Dreaming of a Shenandoah National Park Elopement or Wedding? Here is our how to guide on how to get married in Shenandoah (updated for 2023!)
Shenandoah National Park Elopement / Wedding – what you need to know
Here’s a list of what we’ll cover in this guide:
- Why planning ahead is important in 2023
- Ideas for planning your perfect day
- Location tips
- Why an airbnb or rental property is important when eloping
- Choosing your preferred season in the park
- Wedding permit considerations for Shenandoah National Park
- Being prepared for the weather & having a backup plan
One quick note – we want this guide to be as informative as possible, so we wrote it long and took it easy on photos so you wouldn’t have to scroll so much. So let’s get to it!
Plan ahead. You’ll thank us for it!
It’s true – elopements really became “a thing” in 2020, and the trend continued through 2023. Lots of couples turned from their big wedding plans to eloping as their second choice, but so many discovered that an elopement experience was really what they wanted all along. Now the cat is out of the bag and many are looking to elope as their first choice! Demand is higher than ever for eloping in Shenandoah and it is changing the outlook on planning for the years ahead. Here are things you will continue to see in 2023:
Wedding permit availability may be reduced
As we started 2020, the Shenandoah permit office website allowed for wedding permits year round – with the exception of no weddings allowed at overlooks after 11am during the month of October. As the year progressed and demand took off, they adjusted to be more restrictive. By the end of 2020, no weddings were allowed at overlooks after 10am during the months of October or November. This is still much better than the Blue Ridge Parkway (which doesn’t allow weddings at anytime in October) but it is a sign of things to come. Our advice – plan early and get your permit application in before things change again. The policy held steady through 2022 but always best to stay ahead of things!
Nearby rental properties will be in high demand
When the pandemic hit in 2020, initially every kind of travel took a hit. But after people started to venture out, there were clear winners and losers in the travel industry in 2020 and through 2022. Hotels and flights took the brunt of the impact, but peer to peer rental properties (like airbnb) saw a boom. It’s easy to see why – combine lockdowns with postponed travel plans and people wanted to still get out in a way that was safe for them and their families. Why not just rent a house where you wanted to go?
This trend is impacting elopement planning because having the right rental property nearby is very important for many reasons. We’ll cover exactly why in a later section, but we’ll say again – planning early means you’ll have the best selection and not have to spend all day driving to/from your destinations in Shenandoah.
Take a moment and dream about your Shenandoah National Park Elopement / Wedding
Okay, so we’ve talked a little about a few things to keep in mind about eloping in Shenandoah in 2023 – let’s take a step back. Forget all the issues we talked about for a moment and think about why you want to elope in the first place.
Why would we ask you to do this?
Starting with a brainstorm session with your love is the first part to creating an awesome elopement day. It might seem logical to start looking at locations first and then planning around that, but that’s a little bit of getting the cart before the horse. First, think about what about your day is the most important to you.
Maybe you want all of your families to be there, and to have time to steal away together and enjoy the view. You could be after a sunrise hike where you say your vows and then join up with family later at a nearby restaurant for a reception. Imagining your getting ready time with your closest friends, then a first look outside your cabin? Or maybe it’s all of the above and more.
Once you have an idea of all the things you want to experience together (and who to experience your day with) you can take the next step to choosing a location.
Need a little inspiration? Check out this blog post for one of our recent elopements in Shenandoah National Park.
Tips on choosing a location for your Shenandoah National Park Elopement / Wedding
Consider how many guests you are having for your elopement
Shenandoah has a lot of options whether you are planning a “just us” wedding or inviting a few guests. Generally speaking, you’ll want to choose from one of the overlooks in the park for an elopement with guests, especially if some are unable to walk too far. The permits office keeps an up to date list (we can provide a copy to you as well) of overlooks which are allowed for weddings, along with maximum number of people and parking availability. It is a super useful resource when you are having to plan for guests.
Don’t forget about what’s most important to you for your wedding day
Having said all of that about planning for family and friends to come along, don’t forget that this day is about you. If you initially started your brainstorming thinking about just the two of you at a peak in Shenandoah with views all around, please don’t compromise on this. Just add another location to your plans for your day! There are lots of ways to make a day that’s still about your dreams and incorporate the needs of others who might not want to hike. It could be starting your day with a dawn hike and then a ceremony at an overlook, or vice versa. There are lots of ways to have both, not to worry! This is where we help you with our knowledge of the park to match you with a great hike for just the two of two – sunrise or sunset.
Choose your elopement location for the best wedding day light
Conveniently, Shenandoah is somewhat oriented in a north/south direction. With that in mind, you can think of overlooks on the west side best for sunset and those on the east for sunrise. This isn’t a hard and fast rule though as Skyline Drive isn’t exactly a straight road! With all the twists and turns (plus how the path of the sun changes with the seasons) it’s important to scout out potential locations to see how everything will work out for the best photos of you on your day.
Highly Recommended – a nearby rental property to Shenandoah
For each elopement we plan for couples, location selection and choice of a rental property nearby go hand in hand. Here’s a few reasons why this is so important for your elopement:
- A convenient place for getting ready. When planning out a Shenandoah National Park wedding, instead of a day trip from a distance – it is far easier (and less exhausting on your wedding day) to book a rental house as near as you can to your locations for your day. This gives you a place to relax and take your time getting ready, with just a short drive to where you’ll be enjoying the rest of your day.
