Did you know that North Cascades National Park is one of the least-visited national parks in the United States? Did you also know that it’s known as the “Swiss Alps of America,” or that the park has over 300 glaciers, 120 alpine lakes, and 400 miles of hiking trails to explore? If this doesn’t make you want to drop everything and start planning a North Cascades elopement, I’m not sure what will!
This underrated (and what I like to think is a hidden gem) of Washington State is one of my most-recommended elopement locations for couples looking for epic mountain views, glacial lakes, dense forests, and endless hiking trails. The park is extremely diverse and offers something for everyone (even your furry friends)! If you’re looking to plan your very own elopement in the North Cascades, you’ve come to the right place. From the best time of year to elope to the best places to elope, everything you need to know about North Cascades National Park is located in this guide. Let’s get into it!
How Do I Get to North Cascades National Park?
North Cascades National Park is located just 3 hours north of Seattle. To reach the park, you’ll want to first fly into the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. You can also fly into the Bellingham International Airport if you’re looking for a closer airport. Bellingham is a short 1.5 hour drive to the park, but the airport is much smaller and offers less affordable flights and rental car options than Seattle.
Once you fly into the airport, you’ll want to rent a car. A standard sedan will work just fine for 90% of locations. That being said, there are a handful of lesser known hiking trails that are located along forest service roads, most of which aren’t maintained and contain many rocks and potholes. Before officially renting your vehicle, be sure to choose your elopement location and make sure a 4WD vehicle won’t be necessary.
6 Best Places to Elope in North Cascades National Park
These are 6 of my all-time favorite locations in North Cascades National Park for elopements.
Chain Lakes Loop Trail
If you love to hike, the Chain Lakes Loop Trail is a great trail for a North Cascades elopement. This is one of the most popular hiking trails in the park, but for good reason. It has some of the most stunning views you’ll ever see! The trail is 7 miles long and will take you through the forest, past some vibrant blue lakes, through wildflower meadows, and by open valleys. I know some secret trails around this area where you can experience jaw-dropping views without anyone in sight, like where some of these pictures were taken below!
Pro tip: This location is dog-friendly!
One of my favorite alpine lakes in North Cascades National Park is called Bagley Lakes. This extremely accessible lake is the perfect spot for ceremonies with guests, especially those who aren’t able to walk far distances, as there are a variety of different lookout spots right from the parking lot. However, if you’re up for the walk, a short trail will take you to the base of the lake where you can see all the wildflowers and snowfields. The actual base of the lake isn’t large, so no more than 3-4 people are recommend for ceremonies. Since this is one of the more popular lakes in the area, I recommend a sunrise or sunset ceremony.
Pro tip: This location is dog-friendly!
Artist Point is one of, if not, the most visited place in the park due to its accessibility. It’s a drive-up location, perfect for ceremonies with guests. If you want to get up close and personal with Mt. Shuksan, this is the location for you. Here, you can find meadows, alpine lakes, and 360 degree views of the mountain range. This area is especially beautiful during sunset, but again, keep in mind its popularity. There are other areas in the park that will get you similar views with less people. As an elopement photographer who has shot dozens of North Cascades elopements, I know of a few secret spots with similar views and less crowds, like some of the pictures below!
Pro tip: This location is dog-friendly!
A Fire Lookout
Washington State is famous for its various fire lookouts. Currently, there are 93 lookouts you can experience, many of which are in the North Cascades region! While fire lookouts often require uphill hiking, it’s always worth the effort. Fire lookouts, especially in North Cascades National Park, have some of the most jaw-dropping views you can find in the United States. I know of a few secret lookouts I only share with my couples, but if you’re up for the challenge, consider hiking the two most famous in the area: Sourdough Mountain and Park Butte.
Pro tip: Some fire lookouts are dog-friendly!
Washington Pass Overlook
Washington Pass Overlook is the perfect location for elopements with friends and family. There is a 0.3 mile wheelchair accessible path that will loop you around the overlook. There is also a nearby hiking trail down the road that’s ADA accessible and takes you to an incredible alpine lake! This overlook is located right off of Highway 20, the main highway in the park, so it’s much busier than other locations, but worth a stop to see. I recommend a sunrise or sunset ceremony at this location.
