There’s nothing I love photographing more than a winter elopement. I eloped in February in Colorado twelve years ago myself, and if you’ve landed on this post, chances are you’re interested in eloping in winter as well.
Growing up on an island near the arctic circle in Norway, I always loved spending time playing in the snow. And after exploring the mountains of Colorado for the past thirteen years, I’ve learned a thing or two about helping couples get married in the snow that I want to share with you in this post.
It takes a bit more planning to pull off an epic elopement in winter, when weather, road conditions, and shorter daylight hours play a big role, but the payoff is oh so worth it for those quiet trails and winter wonderland photos.
And if you’re thinking about eloping in winter, I bet you already knew that. Because you know the joy that comes with taking a deep breath of crisp mountain air, of strapping on your snowshoes to explore empty trails, of sipping a beer on a sunny patio that’s just barely warm enough to sit outside on, and of cozying up in front of a crackling fireplace (or in a hot tub under the stars) at the end of a long day of playing outside in a winter wonderland.
Read on for my insider tips on how to plan your best day ever with a winter elopement!
Winter elopement statistics
Eloping in winter is the most underrated way to get married, if you ask me. While most couples are drawn to the summer months, couples who elope in winter have a very different experience. More of the top vendors have available dates, there’s plenty of good lodging to choose from, and if you’re into winter sports, you can combine your elopement with a vacation to your favorite ski resort—or a brand new destination you’ve never visited before!
Here are some stats to show just how big of a difference there is between eloping in summer and winter:
- In Denver, there were 139% more marriage licenses issued in August than in December. (source)
- The 2019 Wedding Report by Wedding Wire shows that January, February, and December are the least popular months of the year to get married.
- A study by The Knot shows that only 5% of marriages across the country take place during the winter months.
Best places to elope in winter
Wondering where to elope in winter? I’m guessing you’re hoping for snow and winter wonderland vibes—so here are the top ten best places to elope in winter!
6. French Alps
8. Pacific Northwest
Since I’m based in Colorado, this guide will focus on eloping in CO, but I have photographed elopements in Switzerland and Norway as well, and I’m always down to travel when my schedule allows it.
Colorado is the perfect place to elope in winter. With 300 days of sunshine every year, and snow on the ground from October through June, it feels like we’re always in one version of winter or other. With ski resort towns like Breckenridge, Aspen, Steamboat Springs, and Crested Butte, an extensive network of backcountry hiking and skiing trails, and luxury accommodations like Devil’s Thumb Ranch and Dunton Hot Springs, there’s something for everyone in Colorado.
And best part? You don’t need an officiant or witnesses to get married in Colorado, so you can marry yourselves just about anywhere you like!
Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park is the most popular place for winter elopements in Colorado, and one of my favorites. While summer visitation numbers reach up to a million visitors in in July, months like February often see fewer than 100,000 people in the park. And those numbers make a huge difference, if you’d prefer the sound of birds chirping to car horns and road noise while exchanging vows. Even weekends in winter are less busy than weekdays in summer. And where other locations can be hard to reach in the winter months, the roads in RMNP are plowed and easily accessible all year round. (Although 4WD and proper tires is always a good idea.) You can read more about eloping in RMNP here.
Keystone Resort is my favorite ski resort for elopements, because of their combination of gondola access and night skiing. Most ski resorts close the lifts for the day a couple of hours before sunset, which makes it hard to get the best lighting for photos. But at Keystone Resort, some of the lifts and gondolas stay open well into the evening on certain dates, which means you can elope at sunset then take the gondola back down under a starry sky. You can see photos from an elopement I photographed at Keystone here.
Telluride is one of the most picturesque mountain towns you’ll find anywhere in the world—in fact they keep winning awards for best ski towns in the country. The old downtown is full of charming Victorian-era houses, and the whole area has a large variety of luxury rental homes that are perfect for eloping couples who want to splurge on a nice place to stay. (Heck, even a luxury airbnb is only a fraction of the price of traditional wedding venues.)
Steamboat Springs is known as Ski Town USA—so there’s really no better place to elope in winter if you want to combine it with a ski trip! From world-class skiing in fresh powder to soaking in natural hot springs while looking up at the clear starry skies, Steamboat really shows off Colorado at its best. Here are photos from a Steamboat elopement I photographed during the first snow of the season in 2019 at Fish Creek Falls.
