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Hey friend, I’m so glad you’re here! Before we take a deep dive into how to get married in Shenandoah National Park, I wanted to let you know 2021 dates are starting to fill up. To book your dream wedding photographer click here to get in touch and start the process.
Getting married in Shenandoah National Park is an incredibly easy thing to do. And honestly, we are really lucky in that regard. National Parks like Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado have started imposing significant restrictions about how many ceremonies can happen in the national park each year and how many guests those ceremonies can have. For the most part, Shenandoah has not done that yet. But in order to keep having this beautiful space available to us, we have to protect it. I’ve written at length about that in this blog post:
The clip notes are: don’t go off trail or trample native vegetation, leave the space as you found it or better (bring it in with you, take it out) and respect other visitors.
If you want to elope in Shenandoah National Park with just the two of you, a photographer, an officiant, and up to ten guests (bringing the group total to 15) you do not need a permit and you can go wherever you want. Hike Old Rag, stay on Skyline Drive — everything is open to you. (Just stay on marked trails and don’t trample native vegetation!)
Keep in mind, if you opt not to get a permit, it is possible (but unlikely — to date I’ve never experienced it) that another wedding will HAVE a permit for the location and time you were planning on using. To double check that a permit has not been issued for your chosen spot and time you can call the Delaware North Office at 866-383-2922.
You cannot, however, set up decorations or chairs, play music or hang an awning from the trees. If you want a more stylized shoot OR your total party is larger than 15, you need a special use permit.
Entrance fees for 2021 to the park are currently $30 a car or $55 for an annual pass.
Getting into Shenandoah National Park at sunrise is usually quick — I’ve never experienced lines early in the morning. But entry on weekend evenings in the summer and fall can take a very long time (I’ve sat in the car line for an hour), so make sure you plan your timeline accordingly!
The permitting process is old school. Go to this site, print the paper application, fill it out and mail it back to the park address (listed at the top of the form) along with a non-refundable $150 permitting fee. It can take up to six weeks to get your permit approved. The park does not guarantee your permit will be approved.
But, generally speaking, as long as there isn’t another permit already issued for the same day, time and location, permits are approved for “stand-up” ceremonies of 15-29 guests at any overlook or summit you choose. A stand-up ceremony is a very simple ceremony with no chairs, decorations or music (non-amplified music such as acoustic guitars or violins are sometimes allowed on a case by case basis). Please note, throwing rice or biodegradable confetti or leaving ANYTHING behind is strictly prohibited. If you have questions, see my Leave No Trace article here.
In the fall months of October and November, permitted weekend ceremonies at an overlook must be completed by 10 AM. (Non-permitted ceremonies can still happen at other times, although from personal experience I HIGHLY recommend October and early November couples choose a weekday and/or sunrise to avoid the extremely large crowds no matter how small their party size.)
If you are having an all-outdoors wedding with more than 30 people in the group or want to set up decorations, chairs and/or awnings, the park almost always requires your wedding be held at one of the amphitheaters. There are three — one at Skyland (mile 42.5), one at Big Meadows (mile 51), and one at Loft Mountain (mile 79.5). Skyland and Big Meadows are both in the Central District of the park and Loft Mountain is in the South. The amphitheaters are all different sizes, so your party size may dictate which amphitheater you can use.
If you aren’t interested in eloping, but still want to get married in Shenandoah, you have two options for a traditional-ish wedding with indoor reception: Skyland or Big Meadows. Skyland Lodge weddings can be booked early-April through the end of November while Big Meadows Lodge weddings can be booked mid-May through early-November.
(Note the amphitheaters are outdoor theaters and are separate from the lodges.) Using the amphitheaters DOES require a special use permit.
If you opt for one of the lodges, you do not need a special use permit. However, the maximum number of guests you can have for a Shenandoah wedding, even at one of the lodges, is 100.
To apply for a wedding at Skyland or Big Meadows simply fill out this request (which, unlike the special use permit, you can submit online!) Skyland has three outdoor ceremony location options while Big Meadows just has one. The reservation fee for one of these ceremony spaces is $200. Chairs can be rented for $2.50 a chair. *All chair rentals, catering (except cake) and alcoholic beverages for park weddings must come through the park services.*
Receptions can either be held at Skyland’s historic conference building (50-100 guests) or at the Massanutten Room at Big Meadow Lodge (35-64 guests). Please note that there ARE guest minimums for renting these spaces or you might get a surcharge. Receptions must end by 9:30 PM. The rental fees currently range from a high of $4,000 for Skyland on holiday and peak fall weekends to a low of $1,250 for Big Meadows Lodge on off season Friday and Sundays.
The room rental fee includes set-up of tables & chairs, china, silverware, glasses, white tablecloths and napkins. You can upgrade your linens for an additional charge.
If you are getting married in the fall, just remember it’s a really busy time of year and both Big Meadows and Skyland cottages and lodging fill up QUICKLY. So if you want all your guests to be able to stay on site, you’re probably going to need to have a little bit longer engagement just to make sure there are enough rooms available for everyone for your date.
Real flowers ARE allowed for weddings at the lodges, but they are pretty strict about cleanup of florals to protect native vegetation from invasive species.
Ceremony and reception exits that include sparklers or throwing glitter, dried flowers, confetti, bird seed and such are not allowed. If you want an exit, a good alternative option would be glow sticks, ribbon wands or even LED lanterns.
If you are getting married at Big Meadows Lodge or Skyland, it’s really not that different logistically than getting married at any other venue. Because the park service covers table/chair rentals and catering, you’re really only going to need to decide if you want a DJ or band, live florals, decorations, a cake or dessert bar, officiant and a photographer and videographer.
When you book with me, I send out a list of recommended vendors I’ve worked with before. I also work with you on the timeline and structure of your day. For instance, if you are planning a traditional(ish) wedding but still want to do a first look at sunrise with just the two of you, we can totally do that.
If you are eloping, you definitely want to be more picky with who you choose — especially when it comes to your photographer and videographer.
Because honestly, the planning resources for eloping just don’t exist yet in the same way they do for planning a more traditional wedding. But a photographer who specializes in elopements like I do will act as your guide through the process.
When you work with me, I don’t just show up and take pretty photos of you.
I am an expert in, specifically, Shenandoah National Park and Virginia elopements.
That means when you book me, I work with you intimately to craft the perfect day for YOU.
I scout locations for you, send you guides on how to have a great experience, know how to navigate weather, know which locations are typically busy when, how to avoid crowds, what to do in the event of inclement weather, where to find dresses quickly, what kind of dresses work best for elopements, how to bustle dresses and tie ties, how to secure your flowers to your backpack, where the hidden gems are, what kind of timelines work best, how to plan a post-ceremony celebration for two, how to stay warm when it’s cold, what to do when it’s super foggy or windy out, how to include your dogs or family and how to create a day that is absolutely special and unique to you.
Honestly, there are a LOT of people out there who are talented photographers, but when you elope, you don’t have a full-team working to put on an event. You are investing in an experience. And to have a good experience, having a guide who helps you along the way is absolutely invaluable.
Ready? Me too.