Pro tip: This location is dog-friendly!
An Alpine Lake
There are over 120 alpine lakes in North Cascades National Park, both accessible and hidden. Whether you’re looking to hike 7 miles or 7 feet, there is an alpine lake for everyone. As a photographer who specializes in elopements around the area, I know of multiple alpine lakes that would be perfect for an elopement, many of which are crowd-free. If you’re looking for a quiet place to exchange vows without anyone around, consider a stunning alpine lake lined with trees and wildflowers. A few of my favorites in the park include Lake Ann, Diablo Lake, and Rainy Lake.
Pro tip: Some alpine lakes are dog-friendly!
When Is the Best Time of Year to Elope in North Cascades National Park?
One of the most unique things about North Cascades National Park is the weather. Because the park sits at such a high elevation, it’s covered in snow most months of the year, and weather can be unpredictable. Overall, the best time to elope in North Cascades National Park is between mid-July to early October. That being said, there are certain months that shine above the rest.
Summer is the most ideal time to elope in North Cascades National Park, specifically from mid-July to August. Not only are these the warmest months in the park, but also some of the greenest. During the month of August, the park is covered in wildflowers, and all trails are snow-free. However, summer is the busiest season for the park. I recommend planning your elopement during a weekday with a ceremony during sunrise or sunset if you’re hoping for a crowd-free experience during the summer season.
The end of September and first two weeks of October bring about the fall season. Fall is my favorite time to visit the park, and most-recommend season for North Cascades elopements. Not only are the trails still snow-free, but they’re covered and lined with beautiful larches (pine trees that change color) and fall colors. Vibrant reds, oranges, and yellows cover the park during the fall. The weather is still pleasant and crowds aren’t as abundant, though I still recommend a sunrise or sunset ceremony during this time of year.
Winter is the longest season in North Cascades National Park. When mid-October hits, the park sees its first snowfall, which causes multiple road closures throughout the park and nearby national forest. I recommend steering clear of planning your elopement here in the winter season, as most of the locations are completely inaccessible, the weather is unpredictable, and snow can make driving on the windy roads very dangerous.
Spring is similar to winter, in that the weather is still very unpredictable and most of the locations are inaccessible. While the park starts to see some its snow melt, many of the more accessible locations are often covered with muddy slush and puddles, which isn’t the best for adventuring around in. It’s best to hold off just a little longer into the summer season that starts in July.
How to Get a Marriage License for Your North Cascades Elopement
To apply for a marriage license in Washington State, you have three different options: in-person, online, or by mail. For most people, online is the easiest and most convenient method.
Before applying for a license, you need to know a few things.
- A marriage license in Washington State has a three day waiting period, meaning you can’t get married until three days after obtaining your marriage license have passed.
- The marriage license expires in 60 days.
- You can obtain a marriage license from any county in Washington State. However, you have to return the signed paperwork back to the county you obtained your license from.
If you plan on getting your license from King County (Seattle area), you can view the online marriage license application here.
Pro tip: To view step-by-step instructions on how to obtain your marriage license for your North Cascades elopement, click here where I break down exactly how to get a marriage license in Washington. It’s super helpful and explains exactly how to get a marriage license in person, online, or by mail.
Do I Need an Officiant and Witness for My North Cascades Elopement?
Yes. Washington State requires an officiant and at least two witnesses for your elopement.
Pro tip: Friends and family can become ordained to officiate your elopement for free online through the Universal Life Church!
Only want an elopement with just the two of you? I’m ordained to officiate ceremonies! As for the witnesses? Well, hikers on trails and tourists are always more than happy to sign your marriage license!
How to Apply for a North Cascades Elopement Permit
In order to elope in the beautiful North Cascades, you’ll need what’s called a special use permit.
The process to obtain a special use permit is very easy. Simply follow the steps below and you’re good to go!
- Email North Cascades National Park through their contact form found here, asking for the application for your elopement.
- Fill out the Special Use Permit Application and send it back via email.
- Pay the $50 application fee through the NPS website found here.
- After the permit is processed (usually within 4-6 weeks), you’ll receive your official copy via email. Don’t forget to print this out and bring it with you on your elopement day!
