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Plan a Wedding Ceremony in a National or State Park During COVID-19, in 5 Steps

Published Friday, Dec. 4th, 2020

Illustrations by Jessica Levey

Outdoor wedding ceremonies aren’t just a summer fling… Many couples are planning winter weddings in exciting outdoor locations, including in our country’s majestic state and national parks. 


These nature-loving romantics are on to something. 


Outdoor ceremonies are less risky than their indoor counterparts during COVID-19, and can be less expensive. Money spent on a wedding permit at a park goes toward supporting the park, many of which have been hit hard by funding cuts, unexpected expenses, and wildfires. Plus, the scenic views are hard to top!


Note: State and national parks across the country are open with limited or full access to campgrounds and amenities... But travelling is still a risky activity this winter and spring, so please consider supporting a park close to home.



Here’s how to get started:



1. Check the latest restrictions & amenities


Every state and national park will have a changing set of area closures, guidelines, and restrictions as the pandemic continues, so visit their website or call their visitor center as a first step. Do not forget to check on amenities (like bathroom access) that you and your guests will need while you’re there. 


A list released in September by Thrillest (National Parks are in Flux. Here’s What You Can Do in All 62.) offers a quick look at all 62 national parks, but do your own research to find the most up to date information for your park.



2. Get the right permit … ahead of time


Fill out an application for a special use permit from the park. You’ll need to do this early, as many parks require applications to be submitted 30, 90, or even more days in advance of the celebration. Most parks offer wedding ceremony and photo shoot permit information, including timelines, cost, and the actual forms, on their website. 


A permit might seem like an unnecessary hassle, but nothing will ruin a ceremony faster than having it interrupted or abruptly cancelled because you don’t have the right paperwork. Besides, this money goes to support the park! 


(Speaking of paperwork, don’t forget your marriage license.)



illustration national park wedding ceremony how to plan during covid-19 pandemic elopement

It would be hard to find a venue that tops the great outdoors...



3. Choose your guests


Keep in mind that parks are limiting group size right now, even outdoors, so plan on a short guest list and check with your park for specifics. 


For example, at the time of writing, both Yosemite and Grand Canyon National Park are limiting groups to 10 people or fewer, while Big Bend in Texas is capping groups at 8 people. 


To avoid the uncomfortable situation of saying yes to some family and friends but no to others, consider having a romantic elopement instead, with just you, your officiant, and a witness or two.



4. Visit the park before the ceremony


With any unfamiliar venue, but especially outdoor venues, it’s strongly recommended you visit the location ahead of time to get a lay of the land. This goes extra for rugged and unusual landscapes like state and national parks. 


This will help you and your officiant decide what to wear, what shoes to pack, and what supplies to bring. You can plan where to walk and stand during the ceremony, taking into account unique terrain. If your officiant can’t visit the location with you, take photos of the area to help with planning. 


(And don’t forget to plan a short rehearsal with your officiant.)



illustration state park wedding national park ceremony how to plan elopement outdoor winter wedding corona pandemic

Pack it in, pack it out, and pack light! Let Mother Nature provide the decor. 



5. Keep decor and food simple (and legal)


Most parks have strict rules on bringing in rental equipment like tents, stages, chairs, or portable bathrooms… and those rules have only tightened during the coronavirus crisis. Ask for the most current guidelines to avoid unpleasant surprises or costs the day of your wedding. 


Parks also have strict rules on where and when food and drinks can be enjoyed inside the park. This is because parks are full of wildlife! Bears, deer, rabbits… you name it. Wild critters require extra consideration when choosing how and where to store food. Then, in the spirit of simplicity, consider a potluck approach, bring individually packaged take-out meals from a local restaurant (that won’t need reheating), or save the reception for later. 



(Read Can’t Have an In Person Wedding Reception? Try These 4 Options Instead.)


Send us a photo or post on our Wedding Wall! We want to see where you go. 


Jessica Levey
Jessica Levey

Lead Staff Writer & Illustrator

Jessica loves exploring the history and magic of ritual, the connections between people and places, and sharing true stories about love and commitment. She's an advocate for marriage equality, LGBTQ+ rights, and individuality, and is an ordained Minister with AMM. When she’s not writing or illustrating for AMM, she enjoys city hikes, fantasy novels, comics, and traveling.

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