The Rocky Mountains are the inspiration of painters, photographers, movie makers or pretty much any artist of all different types of mediums, it’s not difficult to see why couple’s seeking a Rocky Mountain wedding would consider this national park for their mountain wedding day. The mountain landscapes provide a natural and serene backdrop for your mountain elopement that you can’t find anywhere else. All four seasons showcase breathtaking landscapes, an abundance of wildlife, over 260,000 acres of wilderness, the highest paved road in the United States at 12,183 feet above sea level and is a mecca for birdwatchers with over 250 species.
A Rocky Mountain National Park wedding is relatively easy to get approval from the park rangers to have a small ceremony and is the quintessential place to find a Colorado wedding venues with mountains. The choice of a backdrop for your mountain elopement might be the most difficult decision since the landscape can vary from lakes surrounded by snowcapped mountains, grasslands, alpine tundra, rivers, streams, Aspen meadows, waterfalls and of course piney forests. But as an elopement photographer I always recommend making the most of their once-in-a-lifetime elopement adventure and try to visit as many locations as possible have incredible scenery in all of their mountain wedding photos.
Couples eloping in the mountains can consider two towns that border Rocky Mountain National Park for hotels, motels, or an airbnb or grabbing dinner:
Estes Park- The east side of Rocky Mountain National Park is bordered by the town of Estes Park. The town of Estes Park is a quaint mountain village that has a variety of shopping and dining experiences along with many outdoor activities to enjoy during your stay. Many couples like the idea of being able to walk into town for dinner or explore some of the shops. As an elopement photographer, this is my recommendation for couples seeking to have that Rocky Mountain experience that have the extra money to splurge on finer accommodations.
Estes Park offers a bit more than just hotels, luxury cabins, souvenir shopping, and restaurants. Recreational activities that can be found at the “basecamp of Rocky Mountain National Park” include jeep tours, zip lines, archery, guided hikes and white-water rafting tours.
Grand Lake- At the western border of Rocky Mountain National Park is the town of Grand Lake. Grand Lake is Colorado’s largest and deepest natural lake, and the surrounding community is a bit quieter than Estes Park. My recommendation for couples on a budget or those that prefer a more lowkey mountain experience is to research accommodations within Grand Lake. While it is a quiet town, the lake provides plenty of recreational opportunities during the warmer months of the year on the lake. Couples can celebrate their mountain elopement with renting a boat or kayak on Grand Lake and can continue the adventure.
Rocky Mountain Wedding Venues
There are three main venues that allow weddings to be held inside the park boundaries.
Sprague Lake- Located near the center of Rocky Mountain National Park, Sprague Lake is a beautiful mountain lake with views of mountain peaks that will leave you in awe. This venue has a maximum capacity of 100 people for your mountain ceremony. Sprague Lake is one of the most accessible Rocky Mountain National Park wedding venues, the hike completely around the lake is approximately .9 mile and is located five and a half miles down Bear Lake Road. The hike is don’t have much of an incline, so it is a safe option for children or individuals with limited mobility and walking endurance.
Timber Creek Campground- For couples desiring a more rustic mountain wedding, this venue is for you. Timber Creek Campground is located on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park and has mountain views in every direction. This mountain campground allows small weddings and elopements with a maximum capacity of 30 people for your ceremony site.
Bear Lake- Bear Lake is one of the most popular mountain lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park for visitors. The lake is almost perfectly round with a diameter of just under three-quarters of a mile. Bear Lake is surrounded by mountain peaks that provide a breathtaking mountain backdrop for your mountain wedding ceremony. The maximum capacity for weddings at Bear Lake is 25 people and is located seven miles down Bear Lake Road.
Rocky Mountain Elopement Locations
Now your mountain elopement within the park offers more location options than Rocky Mountain National Park weddings since elopements are considerably smaller than weddings. As an elopement photographer, I know my couples want the best views and photographic location with that epic mountain ridge in the background. A Rocky Mountain elopement allows for a couple to include hiking within their timeline so those longer walks can be incorporated within part of their wedding day. Below are some of my favorite locations for a mountain elopement.
Forest Canyon Overlook- This location is located on the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park and can be accessed by a short .3-mile hike from the Forest Canyon Overlook Trailhead. The mountain views from this location are incredible and provide a wide-open feel while still having that mountain ridge in the background.
Glacier Gorge Junction- Glacier Gorge Junction is located on the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park and is a great location for mountain elopements for couples that want mountain views without having to hike too far. This location is accessible from the Bear Lake Road by a short .8-mile hike from the Glacier Gorge Trailhead.
The Loch Trail and Sky Pond- The Loch Trail and Sky Pond is one of the most popular mountain hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park. This hike is a bit longer at 5 miles, but the mountain views and alpine lake at the end of the trail make it worth it. This Colorado wedding location is only recommended to couples that have acclimated to the elevation of the Rockies and more experienced hikers since the last mile includes trekking over slippery granite boulders next to trickling streams.
Alberta Falls- A little further down the road from Glacier Gorge Junction is the Alberta Falls parking area. This mountain location provides a waterfall in the background of your ceremony with mountain views in every direction. The hike to this mountain location is 1.8 miles from the Bear Lake Road making it a great option for couples that want a waterfall in their mountain elopement photos without having to hike too far.