If you are getting married within the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie Forest (right near the border of North Cascades), you won’t need a permit if you have less than 75 people attending your wedding. Some popular locations within this area include Artist Point and Bagley Lakes.
Pro tip: As an elopement photographer, I help with all things permits! If any of this information is confusing, or you’re unsure where your elopement location is located, reach out! All of my North Cascades elopement packages include permit assistance.
How Many Guests Can I Bring?
Most locations in North Cascades can comfortably hold up to 15 guests. The same goes for locations in Mt. Baker. However, certain areas like the base of Bagley Lakes can only hold 3, where other locations, like a mountaintop, can hold up to 30-50. Always ask your photographer and the park what would be realistic. The less guests you bring allow for more ceremony location options.
Can I Bring My Dog?
Yes, please! North Cascades National Park and the nearby national forest have a variety of different locations that are dog-friendly. Always remember to follow Leave No Trace principles and practice B.A.R.K if you bring along your furry friend, and be sure to do research beforehand to guarantee your chosen location allows dogs.
Pro tip: If you don’t want to worry about your dog during your elopement, bring a friend or family member along for the day so they can watch your dog while we take pictures!
Best Places to Stay in North Cascades National Park
North Cascades National Park is located near a few mountain towns that have some of the cutest Airbnbs and lodging available. Due to its seclusion, there are no chain hotels in the area. Instead, you’ll often run into rental companies like Luxury Getaways and Mt. Baker Lodging that host many of the properties. Check out some of my favorite places to stay below.
Pro tip: If you find an Airbnb hosted through either of these companies (Luxury Getaways or Mt. Baker Lodging), book it directly on their site to save money and avoid those pesky Airbnb fees!
Glacier is often the easiest and preferred place to stay, as it’s located conveniently close to all the main sites like Artist Point. While there isn’t much to do around the area in terms of shopping and dining, there is an abundance of places to stay and nature to see.
- 70’s A-Frame Chalet (see the Airbnb pictured above!)
- Forest Cabin with Views and a Hot Tub (this place totally reminds me of Edward Cullen’s house)
- Luxurious and Modern Ski Chalet
- Rustic Treetop Cabin
- Mt. Baker View in the Woods
Rockport, Marblemount, and Concrete are three small mountain towns located just minutes away from the national park’s entrance. With not much in the area besides a bar and gas station or two, these locations are perfect for couples looking for a true off-the-grid experience. The lodging in this area is much cheaper compared to that of Glacier.
- Scandinavian Luxury Cabin
- Vintage Airstream
- Skagit Garden Tiny Home
- Secluded Mountain Cabin
- Treehouse Experience
If you’re going to be visiting the park occasionally, I recommend staying in Bellingham. This hippie town is notorious for its arts, culture, and places to eat. There are a variety of shopping centers and restaurants from quaint coffee shops to chain dining. If you don’t mind the scenic drive, you’ll love this town! Plus, they have chain hotels if you prefer that over an Airbnb.
- Bellingham Treehouse (stunning property!)
- Forest Studio
- Sehome Garden – Japanese Style
- Blackbird Lodge
- Northwest Modern Retreat
North Cascades Tips: 5 Things You Should Know
As a North Cascades elopement photographer, these are things to know about the park that will save you time and money.
#1: You may need a parking pass. If any of your locations are within the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie Forest, such as Artist Point, you’ll need a parking pass. It’s $5 a day and can be purchased online here. Failure to do so will result in an $80 fee. It’s not super clear on their site, but make sure you purchase one!
#2: Dogs are allowed! Most areas within the park allow dogs, as long as they’re leashed. This is one of my favorite places to photograph elopements with pets.
#3: Cell service is nonexistent. There are very few places in the park that have cell service. Plan ahead and download maps ahead of time. Be sure to also communicate clearly with your vendors so everyone knows the plan.
#4: The weather is unpredictable. Especially during the spring and fall season, the weather can change in an instant from being sunny to rainy. Be sure to pack layers and be prepared for any weather condition.
#5: Plan to stay some extra days. The park is huge, and most areas are not within driving distance of each other. To make the most out of your trip, plan to stay an extra few days. Trust me, after seeing the immense beauty of this area, you’ll kick yourself for not turning that 3-day trip into a 7-day trip.
