Colorado Elopement Planning Guide (How and Where)
It’s here, the Colorado Elopement Planning Guide you’ve been waiting for! Take a deep breath in. Exhale. You’re engaged to your forever person. It’s time to plan the day and the experience that will benchmark the beginning of the rest of your officially (legally, that is) married lives together. What does that day, that moment look like to you?
Contrary to some of our favorite movies, a wedding day can be whatever you want it to be. It doesn’t have to be a production with all the bells and whistles and surrounded by hundreds of people. It’s allowed to be that (and friend, if you want imported Persian rugs, guests on color scheme, and multi-tiered cakes, I am 100% on board here for you!), but it doesn’t have to be. This is your day and it gets to look and feel exactly how you want it to. Maybe you want to feed 100 people a plated dinner and laugh and cry hysterically at speeches, but you might just want to share a romantic picnic with your spouse on the side of the mountain laughing and crying with each other. Maybe you want a handful of your friends lined up next to you at the altar and dozens of friends and family members witnessing your special day, or maybe you prefer just an intimate crew. You might not want any crew on your wedding day and just want to spend the day with your partner and maybe (aka hopefully) your dog too.
A wedding or elopement day gets to be exactly what you want it to be, just like the person you’re marrying can be whoever you want to spend your life with. I’m here to tell you that a wedding day doesn’t need to be everything you’ve seen in movies, or what a family member told you it should be. It’s your day and celebrate as you want! I know this is true because I’ve been with hundreds of couples on their wedding and elopement days and I’ve seen a WIDE range of styles bring people joy. And the cherry on top? No matter what you choose, I’ll be there to document it all! I can even help you put together the experience and connect you with vendors to make it happen.
I photograph weddings, elopements, and engagements (pretty much anything that will make me happily cry) but have found that elopements can be a challenge to plan. As Colorado elopement photographer who has done dozens of destination elopement in Colorado, I wrote this Colorado elopement planning guide to make sure you’re well prepared if you decide an elopement suits you best. Read on and I’ll share all my best tips for a Colorado elopement!
(Regan and Alex’s Winter Elopement at Sapphire Point Overlook)
What is an Elopement?
Historically, eloping meant running off to get married, often because your families wouldn’t approve of the person (or more accurately their physical traits and background) you were marrying. In 2021, eloping means a lot more than sneaking off. In fact, couples are rarely sneaking off to elope. They often tell, or include, their closest friends and family and then announce it as a surprise with their elopement photo sneak peek!
Couples today elope because they want to save money or they think getting married with fewer guests is more true to their relationship. Maybe, you’re getting married during COVID -19 (thanks, 2020, the year that never ends) and eloping is one of the only options. Eloping might just be more fun and less stressful.
Too often a big wedding day comes with a high price tag and dealing with stress and anxiety. You trust the great people planning it, but you know better than anyone how much work went into planning and how many moving parts there are. Many people on their wedding day wake up to text messages asking for some last minute guidance on table arrangements or informing them that one of their wedding party can’t make it because they, well, partied too much. PSA: drinking at elevation hits you faster and harder than drinking at sea level + legal marijuana in Colorado is not a joke. When you forego a big wedding and plan a Colorado elopement instead, it puts all the focus of that day on the actual marriage. Then you hire me as your Colorado elopement photographer and get epic photos to remember the day and share with your family and friends!
How to Plan Your Colorado Elopement
There’s a reason Colorado is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country. Colorado has incredible mountains, one of best national parks in the country, thousands of acres of public land, kayaking and rafting, hiking and climbing, hot air balloons, canyons and desert, amazing cities, historical sites, and yes, llamas! When you choose to elope in Colorado, whether you’re local and love our beautiful state or you’re having a destination elopement, it opens the door to saying your vows and “I do” in places you could never have a traditional wedding. But, there can be a surprising amount that goes into planning a Colorado elopement and learning how to elope in Colorado, but you’re in the right place because after a decade of experience as a Colorado elopement photographer I’m here to pass some of that insider knowledge on to you.
Why is Colorado the Best Place to Elope With or Without Guests
- Stunning views – I obviously can’t emphasize this enough. Colorado is incredible pretty much anywhere you go west of I-25 (no offense eastern Colorado, I’m sure you have your moments too). I have dozens of incredible spots I can recommend if you choose me as a photographer, so just reach out to me or look through my work.
- Vendors used to specializing in elopements – Colorado is a premier elopement destination, and vendors are used to serving eloping clients. As a Colorado elopement photographer I have special elopement packages, and can recommend other vendors who also specialize in elopements too.
