Eloping in Glacier National Park

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Couple standing on rocks next to the water of St. Marys Lake

ELOPING IN GLACIER NATIONAL PARK, MONTANA

Eloping in Glacier National Park

If you’re here, you’re probably considering eloping Glacier National Park in Montana – one of the most beautiful national parks in North America.

I was lucky enough to explore this glorious piece of Earth while photographing one of my favorite elopements ever, and quickly fell in love with its impressive landscape and surrounding small-town charm. A little slice of Banff right here in the US, Glacier National Park is filled with rugged mountain peaks, pristine blue waters, and vast meadows peppered with wildflowers. There’s no question that this is one of the most beautiful places in the US, and an elopement experience here would be magical to say the least.

I get it, eloping can seem intimidating…

Unlike traditional weddings, there are no set of rules or guidelines for elopements and many couples have no idea where to start.

But lucky for you, deciding to elope in the first place is the most difficult part of the elopement process.

If you’ve already decided to throw away the rule book and elope, you’re already a hero for doing things your own way.

The elopement planning process should be fun!

I’ve put together this guide for eloping in Glacier National Park to make the rest of the experience easy and I’m always available if you have any other questions or concerns!

For more information around eloping and elopement planning in general, you can check out my Elopement Planning Guide. This free guide includes everything from a thoughtful step-by-step planning checklist to information around ensuring your best possible elopement photos – and, a perfect first step in eloping in Glacier National Park!

Best Places for Eloping in Glacier National Park

A lake

As the ancient glaciers of the northern Rocky Mountains melt, they have left behind some of the clearest and bluest bodies of waters that exist in North America. There are so many lakes I could list as examples, but Lake McDonald and St. Mary Lake are the two largest and most popular lakes in the park. Because they are so large and accessible, they do get crowded during the popular tourist months. However, there are so many private spots along their shores as well as smaller, more seclusive lakes that I could take you to make you feel like you have the whole park to yourselves.

An overlook

Much of the drive through Glacier park is made up of peaks and valleys, with plenty of hiking paths and parking-lot-accessible overlooks. Some of the most stunning (and famous) backdrops of the park can be seen at such overlooks, making them the perfect location for your sunrise vow exchange.

A meadow

Laced between mountain peaks and glacial lakes are hundreds of stunning meadows that are often peppered with wildflowers (and goats) in the late summer months. There are even some stunning meadows outside the park that could serve as a beautiful place for photos during sunset if you want to end your day somewhere quieter yet accessible.

A waterfall

While Glacier National Park isn’t necessarily famous for it’s waterfalls, there are a few impressive waterfalls in the park that would be amazing for photos after your elopement ceremony. A few of the more popular waterfalls do attract busy crowds on those warmer summer days, but there are a few other unnamed waterfalls that are worth exploring during the shoulder hours of the day.

There are so many beautiful places to consider when eloping in Glacier National Park.

Curious about a few things?

Yes, there is an entrance fee

Like most national parks, An entrance fee is required to enter Glacier National Park. Daily passes are available if you only plan on entering for one day. However, if you plan on staying awhile, I would recommend a weekly or annual pass instead. Or, if you plan on visiting other national parks in the near future, I highly recommend investing in an America The Beautiful annual pass, which covers entrance and amenity fees for national parks and other federal area fees.

A wedding permit is also required!

Glacier National Park also requires a wedding permit for wedding and elopement ceremonies on any size. Whether it’s just the two of you or you’re having a celebration of 50 guests or more, you will need to apply for a wedding permit well in advance to your day. Glacier National Park recommends applying for your pass at least 2 months in advance, but I would recommend applying as soon as you have a date(s) in mind. Only a select number of wedding permits are accepted for each location each day, so the earlier the better especially during more in-demand months.

Your vendors may also need permits…

One last thing to know is that most vendors (including photographers) will also need to apply for a permit for your wedding day. Photography permits are required for many reasons, but one of the biggest reasons is to minimize environmental damage caused by an influx of tourism through image sharing on social media platforms. While these permits are pricey, you should think of them as a donation for the park as opposed to a service fee, as funds collected are doing great things for the national park service and ensure that you (and future generations) can continue visiting these parks for years to come.

Because I’m so passionate about serving our environment and abiding by Leave No Trace Ethics, I take care of the photography permit fee.

