Park when you are photographing clients for their own personal use. If you are hired to photograph a commercial campaign (i.e. REI wants you to photograph models for a social media campaign, or Subaru wants you to take photos for print advertising), or you are doing a styled shoot to market your photography business, you do need to apply for a Special Use Permit. For more information, visit the RMNP Commercial Use Authorizations page (although at the time of writing this, it’s not yet been updated with the new regulations).

Trail Ridge Road elopement photos in Rocky Mountain National Park

What to know about taking wedding photos along Trail Ridge Road?

One of the challenges of doing photos at Trail Ridge Road is to be respectful of the fragile tundra environment. There are signs all over Rocky Mountain National Park asking people to stay on trail and stay off the tundra, and yet I see so many photos of people jumping fences, lying down on top of flowers that will take 100 years to regrow, and otherwise just completely disrespecting the rules of Leave No Trace.

Always respect “trail closed for revegetation” and “fragile alpine tundra, stay on trail” signs where you see them. Get creative with angles, and stay on trails and large rocks. Never park your car outside of designated parking areas.

Can we see wildlife along Trail Ridge Road?

Yes! Trail Ridge Road is one of my favorite places to see elk, marmots, pika, and bighorn sheep. If you love to see wildlife when traveling, Trail Ridge Road is a great place to go for photos.

Always be respectful of wildlife, and remember that you are a visitor in their home. Give animals space, even if it means turning back around on a trail or waiting for them to slowly cross the road in front of you. And I would hope this goes without saying, but never walk up to a wild animal to take a selfie. A good photographer can get photos of you with wildlife safely in the background and make them appear closer than they are through lens compression!

Sunrise elopement photos at Trail Ridge Road in RMNP

What’s the best time to take wedding photos at Trail Ridge Road?

Sunrise and sunset will always be every photographer’s choice for the best time to take photos. Colorado doesn’t have a long golden hour, so we try to make the most out of the small window of soft light at the beginning and end of every day. If you’re up for an early start or late night, it’s well worth it both for the light and to avoid the midday traffic.

When Trail Ridge Road first opens in late May every year, the conditions can still be extreme at the top. It can be 80° and sunny in Estes Park, but 30° and snowing at the Alpine Visitor Center. Some of my favorite photos have been taken in bad weather, but you do have to be prepared with warm clothing and proper footwear. The biggest weather factor is the wind, because there is nothing holding it back when you’re the highest point on the mountain.

I hope you found this guide helpful, whether you’re a couple who wants to drive Trail Ridge Road on your wedding day or a photographer doing location research before your first elopement in Rocky. Prepare for any weather, follow all local permit rules & regulations, and leave it better than you found it!

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