- Low cost – read on for a cost breakdown, but eloping in Colorado is very affordable compared to international destinations and other remote, scenic spots in the U.S.
- Lots to do outside of your elopement – Colorado has some of the best outdoor activities in the country, hands down. But we’re not just all cowboys living in cabins, or potheads shredding the slopes every weekend out here. Colorado has unlimited options for activities to do outside of your elopement. There are amazing cities, restaurants, arts and theater and other luxuries if that’s your speed. If you’re more adventurous there are hiking opportunities galore, skiing or snowboarding, four wheeling, horseback riding, white water rafting and more. Heck, depending on how long you’re out here you can even do a mixture of both! Hike up a mountain and spend the next day getting a couple’s massage – you make the rules! The bottom line is, as long as you’re eloping in Colorado, make it a vacation (even if you live here!).
- Easy with or without guests – Colorado is one of the few places that you’re allowed to self-solemnize, that is get married without an officiant and sign your marriage contract yourselves. A self-solemnizing Colorado elopement can be done with or without guests. It’s entirely up to you whether you want a few of your closest friends and family to elope with you, or whether you want to keep it intimate and private.
(Josie and Brian’s Fall Elopement near Rocky Mountain National Park)
How Much Does it Cost to Elope in Colorado?
Eloping in Colorado can range from low cost to Royal Family. It all depends on your speed, budget, and what you’re looking for. While COVID has made eloping more popular here, I’ve been photographing elopements in Colorado for nearly a decade. I’ve seen them in all shapes and sizes from courthouse quant to luxury living.
Luxury Elopement budget
$4005 – 3 nights at a luxury hot springs resort with all meals and drinks included
$3000 – Elopement Photographer for five hours
$3000 – Wedding dress and accessories
$1000 – Suit and accessories
$500- Flower arrangement
$400 – Massages and spa treatments
$300 – Hair and makeup
$200 – Transportation
$Priceless (well $30) – Marriage license
Luxury elopement price: ~ $12,435
Affordable Elopement budget
$700 – 3 nights at an amazing Airbnb or hotel
$2000 – Elopement Photographer for three hours
$400 – Eating at good restaurants and cooking a little at home
$200 – Laying in a wild flower field + bouquet
$150 – Hair and makeup
$1000 – Wedding dress
$300 – Buying some nice clothes
$Priceless (well $30) – Marriage license
Affordable elopement price: ~ $4,780
Let’s keep it simple Elopement budget
$1000 – Elopement Photographer for one hour
$0 – sleeping in your own bed
$250 – Elopement permit for a beautiful spot
$300 – A nice breakfast and dinner & drinks
$100 – Bouquet + picking some flowers from your garden
$100 – Hair and makeup
$50 – Transportation
$300 – Bridesmaid dress (no one will ever know!)
$200 – Who needs a suit or dress if some practical nice clothes will work?
$Priceless (well $30) – Marriage license
Simple elopement price: ~ $2,330
(Chelsea and Gerardo’s Winter Elopement at Garden of the Gods)
What time of year should I elope / is there a best season for a Colorado elopement?
This is a personal preference in many ways. Do you prefer Summer or Winter activities? Are you okay being cold and braving snow? What about hot weather, rain, and maybe lightning? By far the most popular time of year for elopements in Colorado is from June 1st – September 30th. This is also the busy season for most places that aren’t ski towns. There are definitely some pros and cons of eloping in the different seasons.
- Spring Colorado Elopement: If you want snow during your elopement early Spring is going to be your jam! However, Spring weather, especially early Spring, can be very unpredictable. It can be sunny and warm with 70 degree highs for a few days that makes you want to abandon all your winter clothing. But the next day might bring 8 inches of snow. In late Spring, things are greening up and getting warm, and the mountains are still snow-capped. But most of the high-country is still inaccessible and mountain passes are closed, so be prepared to roll with the weather, have a backup plan, or choose a front range low-elevation elopement location. As long as you’re willing to be flexible, a Spring elopement can be a great option!
- Summer Colorado Elopement: Summer elopements are what dreams are made of. You can usually reach the highest parts in the state and be above treeline easily which really opens up the options for choosing the perfect elopement location and usually doesn’t require stressing too hard about a backup plan. The weather is usually very good (at least before 10am). Mother Nature is in charge, so there is still a chance that there could be wildfires or late afternoon rain storms, but flexibility is key and elopements are easy to pivot locations for if things do come up Summer time also means busier elopement locations and harder-to-get permits, so plan ahead. It’s warm, there are fields of wildflowers (usually best in July and early August), and good roads. It’s paradise.