- Backup plan for weather. We’ve probably already said this and we’ll say it again – backup plans for weather or other circumstances are crucial for a successful elopement. While we all would love to have sunshine on our side for adventuring outside, that’s not always the case. When you have a vacation house as a backup, you can rest easy knowing that if the spring rains, summer thunderstorms or fall tropical storms make their way through, you can be in the dry and still have a great day.
- Your own private reception location. Some couples opt for driving into a nearby town for a restaurant reception, but you may prefer to have a place all your own to celebrate in private. Take advantage of this opportunity and book a place with a fire pit outside, and enjoy all the feels of a campfire at the end of your day!
Choose the right season for your Shenandoah National Park Elopement / Wedding
Oh how we love Virginia for the seasons. Spring brings wildflower blooms in the mountains and the first touch of warmth. Summer brings hot afternoons that make you crave splashing around in a waterfall, and makes dawn elopements enjoyable with mild temperatures early in the morning. Fall – what can we say other than gorgeous fire orange and reds in the landscape! Winter brings the real possibility of snow in the mountains too.
When you’re thinking about eloping in Shenandoah, take a moment and try to separate yourself from the calendar and imagine what season is best for you. Sometimes we’re hemmed in by life and can’t make the calendar work for when we want to be in the park (we totally understand!). But if you know what season you love the most, it makes it more clear what to do for your day when making plans.
For example, it you love the warmth of summer but are having to pick a spring date, then an afternoon might be better for you for the temperatures later in the day. Or if you would rather elope in the cool of a fall day but life has you getting married in the summer, then dawn would probably be best to make your day enjoyable!
Permits & Regulations – what you need to know
We’ve listed some of the most important things to consider below, but here’s our disclaimer – please check out the Shenandoah National Park Wedding Permits page for the most up to date and complete information!
When you don’t need a special use permit
If you popped over to the Shenandoah Permits page and managed to read it all, you might have left more confused than when you started. From our conversations with the permits office, here is some plain English that we hope is helpful to you!
- If you are planning a simple “stand up” ceremony with less than 16 people (which includes everyone – add to the count for your photographer, officiant etc.) you don’t need a special use permit.
All of the elopements & weddings we have planned and photography fall into this category. It may seem like a lot of verbiage on the permits page but it’s there because of all the different questions they’ve gotten over time.
However – we still recommend applying for a permit (or at least contacting the permits office about your plans)
Why is this important? Because the permits office might get a request from another party for the same date at your desired location, especially if it’s at a convenient overlook. We’re all about planning for the unexpected, so it’s definitely worthwhile to connect with the folks at the park to make sure all is good before moving ahead with your plans.
Situations when you will need a Special Use Permit for your Elopement
- Weddings where you’ll have 16 or more people (note that 30 is the maximum)
- If you’re bringing musical instruments (only non-amplified are allowed)
- If you intend to bring any kind of setup (chairs, arch, decorations, etc). Note that this kind of a wedding setup is restricted to park amphitheaters and is not allowed at the overlooks or other locations where you could have a “simple stand-up ceremony.”
Other regulations / tips to keep in mind for your Shenandoah National Park Wedding & Elopement
- Apply EARLY for your permit. Currently the park has a 6 week required window. But you need your permit in hand before you make other plans. Our advice? A year is not too early.
- Keep it simple. The park does not allow any kind of decorations that one would normally see at a big wedding (signs, flower arrangements, etc). Think about keeping the setting as natural as possible.
- Practice Leave no Trace. Related to the above point, we should be leaving things as we found them. We’re sure you’d want to be able to come back to Shenandoah and stand in the very spot you got married – so let’s keep it well an minimize our impact while we’re there
- Recommended: Non-live flowers. At the time of this writing it seems that the park allows for live flower arrangements (i.e. your bouquet, corsages, etc) as long as you police the area afterwards to clean up any petals, stems or other material to keep non-invasive species out of the park. However, we recommend skipping live flowers and going for alternatives like silk. You will be having an active day, and non-live flowers will hold up much better (and not drop petals). And yes – you can get incredibly beautiful arrangements without going for live flowers. Just check out this photo – which do you think it is?
Backup Plans – Have more than one!
We’re sure you’ve heard it said already after something unexpected happened … “well it’s 2020 after all!”
If the years since have taught us all anything, it’s that backup plans are very important when planning elopements amidst so much uncertainty. Weather changes, roads can be closed, or a tour bus might show up at your planned overlook the day of your wedding. In case anything pops up unplanned, the best way to still have an awesome day is to “expect the unexpected.”
Practically speaking, if you have one overlook in mind for a wedding with your family, look for two more that would fit the bill if something happens. If you have a sunrise spot in mind that you want to hike to, think about how much space there is at the top in case you end up with the same idea as another couple on your date.
If weather looks like it might not work out, think about where and when you would make the decision to change plans. Is there cell reception at your overlook, or someplace nearby? Maybe there is a picnic area close enough to your wedding spot that could work as a backup?
Consider what to do if weather doesn’t cooperate at all. Maybe you would fall back to your airbnb – is there enough space inside for everyone? Is the space lighted well for photos? Is there a covered porch you could use?
Having a Plan A, B & C is key to making sure nothing stands in your way to having a great experience together.
Interested in a Shenandoah National Park Wedding or Elopement?
While these days we are based near the mountains of the Carolinas – we both grew up in Virginia and still remember our two decades of adventuring in and near Shenandoah. We still get back to our home state often to experience all the places we grew up exploring and to find new ones as well. The mountains and valleys have a personality all to their own, and we’d love to show you all the possibilities there!
Mark & Carolyn