Elopement Activities in North Cascades National Park
I love the freedom that comes with eloping. You’re free to turn this day into whatever you want it to be. What’s better than immersing yourself in an experience in a stunning place with the one you love? These are a few activities couples can do together to make the most of their elopement experience.
- Enjoy a picnic next to an alpine lake
- Stroll downtown Bellingham and enjoy a sandwich from Leaf & Ladle (they’re amazing!)
- Take a hike on the Chain Lakes Loop (one of my all-time favorite hikes)
- Rent an Airbnb with a hot tub and soak with some champagne
- Try your luck at skiing during the winter season
- Go animal watching and try to spot a bear (there are lots in this area!)
- Check out a local music festival in Bellingham
- Stroll the local farmers market for a day
- Take a seaplane or ferry ride to Stehekin, a remote village in heart of the Cascade Mountains
North Cascades National Park Elopement Timeline Examples
Not sure how much coverage you need for your North Cascades elopement? Check out some of these examples below.
12-Hour No-Hiking Elopement
- 5:00am – Brianna meets the couple at their rustic Airbnb for getting ready shots.
- 6:00am – Have a first look right on the lake with candles and a pre-wedding dance.
- 7:00am – Head up to the mountain for an intimate vow reading.
- 8:00am – Arrive and begin the ceremony followed by portraits.
- 9:00am – Set up a breakfast picnic by the mountain.
- 10:00am – Explore a bit more around the area, taking photos along the way.
- 11:00am – Head back to the Airbnb to meet up with friends and family.
- 12:00pm – Enjoy some light snacks while the private chef preps lunch.
- 12:30pm – Lunch begins with friends and family, followed with a soak in the hot tub.
- 2:00pm – Leave for a ceremony with friends and family nearby.
- 2:30pm – Begin the ceremony, followed by family pictures.
- 3:30pm – Leave for the Airbnb.
- 4:00pm – Arrive and enjoy cake, champagne, and a first dance.
- 5:00pm – Photo coverage wraps up, Brianna leaves.
8-Hour Minimal Hiking Elopement
- 1:00pm – Brianna meets the couple at their Airbnb for getting ready shots.
- 2:00pm – Head out for a 2-mile roundtrip hike to an epic mountain view.
- 3:00pm – Begin the hike.
- 4:00pm – Arrive at the top and begin the epic ceremony, followed by portraits.
- 5:00pm – Head back to the car.
- 6:00pm – Leave for the Airbnb.
- 7:00pm – Arrive to a private candlelit dinner with cake, champagne, and a first dance.
- 8:00pm – Photo coverage wraps up, Brianna leaves.
North Cascades National Park Elopement Packages
North Cascades National Park is one of my all-time favorite places to photograph elopements. As a Pacific Northwest elopement photographer, I’m here to help you plan your best day ever with the best resources ever! Whether you need help choosing a location or getting a marriage license, I’m your girl!
North Cascades Elopement Package Pricing
- 4 hours – 1.5 days of elopement coverage anywhere in North Cascades National Park
- A personalized elopement planning experience with unlimited assistance
- Personalized elopement location recommendations
- Vendor, lodging, and activity recommendations
- Assistance and information to help you with permits, licenses, etc.
- 90+ page elopement planning guide filled with tips and tricks
- Customized elopement timelines
- Optional complimentary officiant services
- Online gallery with full resolution images and printing rights
- 24-48 hour sneak peeks to share with the world
- Travel fees to anywhere in North Cascades are already included
- Starting at $6,000
Want more elopement inspiration? Check out this Olympic National Park Wedding Guide, Washington State Elopement Guide, and Ruby Beach Elopement Story.
DON’T FORGET YOUR FREE ELOPEMENT GUIDE!
An all-in-one planning guide for all things elopements! Whether you’re hoping to hike through the mountains of Washington or sip a margarita on the beaches of California, this comprehensive elopement guide has everything you need to know about how to plan the perfect elopement.
AN ELOPEMENT EXPERIENCE LIKE NO OTHER
I’m Brianna, a Pacific Northwest elopement photographer who inspires, encourages, and empowers couples to push traditional boundaries and create experiences they’ll remember forever.
I help couples all around the world plan unique and unforgettable elopement days by providing personalized location lists, vendor recommendations, permits, guides, and so much more.