- Jenny and Joe Mackey
Planning your elopement in the Grand Teton National Park
Updated: Oct 7, 2021
You have just made the decision to elope in the Grand Tetons National Park, now what!? If you’re like a lot of the amazing couples we’ve worked with for their special day, then you are likely trying to figure out how in the heck you are going to plan your intimate wedding or elopement from across the country. We’ll admit, if we weren’t in the industry it would be easy to get overwhelmed with all of the information out there, but in truth, eloping in the Grand Tetons can be very simple and below we’ll guide you through the 6 easy steps you’ll need to check off your list in order to have an amazing experience for your elopement! We’ll also throw in some of our favorite tips at the end to make your day that much sweeter!
Now before we dive in, we wanted to preface the below information by saying you can make your elopement as simple or as elaborate as you would like. Much like anything in life, things are constantly evolving at a rapid pace and one of the things that has changed tremendously over the past few years especially, is the concept of an elopement. I think 30 years ago when our parents got married, the word elopement instilled his vision of a couple rolling away to Vegas in their convertible to tie the knot! Fast forward to today and depending on who you talk to you may also hear an elopement referred to as a ‘micro-wedding’ or an ‘intimate wedding’ as well. Couples have traded the traditional chapel for breathtaking views and scenic locations like those found here in Jackson Hole. Many times couples will still elope just the two of them, but it’s not uncommon nowadays for an elopement to also include your closest friends and family, usually 20 people or less in our experience. Sometimes it’s just as simple as small ceremony and a few traditional portraits, and other times couples are looking for a fully immersed adventure elopement where you may hike in an hour or two just to get to your ceremony location followed by a full day of exploring through the Tetons. The point of all this is to say, there is no right or wrong way to do it. Only what’s right for you. In any case, the following 6 simple steps will still apply whether you’re looking to do something intimate with just the two of you, or whether you’re wanting to have a slightly larger celebration with some friends & family.
Step 1 - Choose a season
By far the most popular months for visiting The Grand Teton National Park are May through October. Winter in the area is considered November through April. It probably seems like a long winter but trust me, you have not seen snow, until you’ve been to Jackson Hole in the winter and then you will understand (lol). For us, we find the most popular time to elope in Grand Teton National Park is June through August. In our opinion, this is the perfect time of year for most. The weather is as mild as it gets for the area, and generally everything is open in the park by that time. While the park is technically open year round, due to the amount of snow fall, the roads in and out of the park can be inaccessible. Another reason we like it this time of year is it can allow you to experience all the park, and the general area has to offer. Go soak up the sun and unplug for a few hours by Lake Taggart, or paddle board on Jenny Lake. Go on a hike just the two of you to get away, or maybe hire a wildlife guide to take you on a scenic tour. Whatever your preference, you’ll definitely have a lot of options during the summer months! If you’re anything like us and you’re obsessed with the fall colors, this time of year could also be ideal for you! Fall color can start here as early as early September and can be seen as late as mid October. Like anywhere in the country, there are a multitude of factors and it can be a challenge to time it perfectly but this is generally going to be your best range. You can also score some great travel deals during this time of year. The ski lifts aren’t in action yet and the popular summer months have are long gone so fall here can end up being a great in between time where it’s not quite as crowded and there’s still plenty to see! Last but not least, let’s not forget about our beautiful friend, the winter season! While it might seem crazy to elope while it’s cold out, winter elopements can be absolutely beautiful and equally fun. There’s a different kind of beauty that comes with eloping in the Grand Tetons during this time of year and one that arguably rivals the other seasons in our opinion. If you’re a couple that wants to take advantage of the slopes and the world class powder that the Jackson Hole area is known for, winter could be just the season for you to plan your elopement and schedule some time to shred! Regardless of when you decide to plan your special day you’ll be in for an experience unlike any other!
