How to Plan a Meaningful Colorado Elopement in 2024

Why you should elope in Colorado

I’ve spent years traveling the world, seeking out the most wild, rugged destinations I can find, and something always brings me back to Colorado. Perhaps it’s my own personal bias. I grew up spending my summers living in the small town of Ouray, Colorado – climbing rocks, chasing chipmunks and mining for gold in the creeks. It was the place where I developed a deep love for the outdoors, and will always hold a special piece of my heart. The landscape is obviously epic – there’s the rugged peaks of the Rocky Mountains, as well as the Great Sand Dunes of central Colorado, to the red rock cliffs of the Colorado National Monument. Throughout the state you’ll find so much diversity in the landscape, from towering mountains, to scenic alpine lakes, and high desert terrain. Beyond just the draw of the incredible scenery, there is so much more that makes Colorado special. The state is sprinkled with wonderfully charming little mountain towns, each rich with their own unique mining history. Oftentimes the locals who live in these towns have been there for generations, their family history stretching all the way back to the Gold Rush.

Weddings here are special. There is something about saying your vows surrounded by such a rugged landscape, that truly allows you to feel the weight of the words you are committing. I feel such a deep connection to Colorado, and I love nothing more than getting to share this place with my couples, and help them plan a truly meaningful elopement experience, so I wanted to create this guide to give some insider advice on how to elope here.

Couple walks towards a mountain overlook in Colorado.

How to Elope in Colorado

Planning an elopement can be stressful. You have so much freedom in the choices you get to make, but all that freedom can be overwhelming. Luckily, most of the decisions you will be making are things like “should we elope at the top of this mountain or in front of this waterfall?” It’s supposed to be FUN. Here are the 5 basic steps of how plan your Colorado elopement:

  1. Book your Colorado Elopement Photographer! I always recommend hiring your photographer first, because typically they will help out with the rest of the planning process by providing things like location recommendations, timeline assistance, permit help and more! Get in touch here!
  2. Choose your location where you want to say your vows + any other areas you want to experience on your elopement day
  3. I’ll help you plan out all the details of your day like booking lodging, creating a day of timeline, vendor recommendations, and anything else you need help with!
  4. Apply for any necessary Colorado elopement permits + secure your marriage license!
  5. Elope! We will explore Colorado, soak in the amazing views, and celebrate your marriage with a meaningful, intentional experience.

Colorado Elopement Laws and Permits

Marriage Laws:

Colorado is one of the easiest states to elope in, due to the super relaxed marriage laws. In Colorado you can self-solemnize, which essentially means that you can marry yourselves without needing an officiant or witness. In order to get legally married in Colorado, all you need to do is obtain your marriage license. All you need to do is walk into any County Clerk’s office (it doesn’t matter which county you are eloping in), fill out some quick paperwork, and pay the $30 fee. Once you’ve got your marriage license it can be used immediately, and is valid for 35 days! There is no waiting period!

Permits:

Whether or not you’ll need a permit for your Colorado elopement depends on a variety of factors, such as the location, the event size, etc. Most places will require a permit, so it’s a good rule of thumb to just expect that you’ll need one unless told otherwise. For an elopement, you’ll likely need to acquire a Special Use Permit, which permits you to hold your ceremony on the public lands. Places like Rocky Mountain National Park, and the Great Sand Dunes National Park both require permits. A permit will typically range in cost anywhere from $100-$400. Your photographer may also need a Commercial Use Permit, and they will be the ones to handle that.

The Best Season for a Colorado Elopement

Choosing when to plan your Colorado elopement is not an easy decision! Colorado has three wildly different, yet equally beautiful seasons (and one not so beautiful season). Each season offers completely different scenery, opportunities for adventure, and experiences.

Summer:

Summer is one of the most popular elopement seasons in Colorado. This is the time of year when everything will be most accessible, due to the warm weather and snowpack being completely melted off. During the summer you’ll find fields of wildflowers, cascading waterfalls, wildlife everywhere you look, and so much opportunity for adventure. You can hike, rock climb, white water raft, horseback ride, Jeep, kayak, and so much more. The summer is known as the monsoon season, which means almost every single day it rains – but don’t let this worry you! It’s almost often a light rain that comes and goes very quickly. The weather is warm during the day, and the afternoon thunderstorms come by and cool everything off. It’s a truly magical time of year to plan an elopement. The best time of year to elope in Colorado and get the optimal summer weather is late June – the end of August!

Check out this summer elopement here to get some inspiration for what a wildflower elopement in Colorado looks like.

