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Table of Contents:
Guest count • Permitting regulations • Leave No Trace • Guest expectations • Accessibility • Weather • Travel options + costs • Reception options
Oregon Coast • Olympic National Park • San Juan Islands • Leavenworth • Columbia River Gorge
If you’ve spent any time at all researching options for your wedding day, then you’ve probably come across the idea of adventure elopements – but have you heard of adventure weddings?
I know there are a ton of different terms floating around out there in the industry to describe different kinds of weddings: elopements, adventure elopements, traditional weddings, microweddings, intimate weddings, etc. So I’ll keep it simple! If you’re wanting to elope outdoors more than 10-15 guests, then I think of that as an adventure wedding, which really gives you the best of both the elopement & wedding worlds.
In this adventure wedding guide, I’ll be defining exactly what an adventure wedding is (from my perspective), and then telling you exactly what to keep in mind while planning. And before you head off to start planning because you’re just too excited to wait, I’ll also be giving you the top 5 PNW locations that I recommend for adventure weddings!
Ready to dive in?
What is An Adventure Wedding?
First of all, what even is an adventure wedding?
Although the definition can vary across the industry, and can even differ by state, market, or country, I personally define adventure weddings as weddings with more guests than can fit on a trail. This is a super vague definition that varies from place to place, but the heart for me is this: an adventure wedding is just a bit more complicated than a little elopement ceremony. For example, at Mt. Rainier National Park, parties of fewer than 8 people can have a ceremony nearly anywhere on a trail! But once your guest count exceeds 12 people, finding a suitable ceremony site gets a little harder.
I work with a lot of couples who tell me that they want to have an adventure elopement, but they want to invite more than a few guests – *enter: adventure weddings.* Adventure elopements typically include just you and your partner, or up to 5-10 guests that might tag along throughout the day; whereas adventure weddings incorporate that same exciting, adventurous spirit, but with your whole families or friend group present.
Keep in mind that even though there are a million terms thrown around to describe various approaches to wedding days, there are NO set rules. Zero. The only rule in my book is that your day feels true to you, whether or not it fits any sort of definition or label. So as you read through this guide, take what feels good & makes sense to you, and feel free to leave what doesn’t. There’s no pressure, expectations, or boundaries that your day needs to follow or fit into!
8 Things to Keep in Mind When Planning Your Adventure Wedding
When it comes to planning your adventure wedding, there are a few things you need to keep in mind that aren’t necessarily big factors for private adventure elopements, or for traditional weddings held at a formal venue. Here are the 8 most important things to take into consideration when you plan your adventure wedding!
1. Guest count
The first (and probably most important) factor that will affect your adventure wedding is the number of guests you invite. A good rule of thumb to follow: the more guests you have, the more complicated everything gets. Now that’s not to discourage you from inviting more guests, but rather to guide your decisions as you sift through all the people in your lives who you’re considering inviting!
Each & every guest you invite to be present on your wedding day should be someone who:
- You can’t see yourself getting married without
- You know will 100% support you, the way you choose to hold your wedding, and your relationship
- Is a meaningful presence in your life, and/or the life of your partner
- You’ll be thrilled to have by your side celebrating on this incredibly special day.
Your guest count will not only affect the vibe of your wedding & how you feel throughout your day, but will also affect the locations you can choose from. If you’re dreaming of having an adventure wedding, chances are you love being outdoors and you want to incorporate your love of nature into your wedding through a hike in the mountains, a walk in the woods, a ceremony by the lake, etc. Especially if you want to have your ceremony in a national park, your guest count will be limited to how much space the location has + how many guests can safely, comfortably fit.
Many national parks will have a list of permitted ceremony locations, along with a maximum number of guests + vehicles allowed at each location. These restrictions are put in place to not only ensure that your group doesn’t disrupt use of the park by the public (other visitors), but also so that you don’t have a negative impact on the land! We’ll talk more about this in the Leave No Trace section. The more guests you want to have present at your ceremony, the more limited your location options become.
2. Permitting regulations
Speaking of national parks and permitted ceremony locations, you’ll also need to take permitting regulations into account when planning your adventure wedding. In general, getting married in a national park in the U.S. requires you to obtain a Special Use Permit. This permit typically comes with a non-refundable application fee, requires you to follow a specific application process, and allows you to have your ceremony at designated areas in the park. I recommend researching your desired park as far in advance as you can, as the permit process can sometimes take a few months (or even up to a year in more strict parks) to complete!
