Evan and Mary were originally planning a medium-sized wedding at Skyland Resort in Shenandoah National Park. But due to COVID, they decided to shift plans and downsize to a family-only wedding at a local Airbnb.
They ended up getting this incredibly lovely, stress-free, intimate day.
Evan and Mary booked an Airbnb on the South River in Elkton that could fit their entire guestlist (about 10 people total and two dogs.)
Everyone came in for the weekend and spent Friday hanging out and relaxing. On Saturday morning (wedding day) Evan and Mary and Mary’s sister met me in Shenandoah National Park at Bearfence Mountain for a sunrise first look.
Bearfence is one of the prettiest places in the park (there are 360 degree views at the summit), but I don’t shoot there often because it is probably THE most popular sunrise hike, and there aren’t many ways to avoid other folks. So if this is a spot you are interested in, I definitely recommend weekdays for an elopement or other session to avoid as many people as possible. It also requires a rock scramble to access, so a little bit of fitness is necessary in order to feel comfortable on this hike. (But I have done it while nine months pregnant and later with a two-week-old, so it’s doable!)
A side note about other visitors – people are generally courteous when you are wearing a wedding outfit and will move for you, but I’m cognizant that these are public spaces and other people (who often are coming from far away) also deserve to have a peaceful experience in the mountains so I don’t want to “take over” at a summit when we are up there. Picking a time and place that isn’t heavily trafficked and without an audience also helps YOU feel more comfortable.
On Mary and Evan’s wedding day there was just one other group up there, so we were able to move around each other fairly easily.
The sunrises from Bearfence are spectacular and Mary and Evan’s wedding day was no exception.
We met before sunrise and hiked up in the dark with headlamps and flashlights.
They got ready separately – Evan by himself and Mary with the help of her sister and then saw each other in their wedding outfits for the first time, a true “first look.” Mary had a veil, but unlike the ones that clip into your hair, hers buttoned to her dress and made a veil-cape. It was one of the coolest veils I have ever seen. And honestly if you are planning on wearing a veil at the top of the mountain it is an absolutely perfect solution because it is almost always windy at the summits in Shenandoah and when the veil gets blown around, it’s not going to get blown away!
It was slightly cloudy that morning so it took a while for the sun to peek through and bring out some stunning golden hues, but when it did we got one of the prettiest mornings I’ve seen in a long time.
After watching the sun come up and doing some portraits, they got changed and we headed back down the mountain to their Airbnb where their family was getting ready for their ceremony and Blakemore Flowers was setting up their arch.
One of the nice things about super intimate days is you aren’t really tied to the timeline. The timeline is more of a guideline than a rulebook. Whereas if you are having a big wedding and 200 people are showing up at a certain time, things are a little more fixed.
The ceremony was taking place behind their Airbnb by the South River. A beautiful oak tree to the right of the house provided shade, but I could see the shade would probably be gone by 10 a.m. when we were originally planning on doing the ceremony, so I suggested everyone get ready and when they were ready, we’d get them married.
Mary’s brother officiated and her sister was maid of honor. Evan’s mother read a few pieces of poetry and they passed around the rings for a ring blessing (where everyone holds the rings and says prayers or good wishes over them).
After the ceremony, everyone changed clothes and just hung out for a bit chatting and enjoying being together. Mary and Evan had ordered a cake from Bittersweet Bakery in Harrisonburg and they cut it on the back porch before heading out to Crosskeys Vineyard for lunch.
Rather than catering a lunch reception, everyone just went to Crosskeys together, got a table and enjoyed dishes off the menu and bottles of local wine.
As these photos show, your wedding reception can be as fancy as a fully catered private chef-cooked meal, or it can be as simple as being together with your guests at a local restaurant.
If you’re interested in an Airbnb or a Vrbo wedding, this is where Evan and Mary booked.
Here are a couple other places that would make great options for an intimate wedding:
Have a lakefront ceremony at this gorgeous estate in Charlottesville.
Or check out these two Lake Anna properties where you could have an intimate ceremony on the dock and enjoy a waterslide.
This property near Lynchburg features a main house, four one bedroom cabins AND a church building.
If you want to be near Washington, DC, you might consider this property in Loudon County that has views of rolling hills and old manor house vibes.
This beautiful property near Warrenton allows you to get married in the woods.
This stunning farmhouse near Culpepper features unobstructed mountain views.
And this estate in Castleton has several homes to rent and LOTS of options for ceremony and photo spots.
The Ultimate Small Wedding Planning Guide and Checklist