Fall:

Fall is the most popular time of year for both tourists, and elopements – and there is a good reason for it. Fall in Colorado is absolutely magical. Colorado is home to thousands of aspen groves, spanning all across the state. Every year, there is a short 2-3 week window of time where these aspen trees turn vibrant yellows, reds and oranges. The rest of the landscape turns warm in color as well. That, combined with the snow-capped mountain peaks, and crispness in the air, makes Colorado in the Fall absolutely breathtaking. It’s always hard to predict exactly when the colors are going to peak, but I usually recommend my couples plan their elopements around the last week of September through the first week of October. The peak almost always happens within that time frame, so regardless of your elopement date, you’ll know it will be beautiful! The weather in fall is also fantastic during that time frame,  with most of the trails still being open and accessible, and temperatures ranging from the 50’s-60’s. 

Check out this fall elopement here to get some inspiration for what your day could look like!

Winter:

Winter is the most underrated time of year to elope in Colorado, because it is absolutely magical! Most people imagine dreary, bitterly cold weather when they think of winter, but in Colorado that is absolutely not the case. Most of the days are what we like to call “bluebird” days, which basically means bright sunny skies without a cloud in sight! When you are in the sun, the weather is pretty mild! On the days that it does snow though, it’s absolutely magical. There is nothing like snuggling up by the fireplace, sipping hot chocolate, and watching the snow flurries fall from the sky. And then the day following a big snowstorm, you’ll literally feel like you are in a snowglobe, with mountains towering all around you, blanketed in a fresh layer of snow. Winter also holds so much opportunity for outdoor activities, such as skiing, ice skating, ice climbing, sleigh rides, snow-shoeing etc. The best time of year to plan a winter elopement in Colorado is Dec – February! 

Spring:

Now Spring is the one season that I wouldn’t recommend eloping in the mountains of Colorado. This time of year is known as the mud season, due to all the melting snow. This time of year doesn’t see as much fresh, powdery snow, so when it does snow it’s super icy. And when that snow melts the next day, everything turns to mud! Spring in Colorado would be a great time to plan an elopement in the desert terrain of central Colorado, such as the Great Sand Dunes, or Colorado National Monument.

Bride and groom stand in front of a turquoise alpine lake in Colorado.

Where to Elope in Colorado

Colorado is a big state, which means that it offers a huge diversity in landscape! There are a few different regions of Colorado that each offer a totally different type of elopement experience. Here are the different regions where you can elope in Colorado:

The Front Range:

The Front Range of Colorado is the region of mountains located near Colorado’s biggest cities (Denver, Colorado Springs, Boulder, and Fort Collins). This area of Colorado is typically the most easily accessible when it comes to planning an elopement, as you can easily fly into Denver to access most of the elopement locations in this area, and you’ll find plenty of accommodation options and amenities. Around the Front Range, you’ll find the most popular elopement destinations like Breckenridge, Rocky Mountain National Park, Garden of the Gods, and the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area. Because of how easily accessible the front range is, it’s also a very popular vacation destination for tourists. The main cons of eloping on the front range is that you will have to deal with crowded locations, strict permitting regulations, and timed entry systems. 

Central Colorado:

Most people think of mountains when they think of Colorado, but we are actually home to a multitude of desert landscapes, as well as the largest sand dunes in the country! Central Colorado is where you’ll find a lot of this terrain! The Great Sand Dunes National Park is my favorite central Colorado elopement location.

The Western Slope

The Western slope of Colorado is my FAVORITE region, and the area that I shoot the majority of my elopements. It’s the place that I will always recommend to eloping couples because it’s just that incredible! This area is home to the San Juan Mountains – the most rugged, epic mountain range in all of Colorado. It’s also home to so much rich mining history, and charming little mountain towns that make it the perfect area to plan an elopement. Because this region of Colorado is located 6 hours from Denver, it makes it a lot harder to access compared to the locations on the front range, meaning that you’ll oftentimes find total seclusion and privacy in these mountains. It’s Colorado’s little hidden gem. There are some awesome areas to explore, such as the Colorado National Monument, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Mesa Verde National Park, and so much more. 

Couple walks through the wildflowers during their Colorado elopement.

The Best Colorado Elopement Locations

Choosing your elopement location is such an important decision. The place you choose to say your vows is so significant, and it’s important to choose a location that allows you to feel fully present, and really feel the weight of the commitment you are making. When choosing your elopement location, it’s really important to figure out what your biggest priorities are. You’ll want to consider things like how private the location is. Colorado is a popular vacation destination, so oftentimes some of the most scenic spots can get really busy. If privacy is important to you, you might want to consider a more off the beaten path spot. You’ll also want to consider the scenery. Colorado has such a diverse landscape, and you can get married anywhere from on top of the country’s largest sand dune, to the shores of an alpine lake, or in a field surrounded by wildflowers. The options are truly endless. The last thing you’ll want to consider is accessibility. How hard are you willing to work to get to your elopement location? Maybe you love the idea of hiking 8+ miles into the wilderness, or maybe you would rather relax, and take a Jeep down a bumpy road to a remote location. Colorado has options for all types of adventures. 

