Weddings that take place in national parks enjoy spectacular views and nature's glory as a backdrop for the ceremony and celebration. It's not unusual for a wedding photo to feature a rainbow arching over a scenic mountain range, or an eagle flying above the ceremony. You'll also find national parks on tropical islands, such as the Virgin Islands National Park on St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands for your beach dream wedding come true. Explore the wealth of national parks in the U.S. at the National Park Service website.
"Keep in mind that a wedding held in a National Park will often require adherence to the National Park's list of regulations," says Patti Golden, sales manager for weddings and events held on Ellis Island and Liberty Island. "For instance, the Park Service will need to approve of many wedding decor plans, your wedding's hours will be determined by the Park Service, and there is a fee for a wedding permit." Because the National Park Service maintains the safety and integrity of the park itself, they're very careful to control what goes on in the park, and how the park space is used.
Here are some considerations for your wedding in a national park:
--Permits. You may have to apply for a permit to have your wedding ceremony and reception held on the grounds of a national park. While some permits are pricier than others, the key is knowing when to apply. Some national parks require more than a year of advance notice, and some have a much smaller window of application time.
--Fees. Explore the range of fees for weddings in national parks. Some parks charge a fee just for use of the site, and others charge a fee for use of the site and permission to serve alcohol at your wedding. You don't want to make the mistake of booking just the site and forgetting about the permit for alcohol, if you wish to serve libations at your wedding.
--Catering and concessions. Many national parks require you to hire from their list of approved wedding vendors, and may require permission to allow any outside vendors to participate in your wedding. It's important to do your research before you put down a nonrefundable deposit with a vendor. You could lose that deposit and have to pay to book another vendor, or you could have a wedding day disaster when your caterer can't access your wedding. Some national parks have hotels and resorts on their grounds that may be ideal for your wedding or reception.
--Privacy. You'll want a secluded space in the park that provides privacy for your wedding and deters strangers from wandering in and helping themselves to your bar. Talk to the national park office for suggestions of ideal private spots.
--Decor rules. Again, the job of the National Park Service is to preserve the natural landscape, so you may find that you'll be unable to stake a tent into the ground, or secure lights from trees. The rules may seem extreme, but the park service holds them sacrosanct to protect the natural area. "A professional wedding planner is key to understanding the rules of the National Park Service, and working to find a viable solution," says Golden.
--Safety. Signage, restricting guests from wandering down trails or venturing into unsafe areas, is important to be sure that no guests get lost or injured during your event.
--Food service rules. Park rangers know that food attracts wild animals, so you may be instructed to keep all food supplies in sealed containers to avoid unwanted visits from wildlife. Your team will also need to clean your site thoroughly, disposing of any food, drinks and other temptations or dangers to animals, your guests and other park visitors.
--Restrooms. Check to be sure your national park area has quality restrooms, or that you can bring in high-end port-a-potties.
--Guest transportation. It's a good decision to pick up the cost of your guests' park passes to access the park for your wedding. However, many couples find it more budget-friendly to bus in their guests, paying for the one pass required for the bus or shuttle.
--Weather protection. An open-air wedding may be your dream, but without the ability to stake tents, consider having your ceremony out in the park and your reception at a venue with indoor facilities. Again, many national parks have hotels and buildings where weddings may be held.
In short, seek permission before you book or buy anything for your wedding, so that you know all of the national park's rules and can enjoy your big day while keeping the natural surroundings beautiful and safe.