Some permits may have a maximum guest count no matter where you hold your ceremony, while others may have maximum guest counts specific to different spots in the park. This obviously affects what location you’re able to get married in depending on how many people you want to invite! You can find specific details about permitting regulations at your desired national park on the National Park Service website.
Additionally, state parks may have permit requirements you need to follow. Many state parks in the PNW don’t require you to get a Special Use Permit unless you have a very large group (often 75+), so if you’re having an intimate group you likely won’t need to worry about it – but it’s good to check anyway!
3. Leave No Trace
A big reason that national parks put restrictions on guest counts is to ensure that all weddings respect the environment, and have the least impact on the land possible by taking the Leave No Trace principles into consideration. If you’re unfamiliar with Leave No Trace, it’s an incredible organization committed to helping people enjoy the outdoors while minimizing their impact, ensuring that land isn’t damaged & is left beautiful for future visitors to enjoy! I highly encourage all of my couples to read up on the 7 LNT Principles before getting married outdoors, because it’s important to take these principles into account when picking your wedding location.
A great example of why it’s important to consider LNT principles when choosing where to get married: let’s say you really want to have your ceremony in the North Cascades, and you want to invite 10 guests. While North Cascades National Park doesn’t have a specific list of permitted locations for you to follow, there ARE certain locations you should avoid if it’s not possible to leave no trace. There may be a beautiful trail that you are dying to have your ceremony on, and you’re *technically* allowed to – but if there’s no space for your group to fit without going off-trail and potentially damaging the ecosystem, it wouldn’t be very ethical to have your ceremony there!
Or let’s say there’s a STUNNING wildflower meadow in the North Cascades that would be incredible for your ceremony. Instead of trampling the wildflowers and causing damage to the beautiful meadow that everybody wants to see, it would be a better decision to find a trail nearby where you can safely view the wildflowers without damaging them! I promise we can almost always find spots with just as epic of views without negatively impacting the environment.
You can find out more about Leave No Trace here to make sure you explore the beautiful outdoors in the most sustainable way possible.
4. Guest expectations
Preparing your guests for your adventure wedding is hugely important, because the last thing you want is for your guests to show up completely unprepared for the 8-mile hike you planned! If you’re wanting to do any sort of physical activity that requires a certain level of skill or mobility, it’s essential that you communicate this with your guests so they know what’s expected of them. Maybe you want to go hiking, snowshoeing, or there’s a couple of steep hills to walk up in order to get to your ceremony location: let your guests know in advance so they can opt out if they’d like to, or so that they can bring the proper gear (especially shoes!). This way, they also come ready with the right attitude for whatever activities you’ve planned and can share your excitement!
On that same note, keep in mind the accessibility levels of your guests when choosing your location. If it’s important to you to have your grandparents present at your ceremony, but maybe they can’t quite make the 5-mile hike you want to do, have your ceremony somewhere else that’s more easily accessible! If you really want to do that 5-mile hike, you can totally exchange your vows in private at the top or take portraits of just the two of you, then meet your family back down at the trailhead for your ceremony. Or you could have your ceremony in private at the mountaintop, then have dinner with your guests afterward where everybody can be safe + comfortable. There are plenty of ways to create a day that works for both you + your guests!
Be sure to check out my guide to ADA-Accessible Locations in Washington for an Elopement if you need help finding spots that work for your group.
Weather plays a HUGE role in not only the location of your wedding, but the entire vibe of the day – especially how you react + adapt to unpredictable weather. I’m a huge believer that YOU make your wedding day, and while outside factors definitely have an impact on how the day goes, they shouldn’t have the power to “ruin” it!
I recently published an entire guide to How to Embrace “Bad” Weather On Your Elopement Day, where I talk all about my best tips for embracing any kind of weather + practical tips for dealing with extreme weather scenarios. I highly recommend giving it a read as you plan your adventure wedding so that you can be as prepared as possible & enjoy your wedding no matter what happens!
7. Travel options + costs
You’ll also need to consider travel options and costs when it comes to planning your adventure wedding, not just for you but for your guests. A big reason many couples choose to elope in private is to cut costs, so if you do want to invite guests, you’ll need to think through what it’ll cost them to get to your location and whether it’s their responsibility to pay it or yours. Consider airfare, rental cars, gas, and accommodations, as well as how easy or difficult it’ll be for guests to travel to you. Will they need to take time off of work? Are they only available on weekends? Do hotels in the area cost more during certain times of year?