Step 2 - Choose a photographer
I’m not just putting us this high on the list because I’m a photographer, it’s because the most popular pros are going to book up, upwards of a year in advance sometimes. I know that sounds crazy, but generally for most couples nowadays, they will choose their location or venue first, and then wedding/elopement photographer second. Even though a lot of elopements happen on weekdays, popular photographer's schedules fill up with engagements, and portraits sessions all throughout the week and often times depending on demand, they may also travel for weddings (like us). Where the difficult part comes in is that oftentimes, couples who elope only start planning it a few months out and they soon realize the photographers they want, may not be available. While this can still be true in many cases, in the past few years, we’ve seen more and more couples start to plan far ahead of a few months to make sure they have someone whose the perfect fit to capture their day! One of the added benefits of booking your photographer early on it you will have someone who can help you plan the ins and outs for your exact location, and needs. Some our couples are looking for a more adventurous experience and we may put together a logistics plan to cover all of the best spots based on their preferences. While some of our couples prefer something more simple like going to a single location with awesome views. Your photographer will also be able to help you with which spots may be best based on which season you’ve chosen. Many of the popular spots are not accessible during the winter so knowing where you can go to get beautiful scenery even if you have mobility issues can be helpful to ensure you enjoy the experience of your elopement. Make sure to connect with your photographer before your elopement. We always schedule time to do a call or meet up with all of our couples prior to their special day to make sure we understand their needs, and get to know them as a couple. This is important because this rapport can make for a better experience overall, and better images. Lastly, we always recommend looking at a few blogs or sample galleries to make sure your photographers style and quality is a great match for what you’re looking for!
Step 3 - Choose a location
This is one of those situations where the blessing is oftentimes the curse. There are literally so many beautiful spots within The Grand Teton National Park that sometimes the hardest part can be deciding on a spot that’s just right for your ceremony. Do you want the feel of an open field with the mountains in the distance? Would you like to be closer to the Teton range so they are more prominent in your frame? Would you prefer a spot that is more secluded but may not have the views you’re looking for? Or would you prefer a spot that has the perfect view, but gets a lot of foot traffic from others visiting the park? If you’ve chosen a spot that is more remote in nature, is it a place your guests (if you have any) will also be able to access? Will you plan to get dressed on location even if there’s not facilities near? Or would you prefer someplace closer to town so you don’t have to ride uncomfortably in the car for a while in your dress? Sometimes our couples have already chosen their ideal spot before they come into contact with us, but regardless, there is still a ton to consider when it comes to choosing a location. If you find yourself needing help, this is something an experienced photographer can help you with as well. If you’ve decided to go ahead and choose a location before a photographer, consider hiring a local planner to help you with the process as well. Of course there’s also good old google if the research portion of planning excites you. Some of the more popular locations within the Grand Teton National Park to have your wedding ceremony are Schwabacher Landing, TA Moulton Barn, and Chapel of the Sacred Heart. Another popular location located on the Bridger-Teton National Forest is called The Wedding Tree. This popular location does not require a permit for weddings with less than 75 people, but it’s still recommended you contact their office to make sure it’s scheduled on the calendar. Can you imagine the logistical nightmare of showing up with upwards of 20 guests, and another elopement is already going on, and you’re running out of daylight!? Yeah, don’t be that person, and don’t do that to yourself, reach out and make sure to contact the Forest Service to set everything up! You can click here for more information on reserving The Wedding Tree.
Step 4 - Decide on a time
This may not seem like that important of a factor but trust me when I say this overlooked step tip/step can be one of the most important to the overall feel of your special day. When we have couples reach out about scheduling their elopement or engagement session and they send us inspiration images they’ve found on our website, blog, or galleries, it’s almost always images captured around sunrise or sunset. It’s a rarity when this isn’t the case. Depending on where you are in The Grand Teton National Park, or where you want to hold your ceremony, the lighting characteristics can vary greatly depending on the time of day and terrain. For an easy example, if you shot at the TA Moulton Barn or just that side of the Teton range around sunrise, you’ll be able to take advantage of the soft light, warm magenta tones hitting the mountain tops as the sun break the horizon, and the warmth that comes with it as the sun continues to rise. If you choose to shoot at this exact location during sunset, it will have a different look and feel. Oftentimes you’ll get that gorgeous glowing backlight, and golden haze of ‘golden hour’, but sometimes you can lose some of the details in the mountains depending on how much haze. Or if you shot at this location in the early to mid afternoon (generally the time you avoid in most cases) you’ll get a harder more drastic top down lighting situation, but one of the benefits of shooting at this time of day can be the vivid blue skies. In any case, each time of day has something special to offer, so it’s a matter of person preference. Some other factors that may determine the time of day will also be if you’re a morning person or not, your tolerance to cold (yes even in the summer it can be in the 30s in the morning), and if you also have guests who will be present at your elopement. It may not be feasible to expect your grandparents to be at a sunset elopement ceremony that requires a 20 minute hike in the dark back to the car afterwards. Also, if you’re getting married mid afternoon in the middle of peak season on a weekend day at a popular spot like Schwabacher Landing, but you don’t want a lot of foot traffic, this would be a totally unrealistic expectation. For something like this, an adjustment to sunrise, would help cut down on the amount of foot traffic you're likely to see. These are just a couple of examples of a lot of the little things that come with choose a time of day for your elopement. This is also something a photographer can help you with or a planner in the area.