Here are a few of my favorite Colorado elopement locations, to get you started with planning:

The San Juan Mountains: Ouray, Silverton and Telluride

The San Juan Mountains are my absolute favorite Colorado elopement location. This has been a second home to me for over 20 years, and holds a very special place in my heart. The San Juan Mountains are a rugged mountain range covering the southern part of the Rocky Mountains, containing jagged mountain peaks, turquoise alpine lakes, and hundreds of miles worth of Jeeping trails. This plethora of Jeeping trails allows you to explore some of the most remote, wild landscapes without needing to hike 8 miles or charter a helicopter. Most of my couples will say their vows in complete solitude when they elope in the San Juan Mountains, which is one of the main reasons why I love this region of Colorado so much for elopements.

Crested Butte

Crested Butte is another favorite elopement location of mine. I went to college right outside of Crested Butte, so these are my old stomping grounds. This area is absolutely stunning, and receives very little tourism in comparison to the front range (similar to the San Juan Mountains). The Crested Butte mountains are home to some of the best wildflowers in all of Colorado. They even hold an annual Wildflower Festival each year, due to how spectacular the flowers are. During the fall, the landscape lights up with vibrant fall colors. Crested Butte is also home to one of the largest aspen groves in the country, located on Kebler Pass. And during the winter, you have world class skiing at Crested Butte Mountain Resort

Couple elopes in Colorado

Check out this magical fall elopement in Crested Butte to see what your elopement could look like.

The Great Sand Dunes

Most people come to Colorado to get married, and seek out large mountain vistas, and alpine lakes, and while that is beautiful, there is also a whole other area of Colorado that is rarely explored, yet equally as beautiful. The Great Sand Dunes are one of the most unique landscapes I’ve ever witnessed. The dunes themselves span across 30 square miles, and sit at the base of the towering, snow-capped Sangre de Cristo Range. This area is somewhat of a hidden gem, due to its location far away from most of the major cities. It’s an easy place to find seclusion, in an incredibly awe-inspiring landscape.

Colorado National Monument 

The Colorado National Monument is one of the most underrated elopement locations in Colorado. In this high desert landscape, you can experience towering monoliths, sheer cliff edges, and panoramic canyon views in all directions. The landscape is very similar to that of Moab, but experiences far less traffic from tourists, making this an incredibly ideal spot for an elopement. It’s the perfect spot to get married with panoramic desert vistas surrounding you in all directions.

Bride and groom kiss on the edge of a cliff in the Colorado National Monument.

Check out this Boho Desert Elopement in the Colorado National Monument for some inspiration. 

Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park is one of my favorite places for an elopement in Colorado. This national park holds so much diversity in landscape, from high alpine terrain, to incredible alpine lakes with mountain peaks towering behind. There’s also a plethora of wildlife, and you are almost guaranteed to happen across a moose, bear, or herd of elk sometime during your time in the park. While taking photos in the park isn’t very restricted, Rocky Mountain National Park does place restrictions on weddings. They allow up to 60 weddings per month, and the permits are issued on a first come first serve basis, in pre-designated ceremony sites. They accept applications a year in advance, so if you are wanting to elope in the park, I recommend applying for a permit as quickly as possible!

The Best Intimate Wedding Venues for a Colorado Elopement

It can be very logistically challenging (and in some cases even illegal) to bring large groups of people on public lands for an elopement, so if you are planning a day with more than 15 guests, I highly recommend booking an intimate wedding venue that can accommodate everyone. Luckily, Colorado has some of my favorite small wedding venues, from luxury yurt camping, to restored mining towns turned high end cabins, to stunning mountain overlooks. Here are my absolute favorite intimate wedding venues in Colorado (all ideal for elopements with 15-60 guests):

And if you want to check out my list of the Best Small Wedding Venues in the US, then click here!

The Best Boutique Hotels / Unique Stays for a Colorado Elopement

If you are having a smaller group of guests, or just want to stay somewhere super unique, Colorado has tons of options for you as well. Here are some of my all time favorite boutique hotels, and unique stays:

Colorado Elopement Ideas / Things to do in Colorado

Colorado is truly an adult’s playground, with endless opportunities for fun, ranging from super adventurous activities, to super relaxing / luxurious activities. Here are some ideas of things you could either do to make your elopement day more fun! 