Remember, you’re in the mountains

Because Glacier National Park sits within the northern Rocky Mountains, much of the park is covered in ice and snow for a good portion of the year. As late Spring (mid-June) approaches, parts of the park with higher elevation open. However, because the roads through the park weave through multiple mountain peaks, there are portions of the park that will open earlier/later than others, so access to certain locations may be unavailable until near summer.

The parks is made up of many different areas

Glacier National Park is made up of five major areas (Lake McDonald, Many Glacier, Two Medicine, St. Mary, and the North Fork) and three major entrances (West Glacier, Saint Mary, and Camas Creek). There are technically four additional entrances to the park, but these three major entrances are the only ones that connect to the Going-to-the-Sun Road which spans the entire length of the park.

When entering Glacier National park from the west (closest to Kalispell), you will enter the Lake McDonald area through West Glacier. The main road through this area of the park is maintained year round, providing access to winter activities.

Just north of the West Glacier entrance on the west side of the park is the Camas Creek entrance, which brings you into the North Fork area. The famous Polebridge and Bowman lake are also located in this area, which are often far less crowded than Lake McDonald. The North Fork area is typically open June-October depending on snow conditions.

After driving through the Lake McDonald region, you will arrive at Logan Pass which gives you access to the St. Mary and Many Glacier areas on the east side of the park. These are the most popular areas of the park but for good reason – these regions are famous for their glacial lakes, stiff mountain peaks, and abundant wildlife due to the rapid elevation gain. Just south of Many Glacier is Two Medicine, which is an area also famous for its beauty and ruggedness. All three of these areas typically open mid-June (depending on snow removal) and stay open through mid-October (depending on snow accumulation).

In conclusion…

For elopements, I recommend mid-June or mid-late September. While the summer months are often hot and crowded, the shoulder months offer full accessibility to the best areas of the park with milder temperatures and smaller crowds. While June and September can have brisk nights, the sun will warm up the daylight quickly, and you’ll be left with seasonal colors and better parking.

For more information on operating hours and seasons, visit the National Park Service Glacier Park website.

Closest to West Glacier Entrance:

+ Glacier International Airport in Kalispell (30m, 30 miles)

+ Missoula International (2.5h, 130 miles)

+ Spokane International (4.5h, 280 miles)

Closest to East Glacier Entrance:

+ Glacier International Airport in Kalispell (1.5h, 80 miles)

+ Missoula International (3.5h, 190 miles)

Equidistant to both entrances:

+ Helena Regional (3.5h, 200 miles)

+ Bozeman/Yellowstone International (5h, 300 miles)

Again, you’re in the mountains, far from city life

Glacier National park itself is huge, and because it’s surrounded by the wilderness of northern Montana’s Rocky Mountains, there aren’t too many big cities nearby. However, there are quite a few camping options inside the park, and many beautiful lodging options within a five minute drive of the park’s entrance.

For those looking for the comforts of home such as a full kitchen and living space, I recommend booking an Airbnb in Whitefish or Columbia Falls – both of which are only a half hour outside the park entrance and have plenty of dining options as well as gas stations and grocery stores.

While Whitefish and Columbia Falls have small-town, rustic charm, Kalispell is a much larger and busier town. While it’s not a big city, there are many more larger 24-hour grocery and department stores, and tons of options for chain hotels and modern AirbBnbs.

Wherever you stay, consider the aesthetics of your space

*Wherever you stay,  if you plan on have photos taken while you’re getting ready, I highly recommend looking for a space with plenty of natural lighting (windows coming from multiple faces) and bright, open space. Look for accommodations with high ceilings, open floor plans, and as much white/neutral wall space as possible. All of these elements will work together to ensure clean, timeless photos.

Here are some suggestions to get you started:

+ Right in Glacier National Park!

+ Glacier Guides Lodge (<5 minutes from park entrance)

+ Belton Chalet (<5 minutes from park entrance)

+ Under Canvas for a glamping experience (5 minutes from entrance)

+ A rustic yurt in Kalispell (50 minutes away)

+ Airbnb in Columbia Falls or  Whitefish (30-45 min from park entrance)

+ Hotel or Airbnb in Kalispell (45 min from park entrance)

While visiting Glacier National Park, you will need to rent a car. I recommend looking at car rentals with pick-up and drop-off locations at or near whatever airport you fly into. Whatever you do, absolutely do not depend on Uber or Lyft, or any other taxi/public shuttle services.

