If you’re here, I’m guessing you’ve seen pictures of just how gorgeous the North Cascades are! Towering spires and teal blue lakes dominate this landscape. It’s no surprise that this area has been dubbed the American Alps by those who frequent this gorgeous region.
Despite the steep competition, I can confidently say this is my favorite area in Washington, as a Washington elopement photographer, and it has so much to offer for your adventure wedding!
So, if you were wondering how to plan your North Cascades elopement, this guide will cover everything you need to know.
Why should you elope in the North Cascades?
The North Cascades National Park is one of the most remote parks in the country. Although Ross Lake National Recreation Area draws the most visitors in the three areas of the NCNP Complex (nearly 856,000 in 2021), the NCNP proper only saw 17,855 visitors in 2021, making it the fourth least visited national park in 2021. In other words, although there are lots of popular places in the North Cascades, there are still plenty of opportunities to find privacy and solitude on your elopement day in this sprawling region (especially if you’re willing to hike to get to them)!
Variety of Scenery
The North Cascades is HUGE. The NCNP Complex has over 1,000 square miles of gorgeous views, and that’s not even touching the areas to the East and West of the park. Since this area is so vast, you get so many different climates and geographic features just within a few hours’ drive of one another: lush, green forests and glaciated peaks on the West side, to rocky, jagged peaks and alpine desert-like areas on the East side, and stunning teal blue lakes in the center of it all. I guarantee you’ll find something in this region that takes your breath away for your North Cascades elopement!
This region has been my favorite for my own personal outdoor recreation trips. Some of my most memorable mountaineering and backpacking trips have taken place in these mountains. Once you’ve experienced them, it’s so hard to stay away! If you’re looking to include your favorite outdoor activities on your elopement day, the North Cascades is the perfect place. Want something more low-key? There are still plenty of opportunities for a relaxing, intimate elopement experience. Keep scrolling to see just a fraction of the possible activities for your North Cascades elopement!
Choose Your Date — Best Time of Year
Peak Season: June through October
Highway 20, the main road through the North Cascades National Park, is usually open by May. You can enjoy this scenic drive for about half the year before it closes in November. Park services are limited outside of this season.
Best Conditions: Mid-July through mid-September
Snow can remain on the ground in high-elevation areas of this region well into July, so if you want a snow-free experience combined with best weather, mid-late summer is the best time of year for your North Cascades elopement. Above all, keep in mind that mountain weather can be unpredictable, even in high summer! Wildfires and smoke/haze are also most common during this time of year, so be sure to have a backup location.
If you’re searching for those elusive golden larches (I get a raging case of Larch Madness every Fall!), you’ll want to plan your elopement at a high elevation hike sometime between late September to early October. These golden yellow deciduous conifers only come out for a few short weeks during the year, but they are so worth the effort to see them. Be prepared for a possible dusting of snow!
Dreaming of a winter wonderland wedding experience? This area is great for snowshoeing elopements, too! If you choose to elope here with a pair of snowshoes strapped on, you can expect a chance at better weather and plenty of snow April through June.
Winter elopements are possible in some areas, however the weather can be extremely unpredictable. In addition, most of the region is inaccessible due to road closures.
Choose Your Location — Areas of the North Cascades
You’ve probably seen pictures from this area of the North Cascades. It’s definitely one of the most popular areas! Mount Baker’s white, gleaming flanks of glaciers and Mount Shuksan’s striking profile make this a high-payoff destination with stellar views for little effort. This part of the North Cascades is the furthest West, and closest to the city of Bellingham.
This scenic mountain road stretches from one side of the North Cascades National Park to the other, and connects the lush green West side to the rocky, drier East side. Along this drive you’ll pass teal blue lakes, snow-capped peaks, and jagged mountain ranges. Begin your journey in the small town of Concrete, and wind up in the unique historic town of Winthrop.
If you want something unique, look no further than Stehekin. Only accessible by seaplane, ferry ride, or a 23 mile hike (one way!), getting here is truly an experience in itself. This tiny town is tucked in a mountain valley at the North end of Lake Chelan and is the perfect getaway for adventurous souls!
Image courtesy of stehekin.com
Most locations you see photographers talk about online, like Artist Point and Diablo Lake, are quite popular. This doesn’t mean those spots aren’t great North Cascades elopement locations, but it might mean you’ll risk sharing those spots with other visitors. Eloping on a weekday at sunrise or sunset is a great way to increase the chance of having privacy at those spots (and ensuring you’ll have the best light)!
I won’t share my favorite locations here for Leave No Trace purposes. All of my booked couples get unlimited access to my insight on my favorite elopement locations here in the North Cascades! Personalized location scouting is one of my favorite parts of the elopement planning process, and my background as an outdoor guide has given me tons of experience in this region. I truly love helping each of my couples find the perfect ceremony location here.
Want me to scout the perfect North Cascades elopement location for you? Reach out and let’s get started planning your dream elopement here in the American Alps!