While you can’t technically elope at the Ice Castles in Dillon, they make for an epic location for winter wedding photos. Just buy your tickets in advance, prepare to wait in line, and don’t be surprised if tourists ask to take your photo when they see you all dressed up. There are also plenty locations nearby that can be combined for a private ceremony in nature followed by portraits at the Ice Castles. Learn more about taking elopement photos at the Ice Castles here.
Breckenridge is one of the most popular places to elope in winter, and for good reason. There are easily accessible locations like Sapphire Point that you can rent for bigger elopement ceremonies, and plenty hikes and snowshoe trails for more adventurous couples. You can see more places to elope in Breckenridge here.
The best places to elope in winter are the ones where you can get deep into the backcountry and have the mountains to yourselves. Many of Colorado’s best hikes are accessible even in winter, while others turn into snowshoeing trails when the snow gets deep. You can even backcountry ski to your elopement!
Winter elopement activities
There are many different ways to elope in winter, whether you want an all-day outdoor adventure or a day of hygge at a cabin. You can plan a backcountry skiing elopement, or invite your whole family to celebrate at an airbnb elopement. You can get to your ceremony site by hiking there, or snowshoeing, or by dog sled, in a gondola at a ski resort, in a sleigh ride, or by taking a snow cat up a mountain pass. (Or drive right up to an easy access ceremony site like Sapphire Point, if that’s more your style.)
Here are some winter elopement activity ideas to get you started with dreaming up your own best day!
Few things bring up more cozy winter feelings than the idea of riding through the snow-covered forest in a horse-drawn sleigh. Cuddle up under warm blankets, and enjoy an hour of quiet with your new spouse! There are many places that offer sleigh rides in Colorado, but my favorite is in Breckenridge.
If you’re eloping in the later winter months (February-May) in Colorado, chances are you will need snowshoes if you want to head into the backcountry. Most hiking trails are knee-deep in snow at this time, but snowshoes let you float on top of the snow. Anyone can pick up snowshoeing, but I do recommend that you test them out before your elopement if you’ve never tried before!
Skiing or snowboarding
If you’re coming to Colorado on a ski trip, why not set aside some time to ski or snowboard together at your favorite ski resort or in the backcountry on your elopement day? I have a whole separate guide to ski and snowboarding elopements here.
Backcountry Hut Trip
Book a backcountry hut trip, and invite your closest friends along for an experience of a life-time. Backcountry huts are almost all off-grid, but there are some incredible luxury options if you don’t want to boil snowmelt for water all weekend. You can go as rustic or bougie as you want in Colorado!
You can take a gondola to check out the views from a ski resort without getting too cold. Many resorts have great restaurants accessible through gondola rides, so you could even plan on lunch or an early dinner at the resort.
Since the days are so much shorter in winter, you can easily go star-gazing without staying up all night. And it makes for some incredible photos!
More activity ideas
- Hike, either in the snow or at lower elevations
- Rent snowmobiles to reach far-away destinations you can’t access by hiking
- Take a private snowcat tour up a mountain ridge
- Go dog sledding, then warm up with hot chocolate in front of a fireplace
- Rent a cute cabin on airbnb, and book a private chef to prepare a gourmet meal
- Play in the snow all day, then finish the day by watching the snow fall in a hot tub
Best lodging for winter elopements
Don’t forget about your lodging when planning a winter elopement! If you book a cute cabin or mountain home instead of a hotel room, you’ll have the option of doing some of your photos inside if the weather turns on you. Whether it’s getting ready before heading out in the snow, or having a place to go back and warm up in front of a fireplace with a whiskey, you’ll be happy to have a cozy home base for the day.
Some things to look for are natural light (the more windows, the better for photos), whether there’s a nice deck or patio area outside where you could do your first look, and whether you have the option to warm up with a fireplace, outdoor fire pit, or even a hot tub.
Many vacation homes don’t allow events, so always message the host to ask for permission before booking if you want to have the ceremony or a small reception dinner at your house. vrbo.com has an “Events Allowed” search filter, so that’s a great place to start looking for homes.
You can find more tips on how to plan an AirBnB elopement in this post.
Winter elopement attire
I was raised on the belief that “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” (I know, that makes me sound like a midwestern dad.) But I still live by that today. When you’re eloping in winter, you do have to put extra thought into your attire, but don’t let fear of being cold hold you back from having a good time in the snow!
If you’re worried about being cold, choose a wedding dress with long sleeves. Not only will sleeves keep you warmer, but they also hide any goosebumps or skin redness from the cold.
