Mt Rainier – Washington’s most iconic snow capped peak. It can be spotted on a clear day peeking over the horizon of Seattle, but nothing beats the view of this stratovolcano up close! For any adventurous couple who’s decided to toss out traditions, let go of expectations, and forgo the big wedding, Mt Rainier National Park might just be the perfect spot to go to tie the knot! You can’t go wrong choosing between alpine lakes, mountain views, wildflower meadows, dense forests, and fire lookouts as a backdrop for your vows – so whether you’re planning your Mt Rainier elopement or you still need a little bit of convincing, this guide will teach you everything you need to know to elope at Mt Rainier National Park!
Legends and History of Mt Rainier
Mt Rainier became the United States’ fifth national park in 1899 – but its history begins long before that. The park is part of the lands of several indiginous tribes – the Cowlitz, Muckleshoot, Nisqually, Puyallup, Squaxin Island, and Yakama people were the original stewards who cared for the land, with great respect for the mountain. Many Native American tribes believed that spirits made their homes on top of mountains in the Pacific Northwest.
Captain George Vancouver, a British settler in the PNW noticed the mountain in 1792, and named it after Admiral Peter Rainier, a long time friend. European mountaineers were eager to summit the mountain, and they, along with scientists, local businesses, and conservation groups, worked to create a park around Mount Rainier, as they all saw the benefits of preserving the nature surrounding the mountain. In 1893 they began lobbying to officially name Mt Rainier a national park – and in 1899, their efforts paid off and Mt Rainier National Park was born!
Getting to Mt Rainier National Park
If you’re traveling by plane to get to Washington for your Mt Rainier elopement, the closest airport is the SeaTac Airport located in south Seattle. From there, you’ll need to rent a car to get to Mount Rainier National Park, but the park’s roads are paved and easily accessible in any vehicle! There are four entrances to the park, but the most popular – the Nisqually entrance – is about 90 miles from the city.
Choosing an Elopement Date
One of the first steps to planning your elopement at Mt Rainier National Park will be to set a date! It’s okay if you don’t set a specific date right away, but having an idea of the time of year or a timeframe that you want for your elopement will give you more flexibility when you book your elopement vendors, as you’ll be able to talk with your favorites to find a date that works!
Weather at Mt Rainier
One of the biggest considerations when it comes to your Mt Rainier elopement will be the weather! Like any mountainous region, the national park can see some pretty dramatic weather – it’s important to do some research and figure out when you want to elope before choosing a date.
Summer is the best season for hiking – but it’s also the busiest! Trails will be (mostly) snow free, and all the roads are usually open from July to early September. You’ll have clear views of Mt Rainier, and you may even get to see the wildflower meadows in full bloom!
Fall is gorgeous for those who want to catch some colorful foliage around the park, but it can be risky. Winter storms can roll in as early as September, and higher elevation areas may be inaccessible.
If you’re feeling extra adventurous, elope in the winter – when snow covers the park, and all the crowds stay away from the chilly temperatures! For couples who want to explore a winter wonderland, or go skiing, this is the perfect time for a Mt Rainier elopement. But, many of the roads and two of the entrances are closed, so be prepared to be a little limited in where you can go!
As the winter frost melts away, Rainier’s waterfalls are stunning in the spring. Lower elevation areas become more accessible, but can still be pretty chilly.
Keep Your Elopement Private and Crowd-Free
Because good weather always coincides with busy season, you’re likely to run into some crowds as you explore Mt Rainier National Park, unless you elope in the off season – which can have its perks too!
But, even if you elope in the summer, you can still take some steps to ensure you get a little more privacy for your elopement ceremony.
First, elope on a weekday! Weekends are always significantly busier, so eloping while most locals are at work will help a ton. Be careful to avoid long weekends and holidays!
I also recommend planning a sunrise ceremony at Mt Rainier National Park – even if you aren’t an early bird, hear me out! Sunrise is the best time for a ceremony because you’re likely to be the only ones at your location! There’s something magical about being the first ones in the park, and you’ll forget all about that middle-of-the-night wake up call when you’re watching the mountains light up in shades of pink and orange. If sunrise isn’t your jam, sunset is another great option! While it’s not as empty as sunrise, most of the crowds clear out by late afternoon – especially on a hike.
Choosing an Elopement Location
There are countless stunning viewpoints, trails, and vistas at Mt Rainier National Park. This one might just be the hardest step in the planning process, but here are some things to consider when you’re trying to narrow it down!
Level of Huffing and Puffing
There’s something for everyone at Mt Rainier National Park – easily accessible overlooks; short, flat trails; long, steep hikes; and multi day backpacking treks. So before you decide on a location for your elopement, sit down with your partner and talk about what level of intense adventure you’re both hoping for!
Think about your experience and ability – if you’ve never done an 8 mile hike, your elopement day may not be the best time to start. If you’re a seasoned hiker, remember that you’ll be hiking with some extra gear (wedding attire, rings, maybe a bouquet), and think about how hard you want to work for the views on your elopement day. If you’re inviting guests along, think about what’s doable for them!
Choosing a Spot Away from the Crowds
All those spots that come up when you Google “must see spots at Mt Rainier” are beautiful – but, they’re also the most popular! You probably want a little more privacy when you say your vows, so look for the more off the beaten path spots that aren’t quite as crowded! This can be easier said than done, so your best resource for this will be your elopement photographer – make sure you hire someone who has experience with adventure elopements, and who can give you some guidance when it comes to location recommendations! Wink wink, nudge nudge… I happen to be great at finding those spots!
Here are a few location recommendations to help get you inspired!
This is one of the least crowded spots in the park – which makes it perfect for an elopement ceremony! You’ll need to drive down a dirt road to get here, and you’ll end up at Mowich lake, whose turquoise blue waters are surrounded by forested peaks. You can take a kayak or a canoe on the water, or gain some elevation on one of the hikes that start at the lake.