Beaver Meadows- Beaver Meadows is located on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park and provides mountain views with a more forested feel. This mountain elopement location is accessible by a short .6-mile hike from the Beaver Meadows Trailhead. Elk is a common sight in Upper Beaver Meadows, they can be seen “bedded down” around the streams and along the numerous trails that run through Beaver Meadows. Mountains that dominate the background scenery surrounding Beaver Meadows include Deer Mountain and Longs Peak, due to the unfortunate forest fire of 2022 clearings of aspen and pine trees have created more panoramic views for a picturesque Rocky Mountain wedding.
Moraine Park- Moraine Park is another great mountain elopement option that is located on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park. This mountain location provides mountain views with a more open feel and is accessible by a short 1.4-mile hike from the Moraine Park Trailhead.
Keyhole- For couples wanting mountain views with a little more adventure, Keyhole is a great option. Keyhole is located near the center of Rocky Mountain National Park and can be accessed by hiking the Ute Crossing Trailhead which is 1.4 miles one way. The mountain views at this location are incredible, you will not be disappointed.
Gore Range Overlook- Gore Range Overlook is located on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park and is a great location for mountain elopements. This mountain overlook can be accessed by hiking the Tonahutu Creek Trailhead which is 1.8 miles one way. The mountain views from this location are incredible and provide a wide-open feel while still having that mountain ridge in the background.
Hermit Park Open Space- Located on the east side outside of the Rocky Mountain National Park in Estes Park, this mountain meadow is recommended if you are trying to avoid the crowd of Rocky Mountain National Park visitors and prefer an area that has less restrictions. Even without entering RMNP, a Hermit Park wedding will still allow clear visibility of Long’s Peak in the background. Hermit Park also contains a pavilion that can accommodate 150 people comfortable, so a larger wedding is possible with advanced reservations.
Things you need to know before your mountain elopement
- The level of oxygen in the air is lower at high altitudes which can cause shortness of breath, dizziness, and headaches. Be sure to drink plenty of water and take it easy for the first day or two until you acclimate to the altitude and consider the warmer months for a Rocky Mountain wedding if you are trying to completely avoid altitude sickness
- The weather in the mountains can change rapidly, be sure to check the forecast before heading out and come prepared with layers. Be aware of your surroundings and hike safely, mountain wildlife is abundant in Rocky Mountain National Park. Despite the weather being a mild temperature wind can be a factor when you on maintain tops. Rocky mountain brides should consider wearing nude-colored leggings under your wedding dress and wool socks with hiking boots to that cooler weather is more tolerable.
- Elopements and weddings in Rocky Mountain National Park require a special use permit, you can apply for your permit online. There is a $300 fee for elopement permits. Permits are required for all weddings and elopements within Rocky Mountain National Park regardless of if you are having a big wedding or just the two of you and is based on first come first serve basis. Be sure to plan ahead and make reservations as soon as possible, popular dates and locations fill up fast!
- Timed permits are required to visit any location in Rocky Mountain National Park between the months of May and October between the times of 9am to 3pm. If you are wanting to visit any of the locations on Bear Lake Road, you will need a timed entry permit between the times of 5am to 6pm. The timed entry fee is $2 and is used to limit traffic within the park by designating two-hour entry windows. The timed entry permit is required for each vehicle so make sure your guests, officiant and whatever vendors get their permits a month ahead of your wedding date.
- Consult topographic maps in determining your elopement in the mountains. When helping my couples determine the location that they want their elopement location, changes in elevation can make a one-mile hike feel like 10 miles and with oxygen declining as your hike is inclining exhaustion can set in quickly. While in the army I learned the skill of map reading and that underestimating the altitude change can leave you with flu like symptoms.
Things to Pack for your Rocky Mountain Elopement:
Bug Spray- The mosquitoes can be relentless in the summer months
Sunscreen- The sun is more intense at high altitudes
Layers of clothing- The mountain weather can change rapidly
Hiking Boots- You will most likely be hiking to your ceremony spot
Bear horn or Spray- It is always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to encountering wildlife
First Aid Kit- Your first aid kit should have items such as band aid and Neosporin to properly treat minor scratches and blisters
Water and snacks- Keep your energy up with plenty of hydration and snacks
Topographic Map- Knowing the lay of the land is key in mountain safety
Flashlight or Headlamp- In case you need to hike out after dark for your elopement in the mountains
Veil Weights (for brides)- Wind can take your veil for a soar and I’ve found veil weights keep brides from having to chase them down on windy mountain ridges
Sunglasses-Remember to take these off for the pictures but mountain glare is real!
What to expect on your Rocky Mountain Elopement Day:
An early start- Most mountain elopements require an early morning start to avoid the afternoon thunderstorms that are common in the summer months.
Hiking- You and your guests will most likely have to hike to reach the ceremony spot. Be sure everyone is aware of this prior to the big day.
Stunning Views- The mountains offer some of the most breathtaking views. Be sure to take a moment and soak it all in with your new spouse!
Fun- Despite all the planning, mountain elopements are meant to be fun! Take the time to enjoy your day and make memories that will last a lifetime and remember to work with an experienced elopement photographer to coordinate a schedule that makes the most of your elopement in mountains.