- Fall Colorado Elopement: Fall, especially late-September and early-October, can be it’s very own paradise. Aspen trees that blanket many mountainsides (usually from 6,000 ft to 10,000 ft) are turning gold and yellow. They stun the hillsides. The mountain colors, especially at sunrise and sunset, are breathtaking. During the Aspen peak (usually mid-late September) you may also be treated to elk bugling as their mating season ramps up. All the highest parts of the state are accessible by now and there tends to be less crowds. Fall weather is definitely chilly, but it’s also more stable than summer with fewer afternoon lightning storms. There is always a chance for big-time snowfall, particularly as you get later in the season. Fall elopements are a great option, but are best done early in the season before the aspens lose their leaves and the snow flies.
- Winter Colorado Elopement: the cold and snow discourages many people from winter elopements. Colorado does have its share of sunny winter days, but even then, the temperature gets above 50 degrees in the mountains in winter. Winter elopements definitely have their own charm and are great if you really want to curl up by a fire in a cozy rental, enjoy hot springs, get unique photos in snowscapes, and see less people outdoors. You will need to brave winter travel which can be a time-consuming, stressful mess. Cold weather, snow storms, and limited access to locations are other challenges of winter elopements.
Eloping at Sunrise vs. Sunset
Sunrise and sunset, the golden hours, are a photographer’s and eloping couple’s best friend(s). The light during these times is gentle and glowing, it’s great for photos because you tend to get more even light rather than some of the harsher bright light that comes along with being at high altitude mid-day. Squinting and harsh shadows aren’t the best look for your elopement photos.
Sunrise: Fresh, brisk morning air and birds chirping at first light is a charmer. Waking up at 3:30 AM…not as much, but I promise it’s worth it. During sunrise elopements you’ll often have the location to yourself because you know…3:30AM. The lost sleep can definitely be worth it though. Aside from getting up early and traveling in the dark, sunrise photos have some clear perks. As long as you get to your location in the dark, you’ll have plenty of time to capture the moment as the day begins. Plus you’ll have so much time for activities after you say your vows and tie the knot! Just remember to dress warm and wake up on time!
Sunset: You can sleep in for sunset. That might be the best part. Sunset elopements give you plenty of time to get ready, look fresh, and you might enjoy more warmth. It’s also better for any guests who’ll join you because you won’t need to drag them out of bed. After a sunset elopement you can also easily transition to a celebratory dinner, too. Just bring warm clothes and maybe a celebratory beverage!
(Mary and Jeremiah’s Sunrise Elopement at Lost Gulch Overlook in Boulder)
Why Eloping on a Weekday is Better Than a Weekend
Two words – Hecking Traffic. Getting stuck in traffic going from Denver to the mountains is enough to make anyone swear off traveling to the mountains on a weekend ever again. Ski traffic in the Winter and early Spring, leaf peeping traffic in the Fall, and camping/hiking/tourist traffic in the Summer. Colorado is POPULAR and that means the roads get crowded quickly, especially on weekend dates which is when most people are vacationing or off of work.
The benefit of eloping on a weekday is that most of the most popular, easy to access, beautiful spots will be significantly less crowded than on the weekend. Elopements are typically about having a more intimate experience, so if you didn’t want to invite your Aunt Sally you certainly don’t want someone’s cousin from Kansas peeping on your elopement moments.
Eloping on a weekday also means easier access and more availability for elopement permits and you’ll usually have an easier time booking hotel / lodging accommodations, making dinner reservations or securing a spot for an intimate reception gathering if you’re planning on doing any celebrating after the ceremony.
After having multiple instances of spending more time driving to and from the elopement location than the elopement itself, fighting crowds for parking spots, waiting in crazy lines at entrance stations to national parks and having an intimate experience feel crowded with strangers I highly suggest to all of the clients that work with me to choose Monday-Thursday for their elopement. I understand this doesn’t work for everyone, and eloping at sunrise on a weekend can help alleviate some of these pain points, but choosing to have a week day elopement really is the way to go.
Elopement Location Permits
Even though you’re free to enjoy most public spaces in Colorado as an individual, there are more regulations once you want to use public land to have an elopement. Popular places like Rocky Mountain National Park, The Flatirons and Flagstaff mountain in Boulder and many hiking trails in Summit County or on the Western Slope require a paid permit or pre-approval for your elopement (yes, even if it’s just the two of you with no guests!)
The last thing you want is to be fined, ticketed or interrupted by a park ranger and asked to leave on this special day. For many of the most desirable locations it’s helpful to plan in advance and apply for the permit well ahead of your chosen date. If you choose more remote, less popular locations you may not even need a permit, but you should always check with the land management agency for that location. When I’m helping you scout your perfect elopement location I’ll always do my best to give you the most up to date information on permit requirements or who to contact in the elopement location you choose!
