There’s nothing I love photographing more than a good winter elopement. I eloped in February in Colorado, ten years ago, and if you’ve landed on this post, chances are you’re planning to elope in winter, too.
Growing up on an island near the arctic circle in Norway, I learned to love spending time playing in the snow. And after exploring the mountains of Colorado for the past ten years, I’ve learned a thing or two about helping couples get married in the snow that I want to pass on to you folks 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 good lodging to choose from, and if you’re into winter sports, why not 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. Lake Tahoe
8. Pacific Northwest
(Were you hoping for a list of places where you can avoid the snow and stay warm in winter? I’ll be adding that to this post soon!)
Best winter elopement locations in Colorado
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 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.
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. (See park statistics here.) 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, RMNP is plowed and easily accessible all year round. 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! 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. See more wedding photos from 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, like Christine and Jordan did for theirs.
The Swiss Alps are one of the most popular ski destinations in the world, so it only makes sense that it’s also one of the best places to elope. The view of Matterhorn from Zermatt is one of many epic options if you’re thinking about taking your elopement plans international. Check out Rachael and Ben’s Matterhorn elopement here.
As a born-and-raised Norwegian, I’m completely biased here – but Norway is one of the best places to elope in winter. With half the country located above the Arctic Circle, you have better chance of seeing the northern lights here than anywhere else. While the heaviest part of winter comes from December through March, the short days means you can see aurora borealis from October through early April.
If you’re up for a true adventure and the possibility of any weather, Iceland might be a great choice for your winter elopement. With short days and long nights, there’s not much daylight to play with, but in return the chances of seeing the northern lights are high, and you can always stay warm even on the coldest winter nights with a soak in the natural hot springs that are scattered across the island nation.
Winter elopement inspiration
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, or 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.)
- Ski or snowboard together at your favorite ski resort
- Go cross-country skiing or snowshoeing into the backcountry
- 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
- Book a backcountry hut trip, and invite your closest friends along for an experience of a life-time
- Go dog sledding, then warm up with hot chocolate in front of a fireplace
- Take a gondola to check out the views from ski resorts without getting cold
- Cuddle up under heavy blankets with a sleigh ride
- Rent a cute cabin on airbnb, and book a private chef to prepare a gourmet meal
Best AirBnBs for a winter elopement
When you’re planning to elope in winter, I highly recommend booking an AirBnB instead of staying in a hotel room. Put some thought into booking lodging that’s cute and photogenic (lots of natural light), and you suddenly have the perfect backup location for photos if you have to seek shelter from bad weather.
Always make sure that you check with the host before booking if you’re planning to host your elopement ceremony or any form of reception at your AirBnB, as many will not allow this. I have more tips on how to plan an AirBnB elopement in this post.
My favorite AirBnBs for winter elopements all have cute cabin or lodge vibes, and ideally both a cozy fireplace and a private hot tub – the best ways to warm up after a day of playing in the snow!
Winter elopement dresses and suits
I was raised on the belief that “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” And I still live by that today. When you’re eloping in winter, you do have to put extra thought into your outfits, but don’t let fear of being cold hold you back from having the best day ever!
Tips for dressing to stay warm at your winter wedding:
- Choose a wedding dress with long sleeves. Not only will sleeves keep you warmer, but it’ll also hide any goosebumps or skin redness from the cold.
- Choose a suit from a heavier material like wool or tweed.
- Make sure that you can wear wool or fleece tights under your dress.
- Get warm wool socks like Smartwool or Darn Tough to keep your feet warm.
- Choose your footwear carefully; make sure you have room for thicker socks, that your feet won’t get wet, and ideally choose boots that go above your ankles or higher, so you don’t get snow in there.
- If you’ve ever wanted to splurge on a nice wool coat, this is your time. Having a coat that you don’t have to take off for every photo means you’ll get more good candid photos throughout the day.
- Mittens, scarves, and hats can all make a huge difference in how you stay warm. Go for a nice matching set, so you can remember your wedding day whenever you play in the snow again in the future.
- Bring lots of hand warmers! (I always carry extras with me.)
You’ll also need to think about hair and makeup a little differently for winter elopements. Make sure to use waterproof eye makeup, for if your eyes water from the cold. Don’t go heavy on blush, as you’ll get natural rosey cheeks from being outside. And your hair should handle putting a hat 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 its place.
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 am personally a big fan of booking your vendors individually, so that you can find the perfect photographer, florist, or officiant for you, rather than being locked into an elopement package with a team of vendors. Elopement packages are also 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, scout locations, and suggest other trusted vendors they’ve worked with in the past. Look around online, pull up websites of at least a dozen different photographers you like, 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.