Make sure that you can wear wool or fleece tights under your dress without them showing through. Ideally, bring tights when dress shopping and try them on together. If you get a pair of nude-colored tights, you won’t be able to see them in photos.
Choose a suit from a heavier material like wool or tweed. If you want to wear wool long underwear under your suit, make sure you bring it when shopping and try them on together.
A three-piece suit with a vest, especially in a thicker material, also goes a long way toward keeping you warm.
Your footwear should have enough room for wool socks, keep your feet dry and warm, and ideally go over your ankles or higher so that you don’t get snow in them.
Gaiters are also great if you don’t have high boots, as they’ll keep snow out of your shoes and your feet dry and warm.
Coats and accessories
If you’ve ever wanted to splurge on a nice coat, this is your time. Having a coat or jacket that you don’t have to take off for every photo means you’ll get more good candid photos throughout the day. That doesn’t mean it has to be “fancy”—a Patagonia puffy looks just as good (if not better and more natural) than a designer coat, and you’ll get more wear out of it later, too.
Mittens, scarves, hats, and ear warmers all go a long way in keeping you warm. Whatever you buy, make sure it’s nice enough that you won’t have to take it off for every photo.
Hair and Makeup
You’ll also need to think about hair and makeup a little differently for winter elopements. Make sure to use waterproof eye makeup, in case your eyes water from the cold.
Your hair should either keep your ears warm, or handle putting a hat or ear warmers on and off throughout the day, so naturally messy styles like braids and waves will look better at the end of the day than a perfect updo where every lock of hair has to be in its place.
First, make sure you’re using a backpack to carry everything with you. You don’t want a tote bag, purse, or anything else that you have to hold in your hands for long when it’s cold out.
Micro-spikes are amazing in winter. These slip on your own shoes, but keep you from slipping and falling on snow and ice. (If you’re working with me, I’ve got extras for you to borrow. But anyone else reading this should get a pair!)
Want more gear recommendations? I have a whole post on elopement gear here.
Safety and backup plans
I can’t write about winter elopements without also writing about safety precautions. First of all, do not elope anywhere close to avalanche terrain unless you, your partner, your photographer, and everyone else involved has proper training, safety equipment, and the skills needed to recognize sketchy snow and how to avoid it. While most people think of avalanches as something only backcountry skiers have to worry about, people have died in avalanches in Colorado while hiking or snowshoeing as well. Please be safe out there.
And on the same note, make sure you have a backup plan for your winter elopement. I always recommend that my couples book a cute cabin or place to stay where they wouldn’t mind doing some photos inside (or at least on the property), in case the weather is much colder than we’ve planned for. Winter in Colorado is unpredictable, and it can be 35 degrees and sunny one day yet -10 degrees with heavy snowfall and strong winds the next. And since it’s hard to know in advance just how cold it will feel until you’re out there, it’s a lot easier to plan for backup locations than to move your elopement date.
You can’t control every little thing when you elope in winter—but if you prepare properly, adapt to the conditions, and focus on having a good time no matter what, it’ll still be an experience you’ll remember for life.
Winter elopement packages
When planning a winter elopement, there are a handful of vendors who’ll play a big part in making your day feel special. I recommend booking your vendors individually, so that you can find the perfect photographer, florist, or hair and makeup artist for you, rather than being locked into an elopement package with a team of vendors. All-inclusive elopement packages are usually put together as affordable options by companies that may not have as much experience, are trying to get into a new market, or (and I hate this one) that see elopements as less important than big weddings, and assume everyone just wants a quick hour of photos.
Not every couple will need an officiant, for example, since you can self-solemnize your elopement in Colorado. And I recommend waiting to book a florist or hair and makeup artist until after you’ve chosen a location, so that you can find someone local and avoid paying travel fees.
The first vendor you should be booking, in most cases, is your elopement photographer. This is the person who’ll help you come up with ideas for the day, scout locations, and suggest other trusted vendors they’ve worked with in the past. Look around online, pull up websites of a few different photographers, then start scrolling through their galleries or blog posts to make sure they have experience with winter elopements. Anyone can take beautiful photos at golden hour in summer, but it takes experience to get the same results in the middle of a blizzard. And if you’re excited about playing in the snow on your wedding day, make sure your photographer is excited, too!
Wondering how much you should spend on an elopement photographer? You can see my full prices here, then reach out to schedule a time for us to chat about how I can help you.
Winter Elopement Galleries
Here are photos from some of my favorite winter elopements that I’ve photographed across Colorado!