Elopement permits are almost always less expensive than a wedding venue. Some permits are free while others can be as much as $700 depending on the location. Always read the permit rules and bring a copy with you on your elopement day. You might want to even save a copy along with your photos and marriage certificate.
If your elopement day has more of an intimate wedding or micro-wedding vibe (more than 10-15 guests) you may want to consider looking into elopement rates at local wedding venues, or renting a private residence that allows gathering for events!
Where are the Best Places to Elope in Colorado?
Front Range Elopement Locations:
Boulder: Boulder might be a bubble surrounded by the real world, but it also has some of the best places in Colorado to get married. See all of my favorite Boulder elopement locations including Flagstaff Mountain and Lost Gulch Overlook.
(Marybeth and Courtney’s Boulder Elopement on Flagstaff Mountain)
Colorado Mountain Elopement Locations:
These examples are only the surface because there are great places to elope in pretty much every single mountain range in the state, but here are some of my favorites.
Rocky Mountain National Park – this is such a perfect place for an elopement and has so many different options for elopement locations that I devoted a whole post to the best places to elope in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Summit County – This has the advantage of being close to Denver, DIA, and many of Colorado’s ski areas. Some of my favorites to photograph are Sapphire Point, Loveland Pass, Keystone, and Breckenridge.
Aspen, Leadville, and Crested Butte Elopement Locations – These are amazing locations and perfect for people who want to spend a few nights in the mountains or take a road trip through the state: Twin Lakes/Independence Pass, Maroon Bells, and Emerald Lake are all gorgeous options closer to the Western slope where I have documented beautiful elopements.
(Katie and Austin’s Crested Butte Elopement at Emerald Lake)
Colorado Elopement Checklist
After spending some time on my website you’ve probably discovered by now that I love lists. They just make things run smoother and alleviate any unnecessary stress so you can relax and enjoy your elopement day. Before you jump into eloping, check off these boxes to make sure you have everything covered. The order for this isn’t strict. If you reach out to me prior to making concrete plans, then I can book you at an available time, share my favorite locations, and even point you in the right direction to get the required permits.
- 1A. Choose a date and time. Depending on if the date or location is more important to you, you can switch 1 and 2. Once you do this you’ll have a solid foundation to build around. From here, you’ll be able to choose vendors, notify family and friends (if applicable), start shopping, and begin writing down all the things you love most about the other person.
- Really 1B. Choose a location. If you’re set on a specific location it might be better to get your permit first for a day that you know works at that location.
- Hire me as your elopement photographer. I might be biased, but after photographing hundreds of elopements over the past decade I am VERY keen on elopements, have lots of resources and insider knowledge I can share and know tons of great spots in Colorado beyond the ones I shared in this post above.
- Vision your dream day and ceremony. Do this as soon as possible. For one thing, it extends the excitement. It allows you to experience the joy over and over again. You’ll also realize sooner that you want to bring a family heirloom into the ceremony, or begin to create a special piece of art to present at the elopement. This is also a good time to invite any loved ones who you want to join you and to start writing your vows.
- Schedule other vendors and go shopping. Call florists, schedule catering or baking (if wanted), get transportation, and anything else that you’ll need help with. Choose wedding clothing well in advance and give time for needed alterations. You also might want some shiny new outdoor gear for your elopement like warm coats and underlayers, boots, hats, gloves, and backpacks. Basically any time of year in Colorado at sunrise and sunset is going to be chilly.
- Get your paperwork. Colorado is one of the best places to elope because you’re able to self-solemnize here. You will need to get a marriage certificate from the county clerk and recorder’s office on a weekday/non-holiday. Read more about how to complete a marriage certificate and how to self-solemnize in Colorado.
- Create and be willing to lean in to a backup plan: What happens if it’s a historic rain or snowstorm on your elopement day? Or the location is closed due to wildfire or other natural disaster? What will you do if one of you rolls an ankle playing croquet and can’t walk to the site? These are all real possibilities (well maybe not the croquet injury). Definitely consider the worst case scenario and plan accordingly with back-up locations, dates, or both.
(Claudette and Dustin’s Loveland Pass Elopement)
Want Help Eloping in Colorado?
You’re in the right place. I am here for all your elopement needs and often times that extends beyond being just your elopement photographer. I’ve photographed hundreds of elopements in Colorado and have seen them work with tons of different approaches. Get in touch with me, learn about who I am, and check out my work!