There are a few things to know when you start planning your elopement in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Provided here are all the ins and outs of things to know when planning your elopement in Shenandoah National Park, with links to help you get started in the right direction. From when to elope to great locations in the park for an elopement, all of these tips should cover all the things you need to know to make your day the best experience ever.
Rules, Permits, & Making it Official
Luckily in Shenandoah National Park you don’t need a permit for a ceremony with less that 15 guests as long as it is a simple stand up ceremony with no set up, chairs or decor. With more than 15 guests and decor such as an arbor you will need to apply & acquire a special use permit through an authorized concessions operator, Delaware North at Shenandoah National Park. All of this information can be found on the national park site through the park website listed below. The park has a few listed requirements & suggestions in regards to weddings that are definitely important to take note of.
The maximum number of participants for weddings and ceremonies held within Shenandoah is limited to 100.
The park office will not suggest vendors or help planning in any way such as suggesting an officiant.
In order to make your ceremony official you have a few options for acquiring an officiant for your mountain ceremony in Shenandoah.
A friend of family member can be your officiant if they get a one time civil celebrant appointment through their local county clerk.
Find an officiant willing to travel to the mountain or do a hike with you. I can suggest some that I’ve worked with in the past, but it is worth asking someone you already had in mind if they would be willing to come to the mountain for the day to be a part of your ceremony.
Do the paperwork another day & time at the courthouse. I’d suggest either right before or right after you say your vows in the park. The day you say your vows is your wedding day & doing the paperwork another day does not take away from that experience & commitment. Don’t let the paperwork or worries about finding an officiant stop you from eloping. This gives you the flexibility to get married wherever you want & keep the day about what makes you two most happy. Just do what feels right for you.
Location, Location, Location
WHERE TO ELOPE
Shenandoah is filled with incredibly scenic locations along Skyline Dr for an elopement ceremony. Picking your specific location just depends on what you really want for your day. When choosing your location, there are certain factors to consider in your decision making process.
Do you want hiking to be a part of your elopement experience?
Are you bringing family along?
Is it a great view of the sunrise/sunset & what will the lighting be like for your ceremony. The lighting & time of day should be a huge factor in your decision.
Is there a certain location that holds sentimental value to you & your story together?
I am super familiar with the park & have spent several scouting days to figure out the perfect locations to have an overlook ceremony or a hiking ceremony and love to help my couples find the perfect spot for their ceremony. But there are a few really popular hot spots in the park that are beautiful options for an elopement.
Little Stony Man Trail
This is a super popular trail in the park for a good reason. The trail to get up to the first overlook viewpoint is not very long. This is a good spot if you’re not looking to hike very much, but would like to hike the trails on your wedding day. Also if you are bringing along family, its a relatively simple hike.
Hawksbill Summit Trail
This trail is about 1.5 miles and is the highest point in the park with absolutely incredible views. There is also a great amount of space for including family & friends in the ceremony.
There are a few areas in the park that are specifically off limits & your plans for your day & if you are including any decor can limit your available options of locations inside the national park.
Mary’s Rock Trail
Mary’s Rock has incredibly epic views and is a fairly family & kid friendly hike with a spacious area at the top for a ceremony.
These are just a few popular spots in the park,
but if you want to check out more of the popular locations refer to this
list of hikes inside Shenandoah National Park for all the park has to offer.
There are a few areas in the park the have restrictions or are completely off limits.
It is best to reach out & do your research on what the rules and regulations are through the Shenandoah site.
Visitor Centers, Dickey Ridge & Byrd are both strictly off limits as ceremony locations.
If you are doing a set up of any kind such as chairs, decor or arches/arbors, no matter the size of your guest list, you will need to approve the location through the DNC or in a park amphitheater.
“In support of the park Natural Resources program and propagation of rare native plants in the Big Meadows area, the small open meadow immediately below Tanner’s Ridge Overlook is the only authorized area for weddings in the Big Meadows. Parking is limited and is not reservable.” – NPS
WHERE TO STAY
There are several different options for lodging inside Shenandoah, as well as some local surrounding areas that have available places to stay during your time in the park.
OPTION 1 – STAYING INSIDE THE PARK
The park has 4 entrances. Entry fees are required in order to get into the park. So consolidating your traveling into as little vehicles as possible will not only help with saving a little money but also parking inside the park.
The Front Royal Entrance is the northern most entrance near Front Royal, VA off Stonewall Jackson Highway/Route 340.
The Thornton Gap Entrance east of Luray, Virginia and only 10 minutes away from Sperryville, off Highway 211. Culpeper, VA is about 50 minutes away from this entrance & a straight drive through the Sperryville Pike.
Swift Run Gap Entrance
THERE ARE SEVERAL OPTIONS TO STAY WITH LOVELY ACCOMMODATIONS INSIDE THE PARK ALONG SKYLINE DR & THE SURROUNDING AREAS OF SHENANDOAH.