Step 5 - Get your permit
If you’re getting married in the Grand Teton National Park, a permit is required, unless it’s at one of the two chapels within the park. (The Chapel of Transfiguration and the one we mentioned earlier, The Chapel of the Sacred Heart). This process may seem a little intimidating but in our experience, it’s pretty straight forward and nothing you need to stress about! For more information, click here on this straight forward process. They also includes some good need to know information about holding your wedding inside of the park. In short you’ll need to fill out the application, pay a $200 application fee, and have this all in no less than 14 days prior to your event. We tend to err on the side of caution so we would always recommend getting everything in before that in case the park offices are short staffed, or something happens out of the ordinary (think basically all of 2020).
Step 6 - Choose and Officiant
One of the most important but oftentimes overlooked aspects of an elopement is finding the right officiant. Now that you’ve figured out all of the things, you have to find someone to make it official! Do you want someone with a religious background similar to yours? Are you just looking for someone fun to work with? Will you need to also find an officiant whose willing to adventure with you if your adventure elopement requires a hike? Make sure to ask your officiant some of these questions, especially as it relates to time of day and location. Here’s a link to the official Teton County website with a PDF listing of a officiants available. You will also need two witnesses for your ceremony which we as a husband and wife team are happy to be in addition to your photographers. One quick thing we wanted to touch on with regards to this process. Sometimes in our experience, finding an officiant for our couples who are from out of town has been pretty straight forward and easy, but everybody’s situation and needs can be different. With that said, if the process of finding someone whose a good fit, dealing with the whole marriage license (which is also quite simple) and coordinating it all to fit your vision seems daunting. One of the trends we’ve seen for destination elopements in the past couple of years has been having a simple courthouse ceremony in your hometown, and then having your actual elopement afterwards so this step can already be taken care of in advance. In truth the process of doing it in Jackson Hole can be just as easy as your hometown, but we realize coordinating so many things from states away, making sure you have all of your documentation, you don’t forget anything, etc. can just feel a bit more comforting by doing it close to home. For information on the process of applying for your marriage license, click here!
-If you're planning a winter elopement, build in extra travel days prior to your date in case of flight delays due to snow
-If you're planning a summer elopement, book your lodging as soon as possible. Whether it’s a hotel, air bnb, or even a camp site, they will book up fast!!!!
-If you’re more about convenience, fly into Jackson Hole Airport. It’s the most direct way to get to the area, and puts you conveniently right in the middle of all of the action.
-If you’re more about saving a few bucks. Consider flying into an alternate airport like Idaho Falls Regional Airport, or Salt Lake City. These tend to be a little cheaper, but it will ultimately come down to convenience, timing, and if you feel like driving.
-Take your photographer’s recommendations. With all the different styles, recommendations and preferences of photographers may differ. If based on your needs, your photographer recommends a sunrise session for their style or a sunset session, don’t lean towards noon.
-Always bring a few layers even in the summer. The weather can change in an instant in the Jackson Hole area. In general, there can easily be 30-40 degree swings from morning to afternoon.
-Bring bear spray. Sometimes it can feel like a rarity to even see a bear in the area, but with some of the more adventurous elopements, you can be hiking in an area known for some bear activity. Even with that, it would be a disservice for us not to recommend bringing some bear spray just in case. Be smart, be safe, and be bear aware.
-Leave no trace. Part of this is covered on the GTNP website for weddings here, but in general some easy to remember simple steps are pick after yourself, avoid bringing structures, don’t destroy any of the natural vegetation.
-Keep your distance from wildlife. There’s a chance that some of the wildlife in the area may be visible from your elopement or ceremony site. The Grand Teton National Park requires you stay a minimum of 25 yards from wildlife, and 100 yards from predators such as bears and wolves. Bison can look cuddly cute, and it is awesome to get them in the background of an epic wedding photos, but not at the risk to you or the animal’s safety.
-Bring water, snacks, and a change of clothes for adventure elopements. It’s a lot easier to hike in hiking shoes and shorts than, a wedding dress and flats. Trust us!
We hope to meet you soon!!
-Joe & Jenny