Did you know that North Cascades National Park is one of the least-visited national parks in the United States? Nicknamed the “Swiss Alps of America,” North Cascades National Park is home to over 300 glaciers (the most in any national park aside from Alaska), 120 alpine lakes, and 400 miles of hiking trails to explore. The beauty in this area is unparalleled, providing visitors 360 degree views of mountain peaks in almost every location. If you love the mountains, I can almost guarantee that a North Cascades elopement is for you.
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)! As a Pacific Northwest photographer, I’ve put together the ultimate North Cascades National Park elopement guide, filled with all the information you need to know about how to plan your very own elopement. From the best time of year to the best places to elope in the park, everything you need to know is located in this guide. Without further adieu, let’s begin planning your North Cascades elopement.
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, I recommend choosing your elopement location first, just to be sure a 4WD high clearance vehicle won’t be necessary.
6 Best Places to Elope in North Cascades National Park
Below are the 6 best places to elope in North Cascades National Park.
Artist Point is the most popular place in the park due to its accessibility. While there are some areas that require some hiking around Artist Point, there are tons of accessible, no-hiking-required locations as well, making this spot a popular one for elopements with guests. At Artist Point, 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. It’s not uncommon to run into other couples getting married on the mountain, so if you’re hoping for something a bit more intimate, I recommend looking elsewhere. There are other areas in the park that will get you similar views with less people. As an elopement photographer who photographs plenty of North Cascades elopements, I know of a few secret spots with similar views and way less crowds.
Pro tip: This location is dog-friendly!
Chain Lakes Loop Trail
If you want to incorporate some hiking into your elopement day, the Chain Lakes Loop Trail is a great choice for a North Cascades elopement. This is one of the most popular hiking trails in the park, but for good reason. The entire trail is 7 miles long and will take you from the side of a mountain range, through the forest, past some vibrant blue lakes, and through wildflower meadows. Hiking the entire 7 mile loop is not necessary to get some jaw-dropping shots. In fact, if you’re up for walking a short flat section of the trail, there are some secret pull-off spots I have up my sleeve that will get you some incredible views without the crowds and incline.
Pro tip: This location is dog-friendly!
One of my favorite alpine lakes in North Cascades National Park is Bagley Lakes. This 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!
A Fire Lookout
Washington State is famous for its various fire lookouts. Currently, there are 93 lookouts you can hike to, many of which are in the North Cascades region! While fire lookouts often require uphill hiking, I can almost guarantee you that 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. Most of them are completely surrounded with 360 degree views of mountain ranges and valleys. 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! Washington Pass 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. Like most locations, I recommend a sunrise or sunset ceremony to get some privacy.
Pro tip: This location is dog-friendly!
An Alpine Lake
There are over 120 alpine lakes in North Cascades National Park, some that are accessible and some that are a bit more hidden. Whether you’re looking to walk 7 miles or 7 feet, there is an alpine lake for everyone. If you’re looking for a quiet place to exchange vows, this is a great location to do so, especially because many of the lakes have a large shoreline to explore. 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 have passed after obtaining your marriage license.
- 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.
If you’ll be in the area a few days before your elopement,
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 the 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. Generally, I recommend no more than 20 guests.
Can I Bring My Dog?
Yes, please! While North Cascades National Park isn’t the most dog-friendly location in the world, the nearby national forest is. There are a variety of different locations in the forest that are dog-friendly. Always remember to follow Leave No Trace principles and practice B.A.R.K if you bring your furry friend along.
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 I’ve ever seen. 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 + Deming
Glacier and Deming are often the easiest and preferred places to stay, as they’re 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 you should know about the park that will save you both 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 allow dogs, as long as they’re leashed. This is one of my favorite places to photograph elopements with pets. Always be sure to double-check that your preferred location allows your furry friend.
#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
If you’re looking to get the most out of your elopement experience, considering incorporating some activities on your wedding day. Below is a list of my few personal recommendations to make your elopement unforgettable.
- 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
- Read letters from friends and family
- Make a yummy campfire dinner at your Airbnb
- Hire a personal chef to cook you and your family a post-elopement meal
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 to get some inspiration.
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, my goal is to help plan and document a day exclusively designed for you using all my expertise and resources! Whether you need help choosing a location or getting a marriage license, I’m here to help.
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
- Complimentary album design
- 24-48 hour sneak peeks to share with the world
- Travel fees to anywhere in North Cascades National Park are already included
- Starting at $6,500
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.
You? You’re the kind of person that gets a lil’ teary eyed looking at an epic view…
That moment when you turn to the person you’re with and ask, “Are you seeing this?” I live for it. Places with trees and mountains and soft breezes that make you say, “I can’t believe this place exists,” I spend pretty much all of my free time searching for and exploring them.
These places have always felt like home to me. And if you’re the kind of person who also feels more at home surrounded by trees than by people? Then we’ll get along really well. The Pacific Northwest is full of secret spots that are too special to share with just anyone. But it would make me happy to share them with you on your wedding day.
(I promise you won’t regret it.)
P.S. I’m Brianna. My mission is to create custom, one-of-a-kind elopement experiences in the Pacific Northwest that allow couples to fully immerse themselves in the highest levels of excitement and wonder on a day designed exclusively for them.