8. Reception options
Finally, decide if you want to have any sort of reception or not after your ceremony. This could be a picnic in the wild, a charcuterie board by the lake, a fancy party at your Airbnb, a night out on the town. . .the options are endless. If you do want to have a reception at an Airbnb (or even a small wedding venue), make sure you pick a location that has a large space nearby that you can use, or that you book an Airbnb that can fit all of your guests. If you’d rather have a picnic at the end of your hike, prep your food ahead of time and pack it in your backpacks, with a blanket to sit on. You could also hire a private chef, a caterer, or a food truck to serve you dinner in the evening at your Airbnb! Get creative with it! Late-night snacks out by the campfire, anyone?
5 Best Locations in the PNW for An Adventure Wedding
The PNW is filled with some of the most amazing elopement locations in the country, but what about if you want to have an adventure wedding with guests? Some of the most popular locations in the PNW such as Mount Rainier and the North Cascades, are great for elopements – but aren’t necessarily the best options for adventure weddings due to their limited locations that can actually fit a group. Many trails in the mountains will only have space for you, your partner, your officiant, and your photographer, so they’re not viable options for adventure weddings.
Here are 5 of the best locations in the PNW for adventure weddings with guests!
1. Oregon Coast
I absolutely adore the Oregon Coast because of the huge variety of diverse locations it offers, from stunning coastal overlooks to rugged cliffs to lush, green rainforests! It’s also a fantastic place for adventure weddings, as many beaches along the coast have plenty of space for a group of guests & for a larger ceremony. Make sure to check if you’ll need a permit to get married on the beach, especially if you’re wanting to set up any sort of arbor, chairs, etc.
Don’t miss my full Oregon Elopement Guide for a complete list of all the best places to elope in Oregon!
2. Olympic National Park
Olympic National Park is probably the most incredible all-around wedding location in Washington, thanks to its wide array of terrain including plunging waterfalls, mossy rainforests, bright blue lakes, scenic coastlines, and beautiful mountain peaks! Because of the MANY options the park provides for weddings, it makes for an awesome spot for adventure weddings. From the shores of Lake Crescent, to the grassy meadows of Hurricane Ridge, to beneath the magical canopy of the Hoh Rain Forest, there’s no shortage of places that can comfortably + safely fit a group.
There are also countless longer trails & hikes available for you to explore, so let’s say you want to have your ceremony in the Hoh Rain Forest, which is easy for all of your guests to access. You can then easily spend the afternoon on your own exploring the trails or venturing onto a more difficult trek, and maybe meet back up with everyone in the evening! ONP really has the best of both worlds for private elopements + adventure weddings with guests.
3. San Juan Islands
The San Juan Islands are a perfect option for any kind of wedding, from adventure elopements with just the two of you all the way to large weddings at a traditional venue – and that includes adventure weddings out in nature with a few guests! There are plenty of easily-accessible outdoor spots that you can venture to with your guests, where you’ll all be able fit easily, whether it be by the water or deeper into the forest. With tons of cozy places to stay, you could easily find a large cabin to stay at with your guests and spend plenty of quality time together.
Leavenworth absolutely needs to be on your list of location options, because it’s simply one of the most unique + picturesque parts of Washington. If you’re not familiar with Leavenworth, it’s known as Washington’s “Bavarian Village,” brimming with old-world architecture, fun festivals, local entertainment, and some of the best outdoor activities in the state! There are a variety of amazing locations in the area that are perfect for adventure weddings, from quick walks to a lake all the way to multiple-mile hikes to viewpoints that can fit you and your loved ones. Plus, Leavenworth has so many stunning resorts and lodges where you can all stay.
5. Columbia River Gorge
Finally, the Columbia River Gorge would be an amazing choice for your adventure wedding, whether you want to tie the knot on top of a breathtaking cliff overlooking the gorge, or in front of a waterfall surrounded by vibrant moss & bright green ferns. There are plenty of locations around the gorge that’ll leave your jaw on the floor and that have space for your friends & family, from waterfalls to riverside meadows to gorgeous trails. Thunder Island is a personal favorite of mine!
And there you have it, folks – all of my best tips for planning your adventure wedding, picking your location, and making sure you have the smoothest, most stress-free day possible.
PNW Adventure Wedding Photographer
When you’re ready to start planning your dream PNW adventure wedding and are looking for a messy-haired, outdoor-obsessed expert to guide you every step of the way, I’d love to connect. You can learn more about my PNW adventure wedding packages & pricing here, and when it’s time to get the party started, you can fill out this contact form – I can’t wait to celebrate with you and help you plan your perfect day!