Get Legit: How to Legally Elope in WA
Apply for a Marriage License
You can apply for your marriage license in any county and use it to get married anywhere in Washington. After the 3-day waiting period, your marriage license is good for 90 days. The King County marriage licensing website has a helpful widget to figure out when you should apply. The easiest way to get your marriage license is to apply online and have the packet mailed to you.
For more information on the process of making sure your Washington elopement ceremony is legally legit, check out this helpful resource from brides.com.
Hire an Officiant
If you’d like someone to walk you through your ceremony, you’ll want to find an officiant who you click with and fits the vibe of your elopement day. It can be helpful to search for an officiant who specializes in elopements to be sure they’ll be able to make it to your ceremony location! Luckily I know several officiants here in Washington who serve North Cascades elopements and would be just as stoked as I am to make your adventure wedding a reality.
If you want a more intimate ceremony and would rather lead yourselves through your vows, Washington allows you to self-solemnize with a few extra steps. You can decide how you want your ceremony run, as long as you have someone who is ordained present (like me!), as well as two witnesses.
Apply For a Permit
Applying for a permit for your elopement is SO important, and unfortunately this is the topic I’ve seen the most misinformation about. There are a lot of resources out there with incorrect info from people who don’t know the area well. I’ll do my best to clear up misconceptions I commonly see so you have as much accurate information as possible, but it’s always a good idea to double check any information you find (even what I’ve written here)!
Good to Know:
- The North Cascades region is run by several different land management agencies. There are two different National Forests (Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie NF and Okanogan-Wenatchee NF), and the North Cascades National Park Complex (which consists of the North Cascades National Park and two National Recreation Areas: Ross Lake NRA and Lake Chelan NRA).
- A lot of popular places like Mount Baker aren’t part of the NCNP. They’re located on US Forest Service land, which has different requirements for permitting and parking passes.
- The North Cascades National Park does not require any entrance fees, since there are no entrance stations. In fact, there are very few roads that actually run through the park. Highway 20 runs through Ross Lake NRA, and the rest of the park is fairly remote. I still recommend purchasing an America the Beautiful Pass, since it’s the only pass that covers entrance fees for all National Parks in the country AND parking fees for all USFS/BLM land.
It’s extremely important to make sure you’re contacting the correct land management agency for your location about your elopement permits. For instance, each area has different parameters for Special Use and Commercial Film Permits. It’s always best to reach out and get the most recent information directly from the permitting officer since guidelines around permitting change often. And remember, even if no permit is required to have your wedding ceremony, your photographer may need to apply for a permit in order to take photos! Make sure your photographer is following the rules and is legally legit.
Land Management Agencies in the North Cascades
If this is all a little confusing, don’t worry! I’ve spoken with many permit officers from all around the state, and can connect you with the representative from the land management agency you’ll be eloping in. I know which locations are under the jurisdiction of each agency, and would be happy to help you through the permitting process!
Reach out to me and let me know which spot in the North Cascades draws your eye for your Washington elopement!
How many guests can we invite to our North Cascades elopement?
Most areas of the North Cascades have rules about how many people can be at a location for your ceremony, or a group size limit for hiking parties. Some areas will have designated sites for larger groups, but the locations become limited as you add more guests to your day. Each land management agency has different rules, so be sure to reach out beforehand to get the fine details!
My personal recommendation: 8 Guests
This is the “sweet spot” for being able to include guests in your ceremony during your North Cascades elopement without limiting the elopement locations you can choose from. A majority of areas have a group size limit of 12 people to try to limit the impact of large groups on trail, so this ensures everyone will be able to be present:
- Couple (2)
- Guests (8)
- Photographer (1)
- Officiant, videographer, or other vendor (1)
Another option is to have your guests gather at a small venue or AirBNB/VRBO in the North Cascades (make sure you confirm that small events are allowed). You can dedicate a portion of your day to time spent with your guests, and have a separate section of your day just for the two of you. You could also split your adventure wedding up into two days — the first to adventure to your ceremony location for your private vow exchange, and the second for your reception (party time)!
Can we bring pets?
Most areas for your North Cascades elopement are dog-friendly, so yes! It’s such a great idea to include your four-legged family members in your elopement day.
The National Forests and National Recreation Areas are all dog-friendly. The North Cascades National Park allows dogs, however they are allowed only on the PCT, and they must be on-leash at all times.
I highly recommend keeping your pups leashed regardless of which area you’re eloping in to ensure everyone has the best experience possible 🙂
Book Your Lodging — Where to Stay In the North Cascades
Where you book your lodging will depend on the locations you choose for your North Cascades elopement. My number one tip is: Don’t book your lodging until after we’ve decided on your exact elopement location(s)! The North Cascades is a huge area, so to minimize drive time on your wedding day, choose your ceremony spot and any other places you’d like to visit first. You don’t want to book a super cute A-frame before we’ve started our planning, only to fall in love with an alpine lake that’s 3 hours away!