While Glacier National Park has shuttles and tourist companies that will drive you through the park, having you own car will allow you to plan your elopement day around your own schedule and will make things 100% easier in case of a last minute location change. Besides, Glacier National Park is huge and you will want to spend a few days exploring as much of it as you can, as well as surrounding towns and areas.

Keep in mind that Glacier National Park is a top rated National park, and therefore very busy no matter what time of year you visit. For elopement ceremonies and photo sessions, I can’t stress enough the importance of arriving at the park entrance at least an hour before sunrise or an hour before sunset to find a good parking spot.

Tip: Check out Glacier Park’s parking and trail cams and Twitter page to keep track of parking lot accessibility and weather conditions.

Don’t rely on your cell phone. Cell service is very spotty in the park, so be sure to download any necessary driving and hiking maps and communicate your where abouts with loved ones ahead of time, if needed.

Prepare for car sickness and elevation sickness. Glacier National Park sits between 3,000ft and 7,000 foot above sea level, and many roads and trails through the park gain elevation quickly which can cause elevation sickness. Also, many of the roads through the park are narrow and windy with many hairpin turns, which can cause car sickness.

Dress for the occasion. Temperatures can vary greatly from early morning through high afternoon. For early morning and sunset elopements in Glacier National Park, I recommend fleece leggings under long dresses and hand warmers in your shoes and pockets, as well as a jacket. And don’t worry, I always bring extra handwarmers and headlamps to share!

Head out early. Not only does this park fill up fast, but the tight and windy roads can cause slow traffic and congestion. For a sunrise elopement, I recommend arriving to the park entrance no later than 5:00am and giving yourself plenty of extra time in case of traffic or limited parking.

Stay out late. The visibility of the night sky in this park is wild… even on an average night you can see the milky way and sometimes, if you’re lucky, the northern lights. Don’t be afraid to stay out until mid-night (or later) to really take it all in.

Bring bear spray. Not only are grizzly bears common in Glacier National Park, but so are wolves, mountain lions, lynx, and big horn sheep. Do your wildlife research before visiting and be prepared in case of an encounter.

Don’t limit yourself to only one day! My only regret when visiting Glacier National Park last summer was that I didn’t stay longer. This park is huge and magical, and it will take a piece of your heart when you leave. Add a few days to your itinerary and really enjoy your time there!

To legally marry in the state of Montana requires a valid Montana marriage license, an authorized officiant, and two witnesses. For those who invite a few loved ones, you could ask one of them to officiate your ceremony and another to act as your witness. If it’s just the two of you, I’m happy to help you find an officiant and act as your witness! Or, I am also ordained through the Universal Life Church and could act as your officiant. In regards to a witness, there are usually plenty of people around the park (such as another visitor or one of your vendors) who I’m sure would be happy to help you out.

For out of state couples, I recommend taking care of all the legal bits back at home and saving your experience at Glacier National Park for your ceremony and celebration.

Of course – I mean it when I say “your day, your way”. Eloping doesn’t have to mean sacrificing the presence and support of loved ones in favor of a beautiful and unique experience. There are plenty of ways to get your loved ones involved and get the best of both worlds.

You could have a “rehearsal dinner” or a reception. You could bring them along when you shop for your dress or when you sign your marriage license. You could even invite a few of your closest loved ones to join you and make it an intimate, destination wedding. The options are endless.

This is where the fun starts. Once you book, I will work closely with you to help find your perfect location(s), recommend vendors, brainstorm styling ideas, and more. We will work together to craft the day of your dreams, keeping in mind logistics such as guests, weather, sun position and of course, your priorities. All Glacier National Park Elopement Packages are customizable and includes bespoke planning assistance. When working with me, you almost get a photographer and planner all in one, which I think is pretty cool.

Eloping in Glacier National Park – Elopement Photography Packages

MULTI-DAY COVERAGE 5500

+ 2 day elopement coverage

+ a bespoke location idea list and in-person location scouting

+ scheduled check-in meetings throughout the planning process

+ all travel fees included

FULL DAY COVERAGE 4500

+ one full day elopement coverage

+ a bespoke location idea list and in-person location scouting

+ scheduled check-in meetings throughout the planning process

+ no travel fees

HALF DAY COVERAGE 3500

+ up to 5 hours elopement coverage

+ a bespoke location idea list and in-person location scouting

+ scheduled check-in meetings throughout the planning process

+ no travel fees

READY TO ELOPE IN GLACIER?

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Guide Cover for Eloping in Glacier National Park by Alyssa Vanzo Photography

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