Skyland is located between the Thornton Gap entrance & and the Swift Run entrance at miles 41.7 & 42.5 at the highest point in the park. It is a bit closer to the Thornton Gap Entrance. Amenities there include a taproom & dining room and Wifi. Lodging available varies from premium rooms, detached small cabins, traditional rooms, suites, & pet friendly rooms.
Big Meadows Lodge
Big Meadows is also located between the Thornton Gap entrance and the Swift Run entrance at mile 51. Amenities there also include a taproom & dining room and Wifi. Lodging available varies from main lodge rooms, detached small cabins, traditional rooms, suites, & pet friendly rooms. I typically get service in the location & use Verizon as a carrier.
Lewis Mountain Cabins
Lewis Mountain cabins are located closer to Luray at mile 57.5 near the Swift Run entrance. The cabins provide a motel-esque camping experience and include outdoor grilling options and a gift store with groceries, beer & wine, & snacks.
Camping at one of the 4 campgrounds inside the park is an option if you’re looking to fully enjoy nature during your elopement weekend.
Mathews Arm Campground, mile 22.2
Big Meadows Campground, mile 51
Lewis Mountain Campground, mile 57.2
Loft Mountain Campground, mile 79.5
Travel a little bit outside of the park to one of the surrounding cities for a hotel, Inn, airbnb, or cottage to stay for your weekend away. Listed below are some of the local areas & their distance from the park through Google Maps!
Front Royal, VA
STAY UP TO DATE
ALERTS & UPDATES
Make sure to keep checking the site for any closures or cancelations in the park. There can sometimes be road closures & construction so you want to follow along & stay informed on how that affects your elopement location.
Timing is everything
TIME OF YEAR
FALL & AUTUMN
Because the park is SO busy in the fall during the weekends, any ceremony regardless of a required permit must be finished before 10 am if it takes place on a Saturday or Sunday. This means that if you are wanting a sunset ceremony, you will need to have your ceremony on a weekday. If that doesn’t work for you a sunrise elopement is a great option.
The colors at this time are unbelievable. There is a reason people choose this time of year to visit the park the most. The foliage in the park during this time creates such beautiful autumn tones & the mountains are glorious.
During this time of year, I’d suggest a sunrise elopement. Less people will be out and about so you will get your privacy.
During the winter the park is far less crowded, but The lodges during this time of year are often closed so you’ll need to book accommodations outside of the park. You will easily get the privacy & choice of location. Parking & moving through the park will be so much simpler. Availability for cabins & lodging will also be a lot less full. Shenandoah is so beautiful in the winter. It is so quiet & serene and the ridges have this neutral brown tone for a beautiful palette.
SPRING & SUMMER
Shenandoah is a super lush, green forest during this time of year the wildflowers & trees are in full bloom. They blossom starting in March and stick around through the summer season. The Wildflower Calendar will give you an idea of what colors & flowers to expect & when during the summer & spring season. The Blue Ridge Mountain scape really showcases its transition from vibrant great to light blue during these seasons. The temperature is a bit cooler and less humid in the Spring vs. the summer. So when eloping in the Summer seasons, I would definitely suggest considering a sunrise elopement for cooler weather & less bugs.
For more information on how to decide what time of your works best for your wedding check out this blog post going into depth on seasons & choosing what time of year to have your elopement…
ELOPING ACCORDING TO SEASONS
TIME OF DAY
A GOOD RULE OF THUMB TO FOLLOW IS THAT IT IS BEST TO HAVE YOUR CEREMONY CLOSER TO EITHER SUNRISE OR SUNSET. THE LIGHT IS BEST AT THAT TIME OF DAY & IT TENDS TO BE COOLER THAN MIDDAY.
We photographers love this golden orange glow that happens as the sun is approaching the ridge-line & creates a vibrant light for seriously epic photos. Picking the right location for your golden hour elopement will make for a super romantic setting & atmosphere to say your vows.
Although it is not for everyone to get up super early in the morning, it is the best way to almost guarantee privacy in the park for your ceremony or really any national park. This time of day creates a super soft light & pastel-like colors over the mountains that is peaceful & romantic. It also provides you with the opportunity to enjoy the entire day celebrating afterwards. Sometimes this early in the morning, depending on the weather, the Blue Ridge gets some fog that rolls over the ridge & its a crazy beautiful view.
Having your ceremony in the middle of the day is not the ideal lighting scenario but will provide you with a vibrant, colorful atmosphere & the opportunity to hang out & do whatever you want after you say your vows. This time of day is also pretty crowded in the park so you may get a few spectators. But if you’d like to have your ceremony at this time, I suggest choosing a shaded spot & hanging out along the trails in the wooded areas.
DAY OF THE WEEK
Typically I recommend choosing a weekday if at all possible. The park will be less busy as there will be less visitors in comparison to the weekend. If you’re looking for more privacy, a Monday- Wednesday will be the least busy days. The close you get to the weekend, the more traffic you will see. Also, consider if there are any special days or holidays happening that will be attracting more visitors who are off of work.