Here are the closest towns to each major area of the North Cascades:
West Hwy 20 & Cascade River Road
Marblemount, Rockport, & Concrete
East Hwy 20
Winthrop & Mazama
Glacier, Deming, & Bellingham
Of course you’ll want to book lodging in Stehekin since accessing the town takes a while, but you could also stay in Chelan, Pateros, or Twisp once you’ve returned.
North Cascades Elopement Activities
- Rock Climbing
- Wine Tasting
- Whitewater Rafting
- Mountain Biking
- Horseback Riding
- Wildlife Viewing
North Cascades Elopement Timeline Examples
1-Day Elopement Timeline
12:00pm – Janelle meets you at your bespoke AirBNB for a lazy morning with brunch & a relaxed couples’ session
1:00pm – Detail shots, getting ready photos, & First Look
2:00pm – Head to first location trailhead
3:00pm – Park at trailhead, begin hiking
3:30pm – Arrive at North Cascades elopement ceremony location
4:00pm – Private vow exchange ceremony, exploring area & enjoying that just-married glow
5:00pm – Hike back to trailhead
5:30pm – Drive to second location trailhead
6:00pm – Arrive at second location, intimate picnic dinner with mini cake cutting & champagne pop
7:00pm – Exploring area for golden hour photos
8:00pm – Photo coverage wraps up
2-Day North Cascades Elopement Timeline
4:00am – Janelle meets you at your AirBNB for getting ready photos before heading to trailhead
4:30am – Drive to ceremony location trailhead
5:00am – Park at trailhead, start hiking, take star photos
5:30am – Change into wedding attire
6:00am – First Look as the sun rises
6:30am – Private ceremony at golden hour, exploring the area for private adventure time
8:00am – Hike back to trailhead
8:30am – Drive back to AirBNB
9:00am – Cozy indoor session with breakfast & coffee made by a private chef
10:00am – Mid-day break to recharge before reception
4:00pm – Janelle arrives at reception venue to capture guests arriving, detail photos
4:30pm – Group photos with couple & guests
5:00pm – Intimate reception dinner with family & friends
6:30pm – Champagne & toasts, cake cutting
7:00pm – Music on, lights down, time to cut a rug!
8:00pm – Day 1 photo coverage wraps up
8:00am – Janelle meets you at trailhead, begin approach to crag
8:30am – Arrive at a crag with great views for a North Cascades rock climbing adventure
9:00am – Send a few choice routes, enjoying the views & the company along the way
11:00am – Hike back down to trailhead
11:30am – Head to a nearby brewery for a well-deserved lunch & a cold beer
12:00pm – Day 2 photo coverage wraps up
Sound like the perfect North Cascades adventure elopement experience? I think so, too! All of my elopement packages include detailed timeline planning based around your vision for your day. I’ll help you build a day full of the activities you want to do and all the beautiful locations you want to see, while still making sure you have time to relax and enjoy those moments without feeling rushed.
Reach out to me about your North Cascades elopement dreams, and let’s start the planning process!
What to Pack for Your North Cascades Elopement
Your packing list will vary depending on what kind of activities you choose to include in your elopement day. Here’s a basic list to get you started:
- Day packs
- Hiking boots
- Wedding attire
- Marriage license
- Vow books
- Water bottles
- Sunglasses & sunscreen
- Bug spray
North Cascades Elopement Photography Packages
One of the most common questions I see from eloping couples is, “How much time do we need?”
Honestly, it totally depends on what kind of adventure wedding experience you two are hoping to have. If you’re wanting to include some of your favorite activities or visit a few different locations, I always recommend being generous with time to ensure no one feels stressed or rushed.
My biggest piece of advice when thinking about how much coverage you want on your elopement day: don’t limit yourself. Your adventure wedding is a once-in-a-lifetime experience completely curated around the two of you. Don’t you want the full story of your wedding day captured so you can look back on it for years to come?
Meet Your North Cascades Elopement Photographer
Hey, adventure buddies — I’m Janelle!
The North Cascades is my favorite place in the world. I was born and raised here in Washington, and have made so many amazing memories in these mountains. Every time I leave, I leave a little piece of my soul behind. I would be so stoked to help you plan your elopement experience in this region, so you can fall in love with it, too!
I have packages built to suit all types of elopement days. My collections include 4 hours, 8 hours, all day sunrise-sunset, and 2 day packages. If you’re looking for something even more adventurous, I can also create custom packages for every type of adventure! Backpacking elopements, getting married on the summit of Mount Baker (I’ve been there!), multi-pitch climbing elopements, and more. I’m extremely familiar with this area thanks to my experience as a former outdoor guide, and my own climbing & backpacking trips!
Ready to get started planning your own North Cascades elopement? Hit me up and let’s get started!
Here are some of my favorite memories from my adventures in the North Cascades 🙂
Interested in other areas of Washington?
Check out my blog post with a round-up of all the top Washington elopement locations by vibe!