  • Horseback ride in the mountains 
  • Canyoneering 
  • Soak in a natural hot springs 
  • Watch the sunset from the top of a mountain 
  • Host a candlelit dinner in the mountains 
  • Have a picnic 
  • Go to a brewery 
  • Go hiking 
  • Kayak on an alpine lake
  • Rock climbing 
  • Jeep to a remote location 
  • Ride ATV’s
Couple stands in front of aspen trees in the mountains.

Colorado Elopement Vendors

Choosing which vendors you want to hire can have a big impact on your elopement experience! Throughout my years as a photographer, I’ve gotten a pretty good idea of which vendors are worth considering for your day. By no means do you need to hire every single vendor I’ve listed below, but I highly recommend choosing where you want to prioritize your money, and investing in your incredible vendors who will give you the experience of your dreams.

Photography:

My number one piece of advice when planning your elopement is to hire your photographer before you do anything else! A great photographer will not *only* take great photos, but they will also provide you with a lot of guidance through the elopement planning process. Investing in a good photographer is truly priceless, and they are the most important vendor you will hire for your day. Eloping can be confusing, and logistically challenging, so it’s important to hire someone who is knowledgeable about the area, and experienced shooting the kind of wedding day you are looking to have. 
For an elopement photographer, of course I am going to recommend myself! I take pretty great photos, but even more than that, I know Colorado like the back of my hand. I specialize in shooting elopements here, and have called Colorado a home for 20 years. This state holds a very special place in my heart, and I love sharing it with couples who will connect with the landscape in the same way I have. Contact me here and we can get started planning your day.

Florist:

Florals are such an incredible way to elevate your elopement experience and make the day feel extra special. Incredible florists can also incorporate pieces of the landscape into your bouquet, making it even more meaningful. Here are a few of my favorite florists in Colorado:

Officiant:

In Colorado you can self-solemnize (meaning you can marry yourselves), so you don’t need an officiant, but some of my couples do still choose to hire one! If you do want to have an officiant lead you through your ceremony, it’s super important to take the time to make sure you connect with them! Here are my favorite officiants in Colorado:

Hair and Makeup:

Hiring a hair and makeup artist is a great thing to splurge on if you think it will help you feel absolutely incredible on your elopement day! It’s important to hire someone who has experience working with brides who are getting married in the outdoors, to make sure that your hair and makeup will stay put through all of your adventures! Here are my favorite recommendations:

Planning / Design:

You may think you don’t need an elopement planner, since photographers typically help out with a lot of the planning, but there are so many things an elopement planner can do (that a photographer can’t) that will completely elevate your elopement experience. If you are including guests in your elopement, or want any sort of styling / design, then I highly recommend considering hiring a planner. Here are a few of my favorite elopement planners:

How much does it cost to plan a Colorado Elopement

The cost of eloping can vary dramatically depending on things like guest size, location, vendors you choose to hire, etc. In reality you only really need to pay the $30 fee for your marriage license in order to get married. Most couples choose to plan something a little more special and adventurous though. My best advice is to figure out what your priorities are, and invest in those things, and ditch everything else. Eloping is about doing what you want to do. Here are the average costs my couples are typically spending in order to have an elevated, full day, once in a lifetime experience for their elopement:

Photographer: $7,000-$8500

Wedding dress / attire: $1500 – $4000

Marriage license: $30

Officiant: $500 (but not required)

Florist: $1000-$2000

H&MU: $1000-$2000

Travel to Colorado / accommodations: $1500-$3000

Special details (personal vow books / invitations, etc.): $100-$500

Ready to start planning your Colorado elopement?

Colorado is where I have based my business, and the place that I work most frequently. I know these mountains like the back of my hand, but more importantly, they hold a special piece of my heart. I am endlessly inspired by the landscape, history, and culture, and am beyond excited about every single elopement I get to shoot out here. I love helping my couples plan a day that reflects their values and priorities, that is rooted in the significance of marriage. I’ve got a long list of incredible (secret) spots, so if you’ve connected with my work then I would love to help you plan a truly unique day.


Contact me here and we can get started planning your dream Colorado elopement experience!

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A Ouray Colorado elopement photographer smiles with her camera

Meet your elopement photographer

Hey, I'm Carissa! Intimate wedding & elopement photographer, for adventurous couples whose love takes them to the wildest corners of the earth. I can usually be found me with my couples, jeeping through the San Juan mountains, chasing sunsets in Moab, or exploring other wild destinations around the world. I care deeply about your elopement experience, and the photos you walk away with to remember it all. I'll help you plan the most unforgettable elopement day that feels like you, and document your adventure in a way that feels like art.

Based in the San Juan mountains of Colorado, and traveling worldwide.

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