Especially any of the following days listed through the link below. The park has certain days of the year it requires no entry fee. So, those days will have lots of park visitors & traffic.
How to Celebrate Together
THINGS TO DO DURING YOUR STAY & TO CELEBRATE AFTER!
GO TO A BREWERY, WINERY OR DISTILLERY TOGETHER!
There are tons of brewery & winery options in the Shenandoah Valley to check out during your stay.
Copper Fox Distillery, Harrisonburg
Early Mountain Vineyard, Madison
Seven Arrows Brewing, Waynesboro
GO ON A HIKE IN THE AREA & CHECK OUT THE SCENERY OF THE PARK!
Old Rag Hike
Bearfence Mountain Trail
Dark Hollow Falls
GO TO DINNER EITHER IN THE PARK OR LOCALLY!
Both Big Meadows & Skyland have dining & tap rooms & there are SO many incredible Shenandoah Valley restaurants.
It’s About Thyme, Culpeper
Three Blacksmiths, Sperryville
The Joshua Wilton House, Harrisonburg
SET UP A PICNIC OR DINNER AT YOUR CABIN!
THINGS TO PLAN TO DO BEFORE
Part of the reason you have decided to elope is to keep your day stress free, intimate, & focused on you two. There are a few ways you can incorporate some quality time together during your elopement to create special, intentional memories.
Have coffee together & watch the sunrise giving yourself the opportunity to start your day together.
Go on a morning hike together, explore the scenic valley & skyline drive.
Have a first dance. Bring music & dance together back at your cabin!
IT’S ALL IN THE DETAILS
HELPFUL FACTS ABOUT WHAT TO BRING, WHAT TO BE PREPARED FOR, & RULES ON DECOR STRAIGHT FROM THE NATIONAL PARK SERVICE…
“The Permittee and/or employees/associates, and/or participants, and/or guests holding their weddings or ceremonies in the front country, certain authorized overlooks or trails are limited to only corsages, chaplets, boutonnieres and handheld flowers during the permitted activity. Weddings or ceremonies held in an amphitheater may bring plants or flowers for use during the ceremony. Wherever the wedding or ceremony is held, the Permittee and/or employees/associates, and/or participants, and/or guests but will, by the end of the permit, police the area and remove all such materials to include petals, leaves, stems, pieces and/or plant parts from the park at the conclusion of the permitted activity, to mitigate the potential introduction of non-native and invasive species left behind.”
”Entry fees apply, as appropriate to the method of entry into the park. Advance payment of entry fees for guests is possible via credit card only, through the park fee program. For more information please contact the Assistant Fee Program Manager at (540) 999-3500, ext 3406.”
decor, banners, & signs
“The use of decorations may be considered only in amphitheaters and will be approved in advance. The Permittee shall ensure removal of decorations by the end of the permit.
Shenandoah National Park specifically prohibits placement of the following:
Memorials, photos, and/or plaques
Note: In support of the park invasive species prevention program, the use of chairs from sources outside the park are prohibited due to possible contamination from insect and/or plant materials. Weddings and ceremonies requiring chairs in their setup are required to make arrangements to use chairs provided by the park concessions partner, DNC.
The Permittee and/or employees/associates, and/or participants, and/or guests under this Permit will not attach anything to any NPS facility, structure, rock, ground, or vegetation. Permittee and/or participants under this Permit will not cover or remove signs, fences, or posts, natural features, etc.”
“Audio devices (e.g. electrified musical instruments, P.A. systems, tape players, etc.) are prohibited.
Non-amplified musical instruments (e.g. flute, guitar) that do not impact the experience of other visitors may be considered and shall be approved in advance.”
What to bring with you
Depending on how much hiking you are doing, don’t forget water & snacks.
It is a good idea to bring a head lamp in case you get caught in the dark & need to find your way back on trail.
A map of the park which you can always get at the front entrance
Boots & comfortable shoes for hiking
Blankets & a sweater or jacket – It is always about 10 degrees cooler in the mountains and can be unexpectedly chilly certain times of the year, even in the summer.
IT’S A GOOD IDEA TO HAVE A BACKUP LOCATION
In case something happens like a trail closure or really rough weather conditions, it is best to have a back up plan in a different area in the park or even outside the park that will allow you to change your plans if anything out of your control happens.
Leave No Trace
“THE PERMITTEE AND/OR EMPLOYEES/ASSOCIATES, AND/OR PARTICIPANTS, AND/OR GUESTS UNDER THIS PERMIT SHALL FOLLOW A LEAVE-NO-TRACE POLICY AND RESTORE THE AREA OF USE TO THE SAME CONDITION PRIOR TO USE, OR BETTER.” – NPS
Simple as that. In order to respect the entire reason for the park & take care of the beauty of the nature that it provides, we must do that absolute best to keep it that way.