The Summerland trail is 8.4 miles long, but there are plenty of spots for a ceremony close to the trailhead for couples who want a shorter trip. This is one of the best places to see the blooming wildflower meadows, along with views of Mt Rainier.
Old growth redwoods and tall pines make this trail the perfect fairytale-esque location for any couple who wants to elope in a forested setting. An easy 1.5 mile loop, this hike is easily accessible, and perfect for couples who want to bring a few guests along!
Brush Up on the Legal Stuff
I know what you’re thinking – paperwork is boring. But, it’s also important! To make sure you’re legally married and you can elope without breaking any rules, let’s talk about some logistics.
A marriage license will be needed to get legally married, which you can get in any county clerk’s office in Washington. In Washington, you can apply online or by mail (depending on the county), which makes the process easier! Pierce County is the closest to Mt Rainier National Park, and you can find the application and instructions for mailing it in here. The fee varies by county, and for Pierce County it is $72.
There is a three day waiting period for Washington marriage licenses, so you’ll need to wait at least three days to use it. They expire after 60 days, so get your marriage license ahead of time – but not too far ahead of time.
You’ll need an officiant to sign the marriage license, but you have a few options for this. As an elopement photographer, I’m ordained and can do double duty! Or, you can have a friend or family member get ordained for free on ULC.org.
You’ll also need two witness signatures, but don’t worry! If you weren’t planning on inviting any guests, your plans aren’t foiled. The only requirement is that they be over 18, which means any of your vendors can sign, and you can even find any two people in the park!
Get a Permit + Park Fees
A wedding permit is required for any Mt Rainier elopement – yes, even for tiny ceremonies! You can find the permit application on nps.gov, and it’s important to fill this out at least 4 weeks before your ceremony to give the office time to process your application. There is an application fee of $60, but this money goes to helping the park stay beautiful! You definitely don’t want to be hassled by a park ranger on your elopement day, so be sure to plan ahead and give yourself time to apply.
You will still need to pay the regular park entrance fees as well. Passes can be purchased at every park entrance, and you will need one per car. A pass costs $30 and is good for 7 days, but if you visit national parks often, an America the Beautiful pass can be purchased at the entrance as well, and will get you into any national park in the country for an entire year for $80.
Learn About Leave No Trace
If you haven’t heard of Leave No Trace, or LNT, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself before your elopement! We humans can have a bigger impact than we realize on the nature we visit, and a lot of damage happens simply because we aren’t aware of our effects on the land. You can learn more about the principles of LNT here, and about Leave No Trace at Mt Rainier National Park here.
Throughout your elopement, make sure you’re following these guidelines – not putting up any wedding decorations (who needs it when nature is your backdrop?!), staying on trails, and packing out anything you bring in.
Respecting wildlife is important any time you’re out in nature. Bear sightings are rare at Mt Rainier, but elk and mountain goats are common – along with smaller mammals like the super cute marmots that scurry around the trails. Make sure to always keep your distance from any wildlife, and if you do run into a bear, back away slowly – they’ll realize you aren’t planning to bother them and leave you alone! In most national parks, dogs are only allowed on roads, at campgrounds, and in parking lots – so your options will be more limited if you bring the dogs along. National Parks do this because dogs can disturb the wildlife, and usually aren’t too careful about where they step.
When it comes to your Mt Rainier elopement, any ol’ wedding attire isn’t going to fly! Just thinking about high heels in the dirt makes my ankles hurt – so when you’re choosing your outfits, keep in mind that we’ll be moving around, hiking, climbing, and whatever else you have planned! Avoid form fitting dresses and too-tight suits, and make sure you can move freely.
I recommend hiking boots for an adventure elopement, and if you get new ones for the occasion, make sure to break them in ahead of time! You don’t want to end up grimacing through the blisters on the day you get married.
What to Bring
Aside from your wedding attire and all the wedding things you’ll need for your elopement (rings, vows, florals, etc.), an adventure elopement also requires some extra gear! Depending on how much hiking you’ll be doing, this can vary. But in general, you’ll need to have a backpack, water bottles, extra food, jackets and layers (it can get very cold, very fast!), and a headlamp if you’re planning on hiking in the dark to catch sunrise or sunset. Consult with your elopement photographer for any other gear you may need to add to the packing list!
Where to Stay
Mt Rainier National Park is famous for the adorable cabins just outside the park. Having a cozy home base to come back to after your elopement day is important – because this is going to be incredible, but a day of adventures is also incredibly tiring! Check out the Little Owl Cabin or Chateau Marmont for great, dog friendly places to stay.
Plan a Magical Adventure
This day is all about the experience – and eloping means you can do anything you want! It doesn’t stop after your ceremony – you get to plan an epic adventure and get the most out of your day.
Here are a few things you can do at Mt Rainier National Park:
Ready to Elope at Mt Rainier?
Are you sold yet? Enticed by the snow capped peaks and alpine lakes? If a day at Mt Rainier sounds like the perfect way to get married, you’re going to need an adventure buddy!
By adventure buddy, I mean an elopement photographer who will be there throughout the process with location recommendations, permit info, tips and tricks, and everything you’ll need to plan a wedding day that feels like it was custom made for you – because it was! If you’re ready to start planning, contact me! Don’t worry if you haven’t gotten all the details figured out yet – that’s what I’m here for.
Want to check out other places to elope in Washington? Click here!
Hey, I’m Evangeline an adventurous Pacific Northwest elopement photographer based in Seattle, Washington helping couples plan meaningful experiences for their wedding day in nature. I focus on capturing the vibe of your day and the epic landscape views all over Washington, Oregon, California and beyond.